Sightseeing, day trips, and birdwatching: our picks for 2020
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 with a registered tour operator or guide (see visittobago.gov.tt). For easy day trips and sightseeing — if you feel confident on the road — you could rent a vehicle, pick up a Discover T&T map, and go exploring on your own! Here are a few of our favourites.
Fort King George
Scarborough’s crowning glory, this 18th century fort was the perfect location to keep a lookoutt for the many invaders who fought over this jewel. Set atop a hill, the restored colonial-era buildings offer spectacular views of Rockly Bay, the town of Scarborough, Bacolet Bay and the windward coast. You can sit on one of the benches under the giant samaan trees or saddle one of the cannons that line the stone walls.
The officers’ quarters now contain the Tobago Museum where you will find a collection of Amerindian artifacts, maps from the 1600s, military relics, paintings, and a small geology exhibit. Original buildings include the powder magazine, bell tank, lighthouse and cells. Opening hours: Monday–Friday, 9am–4:30pm. Admission to the museum: adults TT$10, teens TT$5, children TT$2. No entrance fee to the fort. Tel: 639-3970
If you like forts, here are two more:
- Fort Milford: built in 1777, a perfect spot for watching the sun dip below the horizon on the Caribbean coast
- Fort Bennett: look out over Stonehaven Bay from a little pavilion.
Covering some 50 acres a few miles above and beyond Scarborough, and brimming with both natural and built history, this magnificent estate boasts a range of unique attractions: you can tour its many nature trails or butterfly garden, its historic waterwheel and cocoa house (where accommodation is also offered), bird watch, and enjoy unique wagon rides or exhilarating ATV rides. They even offer destination weddings against the estate’s many stunning backdrops. concordiaestate.com, 235-8794
Corbin Local Wildlife Park
In Mason Hall, conservationist Roy Corbin has built a wildlife sanctuary that houses many of Tobago’s endangered animals — boa constrictors, agoutis (including a rare albino), opossums, green iguanas, collared peccary (which is nearly extinct in Tobago), and the spectacled caiman. Enclosures are big and as natural as possible. Corbin breeds and reintroduces as many of the animals as possible back into the rainforests. You may even have the honour of releasing an endemic possum or a manicou into the wild! You are allowed to go close and touch the animals. You will also learn about the uses of the native trees on the grounds. Climb to the top of the trail and enjoy the spectacular view from the verandah of his house. 327-4182
Tobago Cocoa Estate
Sold by Fortnum & Mason’s in the UK, Tobago Cocoa Estate’s chocolate is made exclusively from our highly acclaimed Trinitario beans. This plantation (near Roxborough) is a heritage park where you can learn about the history of cocoa on the island and see how it is grown, picked and dried — and enjoy rum and chocolate-tasting session at the end. Estate tours require a minimum of 10 people. Scheduled tours from December to April are on Fridays at 11am, and by appointment only May to November. No wheelchair access. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. 390-2021.
An absolute must for birders, Little Tobago is a remote little island where Sir David Attenborough filmed frigatebirds hijacking tropicbirds for their fish in midair. You can take a glass-bottom boat from Speyside (at Blue Waters Inn). On the way you can stop off to see the brain coral and the Japanese Gardens. In fact, Angel Reef is perhaps the island’s finest.
The climb up the island is not very strenuous but there are lots of steps. The guides ensure that water is caught or brought for the birds in feeders placed around the island (there are no rivers or streams). Best to go between April and September, as the water can get rough from October to March. Dress sensibly with good walking shoes (sandals not advised), and carry water. You can go snorkelling afterwards. The water is abundant with damselfish and other beauties. An unforgettable experience.
Birdwatching & more!
Cuffie River Nature Retreat
This rainforest retreat near Runnemede is nestled among untouched forests and mountains and borders the Main Ridge Forest Reserve. A popular base for birders (up to 80 species sighted) and nature lovers, the family-run eco-lodge is remote yet modern and a pioneer in sustainable tourism. The swimming pool is built above ground and offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape. Physically challenged guests can use a ramp. Salt is used to purify the swimming pool; no trees are cut down unless absolutely necessary; an eco-friendly design and use of clay and wood keep the rooms cool and light without need for AC or fans; and a rain-fed water system uses a charcoal filter instead of chlorine. Short-flushing toilets save water and fluorescent bulbs are used throughout. A composting system uses most of the kitchen waste; no canned products are used — only fresh veggies and fruits, which are grown in the garden. All plastic bags and containers are recycled wherever practical and possible. You can go on nature hikes with a very knowledgeable guide who can explain everything about the island’s birds, agriculture, wildlife and medicinal plants. cuffie-river.com • 660-0505
Main Ridge Forest Reserve
The Main Ridge is the backbone of Tobago, a spine that runs across two thirds of its surface to a height of 876m (1,890ft). This 14,000 acre reserve, protected since 1776 and the oldest in the western hemisphere, is home to 210 species of birds, including the rare white-tailed sabrewing hummingbird, which is endemic to Tobago. Venezuela is the only other place in the world where it is found. In fact, a full one third of the birds that nest here are endemics and cannot be found anywhere else in the world. This is also the home of the ocellated gecko, not found anywhere else in the world. The reserve’s 10,000 acres of evergreen rainforest have been designated by UNESCO as being of Outstanding Universal Value.
You can drive through the reserve. If you want to walk through, the most famous of the trails starts at Gilpin Trace (5km). You may spot yellow sugar birds, blue-backed manakins, red and green collared trogons, white-necked thrushes, motmots (they nest in clay) and great black hawks, and a range of other wildlife (a dozen mammals, two dozen non-poisonous snake species, and 16 lizard species), and get a chance to splash in beautiful waterfalls. The Gilpin trail is fantastic as a family outing. Small children will enjoy learning about the rainforest. The hike is easy and you can rent rubber boots if it’s muddy and wet. Other popular treks are the Atlantic, Blue Copper, and Niplig trails.
Bonus: crested oropendola nests
Just about everywhere you go, you will see up in the branches of tall trees the hanging nests of the crested oropendola (or cornbird). These architectural wonders are painstakingly woven with vines and banana fibres. The nests can be 3–6ft long. The birds live in colonies, so you may see more than a dozen of these nests in one tree. The female takes 9–11 days to make her nest. The male will watch her work, and if he doesn’t like what he sees, he tears it apart so she has to start again…
Grafton Caledonia Bird & Wildlife Sanctuary
This old cocoa plantation has seen better days. Devastated by a hurricane in the 70s, it was once a beautiful retreat. Still, in the afternoons from 4pm, you can see lots of cocoricos (Tobago’s national bird), hummingbirds, honeycreepers and motmots close up. The vegetation is interesting. The approach is steep and unsurfaced but for birders, it will be worth the effort.
Adventure Farm & Nature Reserve
Like manna from heaven, mangoes rain down on this 12-acres piece of paradise in Arnos Vale, where it is lovingly made into juice, ice cream and chutneys. Savour the sublime nectar of soursop juice (drink of the gods) from soursop grown right on the estate. This lush, organic estate is a haven of sustainable tourism where nothing is wasted and 52 species of birds can be seen, including mot mots, hummingbirds (the rare and fragile albino hummingbird has been seen here), bananaquits, and red-crowned woodpeckers. They flutter and buzz around the hanging feeders or eat bananas in a luxury birdhouse at very close range. Two self-contained villas cum tree houses, made from Guyanese hard woods, are nestled among the trees, in case you decide to stay. Herbs from the garden are used to prepare meals. Everything is powered by solar energy. (Open from 7am Monday to Saturday, 639-2839)