A Perfect Tobago Beach Town
“When you’ve found heaven on earth, why go anywhere else?” We were standing outside of a small guest house, just steps from the beach, in the village of Castara. It was 10pm and with no reservation we were deciding how many nights to book for. “This is our sixth time here in the last four years,” continued Catherine, a middle-aged English vacationer, promoting this village on the northern coast of Tobago as if she was raised here.
Respectful of her opinion, I needed to decide for myself if this was the perfect beach. We booked for three nights.
In the morning we saw just what kind of place Castara is—a village where everyone knows each others name and tourists aren’t obnoxious. Castara has no resorts, big hotels, or fancy restaurants. What it does have are small, reasonably-priced guesthouses and locals that rent out extra rooms. It has relaxed cafés on the beach. It’s the kind of place where you can help fishermen haul the seine, or fishing net filled with the day’s catch.
Castara has it all
Relax, play, eat, and practice steel drums. A supremely laid-back place, you can sit on the beach in Castara without getting harassed by touts. The only person to interrupt your sleep in the sun is the man with the portable steel-pan drums who offers a lesson for about $4. My travel companion was playing Amazing Grace within five minutes.
The snorkeling is outstanding. While my newly acquainted South African friend saw rays, I spotted lots of colorful fish, an eel, and stunning brain coral. Don’t have snorkeling equipment? Don’t worry; you can rent some from King David Tours for about $6 per 24-hour period.
For dinner, Margarite’s in the center of the village serves up flavorful Tobagonian fare at honest prices (mains $10-12). Besides the chicken, pork and goat offered, there is always the catch of the day. We had the dolphin-fish with ginger vegetables and the local favorite, macaroni pie. Wash it all down with a ginger beer.
For some, the biggest attraction to Castara is its gorgeous palm-fringed beach. The blue-green waters of the bay and jungle-clad hillside above town make the setting incredible. You can’t go wrong spending a whole day lying on the beach or swimming in the warm water.
A unique feature of Castara’s beach is the Boboshanty. Here Rudi and his wife offer relaxing herbal steam baths and massages (from $40-50) right from their wooden shed on the beach.
A real village
What may surprise you is that Castara is a real village. Its economy is centered on fishing and agriculture and only recently has tourism played a larger role. The tourists seem to be temporary members of Castaran life, rather than hedonistic holidaymakers. Attracting a mix of ages from the UK and the rest of Europe as well as Australia and the U.S., they’ll be lined up next to locals at the fisherman’s co-op to purchase the day’s catch.
Whenever a catch comes in, folks gather around the co-op. It’s located on the edge of the beach where the only road in town dead-ends at the sand. As its real estate suggests, it’s the most significant place in Castara. We looked on as the bare-chested fisherman scaled and cut up the huge kingfish, oblivious to the blood splashing everywhere.
Where are you liming tonight?
This popular local phrase addresses one of the more important aspects of daily life: socializing. To lime is to stand in the street or at a bar simply talking with your friends.
Once a week, a local bar has a live steel-pan band, dinner, and all you can drink rum punch for $25 a head. After the band, some locals informally break out the African drums. And by the time you have finished your Tobagonian shark or Creole shrimp, and many rum punches, everyone is dancing to the current Soca hits. Needless to say, it’s the place to lime on Wednesdays.
It seems unlikely that Castara will develop into a resort area anytime soon and lose its attractive small-town local-life flavor.
We spent the rest of our trip circling the island, enjoying just about everyplace we went. But there is something special about Castara. Its beautiful setting, local hospitality, and decidedly laid-back feel make it the best place to relax for an independent, low-budget week in the Caribbean.
Tobago is one of the most overlooked and best value destinations in the Caribbean. It is cheaper than other Caribbean Islands and is not geared toward package tourism, making it ideal for independent travelers. With a trip to Tobago you are almost guaranteed a travel experience that will have you chatting with dreadlocked fisherman, dancing in the street with a cold beer, and putting your tourist dollars into the local economy.