Tobago is the far more tourist-friendly half of the Caribbean island nation of Trinidad & Tobago, with a long history of welcoming visitors to enjoy its fine white beaches, vast rainforest, and culture ranging from the wacky (the annual goat races in Buccoo) to sophisticated (the nation's fine art museum is located in Tobago). Here are some top picks from Tobago's large variety of tourist activities and attractions.
The beach at Tobago's Pigeon Point Heritage Park is one of the most beautiful in the Caribbean, noted for its iconic jetty and calm swimming waters. A small admission fee gets you access to the lifeguard-protected beach (a rarity in the Caribbean) as well as restaurants serving famous Trini "bake and shark," vendors selling local handicrafts, showers, and bathrooms. Glass-bottom boat tours for nearby Buccoo Reef and the Nylon Pool depart regularly from the Pigeon Point Jetty. North Beach is a hotspot for windsurfing and kiteboarding, and you can get a lesson on these exciting watersports here.
Founded in 1654 on Rockly Bay, Scarborough has been Tobago's capital since 1769 and is the commercial and cultural hub of Trinidad's smaller sister island. Cruise ships and the ferry to Trinidad all disembark on the downtown waterfront. Fort King George, built in 1779 at the height of the conflict over the island between the British and French, still dominates the skyline of this small Caribbean city and has lovely views of the city and sea. Visitors can tour the ruins of the fort as well as the Tobago Museum, the National Fine Arts Centre, and the craft shops and art studios now occupying some of the fort's historic structures. The city's Georgian-style Court House, on James Square, is the most notable building in town, built in 1825 and weathering a hurricane in 1847. The 17-acre Scarborough Botanic Gardens is a quiet tropical oasis in town. Perhaps the biggest attraction in town is the weekly market held in lower Scarborough every Saturday and Sunday.
Buccoo Reef and the Nylon Pool
Located offshore of Tobago's Pigeon Point and easily accessible, Buccoo Reef and the adjacent Nylon Pool are among the most popular tourist destinations in Tobago. Glass-bottom boats make the short journey from shore to reef for snorkeling outings to see live coral and reef fish, followed by a plunge into the Nylon Pool, a warm and calm patch of silky white sand behind the reef where you can jump off the boat in the middle of the lagoon and walk around in waist-deep water.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Tobago's Main Ridge Forest Reserve is the oldest protected forest reserve in the Western Hemisphere, established in 1776 to protect rainwater supplies for the island. A tropical rainforest that's home to 16 species of mammals and 210 species of birds, including the rare and native white-tailed sabrewing hummingbird, the reserve protects almost 10,000 acres of Tobago, protecting many endemic species that originated on mainland South America when the island and continent were still attached, but that specialized once cut off by the sea. The reserve is one of the top eco-tourism destinations in the world.
Cocoa has been a major cash crop for centuries in Tobago, and small farmers and at least one large plantation continue to raise the benchmark Tobago fine cocoa. Visitors to the Tobago Cocoa Estate can learn about the island's cocoa history and heritage and take part in cocoa production activities like harvesting and drying. Drop-in tours start at 11 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays; other tours feature island tours, breakfast, afternoon tea, or dinner, and cocoa and rum tastings.
Argyle Falls is Tobago's largest waterfall, plunging about 175 feet in a series of steps into a pool that's a popular swimming hole. Visitors can hire a local guide for the 15-20 minute, sometimes steep hike to the falls from the trailhead off Tobago's Windward Main Road near Roxborough Village (there are small, but separate fees for admission to the parking area and for hiring the guide, who should have an official badge). Guides offer information on local flora and fauna as well as history, including that of the sugar-mill ruins you will pass on the way to the falls.
Arnos Vale Waterwheel and Nature Park
Nature is busily reclaiming the former Arnos Vale sugar plantation in Tobago, which includes a well-reserved water wheel dating to 1865 and remnants of a cane-crushing rollers, boilers, evaporators, and other mill equipment. Built on and around the sloping mill ruins are a restaurant, a museum with Carib and early European artifacts, a gift shop, and an open-air theater stage. The park also has nature trails, an Amerindian site, and a former slave village to visit. The plantation was home to the Arnos Vale Hotel, where Britain's Princess Margaret honeymooned in the 1950s. Nature trails cross the property, and bird-watching is popular.
Known locally as The Castle, the home/studio/gallery/museum of the late artist Luise Kimme overlooks Tobago's Mount Irvine Golf Course and contains many of Kimme's remarkable, larger-than-life sculptures, each carved from a single tree trunk imported from Germany. Kimme, who lived on Tobago for more than 30 years, used a chainsaw and hand tools to create her works, with island residents often serving as subjects.