Picture an island paradise with cloud-shrouded green hills and palm lined white beaches and chances are you’ve just pictured Tobago. The island, once known as ‘The Secret Caribbean’, is a self contained paradise and was the setting for Daniel Defoe’s tale of adventure ‘Robinson Crusoe’. Some local guides will even show you the exact cave that was included in the book.
Totally unspoilt, this paradise isle has no high rise horrors or beach enclaves hiding behind perimeter fences and it is outside the hurricane belt. It’s real charm lies in the fact that it is the only island where you can experience the spirit and lifestyle of the Caribbean as it must have been 50 or 60 years ago when only the rich and famous visited such exotic destinations.
Wooden shacks, fishermen selling their catches, roadside stores and women carrying their loads above their heads are as much a part of Tobago as the luxury hotels. This is a friendly island where the hummingbird population outnumbers the human one and the pace of life is slow to static.
Tobago lies 21 miles north east of Trinidad but, unlike Trinidad, it is a coral island with a complex of reef systems. Roughly oval in shape, it is 16 miles long and 7 miles wide with a central spine of forested mountains rising to 1800 feet. The island’s original settlers were Amerindians, but from the early colonial period it was constantly fought over by European powers and changed hands 33 times before being taken over by the British in 1814. The collapse of the sugar market led to it being attached to nearby Trinidad. In 1962 the islands gained their independence as the commonwealth nation of Trinidad and Tobago before becoming a republic in 1976 (although still remaining a member of the British Commonwealth to this day).
The capital of Tobago, Scarborough, is perched on a hillside overlooking Rocky Bay and is divided into Lower and Upper Scarborough. The administrative hub of the island and port of call for the cruise ships, it’s a hot, busy town, teeming with people and home to half of Tobago’s population.
While Scarborough is easy to explore on foot it is best to do it before the day heats up or during the cool of the evening. There are roadside stalls, markets, fast food bars, loud music and slow moving traffic. The Mall is the nerve centre of lower Scarborough, housing the banks, post offices, shops and bus station. The market next to the Mall specialises in fish, fruit, vegetables and local goods and the best time to visit is Friday or Saturday morning. Adjoining the Mall, you’ll find the Botanical Gardens which are just the place for a lazy stroll.
Alternatively you can take one of the various modes of public transport to Upper Scarborough and Ford King George where you can find a magnificent view over the town. Inside the Fort’s Barrack Guard House is the Tobago Museum which will give you a wonderful insight into the history of the island.
Tobago is blessed with beautiful beaches and if you pay a visit to Pigeon Point you’ll find the famous Bounty Bar beach, described as the most idyllic in the Caribbean. Escape the rays in the shady beach huts, take a break at the bar, chill out on a boat trip or indulge in waterspouts or reef trips. The water is beautifully calm and protected by Buccoo Reef which is great for snorkeling and viewing angel fish, parrot fish and other tropical species. Even if you can’t swim, you can see them by taking a trip in a glass bottomed boat. Meanwhile, along the north side of the island, near the village of Speyside, there are beaches with secret coves and lagoons where scuba enthusiasts can swim with mantas.
But Tobago isn’t only about beaches. Travel inland to Goldsborough, Kings Bay and Argylle Falls and you’ll discover waterfalls and jungle streams perfect for bathing. Argylle Falls are Tobago’s highest at around 54 meters and are also the most accessible. Climb to the top pool, the smallest and the deepest, and have the swimming experience of your life. You’ll find official guides, identifiable by their badges, at the entrance or in the car park and it is compulsory for them to accompany you on the 15 minutes walk to the falls.
Whilst in the area, adventure junkies can hike or drive through the oldest protected rainforest in the Eastern Hemisphere. Thick with vegetation and alive with flora and fauna, a guide is an absolute must, so organise your route and guide via your hotel.
Worth a visit is the Arnos Vale Waterwheel that once powered the former sugar estates mill. It now forms the centre of a nature park, which includes a restaurant surrounded by wooden walkways and lush tropical vegetation. Not very far away is the Arnos Vale Hotel, located on a 450 acre plantation. Princess Margaret spent her honeymoon here in the hotel’s Crow Nest Cottage which was also a favorite hideaway of The Beatles.
Part of the charm of Tobago is that it has only a handful of luxury hotels. The most striking is The Coco Reef voted one of the Top Ten Dream Destinations in the world. Situated between Pigeon Point and Store Bay, its perfect for honeymooners. Drive up the palm tree lined driveway surrounded by tropical gardens and you’ll understand why. Through the breathtaking atrium style lobby, with its 30 foot bamboo palms, fountains and statues there’s a superb view of the Caribbean immediately visible as you step from your taxi.
A popular venue for weddings, there are numerous perfect spots for the ceremony of your dreams and Sunset Villa is a spacious and romantic spot with an expansive terrace, garden and sea views. For the ultimate romantic moment, tie the knot here as the sun sets.
Whether you want to be out-there and active or lazing around on the beach, sipping a rum punch beneath the tropical sun, Tobago has it all. Just pack a case for you and your Man Friday and try it for yourself. Robinson Crusoe did – no wonder he stayed so long!
Flying Time: 9 or 10 hours depending on route. Find out more about tobago here www.visittobago.gov.tt
Written by The Wedding Girl’s SOS travel contributor Liz Coggins