The search for an unspoilt island paradise is something which has driven travellers from the colder, greyer climates of northern Europe for generations. And it feels like it’s only getting harder for the adventurous of spirit to find those spots, with more and more people trawling for ever-more exotic dots on the map.
Yet it doesn’t have to be like that. There are still places where you can experience a truly unspoilt, untouched paradise without spending two days getting there – places like Tobago. It’s an island that’s retained its spectacular beauty while avoiding the overdevelopment that has blighted much of the Caribbean – and BA flying direct twice a week.
Tobago is a beach lover’s dream – and as you might expect of an island that’s 30 miles long and 10 across, you’re never far from a beautiful, unspoilt beach. Places such as Castara Bay, Englishman’s Bay and Parlatuvier (below) are all delightful, while the justly famous Pigeon Point – voted one of the 100 best beaches in the world by CNN – is the most popular on the island. It’s not hard to see why: miles of floury white sand fringed by palm trees and blue seas, where you can swim, snorkel, jet ski… or just kick back and enjoy the sunset.
If it’s life beneath the waves that grabs you, the island is a diver’s paradise with clear waters and healthy coral reefs teeming with life. The Buccoo Reef is just off the northwestern corner of the island – a place where, as a side note, you’ll find Nylon Pool, which earned its curious name from Princess Margaret, thanks to perfect, cerulean waters as clear as her nylon stockings. Experienced divers should head to Speyside on the eastern side of the island, where waves are bigger, the water deeper – this is where the Caribbean meets the Atlantic – and the diving is superb. Don’t miss Kelleston Drain, just off Little Tobago, famed for having the world’s largest brain coral.
For a true adventure, there are several beaches on Tobago which demand more from their visitors. Take places such as Pirate’s Bay, on the north side of the island, or No Man’s Land Spit, on the western tip. Both are fabulously remote and perfectly tranquil, and getting there will be an adventure in itself which will involve either a trek or a boat ride. It’s worth the effort, though: this perfect spot was used as a location in the making of the 1952 Robinson Crusoe. The island was also used in the iconic 1960 version of The Swiss Family Robinson; Disney built the famed treehouse in a saman tree at Goldsborough Bay, and shipped in animals including a tiger and several elephants – from around the world.
Fun in the rainforest
Head inland and you’ll discover why the natural wonders of the island provide one of the best reasons to come here: Tobago’s rainforest. It’s the oldest protected rainforest in the Western hemisphere, covering three quarters of the island. Rainforest trails weave through lush, tropical greenery, with waterfalls and pools offering spots to cool off as you enjoy the peace and beauty around you – whether on foot, mountain bike or on a guided nature tour. It’s a birdwatcher’s haven, too: some 260 species of bird live on the island, split across rainforest, coastal areas, wetlands, sea, and the island of St Giles. The peak season is December to April, when migratory birds are at their peak.
After a day of exertion it’ll be time to let your hair down, and the relaxed, fun-loving islanders know just how to help. Music and food are intertwined with local life – especially if you head here during the Tobago Heritage Festival. The street food in particular is a true highlight, particularly if you come during the renowned Tobago Blue Food Festival. Head to places such as Cascreole Bar and Beach Club in the village of Castara and you’ll find creole specialities served up on the beach . Try the curried crab with dumplings, or the classic Tobagonian breakfast – coconut bake, saltfish and chocolate tea – and you might just find you never want to leave.