Tobago – paradise found

Before reading this it might be a good idea to check there’s no one looking over your shoulder. Because we’re about to reveal a secret. An uncrowded, unspoiled, inexpensive and incredibly beautiful Caribbean island. One that’s at harmony with nature and takes its responsibilities to future generations seriously. The island is Tobago.

But first, let’s talk about the Caribbean. One of the world’s most aspirational travel destinations, it consists of five island groups, 30 island nations and 12 countries with Caribbean coasts. Baked by the sun and lapped by the warm sea, these are dramatic lands each with their own unique history, politics, food, music, culture and of course, beaches – from the wild and windy shores favoured by surfers, to the calm, safe and fun-packed sands preferred by families. It’s one of the most fascinating and diverse regions on earth, with jaw-dropping scenery and nature at its most magnificent.

Choosing the right island for you

So how do you find the right island for you, especially if you’re looking for something quiet and understated? Somewhere that doesn’t steal the headlines but quietly cares, and preserves its natural history. Where you feel more like a friend than a tourist. If that’s the kind of Caribbean you’re seeking,  with idyllic beaches, pristine rainforest and some of the best coral reefs in the area, Tobago could just be your paradise found.

The Blue Water Inn at Speyside. Typical of the island hotels that are very respectful of their surroundings.

The Blue Water Inn at Speyside. Typical of many Tobago hotels is very respectful of its surroundings.

A decision of staggering foresight

The Caribbean’s turbulent past has shaped all its islands. Various, mainly European, countries have claimed most islands at one time or another; some islands more than once. Tobago has changed hands 32 times since it was first visited by Christopher Columbus in 1498. But it was while under British rule, on April 13 1776 that a decision of truly staggering foresight was made. Acting on the advice of  English scientist Stephen Hales, the rainforest that runs along the island’s ridge became protected from indiscriminate felling. Even back then the islanders recognised the importance of the forest and the dangers of causing an imbalance in nature.

The Argyl Waterfall on the edge of the forest.

The Argyl Waterfall on the edge of the forest.

Just let that sink in for a moment. In 1776, the year that America gained independence, this tiny island nation had already worked out the value of its natural resources. More than two centuries later, in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006 the forest was voted the world’s leading eco-tourism destination at the World Travel Awards and in 2011 became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. According to Scientific American magazine, “the protection of Tobago’s forest was the first act in the modern environmental movement”. That environmental protection is so ingrained in the psyche and history of this paradise island that to this day the people of Tobago remain fanatical about preserving their natural history. And that’s why Tobago is the perfect destination for anyone concerned about the impact of tourism and travelling responsibly.

Tobago is a birdwatchers paradise with over 400 species to see.

Tobago is a birdwatchers paradise with over 400 species to see.

Today visitors can tour the forest with local guides who share their amazingly detailed knowledge of its plants, animals and birds. To wander about in this ancient protected reserve is a highlight of any trip, not least because of the outstanding variety of colourful birds. Back in the mists of time, Tobago was connected to Venezuela, and it’s thought many of the tree and animal species originated from the Amazon basin. And yet that is only one of Tobago’s natural wonders.

Castara Bay at sunset. The west coast is littered with this gorgeous bays with interesting names like Parlatuvier Bay, Bloody Bay and Englishmans Bay and Man-O-War Bay!

Castara Bay at sunset. The west coast has many of these bays waiting to be discovered. They come with fascinating names like Parlatuvier Bay, Bloody Bay, Englishman’s Bay and Man-O-War Bay!

Underwater wonders

Anyone who enjoyed the stunning BBC series Blue Planet 2 will find plenty to admire on Tobago. Spectacular coral reefs, nesting turtles, bioluminescent plankton and large pelagic species can all be found here. Then there are the beaches. You won’t find big high-rise resort hotels here. Most strips of sand have just a handful of guesthouses, along with beachside cafes serving delicious local cuisine. The pace of life is laid-back even by Caribbean standards.

Underwater Tobago some of the best diving in the Caribbean

Underwater Tobago some of the best diving in the Caribbean

When you’re ready to do more, you can easily find a guide to take you diving, or to one of the many waterfalls as part of an island tour.  Despite the laid-back, barefoot vibe, there’s plenty to see and do, with an emphasis on personal service and small groups. This is the Caribbean done right, as everyone who’s been there will attest to. Tobago is an island where you can be at one with nature while enjoying a true sense of timelessness that’s much harder to find on some of the other, more developed islands.

Sunrise in Speyside

Sunrise in Speyside

To go or not to go?

Unspoiled is a word that’s overused, but not in the case of Tobago. But here’s the rub. It’s also one of those magical destinations you might want to keep to yourself. In fact, it’s so special we shouldn’t really be telling you about it. The reason we are is because like much of the Caribbean, Tobago needs more visitors. The island heavily depends on income from tourism. Tobago also tops the Caribbean league that shows how much of your tourist dollar stays on the island, so you know you’re really supporting local communities by visiting.

Little Bay, Castara. The perfect Caribbean beach.

Little Bay, Castara. The perfect Caribbean beach.

And if that’s not enough, it lies below the hurricane belt and enjoys a most pleasing climate. If you want jet-skis, crowded beaches and loud music it might not be for you. But if sustainable travel destinations are important to you, and you want to help preserve this special place for future generations then Tobago deserves your attention. Stay tuned for our next blog post, where we meet some of the conservation legends on this paradise island.

The incredible Castara Retreats built on the hillside of Castara Bay. Next month we'll be talking to Porridge, the manager.

The incredible Castara Retreats built on the hillside of Castara Bay. Next month we’ll be talking to Porridge, the manager.

If you must, you can book flights from Gatwick to Tobago on our website, just don’t tell anyone!

If you want to explore more, we recently put Tobago on the map with our #islandview campaign which includes some exclusive videos and 360 degree views of Tobago.

About Dave Gunner

Dave is the co-editor of Ruby, the Virgin Atlantic Blog. He has worked at Virgin Atlantic for over two decades. In that time he has amassed some truly epic memories but never lost his fascination with the airline world. Dave's on a mission to bring you some great insights into our people, planes and planet.
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