Tobago tours & adventures by land & by sea
One of the advantages of holidaying on a small island is that incredible experiences of every kind are in easy reach. From landmarks that whisper of the island’s complex history (it changed hands some 31 times in colonial days) to thrilling eco escapes and adventures by land or sea, the biggest challenge you’ll face is what to choose in the time you have.
For eco tours and adventures, book a tour with a registered tour operator or guide. For easy day trips and sightseeing, hire a tour guide/operator, or, if you feel confident on the road, rent a vehicle and go exploring on your own. Here are some of our favourite experiences for the most casual to the most intrepid explorers! (See our Beaches section and Eco escapes sections.)
Getting started — sightseeing tips & tricks
- Permits are needed for some locations and activities (like camping and turtle-watching); any reputable guide or tour operator can arrange these
- Don’t attempt a long hike or eco-adventure without a reputable, certified guide: it’s easy to get lost or have an accident
- Natural hazards: snakebites and scorpion stings are rare; the biggest natural danger is the Portuguese Man-o’-War, and the sap and fruit of the manchineel tree (most common on beaches). Seek local advice on whether these are present
- Clothing & accessories: wear long trousers for lengthy bush treks and never wear open-toed sandals. Comfortable shoes with good grip are recommended. Take a little knapsack with a change of clothes, socks and something to eat, stored in a waterproof bag. If you carry a camera that’s not waterproof, you’ll want to keep it here too. Avoid wearing black: it attracts mosquitoes and, if you’re in the open, soaks up the heat
- Keep Tobago clean: don’t discard your rubbish in waterways and in the outdoors. This can cause flooding and environmental pollution.
Tobago’s natural history
Once joined to the South American mainland, Tobago has inherited a continental legacy of flora, fauna and topography. The island’s small size offers easy access to its range of natural features: the flat, undulating, coral-based southwest with its white-sand beaches; the coral-crusted rock formations of the north; the tropical rainforest reserve of the Main Ridge, with its waterfalls, rivers and streams; the swampland and mangroves close to the ocean; and islands like Little Tobago off the north coast. Offshore, a variety of reef types include the shallow Buccoo Reef, and the deep reefs off the northeast.
Biodiversity in a nutshell
Tobago has an incredible degree of biodiversity for its small size. Its flora and fauna include:
- 210 recorded bird species
- 133 species of butterflies (including the impressive blue emperor)
- 80+ species of tropical reef fish
- 25 species of snake (none of them poisonous)
- 44 species of coral
- 17 species of bats
- 14 species of frog
- 12 species of mammals
- 5 species of marine turtles (including the endangered giant leatherback)
- 6 species of lizard.
Did you know?
Tobago has won many awards as a top destination for eco-tourism, including four World Travel Awards (two for being the world’s leading eco-tourism destination).
If you start early and hand-pick your stops, you can tour the entire island in a day. Check out our collection of favourite sites and attractions below to help you choose. A vehicle with 4WD would be ideal, but in the drier months a two-wheel drive should be adequate once you don’t intend to go off-road.
If you start in Crown Point or Shirvan Road, head north, where you’ll soon come upon the bucolic fishing villages along the Caribbean coast, the calmer side of Tobago. The road takes you from the southwest’s undulating limestone terrain to mountainous hard rock formations along the Main Ridge forest reserve. Magical Charlotteville occupies the northern tip, before the road curves back around to the more rugged Windward coast.
Speyside is the jewel of the northeast, the island’s diving Mecca; Goat Island and Little Tobago lie offshore. Jemma’s Treehouse is a popular place to stop for lunch on a round-the-island tour, while Argyle Falls is an easy hike and cool-down before the home stretch. The Windward Road then snakes southwards along the east coast back to Scarborough, Lowlands, and back to Crown Point. As a bonus, if you’re visiting during turtle nesting season, you can arrange to go turtle-watching in the evening.
Popular tour types
Tour operators offer tours that specialise in bird-watching, turtle-watching, snorkelling, diving, hiking and waterfalls, stand-up-paddling, mountain biking, sunset cruises, or coastal and round-the-island tours by land and sea. Some will let you customise your tour for a bit of everything.
Stuff of literary legend
It’s almost certain that Daniel Defoe used Tobago as the basis for the island in his classic novel Robinson Crusoe; some claim Robert Louis Stevenson did the same for Treasure Island.
- Fort Milford: a perfect spot for enjoying a Tobago sunset overlooking the Leeward coast; only a few cannon and walls remain
- 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, luisekimme.com.
