Birdwatchers can see about 400 species at the Asa
Wright Nature Centre and Lodge in Trinidad including
birds like this female green honeycreeper seen below. Photos by Jerry Lower
By Deborah S. Hartz-Seeley
Key West, 800-426-7781 (305-292-0780); www.caligo.com/
If you are big into birding, you’ll want to know about Caligo Ventures Tour and Travel, based in Key West. In business since 1983, the company offers packaged trips for those who want to get close to nature.
“We are for birders who want to see stuff they haven’t seen or who want to see something again,” says co-owner Mark Hedden.
Some past clients who have enjoyed their tours include the Boston Museum of Science, the Louisiana Ornithological Society, the National Audubon Society, the New York Botanical Garden and the Burpee Museum.
Simon Calle of Highland Beach, a birder for 25 years, went to Trinidad, Tobago and Costa Rica with the company. “You can go wherever they go and count on having a good time,” he says. “They leave nothing to be desired.”
Their most popular destination is the Asa Wright Nature Centre in Trinidad. “It’s the kind of place you can sit on the front porch of the lodge with a cup of locally grown coffee and see 40 species of birds before lunch,” says Hedden, who has visited the center a dozen times.
But Caligo also offers trips to Tobago, Panama, Costa Rica, Belize, Peru, Guyana, Ecuador and Mexico. And it teams up with partners in France, Scotland, England, Spain, Iceland, Hungary and Turkey to arrange your visit to those countries.
Hedden, who has bird-watched for 20 years, favors Guyana. “People can hardly find it on the map, but it’s the greenest place I’ve ever been. There are thousands of acres of pristine rainforest that isn’t about to be developed,” he says.
Trips are organized for groups of up to 14 people or for as small as a single person or a couple. Guests are paired with local guides who are rooted in the community.
“They have the expertise that comes with living in the country they are showing, and they can give you an idea of the local culture,” Hedden says. Caligo guides in Trinidad are second and third generations of the same family leading people into the preserve.
Accommodations are comfortable but not luxurious. “Birders don’t tend to be as conscious of luxury as some other travelers,” says Caligo co-owner Larry Lebowitz. “They are more interested in habitat preservation and access to the birds.”
For example, the Asa Wright Nature Centre and Lodge is set at 1,200 feet above sea level on the grounds of a former coffee plantation. The ecologically conscious accommodations include twin-bedded rooms with private baths in the main estate and in nearby cottages on the garden-like grounds.
Meals featuring local foods are included with the tours. At the Asa Wright Lodge, the food reflects the diversity of the local cuisine including West Indian, Creole, Asian, Indian and European dishes. Meals are served family-style, and people with vegetarian diets are easily accommodated.
“It may not be the Ritz-Carlton,” says Lebowitz, but it’s perfect for people out to see the more than 400 bird species that live in the preserve. Expect to view squirrel cuckoos, toucans, parrots and tufted coquettes. And that’s just from the lodge.
Although birding does require some walking, most Caligo tours are not physically demanding. “Birders tend to move slowly and quietly so they can see nature. We do some walking but not a lot,” Hedden says. Most are conducted with the use of wheeled vehicles. And they attract a variety of people from ages 20 through retirement.
“Our tours are for people with a little time and a little money,” Lebowitz says. Ú
Disclosure: Coastal Star publisher Jerry Lower owns a minority share in Caligo Ventures.