A May 2005 trip
to Trinidad and Tobago by MoDean
Quote: After months of researching possible destinations for a long-overdue vacation, my mom and I were beginning to wonder if a trip to the beach without breaking the bank had been a naïve concept. Then we discovered Tobago.
Another distinct highlight was a rainforest tour with local bird-watching guide Newton George. Known around the island and highly recommended by hotel staff and visitors alike, Mr. George was amazingly knowledgeable and brought our hike through the rainforest reserve—the oldest in the Western Hemisphere—into full color. I’m not a birdwatcher by any means, but even I was captivated by the array of avian life we saw, as well as the other flora and fauna he pointed out along the way. I would consider a tour with Newton George a do-not-miss activity for every visitor to Tobago, birdwatcher or not.
Other highlights included a drive along the Leeward (Caribbean) Road, full of absolutely unreal panoramas, small fishing villages bursting with personality, and quiet, picture-perfect beaches like Englishman’s Bay. What’s more, it was a nice break from the twisting, turning frenzy of the busier Windward (Atlantic) Road.
Food-lover that I am, I can’t go without mentioning the fabulous, fresh flying-fish sandwiches (say that three times fast) at the Blue Waters Inn’s Shipwreck Bar and the ubiquitous hot pepper sauce served alongside sandwiches and other local dishes. I developed such a constant craving for it that I brought three bottles home. If you acquire a similar affinity, stop by the Speyside Inn on the north end of the island (near the Blue Waters) and ask for Little Me—she makes absolutely delicious pepper sauce and sells it for 20TT (a little over US) per bottle. There’s a smaller bottle available for less, but I’m betting you’ll want to pack in as much as you can for your return home.
I read prior to my trip that offering a greeting of "Good morning/afternoon/evening/day" will help immensely in getting along with the locals, and I found this to be very true. Locals can be reserved at first—don’t expect overt enthusiasm or friendliness at first, and above all, don’t misinterpret this as rudeness. Just give them a little time to warm to you.
Above all, familiarize yourself with the island before you book anything. If you prefer all-inclusive luxury, you should stay on the south side, but if you want to see Tobago from a more authentic perspective, head to the north end, which is in large part untouched. Overall, Tobago is a place with individuality to spare. To me, this is part of what makes the island so captivating and a trip here so memorable, but those looking for a five-star, never-lift-a-finger experience or always-accessible services should focus their attention elsewhere. Visit the excellent website My Tobago for a more complete picture of the island.
As for getting around, it really depends on where you’re staying. Almost all hotels offer transport to and from the airport. If you’re going all-inclusive, or if your hotel is in walking distance to a village, you could easily get by on hotel transport and the occasional bus or shuttle service (if needed).
If you’re staying in self-catering accommodations or just prefer to get out and explore on your own a bit, however, rent a car (see my Driving On Tobago entry for more info).
Hotel | "Blue Waters Inn: Part I - General Info"
On the other side of the central breezeway where the front desk is located, pass by the breezy Mot-Mot Deck, complete with a thatched roof, to the private studio efficiencies and bungalows on the other end of the grounds. These buildings have a charm all their own, with gingerbread-house scalloping around the porches (all bungalows and studios have their own private porches) and stone pathways down to the beach. The hotels’ scattered buildings are tied together in a wash of whites, turquoises, and deep blues, but the main cohesive element here is the sound of the waves. You can hear them from anywhere on the hotel grounds, and no accommodation in the entire hotel is more than a few meters from the beach—and a few meters from the waves themselves at high tide.
I never got a close look at the regular rooms in the main hotel building, but through the glass patio doors, they looked standard and well-appointed. If you’re coming for the diving and don’t plan to spend much time in your room, these would be more than adequate. One tip is to ask for a second-floor room for a little more privacy—the ground-floor rooms are right next to a walkway—and better ocean views. A step up are the self-catering efficiencies, basically larger one-room accommodations with kitchen and dining facilities. There are also a few private bungalows available with one to three bedrooms. We stayed in the one-bedroom villa, which had a spacious living, dining, and kitchen area, along with an air-conditioned bedroom (king-size bed) and bathroom. We needed only to walk down the steps from our covered porch and a few meters through the grassy lawn to feel the waves rushing over our feet.
