The fascinating history behind the island that inspired 'Robinson Crusoe' and 'Treasure Island'

Trinidad has a big reputation as home to an explosive mid-winter Carnival.

But Tobago, the second island of the Caribbean republic, is smaller and more low-key — a gorgeous, slightly-off-the-beaten-path spot that made Mashable'stop destinations for 2016.

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The 116-square-mile island was named for its resemblance to a tobacco pipe — called tavaco — used by locals.

Tobago's pristine nature was allegedly the inspiration for Robinson Crusoe and Treasure Island. The island was also the setting for the movie Swiss Family Robinson.

Travelers can trace back to Tobago's storied nature almost everywhere: The Tobago Main Ridge Forest Reserve is the oldest rain forest reserve in the Western Hemisphere, and Pigeon Point Beach is consistently named one of the best beaches in the world.


The island changed hands 31 timesbetween the Spanish, British, French and Dutch — from 1498, when Christopher Columbus arrived, to 1814, when the British were able to claim it until 1889.

It's due to this constant changing that Tobago has its current thriving and diverse culture.


Tobago became a great exporter of rum, cotton, indigo and sugar. However, the economy was based on slavery and the plantation system. Britain brought thousands of Africans to the island as part of the slave trade and by 1800 the island's population was 2,300 Europeans, 1,050 free colonists and 10,000 enslaved men and women.

The remnants of the slave trade still linger in the abandoned and dilapidated sugar mills and plantations, many of which have become tourist attractions.

The Old Sugar Mill in Speyside, on the island's northeastern coast, provides an authentic look at the former sugar industry.


After emancipation in 1834, Tobago plunged into debt. In 1847, disaster struck again by way of a devastating hurricane that trampled the island. Due to a ruined sugar infrastructure and lack of labor, Tobago abandoned sugar production as its main source of income.

Tobago had become a no-profit liability for Britain, who distanced itself further and further until they finally annexed the island to Trinidad in 1889.

Once on their own, islanders began growing limes, coconuts and cocoa and exporting their produce. The island seemed to have bounced back from financial despair until 1963, when yet another hurricane hit the island, knocking out the newly-established agriculture base.

But the island bounced back from ravage, reconfiguring itself into an economy with a strong tourism sector.


Today, Tobago's ever-growing tourism scene boasts beautiful, pristine nature and a rich heritage.

Also see these turtles hatch on Tobago:

Tobago Turtles
Tobago Turtles

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