How to spend three days in Tobago
Posted Sep 21, 2020
Untamed rainforest, clear blue seas and a strong dose of authentic Caribbean culture define Tobago, a small island which offers a surprising array of sights and activities.
The jungle and ocean provide playgrounds for lovers of nature and water sports, while the soft sands forming a border between the two are frequented by nesting turtles as well as sunbathers.
So what can you do in 72 hours on this tropical gem?
Here are our suggestions for making the most of your time in Tobago. Of course, if you are staying longer, you can intersperse these activities with flops on the beach and perhaps take in one of the annual festivals.
Hook up with a local naturalist for a foray into the rainforest. Tobago’s Main Ridge Forest Reserve covers almost 10,000 acres across the central spine of the island and there is barely a square inch without something growing from the fertile soil.
Twisting past ravines, you will arrive at the beginning of one of the well-marked trails that disappear enticingly into the jungle.
Slowly making your way along the trail – the 5km Gilpin Trace is the most popular – you’ll quickly understand why this forest, legally protected since 1776, is listed by Unesco. Your guide will explain the ecosystem and point out the various plants – trees which soar up to 50m overhead, thick bamboo, pretty bromeliads, tangled lianas.
With luck, you’ll see bright flashes among the dense green foliage as more than 100 types of bird inhabit the rainforest. You are unlikely to see the nocturnal armadillos, but look out for geckos and stream-dwelling crabs.
Freshly caught fish
Pop along to Speyside, a photogenic village on Tyrrell’s Bay, with views across to Goat and Little Tobago islands.
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Jemma’s Seaview Kitchen is a treehouse on the beach, serving fish, chicken or shrimp meals accompanied by side dishes made from local vegetables. Choose the fish and it will probably have been caught that morning by one of the little fishing boats you’ll see floating in the bay.
A short way back up the Main Ridge road is the visitor centre for Argyle Waterfall. Tobago’s best-known waterfall is a 20-minute walk away through cocoa and mahogany trees; this lower-level rainforest is a good place to spot different birds from those you saw up on the ridge. There’s an adult entry fee of TT$60 (about £6.75).
Ever wondered where Argyle Falls starts? The 54m/177ft waterfall is Tobago's highest, with a series of pools surrounded by lush, green jungle. A 20-minute trek will bring you to the falls, where you can hear its bellows before you see it. Situated just outside of Roxborough in the east, the falls are not only a breathtaking sight to behold but are perfect for a cool, refreshing swim after a day of exploring. It's the south of the Main Ridge Forest Reserve so if you're road-trip bound, add this to one of your stops! 🎥: @benbindewald #TobagoBeyond #101reasonstobago . . . #argylefalls #waterfall #waterfalls #jungle #tobago
Many visitors take the plunge into the lowest pool of this 175ft cascade; the more adventurous can scramble up a path to two further pools, the top one offering free massages under the torrent. There are changing rooms (and ice-creams) at the visitor centre.
If you are staying in the west of Tobago, where most hotels are located, stop on the way back, at one of the nature reserves to observe birds feeding (often at 4pm).
Steel bands and local delicacies
Make your way to Stonehaven Bay on the Caribbean coast. Right on the beach, Waves Restaurant serves generous portions of fish, steak and pasta. There’s a terrace for pre-dinner sundowners.
Just behind is the Seahorse Inn, one of Tobago’s finest dining establishment, a romantic spot with candlelit tables where creative dishes include pork chops glazed with molasses and rum.
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Up the hill at the charmingly-named hamlet of Pleasant Prospect, the Fish Pot is another favourite. Dishes of the day – fish, chicken, lobster – are chalked on a board.
If today happens to be a Sunday, take a taxi to the village of Buccoo. Sunday School has little to do with religion – it’s a free street party at which a 15-strong steel band strikes up in the early evening beside the village square. When they wind down, the DJs take over and the bass can be heard from miles away.
Princess Margaret’s stockings
Those beaches can wait no longer. Make this a day of watery adventures. Take your seat on a glass-bottom boat for a ride around Buccoo Bay.
After admiring the various corals and fish of the extensive reef through the “windows”, you can stop for close-up looks with a mask and snorkel. This was one of Jacques Cousteau’s favourite places. There are a few restrictions on snorkelling to protect the coral but you should still see up to 40 species of coral lit up by iridescent parrot and angel fish.
Every boat makes its way to Nylon Pool in the middle of the bay. This waist-deep patch, the colour of a swimming pool, was named by Princess Margaret; on her honeymoon she equated the silky water, somewhat bizarrely, to her stockings. Dive down, grab a handful of the fine sand and rub it on your skin – it’s supposed to make you look 10 years younger.
