Tobago Time: My Memories Of The Happy Island
Written by Jaillan Yehia
Ever since the British winter took hold, I’ve been reminiscing more than ever about my time on the Caribbean Islands.
The ultra laid-back – and happiest – of all the Caribbean islands is Tobago and even thinking about my time there makes me smile.
These are my personal highlights of being on Tobago time…
Tobago is a lush, unspoiled paradise island which is often ranked as the happiest country in the entire Caribbean – and I can vouch for the fact that the mood is infectious.
This is more than just a Caribbean cliche – I remember returning from the island nation with a pretty big grin on my face and simultaneously being so laid back as to be nearly horizontal.
I had originally chosen to visit Tobago not because I am an avid hiker (though the rainforest hikes are endless) or as someone who seeks out all natural holidays (Tobago is as unspoiled as it gets) or because I am obsessed with beach holidays (despite the fact that Tobago is best known for it’s sandy beaches) but for a more run of the mill reason – I found a great deal on a last minute holiday and was in the mood for a classic 2 weeks of sun, sea, sand and steel drums. Oh and rum punch. And that is just what I got.
I arrived to discover the sun and sand in the form of beaches galore to lie on, and the sea which involved not just swimming and fishing but plenty of other water sports to try.
For some reason I also really took to the national pastime; liming. It quite literally means relaxing and doing absolutely nothing, usually on the beach with a beautiful view of the water.
Despite the island duo of Trinidad and little sister Tobago being a double act since the British ruled both in the 1880s, the two islands couldn’t be more different – Tobago is the relaxed retreat to Trinidad’s more urban and high energy destination.
I tried planning a trip to Trinidad while I was on Tobago, but somehow the laid back vibe and being on that infectious ‘Tobago time’ (known elsewhere in the Caribbean as ‘island time’) conspired to keep me in one spot and I didn’t make it – which is verging on the embarrassing when you consider that you can visit Trinidad as a quick day trip from Tobago by plane, or using the Inter-island Ferry Service.
Like the average tourist in Tobago I left my sun lounger for a few activities like exploring the villages, seeking out different beaches, bird watching, snorkelling, sailing, diving and fishing – and chilled out at night with a rum punch and some steel pan music, mainly at the Sunday night shindig, Sunday School.
How I enjoyed My Tobago Time
Tobago is of course best known for its unspoiled beaches and classically Caribbean hot and sunny weather, but despite holidaymakers flocking here, this 28 by 8 mile isle isn’t spoiled by multiple high rise resorts or overdevelopment and I found the pace of life really reflects that.
But if you’re more of an active holidaymaker there are still a few activities to try. In typical ‘me’ fashion I made sure I hired a car and tried as many of them as I could fit in while I was on Tobago time! These were my highlights…
Tobago’s lush interior is one of its best assets – and believe it or not the oldest protected rainforest reserve in the Western Hemisphere is on this small island.
I’m not a big hiker but it seemed rude not to explore the lush greenery which surrounds you so I had a foray into the jungle.
The best hike is at Main Ridge Rainforest Reserve which is home to the Argyle Waterfall, the island’s most popular waterfall hike and I took a bikini with me of course.
From orchids and hummingbirds, to snakes, geckos and parrots you’ll be constantly spotting flora and fauna as you walk – but you really have to make sure you bring all the usual recommended items, sturdy shoes (don’t wear flip flops) sun cream, water, a hat – and especially insect repellent!
Ok I have to fess up: I didn’t see any turtles here in Tobago as I visited at the wrong time of year (though luckily I released some baby turtles into the ocean in Costa Rica on another occasion and swam with them in Mexico, yay!) but I did stay at the eponymous Hawksbill Bay.
You may well be luckier – a whopping 80% of the endangered hawksbill and green turtles who nest in this part of the Caribbean do so on Tobago as the creatures apparently love the sea grass and coral off the island’s coast.
So if you visit during turtle watching season – March to September – you would be virtually guaranteed to witness these incredible giant sea turtles on the island’s unspoiled beaches.
Tobago has ideal conditions for every water sport you can imagine and yachting around the island is a popular choice for the luxury crowd.
