10 ways to enjoy Caribbean’s Tobago like a local

The tiny island of Tobago is most popular as a vacation destination with Trinidadians, who hop over to their sister isle by ferry or plane for a chilled-out break. Tobago manages to offer everything you want in a Caribbean vacation — great food, pretty beaches, clear turquoise waters — without the crowds or hokey stuff you get at more popular island destinations.

Being in Tobago feels like you’ve discovered this awesome secret spot that nobody else knows about. Here are 10 ways to enjoy the island like a local.

Swim and snorkel in the clearest water

Charter boats take visitors out to the clear waters of the Nylon Pool — Photo courtesy of Lola Augustine Brown

Taking a boat out to the Nylon Pool, a swimming pool in the middle of the sea, is essential. When Princess Margaret visited in 1962, she compared the water, so clear over the white coral sand, to nylon sheers — hence, its name. The pool can be busy with party boats sometimes, but it’s still stunning and worth visiting. Nearby is the protected Buccoo Reef, which offers spectacular snorkeling and diving.

Tobago Waterholics offers tours to several prime snorkeling and swimming spots, to include No Man’s Land, a mangrove-edged beach, where guests can enjoy a barbecue and grab a rum punch after a “tough” morning of splashing around in the ocean.

Gorge on seafood in a treehouse

A family-style feast at Jemma's Treehouse KitchenA family-style feast at Jemma’s Treehouse Kitchen — Photo courtesy of Lola Augustine Brown

Jemma’s Treehouse Kitchen is built into a massive almond tree on the beach in Speyside. You eat family style, digging into huge plates of chicken, shrimp, fish and lobster, as the sea breeze blows through the open windows. Every bite is amazing at Jemma’s, from the gingery cucumber salad to the sweet and sour prawns and tender lobster, served with breadfruit pudding, plantain, okra and a bounty of fresh vegetables.

Known as the breadbasket of the islands, Tobago grows plenty of produce, so there’s no shortage of fresh fruits and vegetables, which is clear every time you eat at a restaurant there.

Hike the rainforest

Newton George takes visitors through the lush, protected rainforestNewton George takes visitors through the lush, protected rainforest — Photo courtesy of Lola Augustine Brown

In 1776, Tobago’s Main Ridge Forest Reserve was declared a protected conservation area by the British Parliament, making it the oldest nature reserve on record in the Western Hemisphere. Exploring with experienced guide and birder Newton George, you’ll see a huge range of diverse flora and fauna. Hike far enough and you’ll find secluded waterfalls and pools perfect for a refreshing dip.

Go to “Sunday School”

Every Sunday evening in Buccoo, steel drum bands set up in the village square to practice, and soon the atmosphere becomes a hip-swaying, booty-shaking street party. Expect to hear classic island tunes, as well as random pop hits, like Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On,” as locals and tourists converge to dance. After 11 p.m., the bands depart, and DJs spin dancehall and soca tunes until the early morning hours. It starts out tame, but you can get as wild as you want at Buccoo Sunday School.

Sip on an LLB

LLB from Angostura Bitters is the refreshing soft drink of choice on the islandLLB from Angostura Bitters is the refreshing soft drink of choice on the island — Photo courtesy of Lola Augustine Brown

Outside of the islands, most of us only know Angostura for their bitters, a staple in any cocktail cabinet. However, the Trinidad and Tobago company also makes fine rums and Lemon, Lime and Bitters, a soda locally known as “LLB.” Pull back the tab and feel refreshed.

Eat curry crab and dumplings

Meisha Trim of Miss Trim's makes some of the best crab and dumpling on the islandMeisha Trim of Miss Trim’s makes some of the best crab and dumpling on the island — Photo courtesy of Lola Augustine Brown

Meisha Trim makes Tobago’s most popular dish, curry crab and dumplings, from her mom’s recipe, served out of her beachfront restaurant Miss Trim’s in Crown Point. The green curry is super spicy, and the dumplings sweet, complementing each other perfectly.

Taste cocoa beans straight off the tree

An estate manager at the Tobago Cocoa Estate explains the beans of the operationAn estate manager at the Tobago Cocoa Estate explains the beans of the operation — Photo courtesy of Lola Augustine Brown

Touring the leafy Tobago Cocoa Estate, you learn the entire bean-to-bar process before being treated to samples of their incredibly fantastic and award-winning chocolate in liquid and bar form. Quite possibly the tour highlight is tasting the fruit of the cocoa beans — tart and reminiscent of Sour Patch Kids or Jolly Ranchers, depending on how mature the fruit is.

Kayak under the moonlight

Glass-bottomed kayaking in the Buccoo Reef mangrove lagoon at night is simply magical. In the pitch-black night, you might hear the random birdcall or the splash of a fish, and all you might see is the faint glow of mangrove roots. But then comes the most spectacular sight: bioluminescence turning the water underneath your kayak into a galaxy of tiny stars. Your paddles, as they move through the water, create trails of glitter.

Indulge in the best coconut cheesecake of your life

Unforgettable coconut cheesecake at The Fish PotUnforgettable coconut cheesecake at The Fish Pot — Photo courtesy of Lola Augustine Brown

Everything they serve up at the The Fish Pot in Grafton is amazing, but their coconut cheesecake is legendary. Covered in toasted coconut with a cinnamon base, it has an almost flan-like texture that turns to caramel at the edges. But sure, while you’re there, start with the silky rum-and-liver pate, and make sure you try the crab cakes too.

Dance at the Jade Monkey

Put on your dancing shoes and head to the Jade Monkey Bar in Crown Point, where everyone is welcome. (It seemed to be mostly locals, with a smattering of visitors.) DJs play the hottest soca sounds. Don’t get there too early, though, as the place doesn’t start to fill up until midnight. It gets more fun as the night goes on. Bonus: They have karaoke with big prizes on Wednesdays.

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