GoNOMAD DESTINATION MINI GUIDE
Tobago, West Indies
By Judette Coward
Tobago is part of the twin island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. Cigar-shaped Tobago lies 21 miles north east of Trinidad and covers 116 square miles of territory.
If Tobago had to be nicknamed, it would probably be called "Nature Island." Custom-made for the eco-traveler, with pristine underwater and land-based beauty, this tiny untouched island is one of the best-kept secrets in the Caribbean.
In addition to spectacular weather, great scenery and relatively uncrowded turquoise-blue beaches, Tobago also offers unique cultural explorations: the local arts, music, and religion provide an exciting blend of African, European and Caribbean influences.
WHEN TO GO
June to December is considered the island's rainy season, but even during that time, there is sunshine every day. Tropical daytime temperatures are usually around 30 degrees Celsius (89F). January, February and March are cooler. Tobago's peak tourist season is between November and April.
GETTING THERE AND AROUND
Getting to Tobago has always been the biggest challenge, and one of the reasons the island has remained authentic. BWIA (Tel: 800-538-2942), the national airline, flies non-stop from Trinidad from New York, Toronto, London and Miami. Visitors will have to change flights in Trinidad to connect to Tobago.
The fastest way is usually via North American Airlines. North American Airlines offers one flight weekly to Tobago from JFK airport in New York to Crown Point Airport in Tobago.
Taxis and rental cars are available at the airport in Crown Point. In outlying areas, hotels and guesthouses can summon a cab for you.
BEST MAJOR ATTRACTION
Undoubtedly, Tobago offers some of the Caribbean's best SCUBA diving opportunities, a massive flow of nutrient rich effluent from the rivers of South America feeds the reefs and waters of Tobago, to produce an unusually rich diversity of species provide and exceptionally rewarding underwater adventures for divers.
Divers and snorkelers have the possibility of seeing anything from whale sharks to giant manta rays, not to mention the largest recorded brain coral in the world at Speyside, a fishing village on the northeast coast. Yet because only a few thousand divers visit Tobago each year, the island has been able to develop as a first class diving destination without selling its soul.
The best drift diving -- and your greatest chance of seeing mantas -- is found on the north east corner of the village of Speyside. The village provides easy access to a 250-foot deep channel filled with pinnacles, small islands and exposed rocks. These obstacles slice the steady flow of the off-shoot into a mosh pit of crosscurrents. Experienced divers can challenge their skills on these dives, but there are also current-free fringing reefs and other novice-friendly dives that are good for snorkelers.
BEST UNUSUAL ATTRACTION
Goat racing in Tobago is unique to the island and a wonderfully fun activity to witness. The event is part of a large village fair, with music, local delicacies on sale and large crowds. The best- known venue for the sport is in Buccoo village at Easter time.
On race day, the goats are beautifully groomed, horn bright, coat smooth, trailing colored ribbons. A jockey runs alongside each animal, guiding it with a rope (and a whip for coaxing); the race is as much a test of his speed as of the goat's. Brisk betting is all part of the fun.
BEST ACTIVITIES AND TOURS
Diving and snorkeling are definitely tops, but on terra firma, the adventures are no less intriguing. Birdwatchers revel in the 200-odd species that live or frequent the island, including the majestic frigate birds that swoop and soar around the crags of St. Giles, off Tobago's north coast, and the rare Red Billed Tropicbirds that nest off the cliff of little Tobago, an easy ten minute ride from the Speyside coast.
For those not so inclined, other possible activities include horseback riding, deep-sea fishing, jet skiing and hiking.
- AJM Tours Limited
Located at the airport in Crown Point, Tobago
Offers some of the best tours of the island. A particular favorite with visitors is the Rainforest and Waterfall tour. This four-hour tour includes a guided journey to the stunning Argyle waterfall on the east coast of the island where you can walk, hike, swim and picnic.
BEST LOCAL HAUNT
To get to the heart of any island, a trip to the market is necessary, and Tobago is no different. Market days in Tobago are social events, and everybody loves to talk. Women arrive with their colorful head ties and aprons carrying basket loads of goods, fruits and vegetables. If you are confused by the myriad of spices, fruits and vegetables, just ask the vendors who are all too happy to help.
Friday and Saturday mornings in Scarborough market are the best days to visit, since it is bustling with activity. End your morning at the market with a breakfast of fried bake and salt fish (prepared on the spot). This goes well with a cup of hot cocoa tea.
A recent boom in hotel development means that Tobago has a diversity of hotel accommodations for every kind of visitor. At one end of the spectrum are two small-scale, eco-friendly properties that emphasize nature and inner healing.
- Footprints Eco-resort
- Kariwak Holistic Haven
Sanctuary Villas (Tel: 868-639-9556), Tropikist Beach Hotel, Blue Haven Hotel (Tel: 868-660-4077) and Arnos Vale Hotel are other properties that receive repeat clientele and are your best bets for a comfortable stay.
One of the best restaurants in Tobago is La Tartaruga (Tel: 868-639-0940). Diners come to experience the personality of head chef Gabriella Gaeteano, as well as some superb Italian cuisine.
The small and charming Rousells' (Tel: 868-639-4738) also serves up exquisite cuisine on the verandah of an old charming house near Scarborugh.
Le Petite Patisserie is a good choice for breakfast and pastries. Hearty, indigenous food can be found at the Store Bay beach facility. Curry crab and dumpling is a rich and tasty traditional dish.
Party animals will feel at home at Lush (Shiravn Rd.), an outdoor folksy nightclub where reggae and calypso mingle with the beat of techno and European house music.
The rowdy Golden Star in Crown Point is renown for its local amateur night and karaoke competition.
A wide variety of artists make Tobago their home, and art lovers can have a great time visiting galleries. Martin Superville's oil paintings are powerful and evocative (Tel: 868-639-0457). The recently-opened African Art Gallery offers a treasure trove of imported African artifacts, and Jungle Art in Buccoo has a range of work by local artists.
For artwork that won't fit into your bag visit the Bethel studio-museum-home of Louise Kimme, a German sculptor who sometimes uses entire tree trunk to create her vision of sleek dancers and feisty maidens.
VISAS AND DOCUMENTS
Passports are required by all visitors and must be valid for full length of stay. Visas are not required by North American, British and most European and Commonwealth nationals.
HEALTH AND SAFETY
Drugs are illegal in Tobago. Don't take risks, even a small amount can land you in serious trouble. In general, be careful with valuables at all times, use the safes located at hotels, lock cars and hotel rooms. Use a guide if hiking in unfamiliar territory. Be cautious if you decide to hitch hike, use the same common sense as you would anywhere else.
MONEY AND COMMUNICATIONS
The Tobago dollar floats against the US dollar (average in 2000 approx. TT 6.30 = US$1.00). Credit cards are widely accepted.
Standard telephone services are available including direct international calling and international connection. Country access code is 868.
Your best resource while on the island is the Department of Tourism
Tel: 868-639-2125/ 4636 The Tourism and Industrial Development Company (TIDCO) also is a veritable treasure chest of information.
Tel: 639-3668/ 3151