I prefer snorkelling to diving but either is a good way to explore the underwater coral formations; Tobago has the largest brain coral in the world – and there are plenty of exotic fish species to see like barracudas, dolphins, whale sharks, turtles, porpoises, butterfly fish and parrotfish.
When I visited Tobago I wasn’t as into fishing as I am now so I may have gone out on boats but I didn’t try my hand at deep-sea fishing to reel in game fish like white and blue marlin and swordfish – but if I went back in November which is peak fishing season, I would love to have a go.
There are other water sports like Stand up paddle boarding and kite surfing, both now on offer at Pigeon Point Heritage Park – that’s the place with the thatched jetty which is famous in Tobago.
I tried out the number one day trip while on Tobago time – a boat tour to Buccoo Reef where you spend the day lazing in the natural ‘Nylon Pool’ – it’s basically a sandbar which creates a shallow warm swimming pool in the ocean – and eating and drinking on other beaches. Plenty of people sell the boat trips trips, with various combinations of BBQ and rum punch, swimming and snorkel thrown in so just pick the one that suits you, unless you have your own boat that is!
It sounds like something you’d want to avoid on holiday but Sunday School is actually the highlight of the week in Tobago.
The biggest night out the island has to offer is in a town called Buccoo every Sunday – and over time it has taken over the whole town with weekly food stalls and homemade crafts for sale, with serious partying from 9pm well into the night, including the rather special spectacle of serious steel drum playing which I thoroughly enjoyed watching.
As soon as you land in Tobago you realise what a big deal Sunday School is and as I was there for 2 weeks I went twice. the second week I went back pretty much so I could get another helping of macaroni pie.
Chilling out here on Tobago has been raised to the level of an art form called ’Liming’. You’ll often hear locals use the term – and in a country where ‘it was raining’ is an acceptable reason for being late, it seems obvious that taking it slow and not stressing is a life choice all locals have made.
Coming from a lifestyle where it is all about rushing it is actually quite amazing how difficult it is to adjust to the idea of doing nothing – and I was glad to have 2 whole weeks to slow down.
It might sound a bit boring to go bird watching, but on Tobago you don’t need a pair of binoculars to spot colourful winged creatures – as well as parrots there are lots of hummingbirds and I went to the hummingbird sanctuary to see them up close, but other than that most of my bird watching was done while I was on my way to do something else as there are tons of bird species on the island.
Trinidad & Tobago’s multiracial and multicultural heritage are major influences on the culinary scene – India, Africa, Europe, Asia, Latin America and even the Middle East have played a part in the food scene here and you can find a lot of tasty treats.
This culinary diversity makes Tobago quite unique amongst its Caribbean counterparts, plus vegans and vegetarians have an exciting selection of food options here because the two islands have a large Hindu and Rastafarian population.
I was a vegetarian many years ago and still enjoy veggie food so I tried a few examples of meat-free cuisine (of the street food variety) and enjoyed them, none more so than Macaroni Pie which quickly became one of my favourite dishes of all time.
Curry crab and dumplings (or simply ‘crab ‘n dumplin’ said in that wonderful accent of course) is the absolute must-try dish and a real local staple and best eaten beachside and I had a go at that too.
I remember noticing that Tobago’s crabs were quite small – it was my first time eating crab by the beach (this was before I lived in British Columbia where I got used to working hard for those tasty morsels of crab meat) so the experience was worth it, but you do have to persevere!
It’s also worth trying Rotis – a street food with east Indian heritage (roti means ‘bread’) containing split peas, vegetables and meat in curry sauce, all wrapped up pitta bread style.
I remember having one of these while a pack of hungry (but cute) street dogs watched me enviously and I felt so guilty not giving them all my dinner. I did give them some though as I can’t bear to see hungry animals especially when they have cute faces like this guy.
Also look for Doubles – a street food sandwich made with fried flat bread filled with curried chickpeas (known as ‘chana’). They are served with a fruity and cooling mango, cucumber or tamarind sauce. I honestly think anything tastes good with tamarind sauce.[wpdreams_rpp id=0]
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