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Caribbean Beat Magazine

Choose your own Tobago | Destination

Everyone has a different idea about what makes a dream vacation. Whether you’re looking for quiet time or an adrenaline hit, to explore pristine nature or the stories of history, to get pampered or get wild, Tobago has something for you, writes Nixon Nelson

  • The stunning view across Pirate’s Bay, just north of Charlotteville. Photo by Joanne Husain
  • Nestor Rizhniak/Shutterstock.com
  • Experience the adrenaline surge of mountain biking in Tobago. Photo courtesy Tobago Mountain Bike Tours
  • A brown booby in Little Tobago, known to birders for its seabird colonies. Photo by Devan Mulchansingh
  • Exploring a small wreck off Speyside. Photo by Imagebroker/Alamy Stock Photo
  • After dark, Tobago’s party scene comes to life. Photo courtesy The Shade Nightclub
  • Seaside fun at Englishman’s Bay. Photo by Welmoet Photography
  • Top River Falls are nestled in the forest of Tobago’s Main Ridge. Photo by Image Professionals Gmbh/Alamy Stock Photo

Time to unwind — or seeking adventure?

For most visitors, I’d wager, the main attraction of Tobago is its relaxed vibe. The broad expanse of sand at Pigeon Point or Castara, a soundtrack of breaking waves, breeze stirring the coconut branches overhead: it’s a scene designed to soothe the nerves, as you contemplate the little puffs of cloud sailing across a brilliant blue sky, and prepare to take a saltwater dip. A certain languid informality is the vibe, and if a hammock, a book, and a beverage are your idea of a good time, there’s no better place to literally kick back and indulge in a week of delightful indolence.

Still, even the most dedicated beach bums get restless once in a while. Ready to get your blood pumping? Mt Irvine is a surfer’s dream, with waves breaking at the reef at the northern end of the beach — “a fast, racy wall with pits to park in and lips to float,” according to one expert account. Reliable Atlantic breezes make Tobago a windsurfing hotspot, especially in the first half of the year, with the strongest winds in June. And those who like their speed on two wheels head for the numerous trails crisscrossing the island, perfect for mountain biking, with several operators renting bikes and offering guided rides ranging from easy-peasy to truly challenging. Incredible views over the island’s cliffs and bays are the reward for working up a sweat.

But maybe your adventure instinct is to go deep. You’re in luck: Tobago offers some of the Caribbean’s best diving, in waters teeming with life. The nutrient-rich outflow of the Orinoco River (about a hundred miles south) supports three hundred coral species in Tobago waters, and hundreds more fish species. Below the surface, you can explore reefs and canyons, plunging walls and intriguing rock formations, with names like London Bridge and Japanese Gardens. Or explore the wreck of the MV Maverick, a ferry deliberately sunk in 1997 to create a dive site for the curious, now colonised by corals and sponges.


Why do some corals and sponges in Tobago’s offshore grow so big? Divers are often astonished at the size of these species, including a famous brain coral near Speyside, a whopping sixteen feet across and ten high. The plankton-rich waters are responsible, full of nourishment for marine life.


Nature lover — or history buff?

Tobago boasts one of the world’s oldest protected nature reserves: since 1776, the rainforest of the Main Ridge, which runs along the length of the island, has been protected by law. It’s the habitat for over one hundred bird species, including the rufous-vented chachalaca — better known locally as the cocrico, Tobago’s national bird — most of them relatively accessible to birders. Add the shorebirds found along the coast and in the stretches of mangrove near Bon Accord, and you’ve got a respectable number to add to your life list. Serious birders shouldn’t omit a boat trip out to Little Tobago, close to the main island’s northeastern tip, home to breeding colonies of both red-billed and white-tailed tropicbirds, and three species of booby. And even the most nature-blind tourist can hardly avoid spotting bananaquits or hummingbirds in their hotel grounds — even venturing up to their breakfast table.

