A guide for eco adventurers, nature lovers & outdoor enthusiasts
Voted the world’s top eco-tourism destination (World Travel Awards, 2003), this tiny cigar-shaped Caribbean island has been blessed with a tremendous richness of flora and fauna, playing host to all the major ecosystems: tropical rainforests, mangroves, wetlands, lowland forests, coral reef systems and seabird-nesting islands.
Tobago is special, with many species either endemic to the island or to the region. Offshore there are 44 species of coral, three species of endangered sea turtles and over 80 species of tropical reef fish. Manta, eagle and sting rays; hammerhead, nurse and black-tipped reef sharks; hawksbill, green and leatherback turtles; moray eels; barracuda; dolphin; and pelagic species, such as marlin, can all be seen.
Onshore there are over 210 species of birds, 21 species of non-venomous snakes, rare lizards, frogs (including the endangered Bloody Bay poison frog), and bats (including large fish-eating ones). Even in fairly developed districts you can expect to be woken at dawn by the cries of cocricos, or be visited on your verandah by bananaquits and blue tanagers.
Fertile and pristine, and blessed with continental biodiversity from the time when Tobago (and Trinidad) were joined to the South American mainland, Tobago brims with activities and adventures to satisfy the most active eco-explorer – and there’s plenty to interest the more laid back nature lover too. Whatever your pleasure, you are far more likely to run short of time than of things to do in Tobago; perhaps this is why so many visitors return, year after year.
Glass-bottom boat tours
One of the most popular marine activities, suitable for all ages and fitness levels. The spectacular coral reefs are a great draw with visitors, who can experience them through a glass-bottom boat tour and/or snorkelling, but an increasingly large number are opting for the exhilarating alternative of scuba diving. A tour of Buccoo Reef includes the intriguingly named Nylon Pool, and the other-worldly Coral Gardens replete with staghorn and star coral, sea fans and other octocorals. Speyside visitors have a chance to see one of the world’s largest brain coral.
Snorkelling & diving
Available island-wide for every level of expertise. Drift snorkelling and diving in coastal areas minimises damage to the living reefs. In addition to an assortment of tropical fish, in November–June huge manta rays glide silently alongside the undersea visitor. The variety of snorkelling and dive sites is unparalleled in the Caribbean: there is the 10,000-year-old Buccoo Reef, Kilgwyn Flying Reef, Culloden Reef, Speyside (featuring one of the world’s largest and oldest big brain coral) and Charlotteville Reef, to name but a few.
Enjoy kite surfing, kayaking, and jet skiing: popular spots are Pigeon Point, Mt. Irvine and Charlotteville. For traditional surfboarding, Mt. Irvine and Grange Bay are exceptional; and the wind is just right for kite surfing at Little Rockly Bay. There are chartered boats that sail up the coast serving refreshment in a wonderful Caribbean atmosphere.
For those who prefer catching fish to swimming alongside them, Tobago offers the chance to tread in Hemingway’s footsteps. Game fishing off Tobago shores has exploded in recent years with the capture of some serious heavyweights. A junior world record 404kg (890lb) blue marlin was caught in the 2008 TTGFA (Trinidad and Tobago Game Fishing Association) tournament off Charlotteville. The T&T Game Fishing Association has six fishing tournaments scheduled for 2010. Environmentally sound techniques are employed; a catch and release program ensures that non-champion sized catches are tagged and returned to the sea. The key offshore seasons are: October–April for marlin, sailfish, wahoo, tuna and dorado (dolphin fish); and May–September for barracuda, kingfish, bonito, and snapper.
Hiking, mountain biking and horseback trails carry you into the heart of the island. The most frequented hiking area is the Main Ridge forest, easily accessibly by the Gilpin and Niplig trails. Running along the central spine of the island, these 14,000 acres of lush tropical rainforest have been protected since 1776, making it the oldest legally-protected area in the western hemisphere. The last blip of the Andean chain, the island’s flora and fauna is more continental than Antillean. Biking enthusiasts can opt for easy trails, like those passing through the boardwalk around the Lowlands area, or extreme mountain trails that can be reached only on foot – all offer spectacular vistas. Guides are recommended or required.
