Relax in Tobago, a location made famous by one of the best-known British novels, and create your own romantic ending
Picture an island paradise with cloud-shrouded green hills and palm-lined beaches and chances are you have just pictured Tobago, even if you’ve never been there. The island, once known as ‘the secret Caribbean’, is a self-contained paradise and was described by Daniel Defoe in Robinson Crusoe. In fact, some local guides will even show you the exact cave that was included in the book.
Totally unspoilt, this paradise has no high-rise horrors or beach enclaves hiding behind perimeter fences, and it's outside the hurricane belt. Its real charm lies in the fact that it is the only island where you can experience the spirit and lifestyle of the Caribbean as it must have been 50 or 60 years ago, when only the rich and famous visited such exotic destinations.
Wooden shacks, fishermen selling their catches, roadside stores and women carrying their loads above their heads are as much a part of Tobago as the luxury hotels. This is a friendly island where the hummingbird population outnumbers the human one and the pace of life is slow-to-static.
Bustling town, beautiful beaches
Tobago lies 21 miles northeast of Trinidad. The capital, Scarborough, is perched on a hillside. It’s a hot busy town teeming with people, as half Tobago’s population lives there. There are roadside stalls, markets, fast food bars, loud music and slow moving traffic. There’s a great market to wander round to get a taste of local atmosphere and produce; the best time to visit is Friday or Saturday mornings when it really comes alive. After a walk round the market, pop in to the botanical gardens, just the place for a lazy stroll, but a word of warning: exploring Scarborough is easy on foot but do it before the day hots up or during the cool of the early evening.
Tobago is blessed with beautiful beaches and if you visit Pigeon Point you’ll find the famous Bounty Bar Beach, described as the most idyllic in the Caribbean. The water is beautifully calm and protected by the Buccoo Reef, which is great for snorkelling and viewing tropical fish. Even if you can’t swim you can see them by taking a trip in a glass-bottomed boat. Along the north side of the island, near the village of Speyside, there are beaches with secret coves and lagoons where scuba enthusiasts can swim with mantas. The tiny village itself, with its brightly painted cottages, is home to the locals' favourite dining spot, Jemma’s Restaurant. This unique eatery is built in a sea grape tree overhanging the water, and local, mouth-watering cuisine is served by Jemma and her family.
Waterfalls and walkways
But Tobago isn’t only about beaches. Travel inland to Goldsborough, Kings Bay and Argylle Falls and you’ll discover waterfalls and jungle streams perfect for bathing. Argylle Falls are Tobago’s highest at around 54 metres and are also the most accessible. Climb to the top pool, the smallest and the deepest, and you’ll have the swimming experience of your life. You’ll find official guides, identifiable by their badges, at the entrance or in the car park and it's compulsory for them to accompany you on the 15-minute walk to the falls.
Plymouth is the second largest town in Tobago and is a great place to find out about the history of the island. Worth a visit is the Arnos Vale Waterwheel that once powered the former sugar estate's mill. It now forms the centre of a nature park, which includes a restaurant surrounded by wooden walkways and lush tropical vegetation. Not far away is the Arnos Vale Hotel, where Princess Margaret spent her honeymoon in the hotel’s Crow Nest Cottage, which was also a favourite hideaway of The Beatles.
Part of the charm of Tobago is that it only has a handful of luxury hotels. The most striking is the Coco Reef Resort And Spa, voted one of the 'top 10 dream resorts of the world'. Situated between Pigeon Point and Store Bay, it’s perfect for honeymooners; in fact you’ll find it hard to tear yourself away from this relaxing retreat. Drive up the palm-tree-lined driveway surrounded by tropical gardens and you’ll understand why. Rooms and suites are spacious with ocean or garden views, there’s a gym and spa, and the cuisine is mouth-watering, featuring local produce. Nights are enlivened by authentic fire and bamboo dancers and steel bands or by soft music and evening cocktails on the terrace against an ocean backdrop.
The Mount Irvine Hotel, set amidst an old sugar and coconut plantation, with its great views at sunset and colonial-style décor, has a regal but relaxing atmosphere and has played host to the royal, rich and famous for many years. For the ultimate honeymoon experience, the hotel has some beautiful gardens dotted around the grounds.
If you prefer a boutique hotel with the charm of a bygone age, then the Blue Haven is for you. This lovingly-restored 1950s silver-screen classic was in the past a secret rendezvous for royals and celebrities. Set in 15 acre grounds, with ocean on three sides, it overlooks the spot where Robinson Crusoe was said to be stranded.
Away from the hotels, dining out in Tobago is something of an experience. Seafood figures on every menu and a traditional dish is curried crab and dumplings. Conch stewed in coconut is worth a try, but tasty Creole style rules with some sinful, rich, mouth-watering homemade desserts. Worthy of particular mention is Bonkers at Crown Point, a poolside masterpiece of teak design. The food is delicious but make sure you visit when the traditional old-style calypso bands are playing.
Whether you want to be out there and active or lazing around on the beach, sipping a rum punch under the tropical sun, Tobago has it all. Just pack a case for you and your Man Friday and try it for yourself. Robinson Crusoe did – no wonder he stayed for so long!
Good tour operators include Thomson Worldwide, Virgin Holidays and Kuoni.
Airlines flying to Tobago include British Airways and British West Indian Airlines.