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.
Read more: Caribbean Vacation Planner
Living Like a Local in Barbados
Barbados celebrates its 50th anniversary of independence on November 30, 2016. To toast the occasion, we asked Bajan Darrio Prescod, the Barbados and Caribbean brand ambassador for Mount Gay Rum (one of the country’s most famous exports), to share his favourite island spots.