But maybe human history is your thing. Tobago holds the record as the Caribbean island which changed hands among European colonial powers the most times — thirty-three, over three centuries — with the British, French, Dutch, and even Swedes competing for possession. The Courlander Monument in Plymouth commemorates one of the least remembered events in Caribbean history, when the Baltic Duchy of Courland, predecessor of today’s Latvia, made several (ultimately fruitless) attempts to establish a colony here.

For a broad overview, head to the Tobago Museum, located in the grounds of Fort King George on the hill above Scarborough. From pre-Columbian artefacts to military paraphernalia, the small but fascinating collection documents the island’s centuries of colonisation and the plantation system which brought thousands of enslaved Africans to Tobago and shaped its landscape and human society. The fort itself — begun by the British in 1777 and continued by the French after they captured the island in 1781 — with its restored buildings and collection of cannon, is a reminder of a bloodier time.

And as every guidebook will tell you, your exploration of Tobago’s history isn’t complete without a pilgrimage to the celebrated Mystery Tombstone of Plymouth, final resting place of one Mrs Betty Stiven, who died in 1783. “She was a mother without knowing it,” reads her riddling epitaph, “and a wife without letting her husband know it except by her kind indulgence to him.” What exactly does it mean? That’s the mystery, unsolved after more than two hundred years.


Not an outdoorsy type? You can glimpse Tobago’s national bird, the cocrico, on the T&T ten-dollar bill. Ortalis ruficauda, as it’s known to scientists, is also found in Venezuela and Colombia — but not in nearby Trinidad.


Windward or leeward?

So you’re ready to head out on a Tobago road trip. The island’s long, narrow shape, tapered at each end, suggests two obvious routes, along the leeward (or western) and windward (or eastern) coasts.

Let’s say you’re starting from the area around Crown Point in the south. Past Store Bay, Pigeon Point, and Bon Accord, the leeward route along Shirvan Road takes you through Black Rock and Plymouth before it begins to climb the foothills of the Main Ridge. At Mt Irvine Bay, turn off towards Bethel to visit the Kimme Museum, a castle-like structure which houses the work of the late German-born sculptor Luise Kimme, who made her home here for decades and depicted the folk culture of her adopted island. As you head further up the coast, the villages get smaller, the bays less crowded, the forest even more lush. Halfway along, Castara is an increasingly popular destination for tourists looking to get away from the Crown Point crowds, with a series of small guesthouses and villas. After Parlatuvier, the drive gets a touch more adventurous, as you negotiate vertiginous hairpin bends, until you descend towards Man o’ War Bay and the village of Charlotteville, near the island’s northern tip — one of Tobago’s most memorable panoramas.

The windward coast, open to the Atlantic, is more windswept and rugged. Passing through Scarborough, Tobago’s capital, you’ll skirt Bacolet Bay with its cluster of small hotels. Roxborough brings the turnoff for Argyle Falls, best known and tallest of Tobago’s numerous waterfalls — the perfect place to stop for a short hike to the three cascades and their plunge pools, waiting to offer you a refreshing dip, as kingfishers flit through the bamboo groves. Not far above Argyle is the Tobago Cocoa Estate, where a tour takes you through the stages of cocoa farming and harvesting and chocolate production — and, of course, ends with the chance to sample delectable confections. Eventually you arrive in Speyside, the island’s true diving epicentre. Many of Tobago’s most celebrated dive sites are right offshore, and here’s where you can catch a glass-bottomed boat to Little Tobago, marvelling at the undersea reefs you glimpse along the journey.


Looking for a high? Consider making the hike to the top of Tobago’s loftiest point, Pigeon Peak. Various accounts give its height as ranging from 1,720 to 1,800 feet — blame the difficulty of accurate surveying in thickly forested terrain for the uncertainty. The trail starts along the road between Speyside and Charlotteville, and the hike takes roughly half a day, with an open trail in the early stages and some bushwhacking required as you approach the summit.