From deck, you’ll see the mangroves along the shore and the sandspit entrance to Bon Accord Lagoon, where you could decide to come this evening.
Tobago's poster boy
Pigeon Point is Tobago’s poster boy – a wide peninsula jutting out towards Nylon Pool, rimmed by the palest sand and blue water.
This protected area is where both locals and visitors converge to swim, sunbathe, kick balls, eat, drink and take part in watersports.
A few food outlets sell plates of ribs, chicken and fish with rice ’n’ peas and macaroni pie, best washed down with a chilled Carib or Stag beer. If you prefer, eat at one of the picnic tables beneath a shading palm.
Take the plunge
Those lunchtime calories will prove valuable when it comes to trying a water sport. Stand-up paddleboarding is a craze that shows no signs of slowing down and what better place to fall in while learning than the bath-warm waters of Pigeon Point. After a 20-minute lesson on land from your instructor, you’ll be teetering on your overgrown surfboard. If the breeze is up, rent some windsurfing gear or grab a sea kayak for a more gentle way to explore the lagoon.
Tobago is one of the best places in the Caribbean for diving. Qualified divers will find several operators ready to take them to some of the 54 recognised sites. There are easy dives around the Pigeon Point area and more challenging drifts at the eastern end of the island, where the world’s largest brain coral resides.
If you’ve never been below the surface, instructors can take you on shallow try-dive. If you get the bug, you can sign up for a course.
Eerie night swim
If you’re not eating at your hotel, check out Café Coco at Crown Point for hearty Caribbean fare, or try the Kariwak Village Holistic Haven for pumpkin soup and curry-baked chicken with salad from the hotel’s gardens.
For something truly life-enhancing, return to Pigeon Point for a bioluminescence tour. Choose your steed – a paddleboard or kayak – and when the sun goes down, water-sports guru Duane Kenny will take you over to the lagoon you saw from the boat this morning.
Dip your paddle in the water and it will glow an eerie green. Take a swim and it will be like gliding through a galaxy. It’s all down to a type of plankton that emits light when disturbed.
Visit Little Tobago
Take a guided trip back to Speyside for a visit to the eco-wonderland that is Little Tobago. This 2km-long uninhabited, forested island – a short glass-bottom boat ride from the village – is one of the most important breeding grounds in the Caribbean for seabirds.
See the distinctive outline of frigatebirds circling overhead while your guide looks out for red-billed tropicbirds plus delicate terns and big-beaked boobies. On a walk ashore, you may spy falcons and hawks as well as forest birds. More than 30 species nest here and the species you may see depend somewhat on the time of year.
It’s common to combine a bit of birdwatching with snorkelling because the waters around here are outstanding in terms of coral and fish life.
A good spot is off Goat Island, the tiny isle between Little Tobago and its big sister. More than 50 species of fish have been identified around these reefs and rays and turtles are often seen.
Pick your own
If a packed lunch is not provided by your guide, take your own. You can’t go wrong with the local fruit. Eat it on Little Tobago or during the boat ride back to Speyside.
Stop off at Fort King George for stunning views
Some of the most appealing beaches are situated along the north coast. If you only visit one, make it Englishman’s Bay – a curve of sand backed by rainforest that tumbles down from the steep hills.
A little further along, Castara Bay is a great place to mix with the locals. Various cooperative arrangements have made the village something of a model for sustainable tourism. You may see villagers on the beach hauling in a huge net – feel free to give them a hand, or go find the little waterfall behind the recreation ground.
Because the hills on this coast drop so sharply into the sea, the road often climbs high above the shore. An obligatory photo stop is made at the massive silk cotton tree, virtually growing out of the road.
If you decide to return along the Atlantic coast, make a call at Fort King George, a restored fort above the little capital Scarborough that has cannons, a thoughtfully-created museum and great views.
When you first arrived in Tobago, you should have signed up with one of the conservationist guides who can take you to see one of nature’s spectacles.
From April to August, turtles – including the gigantic, critically-endangered leatherback – haul themselves out of the sea to lay their eggs in the sand on various beaches.
This usually happens in the evening, after dark, so leave your phone number with the guide and he will call you when one of the team of spotters – who are usually connected to the turtle preservation group – see a reptile or two.
He will come and pick you up and take you to the beach, making sure you observe closely but do not disturb the animals.
Article by John Wilmott, UK Telegraph