Tobago, with an area of 16 square miles, 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 the sophisticated (the nation's fine art museum is located in Tobago). With a diverse cultural mix of African, Indian, Asian, and English peoples, a trip here is eye-opening in terms of foods, languages, and other aspects of local life you'll be exposed to. Tobago has a large variety of tourist activities and attractions for all to enjoy.
Main Beach at Pigeon Point Heritage Park on the southwest coast of Tobago 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" (fried flatbread, shark meat, and other ingredients), 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 water sports here.
Founded in 1654 on Rockley Bay, Scarborough on the southern coast of Tobago has been the island'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 and has lovely views of the small Caribbean 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 House of Assembly 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. Perhaps the biggest attraction in town is the weekly market held in lower Scarborough every Saturday and Sunday.
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 clear water.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Tobago's Main Ridge Forest Reserve—established in 1776 to protect rainwater supplies for the island—is the oldest protected forest reserve in the Western Hemisphere. A tropical rainforest that's home to about 16 species of mammals and 210 species of birds, including the rare and native White-tailed Sabrewing Hummingbird. The reserve encompasses 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 for Tobago fine cocoa. Visitors to the Tobago Cocoa Estate, established in 2005, can learn about the island's cocoa history and heritage and take part in production activities like harvesting and drying. Scheduled estate tours have a 10-person minimum and are given December through April on Fridays; from May through November, tours are by appointment only.
Argyle Falls, located on a what used to be a cocoa estate, 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. You may pass butterflies, lizards, exotic birds, and even snakes as you walk. Guides offer information on local flora and fauna as well as history, including that of the sugar-mill ruins on the way to the falls.
Known locally as The Castle, the home, studio, and gallery of the late artist Luise Kimme overlooks the Caribbean and Tobago's Mount Irvine Bay Resort Golf Course on an old sugar and coconut estate. The museum 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. The museum is open to visitors on Sundays, though if you call them directly they will plan your visit for another day if needed.
Unlike many other Caribbean destinations, the multicultural dynamic of Tobago's people shines through in the local cuisine. International restaurants are found in the most populated parts of the island: You can try everything from Indian to Chinese to African to Latin American food, and even find some influences from Italy, Syria, and Lebanon. So have a culinary adventure and grab some pastelles—Spanish-style filled pastries, usually wrapped in a banana leaf. Or maybe you prefer dhalpuri roti (flatbread with split peas), or some cou-cou (cornmeal, okra, and butter mixture). In the less populated areas, Creole cooking is the main thing served. All restaurants have vegetarian options since there are local Hindus and Rastafarians.