psychedelic reef fish
What’s more, you don’t have to be a scuba diver to enjoy Tobago’s underwater world. Frankie Tours & Rental is one of several local, family-owned companies that offers snorkeling cruises up the west, or Caribbean, coast. Frankie’s powerboats, which carry snorkeling gear and have biminis so passengers don’t get fried, pass beaches where leatherback turtles nest and stop for snorkeling at Buccoo Reef, a 30-sq.-mile marine reserve with thriving staghorn coral and reef fish with psychedelic hues. Not for nothing did Jacques Cousteau call Buccoo the third most spectacular reef in the world.
Lunch is a down-home picnic on a beach called No Man’s Land. Most tours include the Nylon Pool, too, a shallow, sand-bottomed expanse named by the late Princess Margaret. There, post-prandial passengers can nurse a beer or rum punch in calm, waist-high water that, according to local legend, makes people 10 years younger.
The other must-see underwater destination accessible to non-divers is a reef on the Atlantic side with not just fish but the world’s largest brain coral—globes the size of Sherman tanks. Visitors who don’t snorkel can view these wonders, which lie just off the northeast coast, via glass-bottomed boat. The tour may also include a visit to Little Tobago island, a nature sanctuary where frigate birds with 7-ft. wingspans shake down red-bill tropicbirds for lunch. The people at the touring desk in the Magdalena Grand Bay Resort’s lobby can arrange these glass-bottomed tours or any other sort of excursion.
a little survival lesson
That includes land tours, too, such as hikes to Argyle Falls and nature walks in the Main Ridge reserve. The walk to Argyle Falls (175 ft. high), leads through a former plantation now home to immense bamboo and immortal trees (that’s their name, not a religious observation) before moving on to narrow trails with slippery rocks. The falls themselves, tumbling into a pool rimmed by flat rocks and Henri Rousseau vegetation, are beautiful, the water is refreshing, and unlike Dunns River Falls in Jamaica, the place has not yet been loved to death.
The Main Ridge, aka Tobago Forest Reserve, covers a vast swath of the interior and was the first protected forest in the New World (1776). Ace nature guide Harris McDonald—via Harris Jungle Tours—leads tours in the early morning when the parrots are flying or nestling on tree-limbs—always in pairs, for these birds are passionately monogamous. McDonald also points out cockatoos, tanagers, hummingbirds, strange land critters (agoutis, wild pigs), giant butterflies, bromeliads with spiky blooms and vines you can swing on. Pausing at a termite nest, McDonald suggests that if you run out of provisions in a rainforest, you can eat termites. “They taste like carrots,” he says.
Good heavens, he’s right.
Back at the Magdalena Grand Beach Resort, it’s dinnertime and the carrots—or perhaps the cream of tomato soup with gin foam?—do not crawl. After dinner, some guests walk along the beach listening to the surf, while others listen to the piano player in the Tavaco Lounge. Still others visit the Robinson Crusoe Pub to watch a Dallas Cowboys game or the soccer match that British guests are watching on another TV. Tomorrow, another new experience: a diving or snorkeling trip, a walk on the wild side, maybe a rare, close-up peek at a nightjar bird asleep in its nest. But for now, the sun has long set, and it sure is nice to have all these creature comforts before setting off on tomorrow’s adventure.
July through mid-December rates start at $211.95 for a standard oceanfront room and go up to $616 for a 2-bedroom suite. Note, too, that there’s a 15 percent discount on all reservations made by July 15 for travel until Dec. 18.
American Airlines, Caribbean Airlines and United Airlines fly from several U.S. gateways to Trinidad’s Piarco international Airport (POS), where Tobago-bound travelers change planes for a short hop to A.N.R. Robinson International Airport (POS).
Frankie Tours & Rental: (868) 631-0369; frankietours.com
Harris Jungle Tours: harris-jungle-tours.com
Magdalena Grand Beach Resort: (866) 353-6222; magdalenagrand.com
World of Watersports: worldofwatersports.com/wow/default.aspx