Ben Lerwill offers the inside track on Tobago’s sporty side
For somewhere just 25 miles long by six miles wide, Tobago has a surprising amount going on. The appeal of Trinidad’s easygoing sister island has traditionally been the option to do very little, but for visitors in search of quality activities to complement a break in the sun, there’s much to consider.
Tobago has various claims to fame, not least of which is that it’s said to have inspired Daniel Defoe to write Robinson Crusoe – you’ll appreciate why when you see some of its hill-flanked crescent beaches.
Just as notable, however, and just as indicative of the island’s natural beauty, is that it has the oldest protected rainforest in the western hemisphere. The 10,000-acre reserve in the east of the island is an undulating world of dense green, laced with walking trails and fluttering with all manner of birdlife.
Tobago is ranked fifth in the world when it comes to avian species per capita, and forest visitors are almost guaranteed to see brightly feathered hummingbirds. NG & Company Nature Tours offers rainforest visits for £46.50, including transport.
While in the island’s east – wilder, hillier and less developed than the more populated west – another popular activity is a trip to Argyle Falls, an impressive three-tiered waterfall reached by a gentle 20-minute nature walk.
Once there, it’s possible to soak in the various pools. Guides can be hired at the falls’ visitor centre, but they’re not obligatory.
Hayes & Jarvis also recommends the nearby Tobago Cocoa Estate, whose signature 70% dark chocolate has just been awarded the maximum three gold stars at the Great Taste 2014 London Awards. Drop-in tours of the estate showcase both the lush island scenery and the production process – and include a taste of the delicious chocolate, of course. Tours cost around £6.
The island’s size means it can be explored in a variety of ways. Local company Being With Horses provides a range of equestrian options, perhaps the most notable being a two-hour Swimming with Horses, in which riders can cross the powder-blue waters of Buccoo Bay while still in the saddle (costing £50).
Also good for active clients to know about is Mountain Biking Tobago, which offers two to three-hour tours for £25, including bike hire, helmets and refreshments.
Golf is another big island draw – Magdalena Grand Resort has one of Tobago’s two 18-hole courses and offers a range of related packages, including lessons at £30 for half an hour – while anyone interested in Caribbean history should visit the Fort King George museum in capital city Scarborough.
Tobago changed hands 33 times in the colonial era – more than any other island – as a succession of British, Dutch, German, French, Scandinavian and other European forces squabbled over the future of this tiny island.
On the water
Tobago has something of a plum location – southerly enough to avoid the hurricane belt but still boasting diving reefs, surfing spots and other water-based enticements.
Some of the most interesting options come courtesy of Stand Up Paddle Tobago, based on Pigeon Point, the island’s most famous beach. As well as offering introductions to paddleboarding itself (£37 per hour), it runs night-time bioluminescence tours (also £37 per hour) in a nearby lagoon – swimming or paddling your way through waters glowing with plankton isn’t something easily forgotten.
Heading farther out to sea, Virgin Holidays recommends joining a glass-bottom boat trip out to Buccoo Reef for offshore snorkelling and the chance to spot some of the area’s exotic marine life. Tours average £30 per person and generally include time at the white-sanded shallows of the Nylon Pool, where legend states that a dip in the water leaves you looking 10 years younger.
The downside of these sites’ popularity is that they tend to draw numerous vessels, so for a quieter time it’s worth booking a longer coastal cruise with a catamaran such as Island Girl – the roughly four-hour sailing includes a buffet lunch, snorkelling and alcoholic drinks, and there’s even a good chance of spotting dolphins.
Scuba divers will also find much to enjoy, with the waters off the areas of Crown Point and Speyside both offering good coral reefs. Prices work out at about £30 to £37 per dive – recommended operators include R & Sea Divers and, on the east coast, Extra Divers Tobago.
Bear in mind that Tobago has in the past been named the planet’s best eco-destination at the World Travel Awards, so its nature-based activities tend to be a cut above the average.
Happily, the same can be said about the seafood, with mahi-mahi, kingfish and the messy-but-moreish curried crab among the stars of the menu. And if clients like the idea of catching their meals themselves, Hard Play organises offshore big-game fishing on well-equipped boats. Costs vary according to group size and duration – an eight-hour ‘catch’n’cook’ excursion is £745 for up to eight people.
News from Tobago
Bacolet Beach Club is adding 15 Superior Rooms from November. The 600sq ft rooms will feature four-poster king-sized beds, flatscreen TVs, free Wi-Fi, a veranda and chaise longue, and will be in a separate area of the resort with views over private inlet Sandy Bay.
British Airways has doubled its winter services to Tobago with two flights a week starting on October 27. The flights depart Gatwick on Mondays and Fridays, flying via Antigua to Robinson International airport in Crown Point, Tobago. Along with Monarch’s twice-weekly flights starting in December, this brings the number of direct services to four a week in winter.
Blue Waters Inn is due to complete the $1 million third phase of its renovation at the end of October. Guestrooms are being upgraded to include a new bathroom, updated decor in the bedrooms, new soft furnishings and amenities including Wi-Fi access, in-room safes, and tea and coffee makers. The restaurant and bar will also see a new outdoor deck area overlooking the beach, an air-conditioned indoor dining area and new menu.
Where to stay
Blue Haven Hotel
A long-established property on the south coast, the 55-room Blue Haven Hotel is a five-minute drive from Scarborough and about 15 minutes from the airport. All its rooms have balconies with ocean views. It was built in the 1950s, and in the past decades welcomed silver-screen stars such as Robert Mitchum and Rita Hayworth. It has a beach bar on Bacolet Bay.
Book it: A week with direct flights from Gatwick, all-inclusive accommodation at the Blue Haven Hotel, and transfers, starts at £1,619 with Virgin Holidays, based on two sharing a Superior Ocean View Room, departing November 24.
0844 557 3973
Magdalena Grand Beach & Golf Resort
Considered one of the top properties on the island, the Magdalena Grand has 200 rooms and suites and has been open in its current guise since 2012, having previously been a Hilton. Features include an 18-hole PGA-designed golf course, a dive centre and the Robinson Crusoe Pub, which offers themed entertainment. You’ll also find a spa, a kids’ club and three swimming pools.
Book it: ITC Luxury Travel offers an all-inclusive stay for seven nights in a standard room from £1,679 including international flights and airport transfers.
Blue Waters Inn
Set on Tobago’s dramatic east coast in the laid-back village of Speyside, the smart 38-room Blue Waters Inn is a far cry from the bigger resorts in the island’s west. It’s particularly renowned for its diving and the property itself has a tangible eco-friendly approach. Rooms are comfortable, and some have recently been refurbished.
Book it: Kuoni offers seven nights in a standard King Room with breakfast, including economy flights with British Airways from Gatwick and private transfers. Prices for May or June 2015 start at £1,076, based on two sharing.
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