Beach Break

Exploring the sandier side of Tobago

By: Janice Mucalov

My fingers were stained yellow, but I didn’t care. Using my hands was the only way I could eat the tasty, but messy, curry coconut crab with flat flour dumplings that we’d bought for take-out. Besides, driving over to Store Bay for lunch gave us a good excuse to check out another beach.

Store Bay is just one of Tobago’s many beaches. With a curve of golden sand, calm waters watched over by lifeguards, a craft market selling tie-dye beach wraps and handmade jewelry and food stalls serving the local crab and dumpling specialty, it’s also one of the island’s most popular places to lime (local jargon for hanging out).

Tobago has few private or hotel-annexed beaches. Depending on where you book your clients, they may have to walk or drive a short distance from their villa or hotel to get to a public beach. But the island is so small, they’ll likely be keen to beach-hop and explore.

One day trip clients won’t want to miss is the drive north along the coastal Windward Road to the small fishing village of Speyside. The scenic route passes a kaleidoscope of rainforest and tiny seaside villages with chickens and sheep wandering about tin-roof houses. A good hour later, visitors will reach the Speyside Lookout which affords sweeping views of Little Tobago Island and Goat Island beyond.

Speyside has its own strip of beach, but the main attraction is the departure point for snorkeling and scuba-diving trips to the two uninhabited offshore islands, typically by glassbottom boat. While we were eager to get into the turquoise water ourselves, we were engrossed by the enormous, round, grooved brain coral we ogled through the Plexiglas boat bottom.

“It’s 16 feet by 12 feet,” declared our boat guide Tyrone Frank of Frank’s Glassbottom Boat Tours, adding that the brain coral along the Speyside Bay Reef is among the largest in the world.

We then picked up another couple from Little Tobago Island, who had hiked there with a guide earlier that morning. Also known as Bird of Paradise Island, the place is a sanctuary for brown boobies, hummingbirds and red-footed boobies with funny webbed feet and graceful frigate sea birds.

Soon we anchored in front of the isolated yellow mansion straddling the rocks of Goat Island, once owned by James Bond author Ian Fleming. The current was strong, so Frank snorkeled with us. After warning us to stay clear of the fire coral with its stinging white-tipped branches, he pointed out some of the undersea life: stately royal blue parrotfish, fan corals swaying like hula dancers, sprightly emerald-and-gold queen triggerfish and a stonefish scuttling along the sand bottom.

A bit later, we were ready for lunch at Jemma’s unique treehouse restaurant. Built in a seagrape tree overlooking the ocean, lunch here is another must-do in Speyside. Our tour driver/guide, Calvin Isaac, explained that “Miss Jemma” decided to build a treehouse restaurant when locals, who bought food from her original roadside shack, sat to eat on boards nailed into an uprooted tree that had fallen over in a storm.

Today, the restaurant is a breezy, casual, multi-level eatery, with birds flying through open sides and a busy, good-time vibe. Local dishes served include garlic lobster, grilled fish or chicken, accompanied by breadfruit pudding in cheese sauce, sauteed vegetables, rice pilaf and salad a satisfying meal that put us to sleep on the drive back.

Another day, we set off for Pigeon Point, which turned out to be our favorite beach. The scene of the wooden dock on stilts, topped with a thatched roof hut and extending into the sea, is Tobago’s most photographed site and adorns many of the island’s postcards. After paying an entrance fee (about $4) and renting beach chairs ($2 each), we settled under the shade of a palm and gazed out at the aquamarine sea.

Families with small children are also drawn to Pigeon Point’s tranquil bathtub-warm water and gently sloping sand floor. And when the wind picked up on one side of the point, skilled kite-boarders entertained beachgoers by performing somersaults in the air.

Other fine beaches are found elsewhere on the island. Our only regret was that we didn’t have time to discover them all.


Guided tours: Clients should be aware that cars drive on the left in Tobago and most roads are narrow and winding. Any extended driving (like an island beach tour or day trip to Speyside) is best left to a competent tour guide familiar with the roads. We found Calvin Isaac of Calvin Isaac’s Taxi Service to be a safe, slow and reliable driver/guide.

Snorkeling at Speyside: Several glassbottom boat operators offer snorkeling trips. Frank’s Glassbottom Boat Tours charges $20 for snorkeling only; $25 for hiking Little Tobago Island first.