Time for Tobago: A Destination Guide

Jeremy Taylor on the far-reaching changes under way in Tobago

Charlotteville. Photograph by Mark MeredithGoat racing at Buccoo. Photograph by Kenny LeePigeon Point. Photograph by Mark LyndersaySunset, Stonehaven Beach. Photograph by Mark MeredithThe Lowlands estate in plantation times- now the site of Tobago’s mega- project (painting by Adrian Camps-Campins)The old-time wedding at Moriah, part of the annual Tobago Heritage Festival. Photograph by Kenny LeeTobago style. Photograpgh Kenny Lee

INTRODUCTION TO TOBAGO

The early morning sunlight warms the water of Stonehaven Bay, the drying seines, the pelicans perching solemnly along the gunwales of the fishing boats, the waves breaking over distant Buccoo Reef. An early maxi-taxi loads sleepy-eyed vacationers and their diving gear, off to meet the legendary manta rays of Batteaux Bay. There are deep scuffed turtle tracks in the sand outside Plantation Beach Villas: sometime last night an endangered leatherback hauled herself up the beach, laid her eggs, and carefully camouflaged the nest before lumbering back into the dark water.

This is Tobago going about her age-old business. Under the warm sun, the village harvests, the Easter goat racing, the daily pulling of the seines, the annual Heritage Festival with its tapestry of folk traditions, the big sports festivals (sailing, game fishing, power boat racing), come and go. Visitors cruise the reefs and the lagoon in glass-bottomed boats, hike through the rain forest, enthuse over the diving, lie in wait for the mot-mots and the shrieking chachalacas and the swooping frigatebirds, or stretch themselves on the white sand. The steep-sided bays bask in the afternoon sun.

But there are big changes afoot in Tobago. Huge development projects are on the way, some of them bigger than anything Tobago has ever seen or dreamed of. Buyers are snapping up land in every corner of the island as they sense the coming change and hustle to position themselves for future advantage.

As BWIA returns to Tobago, Caribbean Beat in this special survey looks at the traditional warmth and beauty of this magical island, and at the changes that are coming. What do the next few years hold for Tobago, as developers move in and the island “opens up” and “takes off”?

THE YEAR IN TOBAGO

January

• Tobago Open and Pro Am Golf Tournament, Mount Irvine

February

• Carnival

March

• Turtle nesting season begins (till July)

April

• Goat and crab races, Buccoo (Easter Tuesday) and Mount Pleasant (Easter Monday)

• Carib International Game Fishing Tournament

May

• Angostura/Yachting World Regatta

June

• Fisherman’s Fete

July

• Heritage Festival (folk traditions)

August

• Great Race Power Boat Classic (ends at Store Bay)

September

• Tobago Fest (Carnival-style festival)

• Carib Tobago Cycling Classic

October

• Sea Festival, Mount Irvine

DEVELOPMENT FOCUS

Tobago Plantations: Lowlands

The first of the megaprojects, already taking shape at Lowlands. Over 750 acres, 2.5 miles of coastline; lagoon, mangrove, 1,600 metres of sandy beach. A US$500 million development with a 5-star 200-room Tobago Hilton on the beach, a Jack Nicklaus-designed championship golf course with computerised irrigation, a Golf & Country Club and a Golf Academy, 70 condominiums (US$150–200,000), 65 villas (US$300,000–530,000), a 120-berth marina and Yacht Club, a bird sanctuary, a Resort Village Centre with shopping and entertainment, up to 2,000 construction jobs and 500 permanent jobs in the $80 million first phase due for completion in October 1999. Two more hotels are scheduled for subsequent phases. The development company, in which the Trinidad-based Angostura and Guardian Life are the private sector investors, has undertaken a series of environmental studies and promises rigorous monitoring at the site.

Leeward Development Company: Courland Estate

A US$180 million development planned for a 350-acre site on Courland Bay, next to Turtle Beach Hotel. The existing road beside the beach will be relocated inland. 72 acres will be a nature reserve/bird sanctuary. Robert Trent Jones golf course, 250-room 4-or 5-star hotel, 50 estate homes, 104 golf villas, clubhouse, tennis, pool, beach club, spa, 900 permanent jobs. May be delayed by legal dispute between shareholders.

Tobago Land and Development: Latour/Golden Grove Estate

A 5-star resort development involving an upmarket international brand-name hotel chain which already has a successful interest in the Caribbean. A 344-acre site which embraces the popular No Man’s Land peninsula, with a 60–70 acre nature reserve, golf course, villas.

Pigeon Point/Bon Accord Lagoon

Plans for a Marriott hotel at this prime site overlooking Buccoo Reef and Tobago’s most famous beach, and another further along the shore of the Bon Accord Lagoon.

Sanctuary Villa Resort

A 21-acre site next to the Grafton Caledonia Wildlife Sanctuary. Already under construction, with the first villas occupied. 16 villa apartments, 19 villas, a 52-room hotel (Plantation Great House) with restaurant, conference facilities, fitness centre/spa, tennis, water park. Second phase due for completion by August 1999. Villas US$227,000–329,000 including land, landscaping and appliances; villa apartments $150,000 to $220,000.

