Not all roads lead to the beach in Tobago, just the main one: travel south along Claude Noel Highway and it will become Milford Road, at the end of which is the sea.
Easy Day Trip
Fort King George
Start out in Scarborough, at Fort King George. An important site for the strategic defence of the island, the fort overlooks Tobago’s capital and main harbour. It is not perhaps the most effective fortification ever built: Tobago was twice under French rule between 1777, when the fort’s construction was first authorised, and 1803, when the island was conclusively reclaimed by the British.
Today, it offers a beautiful view of a harbour no longer threatened by angry Europeans – unless you count the occasional visitor’s frustration with the traffic jams caused by the arrival or departure of the ferry to Trinidad. There is also a museum.
Tobago Cocoa Estate
From Fort King George, head north. The Windward road will carry you toward Roxborough and the Tobago Cocoa Estate W.I. LTD. Possibly the only thing better than chocolate is the feeling you have an inside track on how the food of the gods gets made. The estate is a working plantation. A tour – usually Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 11am – lets you see not just the pod in its natural habitat, but the way an estate is planted and managed in order to ensure the best crop. Though there’s a restricted area (the better to protect the precious beans and probably a trade secret or two), the process from planting to production is explained. There’s free chocolate at the end and a chance to buy more. www.tobagococoa.com
A More Intense Day Trip
Main Ridge Forest Reserve
For this day, as described, you will need guides. The first of which you will want to meet early in the morning (say, 7am) in the Main Ridge Forest Reserve at Gilpin Trace. A hike through the oldest protected forest land in the Western Hemisphere (it has been safeguarded from developers since 1776) can take a day, if you want it to. For this occasion, allow about an hour: sufficient to see many of the birds, trees and creatures of the forest.
The northern tip & Little Tobago
Suitably energised by a morning walk, point your car north toward Speyside, Charlotteville and Little Tobago.
For years and years, the main attraction of the trip to Little Tobago (also known as Bird of Paradise Island), a short boat ride from Speyside, has been the birds. The birds are wonderful but this trip has something to offer even those who don’t know their Motmots from their Boobies.
First, the glass-bottom boat ride itself takes you past several small uninhabited islands. The shades of blue from sea to crashing wave are uncountable. Once on the island, dedicated ornithologists and neophytes alike scan sky, trees, shrub and rock for the sight of rare species.
Even if you don’t see a single bird, the easy and gently-paced hike and the splendid views would make the trip worth it. And if you’re not interested in any of the above, there’s still the chance for some deep-water snorkelling on the way back. How can this be a missable trip?
Once returned to the larger Tobago, consider lunch in picturesque Charlotteville, or at Jemma’s Treehouse (aka, Jemma’s Seaview Kitchen) in Speyside. Duly sated, head south on the Windward road, pausing between Roxborough and Belle Garden to visit Argyle Falls.
Also part of the Main Ridge, a small entrance fee gives you access to the forest path you’ll have to walk along to get to the falls. (The main office also rents water-proof boots in case you were unfortunate enough not to think of bringing your own.) The falls are three-tiered, offering an easy hike for the most part, but also a little bit of scrabbling up rocks, if you don’t mind a dirt smear or two. The less easy part is just as fun.
Certified guides offer bird-watching tours, tours for school children and adults. Accommodation is also possible. See www.argylewaterfall.org for details.
By now, it will be getting dark, which means conditions are perfect for a run all the way to southern tip of the island, Pigeon Point. The bioluminescence tour of the neighbouring mangroves is your objective. It starts with stars. They come off the edge of your kayak’s paddle, a trail of pin-point stars lighting up the dark water. Dip your hand in. More stars. Magic. Well, actually it’s cold light that comes off of certain kinds of aquatic life, in the case of the Tobago’s southwest coast, it’s emitted by dinoflagellates. Get into the water to turn yourself into a starry outline of yourself. Be aware of your own skill (or lack) with the craft of your choice. There’s abundant opportunity to fall out or off of your conveyance; to crash wildly into the mangrove; to be conked on the head by an oar (yours or someone else’s). Be guided by your guides. They know the currents and tides better.
With thanks to Harris McDonald of the Tobago Tour Guide Association, who proved it is possible to make this ambitious schedule of activities work with a little forward planning and the help of some extremely facilitating guides.
On your own time
Buccoo Reef & the Nylon Pool
It is almost a legal requirement when writing about Tobago to mention the Nylon Pool. Many have puzzled over the name – it is an inventive comparison of Caribbean waters to hosiery, coined by Princess Margaret – but few are confused by its beauty. A boat from Buccoo or Pigeon Point (or anywhere where there is a boat) will bring you to one of the more memorable parts of the Caribbean Sea. If it is Sunday, be sure to take in Sunday School at Buccoo.
Turtle watching, healing horses and more
For the animal lover, check in with Save Our Sea Turtles (SOS) to see if the time is right for turtle watching. The Friendship Riding Stables and Being With Horses offer the chance to see the island on horseback.
And if you just want to relax, but need a break from the beach, consider one of Tobago’s many excellent spas: Coco Reef (www.cocoreef.com), Le Grand Courlan (www.legrandtobago.com) and Kariwak Village (www.kariwak.com) are but three options.