Continue to Part II to read about our stay here.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on June 18, 2005
Blue Waters Inn
Speyside, Trinidad and Tobago
Restaurant | "The Fish Pot - Blue Waters Inn"
Service, as was true in all of Tobago, was slow, and you definitely won’t find any chirpy, cheerful waiters or waitresses. We usually found that if we were genial and offered a lot of "thank yous," they would return our friendliness. As for the speed of service, just remember—you’re on island time, and what’s the big hurry?
For our appetizers, I ordered callaloo soup (callaloo is a dark green often used in Caribbean cooking), and Mom ordered Tobagonian crab back. The callaloo soup was bland, but the crab back was delicious—mixed with spices and eaten straight out of the shell. For our entrées, I ordered a kingfish fillet, and Mom went for curry shrimp. Again, she won. The kingfish—and I found this to be true every time I ordered fish on Tobago—was very overcooked, though I became a huge fan of the shredded carrot-and-cabbage salad with mild vinaigrette. We both went for coconut cake for dessert, and it was tasty, though I’m fairly sure it was ready-made. The meal, overall, was not great, but soundly good. The price, then, seemed a bit steep at almost $100. We did get a lot of food, but only some of it was above average, and this didn’t even include drinks.
We found this to be true again at a Friday night buffet, when we were charged $50 for a spread of mediocre food. Considering this was Caribbean fare dumbed down for the tourist appetite, the cost just wasn’t worth it. My advice? Head to the Shipwreck Bar for much better food at lower prices.
For breakfast, however, the Fish Pot was wonderful and very affordable—the most basic breakfast included toast, a plate of fresh island fruit, juice, and coffee and cost only around $5. I usually ordered off the á la carte menu—their French toast is fabulous, and also on offer are eggs, pancakes, and a variety of excellent omelets. Breakfast usually ran about $20 for the two of us at most.
All restaurant bills are calculated with a 10% service charge and 15% VAT (tax); if the service charge is already included, there’s no need to tip.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on June 19, 2005
Fish Pot Restaurant
Blue Waters Inn
Speyside, Trinidad and Tobago Batteaux Bay
Restaurant | "The Shipwreck Bar - Blue Waters Inn"
Our favorite way to start out any meal here was with one of their several varieties of fresh, fruity rum punches. I stuck with the Rum Cooler (orange, banana, strawberry, and rum) and the Carnival Jump-Up (rum, grenadine, and coconut milk)—both dangerously delicious. Mom’s favorite was the Big Bamboo—a tart mix of lime, grenadine, rum, and orange juice. Also available are local beers like Carib (my favorite) and Stag. Rum punches were $4 or $5; coming from New York, this was a revelation to me. Bartenders were all really friendly and quick with our orders, and sitting in the open-air space, letting the ocean breeze blow in as we sipped fresh fruit and local rum, was heaven.
But the real surprise here was the food. I had heard rave reviews of the flying fish sandwiches in the bar before coming to Tobago, so on our first day here, I ordered one, and Mom went with a jerk steak sandwich. Whether we placed our orders with the bartender or a roaming waiter, they were taken quickly, but because we usually ate at such off-times, it took a while for our food to arrive. While this is usually a point of frustration, here we knew our food was being made fresh (and the rum punches didn’t hurt to pass the time, either). And was it ever worth the wait.
By the time the food came out, we were good and starving, and the freshly fried fish and grilled steak were juicy and aromatic. It was hard to determine which was better, although the flying fish sandwiches were what we ordered again and again. The sandwiches were served with bottles of ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise enhanced with spices from the kitchen. But forget all those. All you need is the bottle of spicy, tart, absolutely delectable pepper sauce. I used mounds of this stuff on every sandwich and even dipped my fries in it, and I am now a convert for life.
