After this column, you’re going to hate me, more than you do already.
My work in the music and media industry often takes me to far-flung places and amongst those locations; the Caribbean has seen me visit many of its islands including Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados, the BVI Islands and more.
Even though they are all clustered quite closely together, each Caribbean island really does have a very unique personality and presence of its own. Whilst Jamaica is Scary Spice; full on boisterous, intense and perfect if you want a high-energy break with high fashion and catwalk kids running around, Barbados is Posh Spice; laid back cosmopolitan and attracts the Simon Cowell’s and Michael winner’s of our world. Dominica is Baby Spice; very raw, rural and untouched.
Trinidad is Ginger Spice; buzzing and inclusive, especially around carnival time each February, when colour and music juxtapose into an explosive fireball. The BVI Islands are Sporty Spice; all water sports and Olympic water champs.
TOBAGO’S CASTARA BEACH.
All have their beaches, annual festivals and local cuisines that attract tourists searching for that picture book perfect white sands, palms trees and cocktails vacation. But it’s tranquil Tobago that is Beyonce; she’s got it all and has captured my heart more than the rest in recent years.
It’s a tiny island, just 24miles wide. Its very colourful, hilly landscape reminds me of an Italian island. Like Capri in the Caribbean! It is quiet, calm and quaint. The people are a mixture from all across the world, so whether black, white, brown or yellow, no-one bats an eyelid at tourists and it all feels very inclusive and unthreatening.
PIC- PIGEON POINT PALM WALK
With its white powder sand beaches, backed by almond trees and coconut palms, it boasts the world’s most photographed jetty; on the most picturesque postcard beach I’ve ever been to, called Pigeon Point. Strangely named, as it’s very un-pigeon-like, there are no pigeons, anywhere. It’s a strip of white beach; the entrance pathway welcomes you with a vertiginous palm-tree guard of honour. It should be called Sparrow Shore what with all the chirping birdsong.
Tobago isn’t really for the vacationer who wants drunken discos, boisterous beer fuelled bingo or tumultuous theme parks with rides that turn you upside down and empty your pockets of change. You won’t find the status quo of tacky trinket markets, disorderly bars and restaurants and cafes that cater to a certain British demographic. Full English breakfast, drunk yobs and footie anyone? Not here.
While its twin island Trinidad twerks with parties all night, tiny Tobago chills out and ‘limes’ in a hammock with a coconut water and cocktail, watching its aqua blue waters twinkle in the sun. It’s the perfect location for me as I love sun, fun, nature, spicy good food and natures birdsong which is so loud and insistent that you rise and shine early as the cockerels start their singing and chatting at 6am!
I arrived at ANR Robinson International Airport on a pleasant British Airways flight, (though they really need to update their planes and give their service staff image and style sessions), on a Monday afternoon and was picked up and taken straight to my first location for the trip; Bacolet Beach Club.
This is a small very chic boutique hotel with huge expansive rooms based on a cliffside overlooking the ocean. Its rooms are enormous, and prettily decorated in rich, jewel-colours and big modern fittings. Especially in its new wing, which overlooks a number of, tranquil pools, which in turn spill and cascade into the ocean.
BACOLET BEACH CLUB – JUST ONE OF THEIR MANY POOLS.
Its all-glass, cube reception is always manned and welcoming. The hammock filled bars, hidden all the way down the cliffside onto the mini beach, make you jump for joy as you discover them. The food at its onsite restaurant is the only thing that lets it down. It’s acceptable but feels a little neglected in comparison to the high standards of the rest of the hotel and compared to the rest of the islands incredible food-fest offerings.
BACOLET BEACH CLUB ROOMS.
A cliff walk spiralling down to the beach from your room reveals a small white-sand beach like the rest of Tobago’s shore. Most tourist developments are centred on the south-western side of Tobago, starting at Crown Point and running along a string of bays up to Arnos Vale. The lowlands that predominate in the southwest extend to Tobago’s only large town, Scarborough. The coast beyond is dotted with small fishing villages and the interior is ruggedly mountainous, with thick rainforest. Divers and snorkelers, and those seeking mellow days, visit the easternmost villages of Speyside and Charlotteville, while bird-watchers head for the Tobago Forest Reserve although I honestly was bombarded with all types of birds dancing and spinning loudly everywhere we went.
