Tucked away on the north coast, Blue Waters Inn has Bateaux Bay all to itself – a flash of burnt sand between thick mangroves and mist-shrouded rainforest. The low-level, mint-coloured rooms are barely visible from the ocean – simple but spotless, each with a small balcony where bananaquits (tiny yellow finches) will guzzle your rum and coke given half the chance.
Aquamarine Dive School is located within the grounds, presided over by a cantankerous macaw called Trinny. The best dive outfit on the island offers access to the island’s richest reefs – and the largest brain coral in the world – just minutes from the jetty.
Also visible from your balcony is Little Tobago Island, a lush bird sanctuary where David Attenborough filmed part of Trials of Life following a tip-off by local expert David Rook – you can contact him through the hotel for guided birdwatching hikes across the island.
For the best lunch, grab one of the hotel’s kayaks and paddle round the coast to Jemma’s Treehouse which serves up tasty Creole food.
The two airy, self-catering cabins of Adventure Eco Villas – in the middle of a lush organic fruit farm –are homestays with an element of independence. If you haven’t been shopping on the way, the friendly owners will rustle up a home-cooked breakfast – roast pork with pimentos, fresh lemonade and plenty of toast with homemade jams.
The farm is a paradise for birdwatchers – head to the porch of the main house where an old ship’s bell is rung each day at 6pm, triggering a Pavlov-style feathered feeding frenzy. Better still are the sugar stations dotted along the front of the building, frequented by five varieties of minute hummingbirds. Anthan manages the daily running of the five-hectare site, and will show you around, picking off figs, custard apples and mandarins for you to sample along the way.
At the nearby Looking Out Stables, novice or experienced riders can go for a tranquil morning trot through winding backroads before tacking down, stripping to your undies and taking the horses for a dip in the ocean.
Further up the Leeward coast and deep in the protected Tobago Forest Reserve, Cuffie River Nature Retreat was built on the site of an old sugar plantation – engines and waterwheels are still visible through the creepers.
The lodge is a citronella-scented haven – comfortable rooms are decked out with rocking chairs and balconies from which you can absorb the cacophony of birdsong.
Save the salt-water pool and cosy lounges full of books and board games for later and find Desmond, Cuffie’s resident guide of seven years’ standing. Join him for a guided walk and you’ll get a lot more than natural history – a special blend of philosophy, politics and marriage-guidance counselling that will have you hanging on his every word as you pick your way through the tropical forest.
Few package tourists make it as far as Castara Bay, a friendly village with a handful of guesthouses and good eateries. Hang out with the Rasta fishermen over bowls of crab and dumplin’, helping them haul in their weighty seine nets in a man-vs-marine tug o’ war.
Castara Retreats is the best place to stay – shells tinkle and hammocks sway at these six beautiful wooden stilt houses perched high on the bay. Plump for Fisherman’s Lodge, the original building on which the rest were modelled, and you’ll enjoy ocean views from your bed. Gregarious ‘Porridge’ and his wife Jeanette look after the guests, while able seaman ‘Duck’ and captain Michael operate light-hearted fishing trips with plenty of rum and a beach barbecue.
Save a day to sample Scarborough, Tobago’s lively capital, a fascinating hotchpotch of buildings tumbling down a hillside to the main port.
Grab a drink and just ‘lime’ (hang out – in a very Caribbean fashion) with the locals, or muster the energy to climb the hill through throngs of market stalls to Fort King George. Just before you reach the top, a crumbling storehouse sits in the shade of a huge silk cotton tree – the perfect spot from which to watch the sun set.
A five-minute drive from the main hub, Bacolet Bay is the hippest area to stay. Indulge yourself at Half Moon Blue, an art deco hotel full of kitsch furniture and gilded mirrors. There’s an excellent romantic cocktail lounge where you can kick-start the evening with a lethal ‘Voodoo Love’. Head to the Blue Crab in Scarborough for delicious fresh seafood.
Dangling at the southernmost tip of the Lesser Antilles chain, more than half of Tobago’s 300 sq km are mountainous. There is no heavy industry and little in the way of agriculture – Hurricane Flora wiped out the few banana and cocoa plantations in 1963. Instead, Tobago has been left to its own devices.
Most of the tourist resorts are based in the south, so head to the chilled north of the island, populated by laid-back locals and a breathtaking tangle of ancient rainforest dripping down to sandy pockets on the rugged coastline.
For more info visit www.visittnt.com
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