Scarborough, Tobago - You are promised bright and exotic company on the trails into the high, wooded heart of the little Caribbean island of Tobago.
The yellow-breasted flycatcher, blue-backed manakin and rufous-tailed jacamar are just three wonderful names from a sensational cast of birds that are never far away in the famous old Main Ridge Reserve.
This is one of the best surviving slabs of ancient forest in the Caribbean and, together with its avian marvels, was profiled by Sir David Attenborough in his documentary The Trials Of Life.
The prized sighting for today’s visitor is the white-tailed sabre-wing. This species of hummingbird was almost wiped out during a hurricane in the 1960s, but is now recovering well on the island which, over several recent years, has been voted the world’s leading eco-tourism destination.
Birdwatching walks on the many twisting forest trails (in the company of renowned experts if you wish) are among the most appealing attractions on the island, which is only 26 miles long and ten miles wide. But whatever your interest in nature, a walk in Main Ridge is an exhilarating half-day excursion in itself.
The biggest challenge is the three-hour trek to the island’s highest point, the 1 500ft Pigeon Peak. Tobago’s geology provides ready refreshment stations, with a good selection of waterfalls, such as Argyle and Castara, under which to soak.
You don’t even need to venture inland. Coastal walks lead to rocky outcrops giving sudden, splendid views down over quiet beaches and hidden coves. And the options for easy adventure extend to horse-riding and bicycle tours.
On, and under, the water there is just as much to do. Local companies offer trips to the coral reefs by glass-bottomed boat, and out to Tobago’s many good snorkelling spots in clear blue inshore waters.
The island, which is just seven miles off the coast of South America, has a balmy tropical climate, and is part of the joint Republic of Trinidad (its much bigger, more industrial neighbour) and Tobago. The rapid growth in Caribbean tourism has been kind to Tobago, which gained independence from Britain in 1962. The island still refers back to its former rulers in familiar place names such as Scarborough, Richmond, Plymouth and Glamorgan.
The height of hotels is limited – “no taller than a palm tree” is the unofficial measurement – and the government actively encourages local people to take a stake in tourism by starting or running small hotels and B&Bs.
Disney first brought some of the idyllic beaches, where golden sand meets emerald waters, to the notice of the wider world in the 1960 film Swiss Family Robinson, the story of a shipwrecked family making themselves an island home.
The studio’s choice of locations to represent this paradise included Richmond Bay, Mount Irvine Bay and Goldsborough Bay. Meanwhile, the vine-swinging scenes were filmed at the Craig Hall waterfall.
In recent years, beaches in the Caribbean have been put to another, more romantic use, as the venue for weddings. The soft sands of Tobago are among the leading locations. A number of companies offer wedding packages, from the meet-and-greet service at the airport, through the service on the sand, and on to the steel band reception in the evening.
Some of the favourite spots are Pigeon Point and Magdalena Beach. The island is also emerging as a relaxing destination for honeymoon couples.
Tobago’s cuisine is another thing that sets the island apart, combining Indian, European, African and Middle Eastern influences. One signature dish is curried crab and dumplings, and they serve some of the best on the island at Store Bay.
If you can’t decide which kiosk to buy from, join the longest queue – a sure sign that the food on offer is good. Other local delicacies include barbecued pig tail (this cheapest cut of pork is a delicious snack), and doubles – curried chickpeas inside fried bread.
Annual attractions in this year-round destination include the Tobago Jazz Festival, the Buccoo Beach Goat Race, windsurfing in the shallow waters around Pigeon Point and elsewhere, and the not-what-it-seems Sunday School – actually an exuberant weekly Sunday night street party with the Buccooneers Steel Band.
The Tobago Cocoa Estate, planted exclusively with the local strain of cocoa, has revived what was once one of the major crops on the island. Visitors are given a tour of the estate and the chance to taste that decadent combination of rum and chocolate.
There is a wide range of holiday options, from specialist ornithological and nature-watching guided holidays and diving packages to more leisurely beach relaxation options.
The island also appeals as an easily explored destination to those who want to arrange their own trip.
For accommodation, you’ll find eco-villas on a private nature reserve and guesthouses built into the cliffs, from where you can watch pelicans plunge into the bay at sunset. And there are venerable old hideaway hotels, cottages set in landscaped gardens, and the 2015 Caribbean Leading Hotel award winner, Coco Reef.
For further information, visit tobagostyle.travel.
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