MY GROUP IN TOBAGO LOOKED AFTER BY ”HANS” (FAR LEFT)
We were lucky enough to have one of the best tour guides in the form of a jovial local chap called Hans (Hans tours), who was always larking around. As he drove us around the islands corkscrew vertiginous roads or walked us through cocoa plantations, he would always be on hand with a fascinating fact or 10 about Tobago. ‘‘In Tobago we are surrounded by two oceans, the Caribbean side is like a woman; calm and pretty, the Atlantic side is aggressive and rough like a man’’ lol. Or whist picking up what looked to us, like a red pepper, and asking ‘’what is this?’’ it turned out to be a single almond! (no wonder they’re so expensive!).
INSIDE THIS PEPPER LOOKING POD IS A SINGLE ALMOND!
On the Tuesday morning we went to visit the Tobagonian version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. We were guided around the Cocoa Estate by a weathered, elderly woman named Kristina, who was friendly, knowledgeable and as strong as an ox. Her skin golden from years of working out in the sun, who suffered no fools or bad behaviour. She showed us numerous trees on the plantation. Name any fruit, veg, spice or nut, we were shown the plant and schooled on it. We learnt how the cocoa grows, is protected from wildlife and shaded from the sun, where it’s roasted dry and about its final voyage to France where it’s turned into fine chocolate.
COCOA PLANTATION ESTATE GUIDED BY KRISTINA FINISHED WITH A CHOCOLATE AND RUM TASTNG!
At the end of the tour we were treated to a chocolate and rum tasting, which was divine!
RUM AND CHOCOLATE TASTING.
(In fact, it was on this walk that a part of my psyche went into slow-mo as we wandered slowly into a wide grassy path of flowers, shrubs and foliage that was flanked by benches and surrounded by birdsong and crickets chirping in the sultry heat. This strip of the plantation is so breath-taking and paradise like, that I felt an otherworldly aura that returned to me after leaving. I realised I retrospect that this was henceforth going to be my future ”think of your happy, safe place’’. Heaven.
CRAB AND DUMPLIN’
Next, we had Lunch at Blue Crab Restaurant where yet another high-spirited, frolicsome lady (Alison Sardhina) entertained us with stories about Olde worlde cooking methods and local customs. The crab and dumpling dish she and her husband cooked for us was out of this world!
PADDLE BOARDING AT PIGEON POINT.THE LOCAL GOATS WATCHED US BEFORE THEY TOOK PART IN A GOAT RACE!
After lunch we went Stand-up Paddle Boarding at Pigeon Point beach.
You have to pay a nominal amount to get access to Pigeon Point, its the fine dining of Tobago’s beaches, with landscaped grounds lined on either side by acres of huge soaring palm trees, boomboxing bbq accommodating beach bars, clean well maintained toilets and showers spread along an abundance of beachfront. The postcard-perfect, palm-fringed beach has powdery white sands and milky aqua water.
An instructor spent 15 minutes talking us through the technique whilst on dry sand, and then hurried us onto the ocean to catch the sunset to try it out properly.
Whilst the swimmers on the beach shouted encouragement ‘’go on stand up it’s easy!’’ I gritted my teeth determined not to swear back at them to ease off the pressure. I would try standing when I was good and ready lol.
I started off terrified I’d fall in, but taking it slowly and surely ”look up and ahead, not down!’’, I managed a good hour stood up, whizzing along and when tired, drifting motionless alongside the Pigeon Point ocean side without falling in at all. Whoopee! An experience of a lifetime.
HUGE PLATES FULL OF FOOD ARE THE NORM OUT HERE!
That evening we had dinner at a restaurant that surprised me. I ignorantly assumed the only great food I’d get out here would be Caribbean with a twist of Indian. However, I had the best Italian food outside of Italy that I’ve ever experienced, at La Tartaruga Restaurant. An Italian family that moved to Tobago a few years ago run it. With an impressive and enviable wine cellar, the bossman chef Gabriele De Gaetano explains each day’s speciality dish to diners and suggests the best wines to accompany the food offering tasters and advice. (When it comes to attire, Tobago is quite a casual affair but some restaurants prefer you to make an effort with trousers / jeans and sleeved shirts or polo t-shirts and no flip-flops at dinnertime). A truly incredible, culinary experience.
