Just 41 by 14 km, at the southern end of the Caribbean, Tobago has avoided mega-developments to concentrate on its stunning natural world. From Buccoo reef and the legendary Nylon Pool to Turtle Beach, from Little Tobago to the rainforest reserve twittering with Caribbean birds, Tobago is a sheer delight for nature lovers.
There are hiking and wildlife tours, bird-watching walks, turtle wakes, jeep safaris and myriad opportunities for snorkeling or scuba diving. Most activities are best done with a local guide who will know where to go and how to keep safe.
Tobago Reef, Buccoo and Nylon Pool
The most famous Tobago reef spreads in a crescent shape, roughly eight km around, from Pigeon Point to Buccoo village. It took 10 000 years to grow, suffered some damage in the past but is now protected. To the south, a coral sandbar encloses the beautiful Nylon Pool, so named for its translucent waters, only a meter deep.
Carefully monitored, glass-bottom boats leave from the southwest tip of the island with snorkeling equipment. In the clear Caribbean waters, lipstick and blue parrotfish, rainbow, damsel, butterfly and others can be spotted among sea ferns, tube sponge, dead man’s fingers and fiery coral.
Also worth exploring are the Angel Reef and Japanese Garden between Speyside and Little Tobago Island, on the Atlantic coast.
Turtle Beach Tobago
Framed by shrubs and trees on the Caribbean side, the steep stretch of Turtle Beach is a nesting site for soft-shelled leatherback turtles. Between mid-March and July, females return to the place where they were born to dig their nests in the sand, usually after dark.
Largest of all living turtles, the endangered leatherbacks weigh up to 700 kg, dive deeper and migrate further than any other. They lay 70 to 80 eggs per clutch but only a few hatchlings survive the short journey to the sea. Organizations such as sos-Tobago work to ensure their survival while qualified guides lead turtle watching tours in season.
Hawksbill and green sea turtles are also present in Tobago waters, leatherbacks have other important sites on the sister island of Trinidad.
Caribbean Birds and Rainforest, Little Tobago
Tobago claims the world’s oldest protected rainforest and although much was destroyed by Hurricane Flora in 1963, the canopy is recovering well, now reaching some 30-35 meters. There are boa constrictors but no venomous snakes, leaf cutter ants, trapdoor spiders, scorpions, whistling frogs and great tangles of lianas and aerial roots where heliconia splash color here and there. Waterfalls tumble in the undergrowth, paths are muddy, progress is slow but what matters is sightings, not distance.
An early start is likely to show Caribbean birds at their most active, a brightly colored motmot, a noisy flock of chacalaca, a blue-backed manakin, a hummingbird, a white-necked thrush. More can be spotted on the forest-clad island of Little Tobago, a 20-minute boat ride from Speyside, including frigates and red-billed tropicbirds nesting on the ground.