On another occasion, we ordered shrimp salad to share, and it was also incredibly fresh and flavorful. And the best thing? Meals were always affordable here—flying fish sandwiches were around $6, so any meal here came to a manageable total of $20 to $30 for both of us. Between the serene alfresco setting, the friendly service, and the delicious food, this option was far superior to the main restaurant in our estimation. I’m craving one of those flying fish sandwiches right about now…
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on June 19, 2005
Blue Waters Inn
Speyside, Trinidad and Tobago
There are several reliable car rental agencies near the airport, from the recognizable Thrifty to locally run agencies. We followed the advice of My Tobago and rented from Sheppy’s. Colin "Sheppy" Shepherd is a full-time policeman on Tobago who also runs a car rental business, and he was nothing but friendly and helpful every time we spoke with him, before and during our trip (he responds quickly to email too). His rentals offer great value for money—we rented a standard-transmission soft-top Suzuki Samurai for US$265 for the week, and that included additional taxes, insurance fees, and a cell phone rental. Sheppy picked us up at the airport, we had no trouble with the car all week, and returning it was a quick and easy process. I would absolutely recommend renting a car through him and will rent with him again when we return to Tobago.
Directions can be vague on the island, and maps are not very detailed, so be sure to ask someone to explain directions (a hotel staff member, store employee, or your car rental representative—Sheppy gave us really helpful directions to a number of places we asked about). They’re sure to include more landmarks than street names, so designating someone in the car to navigate is a must. Otherwise, you’ve got to just throw caution to the wind and get on the road. The Windward Road in particular is quite a journey, especially without power steering—it’s less than 30 miles from Crown Point, at the south tip of the island, to Charlotteville at the north, but plan for the drive to take 1.5 to 2 hours, as it’s all steep inclines and blind curves. Break it up by stopping at the many beautiful beaches along the way—Barbados Bay, King’s Bay, and Tyrrel’s Bay, among others—all accessible by parking and walking from the road.
Unless you’re feeling really confident on the road, try not to drive after dark. Roads are not wonderfully lit, and adding poor visibility to the list of driving hazards might be a little too much for the hapless tourist not used to the roads. If you do need to go anywhere after dark, hire a taxi, or, for short distances, get out and walk.
See my "Driving The Leeward Road" entry for an account of the most beautiful drive on the island.
Once you’ve passed L’Anse Fourmi, you’ll drive through Parlatuvier, a small fishing village with a pretty beach. Head a little further south, keeping an eye out for the signs to Englishman’s Bay (if you’re going south, this will be a small right-hand turn). This, in my opinion, is the most beautiful beach on the island. After parking and walking through a tiny cluster of souvenir stands, past a small café, you’ll enter onto a sweeping expanse of golden sand, surrounded by swaying palms and rocky cliffs mottled with small cave-like inlets. The water is a deep turquoise, crystal-clear, with one small boat rocking gently offshore when we visited. The beach was utterly quiet, with no more than 10 or 20 other people all along its length. In the tiny entrance area, visible only from the stretch of beach directly in front of it, a few beach-chair-and-float-rental employees sat lazily under a covered patio, smoking a joint, and café staff sat fanning themselves in the quaint, open dining area. We stopped by on our last day and determined that we’d spend at least a few days here on a return trip, snorkeling or just relaxing in the beautiful surroundings.
Since Englishman’s Bay is such an easy place to settle into and never want to leave, you might want to first head all the way down to Castara, one of Tobago’s most charming fishing villages, a feast for the eyes whose buildings spill down a hillside to a lovely beach at Castara Bay. There are numerous accommodation options here, mostly in the form of small inns and self-catering apartments, and you couldn’t find a prettier, more serene setting. Restaurants serving up local fare make this a perfect stop for lunch. As we didn’t spend much time in Castara, read about it at (you guessed it) My Tobago. Check out restaurant options here.
