Head to head at the annual Buccoo Goat and Crab Race Festival REUTERS/Andrea de Silva
1. Twelve months of sunshine While it might seem obvious to praise a famously sunny destination for its glorious climate, even in Caribbean terms, Tobago enjoys splendid weather. This is partly due to its location. Sheltered by the hard shoulder of South America (Venezuela’s tip is just 70 miles to the southwest), this island of easy atmosphere lies outside the Atlantic hurricane belt — ensuring that the fierce storms that trouble the rest of the region between July and September rarely come its way. Instead, Tobago enjoys year-round warmth, with the dry season — December to May — a great time to visit.
2. A day at the races For an inimitable slice of Tobago, little is more idiosyncratic — or entertaining — than the annual Easter Tuesday races in Buccoo village. This extravaganza dates back 75 years and is woven into local lore. But don’t expect horses. The main event sees a phalanx of goats — complete with ‘jockeys’, who run alongside them — careering around a course. Crabs have a similar, more chaotic contest on a smaller scale. Buccoo is a hive of activity across the calendar. Its weekly street party Sunday School, staged every Sunday night, is a rambunctious cocktail of steel bands, sound systems, beer and cheer.
3. Turtle love Holidaymakers are not the only demographic to flock to Tobago’s beaches. The northwest portion of the coast is a hatching haven for sea turtles, with giant leatherbacks, green turtles and hawksbills all visible on the likes of Stonehaven Bay and Turtle Beach during the peak nesting season (May to June). This delicate situation is treated carefully. SOS (Save Our Sea Turtles) Tobago offers guidelines on how discreetly to observe these cautious creatures (sos-tobago.org) — while the Turtle Beach resort (rexresorts.com) and Plantation Beach Villas (plantationbeachvillas.com) are fine vantage points for the show.
4. Still waters Elsewhere on the island’s northwest edge, Buccoo Bay has earned highlight status due to what waits in its waters. With its pretty clusters of coral, the Buccoo Reef, just off shore, is perfect for a lazy hour of snorkelling. Then there is the Nylon Pool, a patch of shallow sea where light bounces off the surface to picturesque effect. Legend has it that the name came from Princess Margaret, who visited the Pool in 1962, and remarked, somewhat oddly, that it was as clear as her nylon stockings. A brief dip here is reputed to leave you looking five years younger. Find out if it’s true with Tobago Coastal Boat Tours (whateverboattourstobago.com), which runs a jaunt to both sites for £32.
5. Wild interior While the coastline will always be Tobago’s dominant attraction, there is much to see if you forge inland. In its eastern half, the terrain rears upwards, becoming forested, hilly and unexpectedly wild. This lost-world ambience manifests itself in several ways, but the most dramatic is the Argyle Waterfalls — a three-tiered cascade that plunges 54m down a craggy slope. Located off the Windward Road, just north of the village of Roxborough, it is accessed via a 20-minute hike along a trail from the parking area. Admission is £5, which includes a guide.
6. Something in reserve Also in the east, the Tobago Forest Reserve shows Tobago’s remarkable biodiversity in its most intense form. Laid out around the Main Ridge (the isle’s tree-clad spine) is the oldest protected rainforest zone on the planet — it was ring-fenced in 1776. As a result, it shelters many of the 6,000 plant and animal species that call Tobago home. Hiking paths meander through this humid enclave and provide a glimpse of the island as it was a millennium ago. Details at gotrinidadandtobago.com.
7. On the wing With the twittering array of feathered friends that flit in its canopy — kingfishers, motmots, hummingbirds — the Forest Reserve is heaven for birdwatchers. But then so is the entire island. Caledonia Wildlife Bird Sanctuary, at Black Rock near Turtle Beach, plays host to a rainbow of coloured plumage. Then there is the Holy Grail, the islet of Little Tobago, which sits just over a mile off the east coast. Peter Cox Nature Tours (tobagonaturetours.com) does trips out to this raw bluff, where seabirds — the brown booby and the red-billed tropicbird — breed.
8. Stay awhile Excursions to Little Tobago sail from Speyside, a charming village on the main island’s eastern lip. The Blue Waters Inn is basic but comfy (bluewatersinn.com), its 38 rooms set next to Batteaux Bay. A seven-night stay in September costs from £697 a head (two sharing) via British Airways (+44(0)844 493 0758,britishairways.com/holidays), including direct flights from London Gatwick and breakfast. The coral-rich waters of the bay are also ideal for diving. Aquamarine Dive (aquamarinedive.com) serves up a ‘Discover Scuba Diving’ taster for £51.