Luckily on Wednesday morning we were able to work off those carbs with a tour of the local rainforest. A long drive planted us at the top of a huge mountain range, lush green and moist. We were guided through the rainforest by Hans, who excitedly pointed out birds with regal names and exotic titles. Soaring majestic bamboo tribes and lofty ferns shielded the sun from us. As we walked in silence we heard trickling streams as well as gushing waterfalls. At random moments colourful birds would swoop and sing at us. At one point just as we were leaving a humming bird dropped straight in front of our faces and danced a hummingbird-ballet for us for a stunning 30 seconds as we froze in the delight of the moment! Forget goody-bags, the rainforest gives you an unforgettable experience to take home!
TREKKING THROUGH A RAINFOREST, SWIMMING IN A WATERFALL AND EATING ROASTED BREADFRUIT- ALL IN A DAY’S WORK!
PS Insect repellent in the rainforest is a must. I slathered it on and wore khaki shirt and pants (a look I researched on Google ‘’what to wear in a rainforest?’’ and found numerous pictures of Prince William and Kate Middleton) if it’s a look that works for the royals, I can be down with it too!
After trekking the rainforest for a short while we walked to Castara Waterfall where our guides Hans and Kathryn picked a huge breadfruit from a tree.
Whilst we stripped to our swimsuits and swam in the waterfall, they made an oven from rocks and wood, and roasted the breadfruit until the aroma permeated the forest, and was ready to be broken up and eaten to all our delight! Scrumptious!
Later that afternoon we had a homemade lunch at Castara Beach and then chilled out watching the sea and listening to the loud soca blasting from the nearby stage.
CASTARA BEACH LOUNGING, HELICOPTER RANDOMLY DROPPING OFF A MUSIC STAR.
Imagining we would just be chilling, nothing much doing, imagine our utter delight when all around us, locals jumped up and started tugging on what appeared to be a tug-of-war rope leading out to the sea? Not even considering why and how, we jumped up to join in tugging rhythmically alongside the soca track that sang ‘pull it, pull it…!’’.
DRAGGING THE FISH IN BY ”PULLING SEINE”!
It wasn’t until well into breaking a sweat and making our hands raw from the rope pulling, did we realise there was another pulling line up parallel to us just yards down the beach, and between us both we were helping the local fishermen to pull in their humongous wide net and drag the flipping, frantic fish in! Apparently what we were doing is a local fishing tradition referred to as ‘’pulling seine’’ (look it up!).
PULLING SEINE AND CATCHING FISH!
On Thursday morning we ventured out for the Buccoo Reef & Nylon Pool Tour. The reef is teaming with multi-coloured fish and coral and you could snorkel here for hours, where even non-swimmers delight in the underwater world with a glass bottom boat ride. Buccoo is also one of the major reefs easily accessible to non-swimmers.
THE BOAT TOOK US TO BUCCOO REEF AND THE NYLON POOL.
All the known hard corals and most of the soft ones can be found around Tobago as well as hundreds of different reef fish including the giant manta rays. Turtle species such as the endangered leatherback, the green loggerhead and the hawksbill all nest on beaches along Tobago’s west coast. French naval explorer and conservationist, who studied the sea and all forms of life in water – Jacques Cousteau – rated Buccoo Reef as the number three spectacular sight to behold in the world, so what better reason to visit? We snorkelled for ages until we literally had to be forced back onto the boat for our next stop off.
Just minutes away lies the Nylon Pool – a mile square of shallow twinkling turquoise warm water (with water not exceeding 2.5 feet high), slap bang in the middle of the ocean. They say that when you swim in this natural wonder, you take 10 years off your age. As I’ve now visited this spot four times I’m hoping that I look like a foetus!
Lunch was down at Store Bay Beach where tourist style stalls sell trinkets, organic spa’s sell lush body creams, lotions and potions and a neat straight row of candy-coloured cabins called things like Miss Sylvia, Miss Jean’s, Esme’s, sell their home cooked real food like crab and dumplin’ or curry goat, macaroni pie and sea-moss punch. We opted for the legendary “Miss Trims” where the roti’s and curries were mouth watering and washed down with fresh juice or if you’re feeling brave, the liquorice tasting mauby. You’ll also find white sands and good year-round swimming at Store Bay.
The next morning (Friday), we left our hotel on one side of the island for another called Blue Waters Inn; which sits on pretty Batteaux Bay, just 1km from the main road. It’s a spectacular huge hotel right slap-bang on the ocean water so the sound of the waves here is constant.
THE ROOMS AT BLUE WATERS INN – NOT BAD EH!
