The Caribbean Defined

Tobago: The Tranquility Zone

Nov 15, 2001
Outside Magazine

Hey! Let's stay up all night and parade through the streets nearly naked to the sound of steel-drum music! Oh, sorry, that's Trinidad. Tobago, the altogether more serene, and green, sibling of the two-island nation of Trinidad and Tobago, has been environmentally conscientious for so long that it established a forest preserve—the oldest in the Western Hemisphere—ten years before America signed the Declaration of Independence. Peace and quiet is so much the draw on this 21-by-seven-mile island, some two-thirds of it still covered by mountainous rainforest, that it has long served as a morning-after decompression chamber for survivors of Trinidad's annual pre-Lenten carnival. But Tobago's unique charms draw their own devotees: serious birders, drift-dive scuba enthusiasts, and Robinson Crusoe-caliber escapees from society. To really fit in, though, you have to master one of the cornerstones of Tobago culture—"liming," lying back and doing nothing at all.

The Sporting Life
Divers can swim through tunnels and drift along canyons near the north end of the island in search of sharks and elusive rays in the nutrient-rich water that's pushed along from South America by the Guyana Current. Man Friday Diving (single-tank dive $35; 868-660-4676; is on the north end of the island. The best of the excellent island-wide snorkeling is among the coral gardens at Buccoo Reef, Speyside, and Mount Irvine Bay. Rent snorkeling gear at Wild Turtle Dive Safari at Pigeon Point Beach Resort ($14 per day for mask, fins, and snorkel; 868-639-7936; For birders, hikers, and mountain bikers, trails run like veins across the rugged spines of the 14,000-acre Tobago Main Ridge Forest Reserve. The 15-mile Gilpin Trace trail will lead you to a couple of 20-foot waterfalls in about 45 minutes. Local naturalist David Rooks offers two-and-a-half-hour hikes for $45 (868-639-4276).

The Beach
Avoid the well-lathered crowds between Pigeon and Crown Points near the biggest concentration of hotels. Instead, make your way to the pure white sand, calm water, and satisfying isolation of Englishman's Bay, near Parlatuvier, on the north coast. If there is anyone else in sight of your beach towel, you are there on a busy day.

After the Sun Goes Down
On Sunday nights head for Sunday School, the high-decibel street dance that invariably gets cranking in the tiny village of Buccoo. The rest of the week, there is more to Tobago nightlife than listening to the tiny forest creatures. But not much.

Lay Your Sunburned Head At...
At Footprints Eco Resort, ease your environmental conscience on 62 acres of a former sugar and cocoa estate overlooking Culloden Bay. Built of local and recycled materials, its main four-room lodge sits on the ocean, while three thatch-roofed cottages, each with its own solar-heated Jacuzzi, have a bit more privacy back in the trees (doubles $95-$300; 800-814-1396;

Très Tobago
At Jemma's, in Speyside, try not to fall out of your chair over the view that comes with your dinner—the restaurant is built in a massive sea-almond tree hanging over the water; make points with the locals by amping up your enthusiasm for their beloved goat and crab races.

The Price of Paradise
Adding to the damage, mostly in the form of coral broken by flippers, already done to Buccoo Reef.

Resources: Tourism and Industrial Development Company of Trinidad & Tobago (TIDCO), 868-623-6022;