AB de Villiers and Ashwell Prince rescued South Africa with a century partnership before the West Indies hit back, dismissing both men before tea on the second day of the opening Test on Friday.
De Villiers made a defiant 68 and Prince supported with 57 as the Proteas reached 277 for seven at the break at Queen's Park Oval.
The pair added 122 for the sixth wicket to revive South Africa after they had slumped to 107 for five in the first hour. Both fell, however, in the space of 25 balls to return the advantage to the home side.
Prince reached his 50 from 98 balls with a single behind square-leg off Sulieman Benn before he was caught at leg gully off West Indies captain Chris Gayle.
De Villiers arrived at his 50 from 106 balls with a single to backward point also off Benn, but he was caught behind off the same bowler edging a loose drive.
Before lunch, de Villiers and Prince had picked up the pieces of the South African innings after West Indies claimed two early wickets.
The two batsmen used their feet well to defy the West Indies spin bowling pair of Benn and Test newcomer Shane Shillingford on a pitch that offered the two slow bowlers generous turn and bounce.
De Villiers got off the mark with a lofted four to long-on off Shillingford, and one of Prince's earliest strokes was also a lofted drive to long-on off Benn for his first boundary, and he also carted Shillingford over long-off for a six.
South Africa began the day on their overnight total of 70 for three and suffered an early blow when night-watchman Paul Harris was caught at cover for 10 off Benn in the fifth over.
The South Africa batsmen became bogged down again by Benn and Shillingford, who trapped Jacques Kallis lbw playing back and across to a well-pitched delivery for 28.
The two sides also play Tests in St Kitts (June 18-22) and Barbados (June 26-30).
South Africa have dominated West Indies in Tests since their re-entry into international cricket in 1991 following international isolation.
They have won 14, and lost three of the 22 matches between the two sides, and two of the wins came at Port of Spain in 2001 and 2005 in the two Tests the sides have played here.