Tobago sightseeing & eco escapes — the 2017 edition
Tobago is small enough for much of it to be seen in a day, especially if you start out early. Tour operators offer a range of full-day and half-day tours, plus specialised itineraries based on your interests. For eco tours and adventures, make sure to book a tour with a registered tour operator or guide. For easy day trips and sightseeing (where some sites include a guided tour), you can also hire a tour guide/operator to take you around (see gotrinidadandtobago.com and visittobago.gov.tt). Or if you feel confident on the road, you can rent a vehicle, pick up a Discover T&T map, and go exploring on your own!
FIVE OF OUR FAVOURITES SIGHTS TO SEE
Fort King George & the Tobago Museum
Formerly a critical point of defence for the island, the fort offers a stunning view of the harbour, capital, and the Windward coast from 140m (460ft) above sea level. The site includes a military cemetery, the old chapel and cellblock, and the Tobago Museum, which displays Amerindian artefacts, colonial relics, military memorabilia, and fossils from Tobago’s distant past. Open Monday–Friday, 9am–4pm, 639-3970
And if you like forts with great views, here are three more:
- Granby Point: a relaxing spot on the windward coast, with beachfront area and playground below
- Fort Milford: a perfect spot for watching the sun dip below the horizon on the Caribbean coast. The fort was built in 1777 by the British; only a few cannon and walls remain
- Fort Bennett: here you can look out over Stonehaven Bay (Caribbean coast) from a little pavilion.
Scarborough Botanical Gardens
Relax among brilliant flamboyants, silk cotton trees, and avenues of royal palms while enjoying its extensive grounds and captivating views.
Kimme Museum: “The Castle”
The late German-born sculptor Luise Kimme produced arresting larger-than-life wood and bronze sculptures inspired by local culture. Fellow sculptor Dunieski Lora Pileta now manages and works in the museum/atelier. Reservations are required. 639-0257, www.luisekimme.com.
Take in the Courlander Monument, a striking sculpture commemorating 17th-century settlers from Courland (now part of Latvia); Fort James; and the Mystery Tombstone with its cryptic inscription: “She was a mother without knowing it, and a wife without letting her husband know it, except by her kind indulgences to him.”
This site in northwestern Tobago was an American military lookout and radio tower during World War II. The view is panoramic, encompassing the St Giles Islands and the village of Charlotteville.
EVERGREEN ECO ADVENTURES
Why are eco escapes and adventures one of the main reasons that people come to Tobago? It’s because of the incredible diversity per square mile that you’ll find on the island. Like Trinidad, Tobago was once joined to the South American mainland, inheriting a continental legacy of plants, birds, insects, mammals, and topography that make both islands distinct from their Caribbean neighbours.
The lay of the land (and sea)
Tobago’s southwest is flat, undulating, and coral-based, with limestone cliffs and white-sand beaches. The northeast features coral-crusted rock formations; and the rainforest reserve of the mountainous Main Ridge is full of waterfalls, rivers, and streams. There’s also swampland and mangrove, and a variety of reefs offshore. In these rich ecosystems, you’ll find:
- Birds: 200+ recorded species
- Butterflies: 130+ species (including the impressive blue emperor)
- Coral: 44 species
- Fish: 80+ species of tropical reef fish
- Mammals: 12 kinds of mammals, including 17 bat species
- Reptiles & amphibians: 5 marine turtle species (including the endangered giant leatherback); 25 snake species (none of them poisonous); 14 frog species; and 6 lizard species.
- Tobago’s central mountain range, the Main Ridge (rising to 876m/1,890ft), encompasses the oldest protected rainforest in the western hemisphere, which became a reserve in 1776
- The largest live brain coral (about 3m/10ft by 5m/16ft) was recorded off Speyside
- Tobago has won many awards, including four World Travel Awards (two for being the world’s leading eco-tourism destination).
If you’re in Tobago between March and September, this is something you must add to your itinerary. It is magical and humbling to witness this ancient sea ritual.
Each season five species of marine turtles, which are either native to or migratory to Tobago, come ashore to nest. Their adorable offspring hatch 6–8 weeks later, and make a mad dash for the open sea.
The most common nesting turtles in Tobago are the giant leatherback, hawksbill, and green. All (and their eggs) are vulnerable, and consequently legally protected. While many of Tobago’s beaches see nesting turtles each year, leatherbacks come ashore primarily on the southwestern coast, and hawksbills on the southeast.
For further information and free guided tours contact SOS Tobago (Save Our Sea Turtles Tobago), or a reputable tour guide. Many resorts on nesting beaches can also arrange for guides, or notify you either when turtles have been sighted coming ashore to nest, or when clutches of baby turtles are being prepared for release into the ocean.
Things to remember:
- Do not touch or disturb nesting turtles or hatchlings. Try to be quiet and unobtrusive, and do not use flashlights or flash photography. Lights, noise and activity tend to disorient both turtles and hatchlings
- Do not drive on nesting beaches; the weight of the vehicle can crush eggs buried in the sand.