Get pampered — or go partying?

If a visit to Tobago is good for the soul, there’s no reason it can’t be good for the body also. More than half a dozen hotels and resorts offer spas on site, with treatments of varying degrees of elaboration. Pilates? A yoga class? A muscle-relaxing, stress-dispelling massage? They’re all available, whether you’re a guest at a fancy hotel or staying at a more modest guesthouse. The healing effects somehow seem more pronounced when you’re surrounded by tropical gardens, or within earshot of the sea. And there’s always the entirely free and all-natural foot massage you get by just walking along a sandy beach as warm water gently laps at your ankles — and the serotonin hit that comes when you fill your lungs with that delicious sea air.

Or maybe meditative serenity isn’t your game at all. Perhaps your favourite activities happen after dark, somewhere with pumping music, flowing drinks, and bodies in rhythmic motion — well, Tobago’s got that covered too. Live music, stylish nightclubs, bars with exotic cocktails: all are on offer. And if you’re visiting in February, don’t make the mistake of thinking that Carnival action happens only in Trinidad. All the major soca stars pass through Tobago during the Carnival season, performing at fetes as sizzling hot as anything you’ll find in the sister island. So cut loose, jump and wave to your heart’s content — secure in the knowledge that tomorrow you and your wining bone can recuperate while dozing on the beach at Pigeon Point.


Carnival isn’t the only time to experience amazing music in Tobago. Every April, the Tobago Jazz Experience brings international stars and top Caribbean talent to the island. And the Tobago Heritage Festival in July, a longtime staple of the cultural calendar, features two weeks of performances in villages and communities across the island, as traditional arts take centre stage.


ADVERTORIALS

Coco Reef Resort and Spa

It’s the Caribbean’s most spectacular resort. Set at the end of a palm-lined driveway, in ten acres of beautifully manicured tropical gardens, Coco Reef overlooks the crystal-clear waters of the Caribbean Sea and its own private white sand beach. All the rooms and suites are decorated to reflect local culture and art. Coco Reef offers a choice of two restaurants on the property and one nearby, where you can enjoy Caribbean and international cuisine.

BarCode

Every Tuesday night in Tobago for the Carnival season, Barcode is the number-one choice for premier entertainment, hosting the I Love Soca Series. This 2020 season, Barcode will host seven shows featuring many of the biggest artists in soca — including some of Tobago’s very own talent — on the I Love Soca stage. A small stage with your favourite soca superstars delivering an electric, pore-raising, intimate, up-close, and personal experience that you can only find at Barcode.

Inez Investments

Inez Investments Ltd is bringing a new community to Tobago! Situated on 324 acres of land in Bacolet, this first-of-its-kind smart city will offer a new living experience. Residents will enjoy community facilities such as shopping plazas and recreational spaces. The development will also be home to a state-of-the-art medical centre, a 33-acre central park, an aquatic centre, and a marina. Visit our offices for more details.

Sherwin Lovell Ultra Premium All-Inclusive

Fete in Tobago! The second edition of Sherwin Lovell’s Ultra Premium All-Inclusive promises to be no less than an exceptional experience. What started off as an annual birthday party has undoubtedly transcended into the best all-inclusive fete to hit the island.

A POPS

Kodi’s Natural Treats: a haven of healthy indulgence. Here you’ll find a treasure trove of treats — gourmet lollies and ice cream — all made from local fruits. Free of artificial flavourings, colourings, or preservatives, and perfect for the budding health enthusiast in you.

Tobago Hospitality and Tourism Institute

The Tobago Hospitality and Tourism Institute is nestled in a pristine hundred-acre forest estate in the seaside village of Mount St George. The college showcases student talent and innovation by hosting dinners, wine tastings, and specialty events. Learn more at www.thti.edu.tt


Caribbean Airlines operates numerous flights each day to Arthur N.R. Robinson International Airport in Tobago from Trinidad, with connections to other destinations in the Caribbean and North and South America