It’s one of the most upscale places to stay and geared to divers; the rooms all have patios and great views. Guests can also use tennis courts, beach chairs and kayaks.
BLUE WATERS INN COASTLINE.
There’s also a very top-class, New York brassiere style restaurant, with incredibly high standard dishes, a bar, spa services and Blue Waters Dive’N, a full-service PADI dive centre!
THE POOL AT BLUE WATERS INN.
My fave thing about it though, was a lone huge white bed moored just meters out in the ocean, which we swam to and bounced on occasionally. As you do. Pretty bloody impressive!
SEE THAT BED BEHIND ME? JUST TO MY RIGHT….YEP- THATS THE SPOT!
JEMMA’S TREEHOUSE KITCHEN RESTAURANT
Another great spot to have lunch is at Jemma’s Seaview Kitchen in Speyside- it’s a totally underrated foodie destination. Shark bake, crab and dumpling are to die for but I wasn’t so courageous as to try the ‘’soup’’ of pig’s tail and trotters.
The following day we departed for the airport scooping up basketfuls of the amazing body scrubs and lotions made from local ingredients. I love the chocolate, brown sugar and honey body scrub, although it’s taken all my willpower not to taste it.
Tobago fulfils all your holiday fantasies yet is so much more. Your toes kiss warm, white sand, hundreds of beautiful birds chirp sweet nothings in your ears all day and half the night long, your eyes squint from the sun’s reflection in the Caribbean Sea and lastly, your entire body adapts to a few new dance moves from the groove that’s always coming out of a Tobago home or business.
Though Tobago is proud of its rainforests, fantastic dive sites, stunning aquamarine bays and nature reserves, it’s also the best kept secret of all the islands and totally OK with not being mentioned in the latest rap or bashment song. Here you can choose between plush Oceanside hotels or tiny guesthouses in villages where you walk straight to the open-air bar with sandy bare feet, and laugh with the locals drinking rum.
We returned back to the UK with perfect vacation memories, like humming birds fluttering everywhere, sounds of 6am cockerels, healthy weathered ladies full of jokes, children jumping in and out of the ocean all day, paddle boarding on one of the worlds prettiest shores and exploring lush rainforests.
If you’re not sure what time of year to visit, check out the annual calendar and see what takes your fancy. http://www.tntisland.com/calendar.html
There’s something for everyone whether music, arts, culture, eco tours, history and more. From rum festivals, to motor rally’s, to jazz weeks, and Maypole festivals (yes, really), it’s pretty diverse. If you were to ask my advise, and you’re not, but if you were….having been four times now, I would recommend coinciding it with a quick trip to Trinidad carnival first in February – it’s the best carnival you will ever experience anywhere in the world, then after dancing your heart out you can take a quick flight to Tobago for a truly restful week in paradise.
NEED TO KNOW;
The heat in Tobago is always accompanied by a breeze, which lulls holidaymakers into a false sense of ‘’wont burn’’ security. You will. It’s most certainly all about the Sunscreen!! Factor 30 and above!
Trinidad & Tobago Tourism – www.gotrinidadandtobago.com
Facebook – www.facebook.com/islandsoftrinidadandtobago
Twitter – https://twitter.com/gotrinbago
Island of Tobago Website:
www.tobagostyle.travel & www.tobagostyle.travel/uk Facebook www.facebook.com/visittobago Twitter: https://twitter.com/visittobago
UK T&T Tourist Office Facebook:
www.facebook.com/adventuresofsteelypan Twitter: www.twitter.com/tnt_steelypan
Trinidad & Tobago Overview Brochure https://www.dropbox.com/s/bq4tzfgl7duroky/TT_Brochure.pdf?dl=0
British Airways into Tobago (twice a week) but the airline also flies into Trinidad’s Piarco Airport 6 days a week.
Bacolet Beach Club and Blue Waters Inn
Trinidad is Tobago’s larger sibling island. The flight between Trinidad and Tobago is only 20 mins long and cost £15 each way on Caribbean Airlines – Caribbean-airlines.com
Flight time London-Tobago via Antigua:
11hrs. Time difference: +4hrs.
£1 = 12.10 TT dollars.
Massive thanks and shout out to the local Division of Tourism and Transportation who couldn’t have been more helpful on each and everyone of my trips. Booking flights, helping with camera crew logistics, suggesting filming spots, hooking us up with local characters with great knowledge…the list goes on and on!