Charlotteville, Tobago

At Tobago’s north-eastern tip, Charlotteville remains a rustic retreat, almost the epicentre of the island’s natural beauty

Photo by Chris AndersonPhoto by Edison BoodoosinghPhoto courtesy Division of Tourism & Transportation TobagoPhoto by Neil Cook, Environmental Research Institute Charlotteville (ERIC)

Streetscape

The topography of Charlotteville is still more of a beachscape than a streetscape, dominated by the shimmering blue expanse of Man O’War Bay. From the seafront, with its long jetty and dozens of small fishing boats at anchor, roads and tracks ascend the slopes of the surrounding hills, dotted with houses boasting some of the loveliest views on the island. In recent years, guesthouses and other forms of modest accommodation have sprung up, but this is still very much a fishing village, where life is lived by the rhythm of the tides and nightlife is a laidback lime at a beachfront rumshop.

 

Appetite

This one’s a no-brainer. Fishing is Charlotteville’s mainstay, and the freshest possible seafood should be the highlight of your menu. Regular visitors recommend Gail’s, a simple restaurant run from the porch of the owner’s house, right on the sea. Sharon and Phebe’s, on the corner of the main road leading down to the beach, offers a similar menu and relaxed ambience — and this is the place to try curried crab. If you have a car, the ten-minute drive to Speyside on the Atlantic coast will double your restaurant options.

 

Venturing out

Tobago’s northern tip is practically the epicentre of the island’s incredible fauna and flora, from the lush forested slopes of the Main Ridge to the teeming coral reefs just offshore. This is a perfect starting point for hikers, mountain bikers, birdwatchers, and anyone keen to experience this still largely untouched corner of a lush and verdant island.

The village itself is home to two dive shops, one of them run by the Environmental Research Institute Charlotteville, or ERIC, for short — a non-profit working on a “ridge to reef” environmental and development approach for north-eastern Tobago. Nearby Speyside also offers facilities, and the sea around this tip of Tobago is justly world-famous for its dive sites. These nutrient-rich waters teem with corals, gorgonians, reef fish, sharks, and manta rays.

And serious birders are also spoiled for choice. 276 different species have been recorded from Tobago, and many of them can be seen or heard within a three-mile radius of Charlotteville, from mot-mots and hummingbirds in the Main Ridge hills to tropicbirds and boobies on Little Tobago Island, off the Speyside coast.

 

History

Tobago is one of those Caribbean islands with a long, sometimes bloody history changing hands between European colonial powers — thirty-three times in three centuries is the dizzying number, with the Dutch, the French, and the English the chief rivals, or culprits. Colonists of these nations made several attempts to establish settlements on Man O’War Bay, and by the late eighteenth century there was a sugar plantation established near the location of present-day Charlotteville, thriving under the backbreaking labour of enslaved Africans.

After Emancipation, the hills and valleys around Charlotteville were a favoured destination for newly freed black settlers, thanks to the fertile soil, the bay churning with fish, and the comfortable distance from the capital at Scarborough. In an area once called Congo Hill, freed Africans born in the Congo established a community preserving their native culture, influencing Charlotteville’s music and dance to this day. Migration from Grenada, St Vincent, and the Grenadine islands near the end of the nineteenth century brought a French patois-speaking population to this tip of Tobago, and enriched the cultural mix.

Agriculture and fishing were Charlotteville’s backbone for most of the twentieth-century, and in most ways remain so — supplemented nowadays by small-scale tourism.

 

Trivia

The beach at Pirate’s Bay, a short walk north of Charlotteville, is considered one of Tobago’s loveliest — but its name suggests a rather bloodthirsty past. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, this is supposed to have been a base for infamous pirates like Henry Morgan and Edward Teach (better known as Blackbeard), and there are legends of fabulous treasure still buried under the sands where tourists sunbathe.

 

Co-ordinates

11.32ºN 60.55ºW
Sea level

 

Caribbean Airlines operates flights to A.N.R. Robinson International Airport daily from Trinidad and weekly from New York City, with connections to other destinations across the Caribbean and North America