Stonehaven Villas

An exclusive 9-acre development on the other side of the Grafton Caledonia Wildlife Sanctuary, up the hillside from the successful Plantation Beach Villas. Fourteen exceptionally large villas designed by Arne Hasselquist of Mustique fame, set on two ridges with superb sea and forest views (many sea views extend from Buccoo Reef to Plymouth); communal Club House with facilities for meetings and functions. Villas selling at $500,000.

VISITORS’ TOBAGO

Getting there

BWIA operates return flights between Tobago and Piarco International Airport in Trinidad four times a week, with morning and evening services on Mondays and Fridays. Direct BWIA flights to Piarco are available from Miami, New York, Toronto, London and Caracas, as well as Caribbean countries.

Historic sites

Forts

All Tobago’s military forts are worth visiting — not because there’s much left of them (except for Fort King George, above Scarborough, which houses the Tobago Museum and an art gallery), but because they all have superb views and are lovingly maintained, signposted and landscaped. Fort Bennett is just outside the village of Black Rock, Fort James is on the headland at Plymouth, Fort Granby is on a breezy peninsula at Studley Park, Fort Milford is the most peaceful spot in Crown Point, and Flagstaff Hill, high above Charlotteville, has the best panorama of them all.

Monuments

The Courland Monument in Plymouth is a striking 1978 sculpture commemorating the Latvian settlers who occupied the area for much of the 17th century, and the site of Tobago’s oldest colonial fort and settlement. The Mystery Tombstone, also in Plymouth, is the 1783 tomb of Betty Stiven and her young baby, with the inscription that “she was a mother without knowing it, and a wife without letting her husband know it, except by her kind indulgence to him”. This has puzzled generations of visitors, though the meaning is obvious enough.

Other

Richmond Great House is a restored plantation Great House dating from 1776, with early 20th-century furnishings and a striking collection of African carvings and textiles. It is a guest house and restaurant, but is also worth a stop on the Windward Road at Belle Garden.

Diving

World-class diving with good visibility, rich marine life, wreck dives, plentiful reefs, manta rays at Batteaux Bay, and a wide range of dives from easy to very difficult. The most popular sites are off Speyside and Charlotteville, the west coast from Mount Irvine to Englishman’s Bay, and the south-west tip. There are well-equipped professional dive shops and a decompression chamber.

Festivals

Though on a much smaller scale than Trinidad’s, Tobago’s Carnival is a lively community event, and the Heritage Festival in July is a major showcase of authentic Tobago tradition. There are major sporting events during the year — golf in January, an international game fishing contest in April, an international regatta in May, and a power boat race from Trinidad to Tobago at the end of July or early August. This year will see the first Tobago Fest in September/October, an attempt to use Trinidad Carnival to boost the quiet post-summer season. If you are in Tobago at Easter, don’t miss the goat and crab racing at Buccoo and Mount Pleasant.

Eco

Buccoo Reef is the most accessible and popular of Tobago’s many reefs, but there are also well-established reef tours from Speyside. Birders head for Little Tobago Island, the Giles Islands, the Grafton Nature Reserve near Black Rock, and the Bon Accord lagoon. The best hiking area is the forested Main Ridge — Gilpin Trace is the easiest entry point. Argyle Falls, just south of Roxborough, are the most easily accessible of waterfalls, but there are plenty of others. There is no zoo, but several small projects are building animal collections, and pleasant Botanic Gardens in Scarborough. David Rooks, president of Environment Tobago, Adolphus James and Keston Thomas offer some of best nature tours.

Entertainment and nightlife

For nightlife, try Bonkers, Copratray, The Deep or JG’s, all in the Crown Point area, or Buccoo’s Sunday night party, Sunday School. Local art can be seen at The Art Gallery just off the Claude Noel Highway. German artist Luise Kimme, who creates life-size wooden sculptures based on Tobago life and tradition, has a studio in Bethel which can be visited on Sundays (10 to 2) — you can see examples of her work at Fort King George and Kariwak Village Hotel.

DINING OUT

Dining out in Tobago is an open-air experience. Ten years ago, there were barely half a dozen good independent restaurants: now there are over 30, quite apart from hotel restaurants, many of them lovingly converted houses with tables on balconies and verandahs, open to the evening air and the breeze, with views of the sea or forested hills. Some offer local entertainment. Menus are basically creole in style, with some specialist cuisine: good fresh seafood is everywhere (lobster and crab, kingfish, grouper, dolphin — which is the local name for mahi-mahi, and no relative of Flipper), and there are tasty steaks and chicken dishes, plus rewarding desserts (home-made ice-creams, cakes and caramels, fresh fruit and fruit juices). A few restaurants offer indigenous dishes like curried crab and dumplings.