9. Spoilt for choice Tobago does not disappoint if you are seeking a more refined place to sleep, such as the Magdalena Grand Beach Resort (magdalenagrand.com), which became the first new hotel on the island in 12 years last year. A hideaway on the south coast, just beyond the capital Scarborough, this 750-acre complex of villas and bungalows comes with three swimming pools, 2½ miles of beach and an 18-hole golf course. A seven-night stay in September costs from £752 per person (two sharing), including flights and breakfast, with British Airways (britishairways.com/holidays).
10. It’s a shore thing Though decidedly smaller than its partner in nationhood Trinidad (which, 25 miles to the southwest, is some 16 times bigger than its sibling), Tobago is blessed with a wealth of wonderful beaches. Many of these are grouped at the southwest tip, where Store Bay and Pigeon Point are popular with locals and tourists alike. But the isle’s elongated shape — it spreads 26 miles east to west, yet no more than six miles north to south — means that you will also find a number of crescents of undeniable majesty on its quiet upper coast. Parlatuvier Bay and — especially — Englishman’s Bay may be among the world’s finest seafront sands.
11. Curry in a hurry Not even the winner of the Easter Tuesday crab race avoids the fate of most crustaceans on Tobago, ending its time as a portion of ‘crab and dumplins’ — a hearty dose of seafood in curry sauce. One of the staples of an island where the domestic cuisine is unfussy and inexpensive, you can buy it at the cluster of stalls dotted along the curve of Store Bay. Alternatively, if you want to dine with a real local flourish, Jemma’s Seaview Kitchen (+1 868 660 4066) is a Speyside landmark — partly thanks to its spicy chicken, shrimp, and peas and rice, partly because it occupies a giant treehouse above the waves.
12. Capital gains Tobagonian life also swirls and sways in Scarborough, the busy little capital. Its daily market is a flurry of fruit, veg, fish and fast food, with a few arts and crafts thrown in. Meanwhile, on a hill above town, the Tobago Museum tells the story of an island tossed between the various European powers 33 times from 1654 to 1814. Cocooned within the husk of Fort King George, this small institution covers Tobago’s Amerindian past, as well as dark memories of the slave trade, and is open weekdays 9am—4.30pm (£1).
13. I should cocoa Those with a sweet tooth can find a further throwback to an earlier Tobago just outside Roxborough. The Tobago Cocoa Estate (tobagococoa.com) is a recent resurrection (it launched in 2005) of a process that was once one of the island’s foremost sources of income. Tobago’s cocoa and sugar industries have largely faded away, but daily tours (75 minutes, £6) of this estate immerse visitors in the historic trials and tribulations of plantation life — while also offering welcome opportunities to sample chocolate and rum.
14. Meet the big brother A defiantly different beast to Tobago (louder, busier, brasher), Trinidad is nonetheless hugely accessible from its neighbour. Fast catamaran services dash from Scarborough to Port of Spain at least once a day (two hours, 45 minutes, £10 return; schedule atpatnt.com). Quicker but less romantic, the local air-bridge flight takes 25 minutes for £31 return. Trinidad is certainly worth visiting — for the religious grandeur of Mount St Benedict, a monastery in the Northern Range of mountains, for the north-coast beauty of Maracas Bay — or for Carnival, the pre-Lent riot of colour and noise that is a close relative of Rio’s iconic bash.
15. Knots tied in style Palm-fringed and relaxed, Tobago is a vastly suitable location for swapping vows. The major hotels are equipped for weddings — including the Magdalena Grand and Plantation Beach Villas, as well as the stately Blue Haven Hotel (bluehavenhotel.com) on the south coast at Bacolet Bay. However, for nuptials with a twist, the show-stealer is Store Bay’s five-star favourite Coco Reef (cocoreef.com), where a partnership with scuba-dive outfit Undersea Tobago (underseatobago.com) means couples can say ‘I do’ below the surface. Elsewhere, Cuffie River Nature Retreat (cuffie-river.com) towards the centre of the island, does white dresses and gold rings inside the rainforest.