Here are eight of our favourite Tobago experiences
The Northside: a ride on the wild side
The road less travelled along the Caribbean coast is a wonderland of serenity, stunning natural beauty, and old-time living. From the moment you turn on to the Northside Road, you feel the difference. The world is suddenly greener. Quieter. Red, ripe cashews litter the road, and mango trees droop as thousands of sinfully delicious julie, starch, bombay and rose mangoes ripen in the sun. A cow grazing in a field of flowers raises its head slowly as a family of German visitors – parents, children and a baby in a backpack – pass by, on their way back from a hike to a waterfall.
This is the charm of Tobago’s Caribbean coast, where the pace of life has changed only slightly in the last 100 years. The real wonder of Tobago is how the people have held on to traditions through the centuries – mostly out of necessity. From living off the land to helping each other to build their homes, customs of self-sufficiency and community are still very much alive, especially in the villages along the North Side Road. Everyone knows everyone, with many families having lived in the same village for generations.
In villages like Castara, life has always revolved around the sea, and fishing is still a major source of income for many men. You can always find a few liming on the beach after hauling in the day’s catch, or just chilling. The young men of Tobago know the sea like a best friend. The waves are calm enough so it’s safe for children to swim in the shallows and the reefs teem with the most brilliantly coloured fish, turtles and stingrays. During nesting season, this is where hundreds of leatherback turtles come to the beaches to lay their eggs.
Spend a day at any of the beaches in Parlatuvier, Englishman’s Bay or Castara, and you’ll be tempted to join their ranks and stake out your own spot in the shade of a coconut tree.
Twice a week, some women in Castara fire up an old-style dirt oven and bake bread and cakes. The many old wooden houses along the stretch of coast will delight the architecture buff. You can find simple, one-room dwellings that are centuries old, still standing strong on cornerstones.
Although there are modern guesthouses with all amenities, even a pool, they are not large or intrusive. In fact, most tend to make the most of the natural bounty around – such as dozens of gorgeous blue tanagers, orange-winged parrots, bananaquits and corn birds – and peaceful ambience. You can find fabulous eco-friendly log cabins with compost heaps and organic vegetable plots – ideal for a holiday with a conscience.
For birders, the most important person in Tobago is Newton George. A retired forest ranger, George has more than 35 years of experience in the Main Ridge Forest Reserve, the oldest protected rainforest in the western hemisphere. A tour with him rewards the avid birder with sightings of the rare manakins and hummingbirds that inhabit this tranquil preserve. If you don’t see a bird for a few minutes, he will simply call one.
Nobody knows Tobago’s birds better than George. He has intimate knowledge of every corner of the island and is as at home in the flatlands around Crown Point as he is in the northern ranges of the Main Ridge Forest Reserve. Safeguarded from developers since 1776, the rainforest is home to many of Tobago’s birds, including the many colourful macaws that make a ruckus as they fly overhead on the way to or from Venezuela.
Adventure Farm & Nature Reserve
When owner Ean MacKay rings a bell, as he has been doing for years now, 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 rare all-white hummingbird was spotted and photographed at Adventure Farm in late 2013.
A trained guide dog can take you on a tour among the trails, or you can take a walk down to the tilapia pond. Kids will love feeding the fish, while you relax and take in the serene beauty. You can taste the bounty of this land in their fresh fruit juices made from whatever is in season – cherry, soursop, mango, pawpaw, guava. This is sustainable living that makes both you and Nature very happy. www.adventure-ecovillas.com
Cuffie River Nature Retreat
In the mountains of Moriah, just off the western end of the Main Ridge, a derelict cocoa estate has been turned into a forest hideaway. At this world-class bird-watching retreat, all the rooms face the forest, where the tiny whirlwinds known as hummingbirds have made their home. www.cuffie-river.com
Between Roxborough and Belle Garden you will find the famous Argyle Falls, which is also part of the Main Ridge. The main office, where you pay a small admission fee, also rents water-proof boots. On the walk to the falls you can admire the emerald-green tangle of flowers, ferns, bromeliads and trees that make up the forest. The top of the falls is high, with three pools of deliciously cold, flowing water. You can climb the rocks to the top or just marvel at the power of the cascading water from below. This is a great activity for the entire family. www.argylewaterfall.org
Save a Leatherback
During turtle nesting season (March-August), the endangered Leatherback comes ashore at Great Courland Bay (Turtle Beach). Save our Sea Turtles (SOS) monitors and collects data on the three main leatherback nesting beaches in the Courland Bay area and at key sites around the island and offshore.
SOS welcomes volunteers to spend the night tagging turtles; count nests in the early morning and rescue disoriented hatchlings. This is a chance to see one of the most extraordinary sights in the world – and also to help save these awesome creatures.
For many visitors who have never seen a Giant Leatherback turtle, patrolling the beach with SOS is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Seeing the mother lay her eggs, cover them up and return safely back to the ocean is a memory to treasure.
You have to commit to a minimum of four weeks between March and September to really contribute to the work in a meaningful way. Read more in our interview with them here.
Fancy riding into the sunset? On the beach? Or through some woodland trails? Stonehaven, Grand Courland and Canoe Bay are the most popular beaches for this. Book at the office in Canoe Bay or ask your hotels to arrange it. Read more about them here. www.friendshipridingstables.com and www.being-with-horses.com
Making brown gold
The Tobago Estate Chocolate
In the hills above the village of Roxborough, towards the eastern end of the island, Tobago Cocoa Estate produces its own premium chocolate bar from cocoa grown on the estate. Owner Duane Dove, a sommelier by profession, also twins aged rums with his fine chocolate, which was given the ultimate three stars by the London Guild of Fine Foods last year.
The chocolate is available for tasting on the estate itself, as part of tour packages. Visitors are taken for walks among the cassava and banana plants and red-flowered immortelle trees that shade the young cocoa trees, which are covered by netting to keep parrots and squirrels away. A falconer with trained hawks also helps to police the fields.