I'll never forget sailing on a glass-bottom boat from Store Bay in Tobago to Buccoo Reef, one of the most spectacular treasures of the Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago. At the Coral Gardens, the boat stopped to allow those who wanted to swim, snorkel, or scuba dive to get off, while the rest of us stayed on to survey the fantastic coral formations and watch the varied marine life swimming in the turquoise water beneath the boat.
At the Nylon Pool, a naturally formed pool within the reef itself, I got out of the boat with the other passengers and jumped into the warm water. The pool was named by Britain's Princess Margaret for its shallow, crystal-clear waters. All I could think, as I frolicked in the sea with the others under the sun in an azure sky, was, "What a God-given wonder this is."
Trinidad and Tobago, the twin-island nation just off the coast of Venezuela, is an oil-rich country that makes some noise with its carnival, calypso, and steel-pan music. But there's more: You can't swim a stroke or brush past a tree without seeing or hearing its other well-known attractions - the fish, birds, and other wildlife that make the country a top eco-destination.
Trinidad and Tobago has an edge over other Caribbean islands: It's one nation, but two experiences. Trinidad is the more fast-paced twin, known for its hiking, wildlife-watching and heritage sites; Tobago is more tranquil, with resorts, white-sand beaches, snorkeling, and scuba diving. The world has taken notice of the pair's charms: The European Union Council on Tourism and Trade this year named the country the World Best Tourist Destination, the highest honor for a country's achievements in tourism.
If you fancy winged creatures, head for Trinidad's Asa Wright Nature Center, in the northern range hills 1,200 feet above sea level. The bird sanctuary, established in 1967, flutters and tweets with 620 types of butterflies and more than 450 diverse species of birds, including the silver-beaked tanager, the great antshrike, the bearded bellbird, the red-legged honeycreeper, and hummingbirds. The center is like a candy shop for the birds and butterflies, with more than 2,200 varieties of tropical flowering plants. There are also delightful hiking paths beneath tall, thick trees, and biking trails that lead to caves, secluded waterfalls, and lush rain-forest areas.
The rush hour of feathered traffic is from January through April, when a large number of birds migrate from the north to nest, traveling between Trinidad and Venezuela to seek out flowering and fruiting trees. If you've ever wondered what birds do at night, spend the evening at the Asa Wright Center Lodge. And if you like to watch birds eat, and to photograph them mid-chew, carve out a spot on the veranda that overlooks the bird feeders and provides optimum photo opportunities.
To view nature through the clear lens of the Caribbean water, fly or ferry over to Tobago and get on a glass-bottom boat to the underwater garden of Buccoo Reef, where more than 10,000 years of coraline growth and reef formation help support a variety of exotic sea creatures and underwater plants. And make a memory, as I did, for a lifetime.