If you love animals, the sea, and have a soft spot for rescued horses with moving back-stories, then you’ll want to check out Being With Horses. Founded in 2008 and run by German-born Veronika La Fortune and her husband Lennon, they offer a range of activities, including sunset swim-ride sessions, trail rides and picnic rides, and horseback weddings with their gentle and happy herd of six horses. The team also operates Healing with Horses, which offers therapeutic riding to differently abled children. Book early, as they’re often full up! 639-0953, being-with-horses.com • healing-with-horses.org
Boons for birders & naturalists
Adventure Farm & Nature Reserve
When owner Ean MacKay rings a bell, dozens of hummingbirds, tanagers, and bananaquits swoop in to feed on fruits and sugared water. A trained guide dog can take you on a tour among the trails of this 12-acre property in Arnos Vale, or you can take a walk down to the tilapia pond. Open Monday–Saturday, 7am–6pm, 639-2839
At 137m (450ft) above sea level near Roxborough, these are Tobago’s highest falls. The top of the three-tiered falls is high, with three pools of deliciously cold, flowing water. How high you climb is up to you! Certified guides offer bird-watching tours, tours for children, and adults. Admission $60 adults, $30 children; open daily 9am–5pm, 660-4152
Corbin Local Wildlife Park
Covering 20 acres in the hills near Mason Hall, overlooking Hope Bay, this flagship project of the International Natural Forestry Foundation (INFF) opened in 2015. It combines forest hiking trails, a lily pond, enclosures and captive breeding areas (housing rescued animals and threatened species for release back into the wild). Nature lovers will enjoy the park’s array of native flora and fauna — trees, shrubs, birds, reptiles, mammals, and more. 327-4182, tobagowildlife.com
Genesis Nature Park & Art Gallery
Artist Michael Spencer opens his home and garden to visitors. He’ll introduce you to his capuchin monkeys, boa constrictors, caiman, cocrico, and others. There’s a small entrance fee. 660-4668
Grafton Caledonia Bird & Wildlife Sanctuary
This former cocoa plantation became a wildlife sanctuary after 1963’s Hurricane Flora. A small Visitors’ Centre at the Copra House provides documentation on wildlife and a brief history of the Sanctuary, which includes winding trails frequented by the “king of the woods”, or mot mot. Twice daily feedings (one is at 4pm) guarantee excellent bird sightings.
Both a land and a sea adventure! Once a haven for imported Birds of Paradise from New Guinea, which were later wiped out by hurricanes, the island is now a bird sanctuary. Glass-bottom boat tours depart Blue Waters Inn twice daily.
Main Ridge Forest Reserve
These 14,000 acres are the oldest protected forest reserve in the western hemisphere (declared in 1776). Tours typically start at Gilpin Trace, and can be anything from a short and gentle 45-minute hike to an accessible waterfall, or can take an entire day into the interior. Other popular treks are the Atlantic, Blue Copper, and Niplig trails.
Tobago Estate Chocolate
Premium chocolate is made from cocoa grown in the hills above Roxborough. Owner Duane Dove also twins aged rums with his fine chocolate. Guided tours take you among the cassava and banana plants and red-flowered immortelle trees that shade the young cocoa trees. A falconer with trained hawks helps to police the fields. There’s free chocolate at the end and a chance to buy more. 390-2021, tobagococoa.com
Bon Accord bioluminescence
In the Bon Accord Lagoon, the water lights up with blue-green light under the right conditions. It’s caused by millions of phytoplankton which emit flashes of light to startle predators.
This is one of Tobago’s most popular tours, even if the reef — the largest of many in Tobago, stretching from Pigeon Point to Buccoo Bay — unfortunately is not in peak condition. The smaller Angel Reef, near Speyside, is perhaps the best of the island’s reefs. The Buccoo Reef/Bon Accord Lagoon Complex is the island’s first Ramsar Site, recognised as a wetland of international importance. Plans were announced in 2015 for an underwater sculpture park. Glass-bottom boat tours depart Pigeon Point and Store Bay twice (or more) daily.
The Nylon Pool
Often paired with a trip to Buccoo Reef and No Man’s Land is a stop at the Nylon Pool — a warm, metre-deep sandbar. Its name is said to have come from Princess Margaret, who claimed the water was as clear as her nylon stockings.
Kite-surfing, kite-boarding, kayaking, stand-up-paddling, surfing … If these are your thing, head to Pigeon Point, Mt Irvine, Charlotteville, and Little Rockly Bay. Or sail up the coast with the Island Girl (620-7245, sailtobago.com) or Frankie’s (681-3717, frankietours.com). For more, check out the Tobago Kite-boarding Organisation (331-3775); Radical Sports Tobago (631-5150, radicalsportstobago.com); the Tobago Sea Kayak Experience (660-6186), and Stand Up Paddle (681-4741, standuppaddletobago.com).
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Sherman’s Auto Rentals
This vibrant, service-oriented company is operated by a staff that is dedicated to tourism in Tobago. We boast over twenty years in the Automobile Industry and today we offer Car Rental Services on the beautiful island of Tobago. Our clients are offered a choice of quality vehicles including cars, buses and SUVs. Meeting and greeting on arrival at the airport or at your holiday accommodation.