The central rainforest is a must-see for bird watchers and hikers alike. Enjoy its rugged terrain, stunning biodiversity and the chance to experience its many streams, river systems, and picturesque waterfalls. Another favoured birding trip is Little Tobago – home to thousands of nesting red-billed tropic birds as well being the former home of the Bird of Paradise; rare red-billed tropic birds nest December–July. The imposing frigate birds seen circling high above the ocean roost on St. Giles.
The Grafton Caledonia Wildlife Bird Sanctuary, formerly a cocoa plantation, is now a nature centre complete with winding trails frequented by the “king of the woods”, or mot mot. The Estate evolved into a wildlife sanctuary after 1963’s Hurricane Flora. There’s no charge to enter the estate or use the nature trails. A small Visitors’ Centre at the Copra House provides documentation on wildlife and a brief history of the Sanctuary. Twice daily feedings guarantee excellent bird sightings. One of the best times to visit is 4pm when flocks of birds descend on the Copra House for the Sanctuary’s feeding time.
One of Tobago’s best-known nature activities is watching the ancient nesting ritual of the sea turtles (March–August) on Tobago’s beaches. Although five species of marine turtles are either native to or migratory to Tobago, the most common are the giant (and endangered) leatherback, hawksbill and green. All (and their eggs) are legally protected. Leatherbacks come ashore primarily in Black Rock, while the coral reefs of the northeast welcome hawksbills. Greens can be found near seagrass beds around the island. Guides are available, particularly in the Grafton/Turtle Beach/Courland Bay/Back Bay area, to accompany visitors wanting to observe one of nature’s enduring spectacles. Back Bay and Grafton Beach are other nesting locations. For further information and free guided tours contact SOS Tobago (Save Our Seaturtles Tobago), a charity run by local forest rangers.
Tobago’s several waterfalls also originate in the Main Ridge and are popular with hikers and birders. Experienced guides can escort you through the rainforest or to the 3-tiered Argyle Falls near Roxborough. Visitors to Rainbow Waterfall can experience local cultivation techniques while literally sharing in the fruits of their labour.
More on popular waterfall treks:
- Argyle Falls (Roxborough): at 137m (450ft) above sea level, these are Tobago’s highest falls, with three refreshing pools, which come into view after a gentle, roughly 20-minute hike. How high you climb is up to you! Certified guides offer special tours. Admission fee
- Castara Waterfall: a very short and easy but refreshing forest walk
- Highland Waterfall (Moriah): a moderately challenging roughly 30-minute trek to one of the island’s most breathtaking falls
- Mason Falls (Mason Hall): 50ft waterfall on the outskirts of Mason Hall
- Parlatuvier Waterfall: a short hike gets you to these falls’ two beautiful pools
- Twin Rivers Waterfall (Belle Garden): a gentle roughly 40-minute trek through thick brush.
- We always recommend going with an authorised and reputable guide
Tobago Cocoa Estate
Aworking cocoa plantation and heritage park, where visitors can participate in the fermentation and drying processes. Once considered a dying art, these techniques are being revitalised for the first time since Hurricane Flora decimated Tobago’s cocoa crops in 1963
Adventure Nature Reserve
These beautiful tropical gardens are set on a 12-acre nature reserve which grows citrus, mangoes, bananas, papayas, guavas and West Indian cherries. A variety of bird life can be seen here, including herons, egrets, motmots, hummingbirds, chacalaca, woodpeckers, jacamars and many more. The birds are fed to the sounds of an antique ship’s bell. There is a butterfly garden and a shelter for endangered species. Fully-equipped eco villas are also available
Cuffie River Nature Retreat
Great bird watching and nature tours, as well as an easily accessible river
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
Getting to this dam entails a 2-mile drive along a dirt road (it’s impassable during heavy rain, so check the weather before setting out), but it’s set in a richly forested area good for bird spotting. An entrance permit is required from the Water and Sewerage Authority
The northern tip of Tobago, reached via an unpaved road from the crest of the hill before descending into Charlotteville. It was the site of 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.
Tips & tricks
- Permits are needed for some locations and activities (like camping and turtle-watching), but any reputable guide or tour operator will 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
- 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
- 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
- When turtle watching, do not use flash photography, touch or otherwise disturb nesting turtles, as this can cause them severe distress
- Keep Tobago clean: don’t discard your rubbish in waterways and in the outdoors. This can cause flooding and environmental pollution.
