Liming in Tobago

By | Category: Photorial, Travel destinations

Off for a dive

Off for a dive

Three things make Tobago special. It has superb diving with the best coral reefs east of the Americas and the oldest protected rain forest, with virtually every bird from South America. The third factor is the incredible warmth of the locals. Our first taxi driver immediately started to compose a calypso about four arrivals from England and he scribbled it down at the traffic lights. In other parts of the Caribbean one only looks at “the Band” of an evening but in Tobago you join them later. At Storebay Beach most mornings I had chat with George whose business rented six sun loungers on the public beach from 6 a.m. It’s easy to see why so many visitors go back time and time again.

A great deal of Tobago time is spent “liming”, which means chilling out, having a good chat often with a rum punch in hand. And Tobago has all the predictable pleasures of a small island where average temperature year round is 29° and the lowest sea temperature is 24°.

Coco Reef sunset

Coco Reef sunset

On the sea – very radical activities…

Tobago offers every sort of experience on the sea: from high speed trips to a barbecue lunch in a hidden cove, to windsurfing, water skiing, kayak rental and a cruise to Trinidad.

But nothing is as spectacular as Kitesurfing (Kiteboarding) claimed to be one of the fastest growing sports in the world. At Pigeon Point we saw the European champion in action. Kitesurfing involves the rider on a surf or wake-style board being pulled across the water by large kite – or for the “Champions” completely out of the water when they perform mid-air acrobatics. Radical Sports specialises in teaching Kitesurfing from scratch in four stages – coming to a sit up position on the beach, and, later before using the board, beginners then learn to “body drag” through the water under a kite. Taster sessions are available: radicalsportstobago.com

Pirates' Bay

Pirates' Bay

… and dazzling vistas under the sea.

With year round water temperatures of 24° to 26° the island has some of the best diving in the world, just break the surface and marvel at it. Whether it’s a clothed comfortable bottom seated in a glass bottom boat or diving or snorkeling – below are the wonders of the largest Brain Coral reef complex in the Caribbean with over 400 varieties of fish. It is possible to start diving in a short holiday. At R&Seadivers, and others, it’s possible to have a basic course in just 5 days and take up a taster like “Discover Scuba” for £40. All ages are catered for with special courses for 8 to 10 years olds and some of their regulars are in their 70’s.

If you don’t fancy diving, the snorkeling is excellent and helped enormously by top of the range masks and flippers which can be rented for £6.50 a day and half day trips to the best easy snorkeling areas are around £30. For a little more, a barbecue lunch is included in one of the many coves that can only be accessed from the sea. The trips out often go flat out with two giant engines on a 32 ft. boat. In fact, the ride on the first morning was the perfect antidote to a London office and an eight hour flight. More information can be found at the rseadivers web site.

Ian Fleming's House

Ian Fleming's House

Note on currencies: local prices are usually quoted in either US $ or local TT $. For simplicity I have converted prices to £ GBP at current rates.

Serious “Birding ” in the rain forest

Newton George

Newton George

Established in 1765, the Tobago Forest Reserve is the oldest protected rain forest in the Western Hemisphere. We went on a visit with one of the world’s doyens of “birding”: Newton George. As they say: “He knows all the birds’ addresses” and as well as his own whistling calls Newton has an MP3 player with 176 bird calls on it.

As well as the Great Black Hawk the forest is home for some of the world’s most colourful birds, including the Blue Backed Manakin, White tailed Sabrewing Hummingbird, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, and Fuscous Flycatcher among many others. In addition to the birds there are: trap door spiders, lizards, 17 varieties of bats and 22 harmless snakes (including the South American Boa). On land there are no dangerous animals but, after dark, watch out for mosquitoes and always use repellent.

(The UK hosts the world’s biggest birding event at Rutland’s Egleton Nature reserve -this year: 19th to 21st August.)

Food and Drink

Beachside nosh

Beachside nosh

There is something of a bias towards “international cuisine” in the larger hotels and the standard is high. Naturally fish is good, all line caught from local boats and the lobsters are superb. There’s is a great range of local dishes in smaller bars and beachside stalls. Things to try include: crab and dumplings, Callaloo, Pepperpot and all sorts of fried fish. There’s a range of recipes based on dried salt fish, and local vegetables such as yams, cassava and sweet potatoes – all things we see in Brixton market! Gemma’s Tree House at Speyside is very popular for island recipes and looks across to Ian Fleming’s house on Goat Island.

Some locals eat iguana but not us. Others have though as there is a record from 1667 with Dutch sailors being offered “….iguana and fried fish…”

The main drinks are local beer and rum, the latter in varying strengths and quality. Angostura bitters were invented here in 1919 and it’s now a leading brand of rum. Wine is not cheap, all is imported with most coming from Chile. Guinness is another very popular import.

Lunch at Coco Reef

Lunch at Coco Reef

Restaurants we recommend include: Toucan Inn, Seahorse Inn, Coco Reef Hotel,
Bamboo Walk Hotel. All can be found listed on the THTA site: tobagohoteltourism

Dancing late at Sunday School

Sunday school fan

Sunday school fan

Tobago’s not big on nightlife. Lots of the bars go very quiet after about 11.30. The exception is at Buccoo on Sunday nights. Sunday School is a street party where a steel band plays outside the “rest rooms” off the main street from about 8 pm. Everyone joins in and the band is smooth.

Buccoo Sunday school

Buccoo Sunday school

There are many small food stalls for snacks or an early meal before “School’s in”. Later in the evening the music changes to very loud amps from a stage and the crowd thickens. The evening is free. Remember, of course, it’s a street party and go with some friends and don’t take too much cash or anything flashy. Best of all go with some locals! These video clips are from Sunday School performers on the “pans:

Holistic gardens and cocktails at The Kariwak

They call it Kariwak Village but I think Club is better. This is an unusual and “individualistic” hotel which has a relaxed club atmosphere, good food with an associated cookery book and pleasant bars where people introduce themselves to other guests.

In its own words, it was: “First opened by the Dalai Lama of Tibet and is set amidst ponds, fountains and tropical gardens” and offers Hatha Yoga, Qi Gong and optional free morning sessions of Tai Chi. Or, you can wait for opening time for Kariwak’s original Rum Punch with fresh passion fruit juice from the garden. With keen prices, free transfers from the nearby airport and shuttle buses to the beaches it would be a good candidate for a week’s break, without the need for a car. For more information about kariwak village, click on the link.

Other things to do.

Tobago’s a small place and can be covered in a day by car. (pop. 54,000, 26 by 5 miles) but road signage could be better. See: endangered Giant Leatherback Turtles nesting (March – June), Goat and crab racing (Easter), Jazz festivals (April and August), film festival (September), impressive waterfalls, the world’s oldest botanical garden, sailing regattas , cycle races, and, inevitably, two golf courses.

Other Places to stay and the bottom line

We stayed in the luxury of Stonehaven Villas with private infinity pool and also at Coco Reef; award winning best hotel on the island. These less costly options , in addition to Kariwak, looked good: Seahorse Inn, Bamboo Walk Hotel, Crown Point Beach Hotel (the latter has some self catering units and is adjacent to Coco Reef).

Stonehaven infinity pool and view

Stonehaven infinity pool and view

Current seven day packages for two people from the UK, including flights and B & B, range from £1,200 to £1,800 depending on hotel. Bear in mind that villas are usually priced on a minimum of six people. When comparing packages I recommend looking up the accommodation offered on the THTA site.

Words and Images by Anthony Lydekker

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