In Tobago, It's All Good

Caribbean Bays

Pigeon Point dive boat     Photo: David Sanger

A glance at a map of Tobago reveals an ample Caribbean coast that squiggles toward the northeast in a series of protected bays and ends with some dramatic rocky islets out in the open Atlantic. Given that you're practically there when you step off the plane at Crown Point International, check out storied Store Bay first—about a five-minute walk from the runway—where the beachside shacks of Miss Esmee and Miss Jean serve up some of Tobago's best cuisine, like crab and dumplin' or curry goat and callaloo (made from the local dasheen leaf), served with okra in coconut milk. Then pay brief homage to Pigeon Point, the favorite beach of vacationing Trinidadians, chockablock with the full panoply of resort sports and salty characters, from sleek upper-class Trinis to raggedy beach boys. Strangely, the vast majority of tourists don't trouble themselves to travel any farther than Pigeon Point, figuring, I suppose, that it's where they already are, and so is everyone else.

Well, let 'em stay put. As far as you're concerned, it's open season on the rest of the island. Just follow the coast east: When you come to Castara Bay, you've found the best of Tobago, I think. Here tourism has established a light and graceful beachhead and the residents, nourished on fish stew, fried green bananas, and cod, routinely live to be 100. Or so the story goes. It's easy to believe. Castara Bay's beach is a perfect fingernail crescent of coarse yellow sand, bisected by the mouth of a mountain stream and half-shaded by trees through which flit flocks of wild blue parrots. The forest proper begins hard against a cricket ground, where a ten-minute walk on singletrack leads to a waterfall and a chilly pool. An ambitious hiker could continue up the steep 2,000-foot Main Ridge and clear on to the other side of Tobago without ever leaving the shade.
In the dry season (December to June) Castara Bay is superlatively clear, with a healthy coral reef beginning about 50 yards offshore. You can follow the rocky headland as far as mask and fins will take you, exploring caverns and deep stone pools flush with silversides, parrot fish, and the occasional solitary barracuda, while pelicans plunge in to pick up lunch right beside you.

Castara makes a pretty darn paradisiacal (and very affordable) base camp, ideally positioned in the middle of the north coast for excursions to any other part of Tobago. Keep an eye peeled just east of Castara for the old wooden sign marking Englishman's Bay, hidden from the paved road by deep bush. A venerable stand of bamboo some 60 feet tall shades the dirt track to the strand, which is exquisite and utterly undeveloped, except for Eula's refreshment stall (try the mango smoothie).

Just to the north, past pint-size Parlatuvier, the main coast road turns south to cut across the island, leaving behind a ragged paved spur perfect for rambling up the north coast. Above Bloody Bay, accessible only by hiking a near-vertical trail down to the mouth of the aptly named Dead Man River, this aggregate of potholes becomes a simple, brain-rattling dirt track. The next ten miles are true coastal wilderness; though a four-wheel-drive can tackle the "road," it deserves to be mountain-biked, or better yet hiked, to savor the view (from about 1,000 feet up) of the wind-tossed sea and rugged offshore rocks.

When you emerge from the backwoods you'll be in the easternmost point of civilization, Charlotteville, on Man O' War Bay. This is Tobago's main fishing town and a great place to charter a pirogue to fish for mahimahi and marlin or to scuba dive at those boulders, known as The Sisters, you spied way out to sea on the trip into town. The vigorous colliding of Caribbean and Atlantic currents attracts barracuda, dolphins, kingfish, and whale sharks to this end of Tobago. Man Friday Diving makes daily excursions to sites like London Bridge—a natural stone arch you can dive through—and the wave-washed seamounts around St. Giles Island. The outfitter also rents one- and two-person sea kayaks for exploring the deserted coast back toward Bloody Bay or on around the nearly uninhabited eastern point. A sandy path at the east end of town climbs among pink and yellow houses and then descends a hundred concrete steps to Pirate's Bay, the last idyllic beach on the edge of the Antilles. Next stop, the coast of Africa.

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