Featured eco tour operators
However you choose to explore this nature lover’s playground – hiking, diving, bird watching, mountain biking, sailing, horse riding, kayaking, turtle watching, sport fishing or island touring in a 4×4 jeep – our advertisers have it covered.
Frankie’s Tours & Rentals
Mt. Irvine Beach Facilities Car Park. T: 631-0369, 394-4553, 681-3717, E: email@example.com, W: frankietours.com
One of the island’s best and most experienced tour guides is Michael Frank. His 21 years of knowledge, allied to a 19-strong team, six buses and four boats, means he can accommodate any tour desired, be it bird watching, hiking, island tours incorporating beautiful historic locations (forts, museums and old sugar plantation ruins), snorkelling, or even dolphin watching (bottle-nosed, Atlantic grey and spinner). Frank’s evening cruise (US$65) offers unlimited cocktails, a buffet, the chance to watch roosting birds flying in over tranquil lagoons, and then rounds it all off with a dip in the Nylon Pool. Understandably, it is a favourite. He also operates an extensive fleet of rental cars and vans.
Hews Boat Tours
53 Coral Lane, Coral Garden, Buccoo. T: 639-9058, E: firstname.lastname@example.org, W: hews-tours.com
Hews runs the full gamut of onshore and offshore excursions with an emphasis on fun. The ever-popular glass-bottom boat tour (US$25) cruises over Buccoo Reef’s serene tropical waters, allows snorkelling among vibrantly coloured reef fish, and swimming in the Nylon Pool’s crystal clear waters. Extend your day by incorporating a Beach Barbecue Party (US$55) featuring food served to the sounds of calypso and then, after lunch, try your hand (or back!) at limbo. Other tours include the rainforest, bird watching, round-the-island, and even a day tour to Trinidad incorporating shopping, nature, craft, and culture.
Whether your passion is diving, snorkelling, fishing, or any other watersport, then head for Tobago’s first dedicated watersports retailer. Ocean Experience offers the island’s widest range of scuba and snorkelling equipment, plus every accessory for that beach or boat excursion. And if you’re looking to land that big one, visit the new Ocean Experience Tackle Company in Pigeon Point Road, Crown Point. If you’re in the market for deep sea trolling, or just casting from the beach, Ocean has the gear and expert advice you need. Open Monday–Saturday, 8am–5pm.
Plantation Beach Watersports / Sail Tobago
P.O. Box 1106, Bon Accord. T: 639-SAIL (7245) / 620-SAIL, E: email@example.com, W: sailtobago.com
Here, you can book an all-inclusive boat cruise on the Island Girl, a 43-foot catamaran that sails up Tobago’s Caribbean coastline. Enjoy a day of great sailing with friendly and professional crew and some fantastic snorkelling (equipment is supplied) plus an open bar and buffet lunch.
Sherman’s Auto Rentals & Ground Tours
Lambeau Village. T: 639-2292, F: 639-3084, E: firstname.lastname@example.org, W: shermansrental.com
If you’re independently spirited, just want to pick up a Discover Trinidad and Tobago map and go exploring, or simply crave the convenience of transportation at your fingertips, then visit one of the leaders in Tobago vehicle rentals. Sherman’s boasts top-notch customer service including: accommodation arrangements; airport transfers; vehicle exchange; collision damage waiver; free eighth day with seven days’ rental; free weekly maintenance and a 24-hour emergency service. Sherman’s offers top-of-the-line luxury cars and jeeps for US$40-100 a day and US$240–600 a week.
Top Notch Tours & Taxi Service
Keron Smith, a certified tour guide with 10 years’ experience, and his company specialise in large group excursions (25–30 and upwards). The most popular tour is the all-day Pirate’s Adventure (US$80) which picks up for 9am before sailing up the Atlantic coastline to Charlotteville. There a glass-bottom boat is taken to three different reefs for snorkelling, before ending the day with a barbecue at beautiful Pirate’s Bay. Other trips include Genesis Nature Park and Reserve, and Coastline Snorkelling. Keron’s taxi service is also on hand for all airport, hotel, and Sunday School pick-ups.