Arnos Vale Waterwheel

660-0815

Beautiful forest setting beside the Arnos Vale Road north of Plymouth. The centrepiece is the 1857 waterwheel that once served the Arnos Vale estate; relics of the mill are clearly identified and explained. Gardens, birds, walkways, Friday night dinner theatre, small museum and gift shop. Expensive.

Black Rock Café

Popular open-air restaurant in Black Rock village run by BWIA captain Stephen Dolly. Quality food (excellent seafood, steaks, chicken, kebabs, local specialities), warm and friendly service and atmosphere, and plenty of repeat business; open for breakfast and lunch as well as dinner.

Blue Crab

A good lunchtime retreat in Scarborough: mainly fish with local vegetables and salads.

Dry Dock

Friendly restaurant at Fort Granby on the Windward Road: tasty seafood served in a mock fishing boat. Children’s playground.

Eleven Degrees North

Good Caribbean cuisine with a Mexican/Cajun flavour if you want it, at this popular restaurant on Old Store Bay Road in Crown Point. Interesting menu, dishes well presented, friendly and attentive service, entertainment, art display; personal attention from owners Barry and/or Rachna Treu.

La Tartaruga

Excellent authentic Italian cuisine at this elegant restaurant in Buccoo Village. Attractive open-air ambience with batiks on the wall, very attentive service. Milanese Gabriele de Gaetano oversees the kitchen, and makes an annual trip back home to gather new recipes from Italian villages for development in Tobago. Dinners Tuesday to Saturday. Closed June/July. Expensive, but worth it for a special evening.

Old Donkey Cart

What began as a two-table bistro in 1980 is now a well-established restaurant and bar (La Locanda) on Bacolet Street on the edge of Scarborough, with warm service and a good menu in an attractive garden setting, plus attractive accommodation in the form of 10 suites on the hillside above. Open all day.

Patino’s

Elegant open-air dining on Shirvan Road, with a casual bar and attentive service, beside a 75-foot wide cascading waterfall. Ken Patino brought his Trinidadian family back from Canada to open this business in Tobago — son Roger is the chef. There’s accommodation available too — 10 self-contained units including a bridal suite, and a swimming pool.

Peacock Mill

BWIA captain Stephen Dolly, who also runs Black Rock Café, is developing a sports bar and restaurant around this old sugar mill. Grilled fish and meats, garden setting with plenty of space; DirecTV for sports events, pool tables. Dozens of peacocks strut by day and roost in the trees at night, squawking loudly at any disturbance.

Rouselle’s

Well-established Tobago institution on Bacolet Street on the edge of Scarborough, popular for liming as well as an excellent restaurant, open 3-11 p.m. Monday to Saturday. Outstanding presentation, warm welcome from manager Bobbie Evans, consistently good food — lobster, fish, chicken, pork, home-made soups and desserts.With its relaxed atmosphere, this is one of the best places in Tobago for a good meal or a leisurely drink.

Seahorse Inn

Beautiful setting overlooking Stonehaven Beach near Grafton; terrace and balcony dining with the waves below. Seafood and steaks, a good wine list, everything fresh and local. Friendly service, personal attention from owners Norma and Nick Clowes.

Shirvan Watermill

Beautiful restaurant on Shirvan Road built around a historic mill that pumped water for the old Shirvan estate; circular dining area with coral-faced columns, pools and gardens. Owner David Forde offers a wide menu, “straight and simple”, with house recipes; attentive service, imaginative presentation.

The Village Restaurant

At the Kariwak Village Holistic Haven and Hotel at Crown Point, this is a hotel restaurant with a difference — open-air dining beneath thatched ajoupa roofs, food based on home-grown herbs, “whole, fresh and natural”. Home-made breads, ice-creams, yogurts, excellent herb teas; entertainment at weekends.

Also recommended

Seafood

• Bayne’s (Buccoo Village)

• Dillon’s (Crown Point)

• In Seine (Crown Point)

• The Best of Thymes (Ocean Point Holiday Resort)

• Papillon (Buccoo Junction)

Indian

• Taj Terrace (Crown Point)

Pub atmosphere

• Bonkers (Crown Point)

Café atmosphere

• Pepe’s International (Crown Point)

Beachfront

• Man Friday (Sandy Point Beach Club, Crown Point)

FURTHER INFORMATION

Division of Tourism, Tobago House of Assembly Scarborough Mall

(868) 639-2125/4636,

fax 639-3566; Crown Point Airport

(868) 639-0509

Tourism and Industrial Development Company of Trinidad and Tobago (TIDCO)

Head Office:
10- 14 Philipps Street,

Port of Spain,

(868) 623-1932/4, 623-6022/3,

fax 623-3848, www.tidco.co.tt,

tourism-info@tidco

• USA: 1-888-595-4TNT, (305) 663-1660

• Canada: 1-888-595-4TNT, (416) 485-8256

• UK: 0 800 960 057, (0181) 350-0225

• Germany: (49) 06-131-73337

• Italy: (39) 1-678-77530