It’s early in the morning on the island of Tobago. Bleary-eyed, I follow local birding guide Newton George past hillsides blanketed in lime-green ferns to Gilpin Trace trail, which wends through the mountainous isle’s Main Ridge Forest Reserve. It is the Western Hemisphere’s oldest protected tropical rainforest—and a cradle of biodiversity.
The forest feels instantly cooler under the shroud of the canopy, and it resonates with the sounds of nature. Enchanted by the trills of chipper-sounding birds, I turn my head in every direction to catch a glimpse of the various noisemakers amid the Jurassic-sized vegetation.
George, of course, is the first to sight a bird. He tells me it’s his favourite: the collared trogon, which sports a striking rainbow plumage. As we continue along, we spot two dozen more of Tobago’s 220-plus bird species, including the great black hawk and blue-backed manakin—but the endemic white-tailed sabrewing hummingbird eludes us.
Determined, George purses his lips and calls, “Che che cha.” Like magic, a territorial male buzzes us.
Birdwatching is but one of the many nature-based activities to experience in Trinidad and Tobago (T&T), the dual island nation just north of Venezuela. Because of T&T’s proximity to South America, it is home to flora and fauna you won’t find anywhere else in the Caribbean.
My all-natural Tobago adventure continues with a dip beneath the multi-tiered Argyle Falls, scuba diving to the world’s largest brain coral in Speyside and a leatherback turtle-nesting tour, where I get to see the endangered lumbering giants—and their captivating hatchlings—up close.
After three days in Tobago, a 20-minute flight takes me to Trinidad, where, beyond the bustling capital Port of Spain, the island is thick with tropical greenery and natural splendours. At the Asa Wright Nature Centre, a world-renowned conservation area in the forested Northern Range Mountains, I am delighted by a cornucopia of brilliant butterflies.
Another day, I kayak the Salybia River, then take a short cruise to the Bocas, a string of tiny isles lying between Trinidad and Venezuela. On Gaspar Grande, I descend 30 metres into the limestone Gasparee Caves, chockablock with stalactites and stalagmites, then take a dip in the translucent Blue Grotto tidal pool.
On my last evening, I tour the mangroves of Caroni Swamp. As the sun sets, hundreds of electric-red scarlet ibis fly in to roost; a magnificent climax for any nature buff.
Local tip: “Go to Yerettê, Home of the Hummingbird [on Trinidad]. The owner hung feeders for the hummingbirds and now he literally gets thousands. He’s a former university professor, so he gives really good lectures.” —Courtenay Rooks, owner of Paria Springs Tours in Trinidad
Getting there: WestJet flies to Port of Spain once a week from Toronto.