Easy Escapes: Tobago

Nicola Moyne heads to Tobago for sun, rum and sax on the beach

Nicola Moyne heads to Tobago for sun, rum and sax on the beach

Why go? With tropical climes, sun-drenched beaches and frolic-inducing azure surf, Tobago is a soca-pulsing Caribbean hideaway that’s lost none of its signature laid-back charm. Perfect for nature-lovers (think green turtles, rainbow-coloured hummingbirds and vividly block-hued parrot fish), this lush, leafy island may be small, but it sure packs a (rum) punch for heat-seekers with a sense of adventure.

When? The average year-round temperature is 29°C with rain – usually just tropical showers – most likely from June to December. If you want to see sea turtles, go in June to August when three different species visit the island to lay their eggs in the sand.

Love your shell suit: a Hawksbill turtle swims in the clear waters of Tobago © Tobago Division of Tourism & Transportation

The island is big on events, so consider booking early for next year. The partying starts with what the locals call ‘the greatest show on earth’, the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival (16-17 February 2015), which is a riot of colour, calypso and costumes. It’s time to shake your best tail feather, ladies… If you arrive over the Easter holidays, you can catch the annual goat and crab-racing festival, next year is its 90th anniversary (buccoo.net). Music-lovers flock to Tobago in the last week of April for its largest annual music event – the Tobago Jazz Experience (tobagojazzexperience.com). This offers up an eclectic mix of soul, soca, pan, contemporary jazz and reggae against the lush, sugar cane-swathed landscape. Past headliners include Tarrus Riley, Sting, Chaka Khan, Stevie Wonder, Elton John and Diana Ross. And dancing the night away to the likes of Earth Wind & Fire’s infectious Boogie Wonderland with white-sand wedged between your toes sure does it for us…

You really must… Meet Jennifer. And Shawari. And Princess Julie. No, they’re not Tobago’s reality stars – just a few of the rescue horses at the Healing with Horses Foundation (from around £50, healing-with-horses.com), a gorgeously bohemian equine team offering a unique horse riding experience. We’re not just talking a sunset ride on the beach, here. We’re talking a full-on gallop through the rolling turquoise waves. So expect to get wet. Very wet. And then fall in love with your trusty steed.

Caribbean dreams: grab some beach bliss at Pigeon Point © Tobago Division of Tourism & Transportation

Not quite wet and wild enough for you? Seek out the ever-exuberant Brian ‘Alibaba’ of Alibaba Tours (alibaba-tours.com). He’s the tour guide when it comes to boat trips and his half-day snorkelling excursion round the coral-abundant Buccoo Reef and Nylon Pool should definitely be on your list of things to do. Cue a kaleidoscope of marine life, a sand shelf in the middle of the ocean that you can dance on (yes, really), a spot of mangrove climbing and Alibaba’s signature rum (hence the dancing). What’s not to love? He’ll also take you to the white-sand haven that is Goat Island, once home to James Bond creator Ian Fleming, on a glass-bottomed vessel. Aside from the notoriously choppy crossing you won’t find much in the way of action here, though: visit for a beach day, then head over to its neighbouring island, Little Tobago for your best chance of spotting the beautiful blue-backed manakin, yellow-breasted bananaquits or magnificent frigate birds.

Nature enthusiasts should also check out Peter Cox Wildlife Tours (tobagonaturetours.com), which offers a variety of scenic walks and island sightseeing tours from £30. Don’t miss the Night Safari for a trap-door spider close-up or the Argyle Falls experience – climbing a spectacular three-tier waterfall in a 250-year-old protected rainforest is pretty special. Top tip? Ask for Peter himself if you want to see Tobago in all its lush-green glory: he can spot a crab in its burrow at a hundred paces (and then convince it to come out and play) and has the unnerving ability to balance a scorpion on his head while showing you a nesting white-tailed sabrewing hummingbird nearby. You see our point…

Golden moment: the beach at the Magdalena Grand Beach & Golf Resort

Stay at: The turtle-friendly Magdalena Grand Beach & Golf Resort (0845 004 8276; magdalenagrand.com), in the south-west of the island, boasts its own stellar views, which may have something to do with its palm-fringed beachfront setting – a definite bonus in our eyes. Located on a 750-acre plantation estate facing the upwind, Atlantic coast, this four-star colonial-style venue is just a 20 minute drive from the airport, has 178 deluxe oceanfront rooms and suites complete with king-sized beds – some even come with their own outdoor Jacuzzi – as well as a plethora of dining options. Get dressed up for Kali’na, the hotel’s fine-dining spot, which serves up aromatic Caribbean fusion cuisine and the best tasting menu on the island, or head to Wednesday night’s Grand Tobago feast at the Pembois restaurant and terrace for traditional Tobago fare. Think fresh fried fish and curried goat while the sun sets and the steel band gets going. There are five eateries in total, so if you choose an all-inclusive deal, your taste buds won’t lose out.

Once you’ve finished feasting, relax in the adults-only infinity pool, head to the on-site fitness centre complete with sauna, or make the most of the resort’s dive centre and two tennis courts to burn off the calories. There’s also a fantastic shop for all your souvenir-bagging: pick up a locally-produced piece of pottery or a one-off painting of the resort’s own golden-sand shores before heading home.

Dine at: The roadside. No, seriously – some of the best food in Tobago can be found among the street stalls for pocket change. If you see a coconut-seller, make sure you stop for a hit of the island’s oh-so-refreshing milk immediately. There’s no pre-packaging here: it’ll be cut off the tree and chopped up for consumption before your very eyes. Another local delicacy to look out for is curried crab and dumplings – a dish you can find on the beach at Store Bay, along with shark and bake, which is a deep-fried slice of shark coated in fried dough and served with pineapple. It sounds too fried, right? Wrong. It’s definitely worth a bite (see what we did, there?) and the crab and dumplings are hugely moreish thanks to a good dose of chilli.

If you’re hankering after a seat in the sun and a proper menu, head to the capital city of Scarborough and bag yourself a table at the Blue Crab Restaurant (tobagobluecrab.com). This family-run traditional Creole venue boasts breezy alfresco dining on the verandah, award-winning chefs, and a changing menu that keeps the locals coming back week after week.

I should cocoa: be sure tor try some island chocolate © Tobago Division of Tourism & Transportation

Bring home: Rum! Local supermarkets sell a huge range of locally produced rums for a fraction of the price you’d pay back in Blighty. Make sure you pick up some delicious coconut coffee there too, or the island’s famously addictive Mama’s Hot Sauce, which seems to come with pretty much every dish. The outdoor market opposite the Robinson International Airport is perfect for scouting handcrafted leather sandals, cute shell trinkets and printed sarongs, or make a pit stop at Tobago Estate Chocolate in Roxborough (tobagococoa.com) for some of the island’s finest dark chocolate.

Book now: Monarch Airlines (monarch.co.uk) flies direct from London Gatwick to Tobago, from £417 return in September. Get your trip off to a good start with a call into the No.1 Gatwick lounge in the South Terminal (£22.50 in advance via No1Traveller.com) where there’s complimentary drinks and food, magazines and free Wifi – plus you get fast track access through Security. Golden Holidays (0845 085 8080; golden-holidays.co.uk) offers a week at Magdalena Grand Beach & Golf Resort from £740 per person based on two sharing, travelling in September and including return flights with Monarch, transfers and breakfast. Half-board is £921, Grand Experience All Inclusive £1,102.

Info: Fodor’s Caribbean 2014 (£17.99; Fodor) includes an up-to-date guide on Tobago, and see visittobago.gov.tt.

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