Travel review: Tobago - the island spirit

The view from the Island Girl Catamaran Tour.
The view from the Island Girl Catamaran Tour.

Tobago has managed to retain the charm and character that other corners of the Caribbean have lost – and its taste for rum says Ruby Kitchen.

Tobago, an untouched Caribbean paradise retaining no small measure of its traditional spirit. And by that, of course, I’m referring to the rum. With punch, with coffee, with chocolate. We are offered rum with an early morning Cocoa plantation tour, and aboard Island Girl, our own catamaran cruiser. The island, it seems, is full of flavour.

There is a warmth and energy here, typified by the people, with great bellowing laughs and larger than life characters. The vast quantities of rum on offer help here.

“The Caribbean as it was, and as it should be,” is how our host describes Tobago, and this is shown time and again.

We took a jeep tour of the island, perhaps the best way to explore its many beaches, tiny villages and tropical rainforest. On a trip to the Argyle falls, swimming in its icy waters, we seemed a million miles from civilisation.

There was horse riding, bareback and bit-less through the ocean, a truly terrifying experience for the uninitiated but worth it. Our host here (www.being-with-horses.com), Veronica, a fearsome and somewhat free-spirited German lady, rescues neglected horses and the resulting ride is a uniquely empowering – and certainly unforgettable – adventure.

A slower pace was found in Charlotteville, a sleepy fishing village, where nobody batted an eyelid at the sight of a baby asleep in the corner of a local shop, and where excited children still cheer at the sight of tourists as we passed.

There was snorkeling on the Buccoo reef and a trip to the stunning Nylon Pool, an area of the ocean where, waist deep, the waters are almost glowing with the white sand underneath. This spot, somewhat entertainingly, takes its name after Princess Margaret said the water was as clear as her nylon tights.

Pigeon Point, a heritage beach, has to be the singularly most spectacular spot on the island. Sapphire-blue waters, white sands and palm trees, as far as the eye can see.

And most exhilarating was a bioluminescence tour by kayak where, with the right moon, your silhouette is lit up like liquid gold as you swim in a dark lagoon. Plankton, triggered by movement, glow like tiny candles under the water in an almost surreal scene (www.standuppaddletobago.com). It was impossible to take pictures, but for those wanting to try something different, this is a must.

Food is an event in Tobago, where life seems to pass at a different pace. Inevitably it involves some form of barbecue, with great dollops of rice and peas, and something they claim is ‘pie’ but is more like a cauliflower cheese . Fresh fish, of course, is the focus for every meal.

Highly recommended is Jemma’s Treehouse Kitchen, where Jemma herself dishes up huge portions of traditional fare while Castara Retreats, a wellness centre and hotel perched on the hillside of a friendly fishing village, has a unique view of the lush landscape and endless sea from its Caribbean kitchen courtyard.

We stayed firstly at the Blue Waters Inn, overlooking Batteaux Bay, a small, 4-star hotel in an idyllic settings on the north of the island.

The hotel is beside some of the world’s best dive spots – as well as the oldest bird sanctuary in the western hemisphere. Almost on the beach, the serene scene was disturbed only by the calls of the most magnificent of rare birds.

Our second stop was at the luxury Magdalena Grand Beach and Golf Resort, offering a deliciously indulgent all-inclusive experience with fine dining at poolside or oceanfront restaurants.

This community of luxury suites and villas, favoured by honeymooners, offers something straight out of the pages of a glossy magazine. Picture perfect, it is centred around its impressive pools, with a bar you can swim right up to. There is plenty of rum here too, with an enticing array of cocktails we had to try.

It’s conveniently situated in the south of the island, where all the action is, and surrounded by an 18-hole, PGA-designed golf course. There is even a resident crocodile in the lake, Colin, to keep an eye out for. With impeccable service, a majestic backdrop and pristine setting, this truly was an indulgent retreat.

A Tobago stay promises a unique escape. The people are lively, bursting with Caribbean spirit, full of a zest for life and laughter and mostly for music and dance, characterised by the beat of the steel drums. There is a reason the rum is so popular.

Yes, there are the azure skies, crystal waters and pristine white beaches.

But there is also a certain something, long thought lost in this corner of the world after an influx of Western visitors. Tobago is almost as it was.

It’s on the cusp, with new Thomas Cook flights and all-inclusive packages rivalling a trip to Europe. But right now its rustic charm, lively characters and picturesque setting remain fiercely, refreshingly bright.

GETTING THERE

Blue Waters Inn: Speyside, Tobago (+1 868-660-4341, bluewatersinn.com) prices from £128 per room per night including breakfast.

Magdalena Grand Beach Resort. Caribbean Warehouse offers seven nights from £839 per person. caribbeanwarehouse.co.uk or magdalenagrand.com/uk

Return flight prices with Thomas Cook Airlines from £409 economy, £698 premium economy www.thomascookairlines.com

To find out more visit gotrinidadandtobago.com and visittobago.gov.tt or follow 
@visittobago

The Black Swan Hotel

Travel: Delightful dog friendly hotel in Yorkshire