If you’re looking for the Caribbean beaches you’ve seen in magazines and guidebooks, this is the side of the island to explore. It’s quieter, slower-paced, and so chock-full of amazing scenery, it turns the usually nerve-rattling task of driving on Tobago into a whole new sensory experience.
We were greeted by the hotel’s general manager, Duane Kenny, who was extremely friendly and efficient—and did a good job of calming us down from our state of high alert left over from the drive. He showed us to our parking space—a cute little spot surrounded by a white picket fence—and walked us to our bungalow. It was just perfect for us—an open, spacious living area with vaulted ceilings, complete with a small, simple kitchen and dining table; through a door in the back of the room was the bedroom, which was air-conditioned and had a big closet and a comfortable king-size bed. If you prefer to sleep with the air-conditioner off, you can simply flip on the ceiling fan, open the many louvered windows around the room, and plug in the provided electric Bugmat to fend off mosquitoes. The bathroom was small but adequate and very clean.
The real appeal of our villa, however, was the front porch—large enough for a small table and chairs, as well as a beach lounger we pulled up from the lawn, with room to spare. Every morning, I walked out of bed and onto the porch to read for a while and enjoy the views across the bay to Goat Island, where a single house perches, built by James Bond author Ian Fleming as a vacation home (the island is still privately owned, though I’m not sure if Fleming is still the owner). Just beyond Goat Island is the uninhabited bird sanctuary Little Tobago, a popular destination for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts. The waters surrounding Batteaux Bay and its two neighboring islands are full of colorful reefs and underwater life, including the world’s largest brain coral.
The beach was literally a few steps away—close enough that we were able to leave towels and flip-flops behind and simply walk out of the water and onto our porch to dry off when we were done swimming, floating, or snorkeling. The beach was small but picturesque and never crowded, especially on the end near the bungalows. The beach did tend to catch a lot of debris washing up after a rainfall; we even fished a board full of protruding nails out of the waves one day. While that certainly wasn’t the hotel’s fault, one of our only complaints was that it seemed to take a while for these odd bits of debris and trash to be picked up from the beach. There was very little of it, and we did see staff cleaning up a few times, but it would be nice if this were picked up daily all along the beach.
While our villa offered us a degree of privacy not found in regular hotel accommodations, the Blue Waters is a small place, and there were often staff members or other guests walking by our porch—some staff members would even come up to talk. There was also an efficiency connected to our villa—this would be a good setup if traveling in a group—so other people were never far away. As such, this isn’t the place if you are looking for absolute privacy and seclusion. It did, however, lend itself to a relaxed feeling of community. As the hotel is located on an end of the island where there are hardly any other accommodations and only a few other traditional dining options, guests often stick around for meals and hang out in the bar every day. This isn’t the type of place where you feel obligated to "make friends" (we like to stick to ourselves for the most part, so trust me, I’d tell you if it were); however, you do see the same people day after day here, so it would probably be a good place to socialize with other travelers for those who are so inclined.
As for my mom and me, we quickly slipped into an idyllic schedule of waking up early, eating breakfast in the Fish Pot restaurant on-site, then heading to the Shipwreck Bar for a drink and dinner at around 4 or 5pm, after a full day of swimming in the ocean, visiting nearby villages, and exploring the rest of what the island had to offer. We went to bed at around 8 or 9pm—what I would do all the time in an ideal world. It wasn’t an action-packed vacation by any means, and the nightlife was virtually nonexistent (we walked past a Friday night steel band performance on the Mot-Mot Deck one night to see guests sitting somberly in the chairs pushed back from the floor to make room for dancing), but we got just what we wanted in the Blue Waters—an easy-going, tranquil week on the ocean, in a place where we never felt the need to scurry around, prearranging our days, or dress up to go to dinner. We spent quiet mornings on our porch and evenings in the ocean—rain or shine—and the makeup and hairbrush never made it out of my bag. It couldn’t have been more perfect.
New York, New York