- Fort Bennett: a beautiful lookout point over Stonehaven Bay, complete with a little pavilion and small garden
- Buccoo Reef & Nylon Pool: a must on any visit to Tobago, and suitable for all ages and fitness levels. Stretching from Pigeon Point to Buccoo Bay, an arc of five reef flats (the largest in Tobago), separated by channels, is home to some 40 species of coral. The Nylon Pool is a warm, metre-deep sandbar in the lagoon. Glass-bottom boat tours typically depart Pigeon Point and Store Bay twice daily
- Bioluminescence in Bon Accord: in Bon Accord Lagoon, the water lights up. The glowing blue-green light is caused by millions of phytoplankton which emit flashes of light to startle predators as they pass by. Tip: jump in and watch your starry outline light up the water. Stand Up Paddle Tobago offers tours
- The Grafton Caledonia Wildlife Bird Sanctuary: this former cocoa plantation is now a nature centre complete with winding trails frequented by the “king of the woods”, or motmot. A small Visitors’ Centre at the Copra House provides documentation on wildlife and a brief history of the Sanctuary. Twice daily feedings (the second at 4pm) guarantee excellent bird sightings
- Plymouth: the Courlander Monument is a striking sculpture commemorating 17th-century settlers from Courland (now part of Latvia). Also visit 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.”
- Adventure Farm & Nature Reserve: a haven for naturalists and bird watchers. When owner Ean MacKay rings a bell, the air hums with the sound of wings as 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, or you can take a walk down to the tilapia pond. Enjoy fresh fruit juices made from whatever is in season — cherry, soursop, mango, pawpaw, guava. There are guesthouses and other amenities on site
- Cuffie River Nature Retreat: in the mountains of Moriah, just off the western end of the Main Ridge, this world-class bird-watching locale offers accommodation and nature tours
- Main Ridge Forest Reserve: tours typically start at Gilpin Trace, and can be anything from a short and gentle 45-minute hike to an accessible waterfall, to an entire day into the interior. Other popular treks are the Atlantic, Blue Copper and Nilpig trails. In addition to hiking and bird-watching, the Main Ridge is also popular for mountain bikers
- Flagstaff Hill: at the northern tip of Tobago, off the North Coast Road, this former WWII American military lookout and radio tower offers panoramic views, encompassing the St Giles Islands and Charlotteville.
Did you know?
- The Buccoo Reef/Bon Accord Lagoon Complex is the island’s first Ramsar Site, recognised as a wetland of international importance. Buccoo Reef was once rated by legendary French oceanographer and explorer Jacques Cousteau as the third most spectacular reef in the world. Plans were announced in 2015 for an underwater sculpture park.
- The 14,000 acres of the Main Ridge (rising to 876m/1,890ft) encompasses the oldest protected rainforest in the western hemisphere. It became a reserve in 1776.
Fact or fiction?
The Nylon Pool’s name is said to have come from Princess Margaret, who claimed the water was as clear as her nylon stockings. We’ll also bet money that when you take a tour to Buccoo Reef and the Nylon Pool, your tour guide will tell you tales about the power of the waters to keep couples in love forever, to help you find your soul mate, and to heal the sick. Which certainly can’t hurt, can it?
- Little Tobago (Bird of Paradise Island): both a land and a sea adventure. Just 2km sq. (1.2 sq. miles), this is a trekker’s and bird watcher’s idyll. Once a haven for imported Birds of Paradise from New Guinea, which were wiped out by hurricanes, the island is now a bird sanctuary. Glass-bottom boat tours depart Blue Waters Inn, Speyside, twice daily
- Argyle Falls: between Roxborough and Belle Garden; a small admission fee paid at the main office gains you access (and water-proof boots, if you like) to the three levels of this Main Ridge waterfall. The top of the falls is high, with the challenging climb rewarded by three pools of deliciously cold, flowing water. This is a great activity for the entire family. Certified guides offer bird-watching and other specialised tours
- Tobago Cocoa Estate: near Roxborough, this is a working cocoa plantation and heritage park owned by Duane Dove, producing award-winning chocolate. There’s free chocolate at the end, and a chance to buy more
- Genesis Nature Park & Art Gallery: Michael Spencer opens his home and garden to visitors. He’ll introduce you to his capuchin monkeys, boa constrictors, caiman and cocrico, just to name a few. There’s a small entrance fee
- Fort King George & Tobago Museum: once an important site for the strategic defence of the island, the fort offers a beautiful view of the harbour, the capital, Bacolet and up the Windward coast from 140m (460ft) above sea level. The site includes the old military cemetery, chapel and cell-block. The Tobago Museum has displays of Amerindian artefacts, colonial relics, military memorabilia and fossils from Tobago’s distant past
- Scarborough Botanical Gardens: majestic trees, captivating views, and a chance to relax among brilliant flambouyants, silk cotton trees, and avenues of royal palms.