The smaller, quieter, more serene sibling to its big sister Trinidad, the Caribbean island of Tobago is as close to postcard-perfect paradise as I’ve ever seen with my own two eyes. I spent a surreal week there last winter, by the end of which I was so relaxed I could barely keep my eyes open. Here’s the lowdown on this sleepy, lush idyll.
First up, a disappointing truism that I may as well get out of the way quickly: it’s really hard to buy nice fruit and vegetables in Tobago. Every few miles you’ll see a roadside stall selling a tired looking selection of plantain and coconuts, but Tobago is curiously lacking in the abundance of tropical fruit that most people associate with the Caribbean. It’s strange and I don’t really understand it, but there it is.
Perhaps that’s why dinner at Kariwak Village, where we ate twice towards the end of our week-long stay, felt like stumbling on an oasis in the middle of the desert. This ‘holistic haven and hotel’ grows vegetables in its own organic garden, then serves them up at an incredible all-you-can-eat buffet every Friday and Saturday night. There’s also a daily menu of grilled fish and chicken, fresh salads, and homemade desserts which you enjoy at the poolside restaurant, whether you’re a guest of the hotel or not.
Other memorable meals included super fresh and sophisticated seafood, served up by an English owner at The Fish Pot; very expensive lobster salad at the romantic Seahorse Inn, and crab legs, doughy dumplings and fresh coconut ice cream on the beach at Pigeon Point.
Once a year, Carnival comes to town and transforms the usually tranquil Tobago into a calypso and rum-soaked party island. Life is fairly quiet and sleepy the rest of the time though, so this is not an ideal destination if you like to hit the clubs, post-beach.
It is, however, a great place to spend a week or so in a rum punch haze. Get a plastic cup of this strong and sweet refresher at any bar, restaurant or beach café, at any hour of the day. If you like a proper cocktail after a hard day of sunbathing then Happy Hour at the The Villas At Stonehaven is a great place to sip discounted piña coladas as you watch the sunset reflected in a cliffside infinity pool. And really, who doesn’t?
Much of Tobago’s charm derives from its resistance to the vast hotel chains that overwhelm so much of the Caribbean. Accommodation options are fewer than you might find elsewhere in this part of the world, but there are still plenty of places to stay, from the simple poolside cabanas at Kariwak Village to the stylish luxury of Blue Haven Hotel.
Alternatively, you can self-cater (as we did) at the gorgeous – and surprisingly affordable - Bayview Villa apartments in the small hamlet of Black Rock. You’re only a few minutes walk from The Fish Pot restaurant (see above), The Villas at Stonehaven, and a curving bay of beautiful beaches.
Tobago is far less touristy than its Caribbean neighbours, so shopping opportunities are rare. The main port town of Scarborough has a ramshackle market selling bric-a-brac, questionable fish, and other curious paraphernalia, but it’s unlikely that you’ll find anything you want to take home.
Instead, stock up your home drinks cabinet with Angostura Bitters (made in Trinidad since 1875) and bottles of smooth, dark Caribbean rum, which can be bought cheaply and in bulk at the tiny A.N.R. Robinson airport.
Holidays in the Caribbean are really about one thing, and one thing only: hitting the beach. Pigeon Point has the type of crystal clear aquamarine water and white powdery sand that holiday dreams are made of, and you can take a glass-bottomed boat out to Nylon Pool – a sandbar located right in the middle of the sea, where you can stand in clear waistdeep waters.
Other gorgeous beaches include Englishman’s Bay, Pirate’s Bay, and Castara Bay. If you head to the northeast coast, then make sure you stop off at Argyle Falls – a three-tiered waterfall set in the world’s first legally protected rainforest. Tropical paradise deluxe.