If you want a laid-back and luxurious holiday with guaranteed sunshine and a permanent feel-good factor, just head west to the charming Caribbean island of Tobago
The southern-most country in the Caribbean, Tobago (along with its sister island Trinidad) lies just 30 miles or so from the coast of Venezuela. That means that it’s outside of the hurricane belt and, therefore, spared some of the wilder weather that afflicts the region’s other islands. Though it’s tiny – it’s only 25 miles long and eight miles wide – it is small but perfectly formed. Compared to the likes of, say, Jamaica or Cuba, Tobago is quiet, quaint and wonderfully secluded and its reputation of being the last unspoiled outcrop of the Caribbean is well-deserved. Lush rainforest, sun-kissed sand and complete tranquility – it really is as close as you’ll get to paradise, as these places prove…
PIGEON POINT BEACH
The quintessential picture postcard Caribbean beach, Pigeon Point is the beach you’ll nearly always see on any literature about Tobago. It’s understandable really. After all, with its pretty pier and thatched cabanas, coupled with swaying palms, azure waters and soft, white sand lets you know exactly what you’re in store for when you visit this perfect part of the world.
The fishing village of Charlotteville is another of those idyllic and unspoilt places that has come to typify Tobago and its way of life. Take the dramatic drop into the Man-o-war Bay from the Speyside-Charlotteville road and you’ll soon see the village’s mile-long beach spreading out before your eyes. If you are going to head to Charlotteville – and we heartily recommend it – try to combine it with a trip to Pirate Bay, which you can get via a track at the eastern end of the village. It was here where swashbuckling scallywags snuck into Tobago over three hundred years ago and it’s also where they filmed much of the original Robinson Crusoe film back in the 1950s.
Some of the world’s best diving is in Tobago and there are few better places to do it than Speyside. Try one of the testing dives at Black Jack Hole (named after the large shoals of Black Jacks that pass by), Kelleston Drain (home to the largest brain coral in the world) or Bookends (watch out for the strong current!) and you’re guaranteed to find yourself face to face with manta rays, turtles and barracuda, with parrotfish and blue chromis. Make sure you take a souvenir picture from the Speyside Lookout too.
Buccoo Reef is the largest and most popular of Tobago’s coral reefs; legendary French explorer Jacques Cousteau even ranked it as the third most spectacular reef in the world. A protected marine park since 1973, this 10-acre arc of five reef flats is home to a bewildering array of aquatic life, including 40 kinds of coral. A boat trip here is a must and if you’re going to take a swim or a dive here be warned that the advice is very much look but don’t touch!
In a region that is blessed with an unfair share of the world’s greatest swimming spots, it takes something special to really stand out. Nylon Pool is that place. Named after Princess Margaret visited and remarked that the water was as clear as her nylon stockings, it’s an almost mystical spot a mile offshore between Buccoo Bay and Pigeon Point where you can walk and swim in warm, waist-high water even though you can barely see the shoreline. Local legend has it that if women bathe in the Nylon Pool they’ll come out feeling ten years younger, while if you and your partner kiss while swimming there your marriage is guaranteed to last forever! There is another supposed benefit for men but we couldn’t possibly go into detail here.
A small, uninhabited island – it’s just one square mile in area – off the north-eastern coast of Tobago, this protected bird sanctuary boasts everything from laughing gulls to bridled terns, from brown-footed boobies to tropical mockingbirds. Also called ‘Bird of Paradise Island’, it used to be home to a colony of Birds of Paradise that were introduced to the island by Sir William Ingram in 1909 but, sadly, these were wiped out by the hurricanes in the 1960s. You can get there by taking a glass-bottomed boat over from the Blue Waters Inn at Speyside. Visit www.bluewatersinn.com for more information.
At a towering 175-feet, the three-tiered Argyle Falls are the highest waterfalls on the island. Set against the background of an old cocoa plantation, it’s a 15-minute walk from the car park through a stunning forest inhabited by kingfishers and motmots to reach them. Take your swimming costume and dive in and, if you’re feeling brave, take the guide tour to the top two tiers. You’ll find the Argyle Falls near Roxborough on the Windward Coast
MAIN RIDGE FOREST RESERVE
The oldest rainforest in the Western Hemisphere (its 60 million years old give or take a few centuries) and a UNESCO Heritage site, the Main Ridge Forest Reserve is often described as the backbone of the island of Tobago. It’s awash with fascinating flora and fauna and it’s thought the rainforest provides habitats for up to 16 of the 90 mammal species that are resident in the Caribbean. You want more animal action? How about 24 types of snakes, 16 kinds of lizards, hundreds of types of butterfly and 210 species of birds, including the rare White-tailed Sabrewing Hummingbird. It’s also home to the ocellated gecko, an animal that can’t be found anywhere else in the world.