There are some places that you just have to see to experience them in person. Tobago is one of those places.
It is the far smaller of the two islands that make up the country of Trinidad and Tobago, but it is so much more than just an island – it is a state of mind that moves to a reggae beat.
On this little exotic spit of land perched off the coast of South America, I stumbled upon the quaint little fishing village of Castara and I was smitten from my first glimpse. It is a peaceful oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the real world.
Sun, sand, cold beer – it was unlike any place I have ever been before. And don’t be mistaken; I have been to a lot more places than you.
Speaking of some of those places, I could compare this to Zanzibar (completely unnecessary internal link for SEO purposes), the Pacific Coast of Nicaragua (I haven’t had anyone click on this story in ages), or another sleepy little coastal town you have never heard of before (this link is more just to show I have been lots of places) but to do so would be an injustice to this place of stunning awesomeality.
The local cuisine here almost matches the boundless uniqueness of the sun-dappled, pristine white sand beaches. Just as one example, you don’t want to miss the breakfast at “the Coffee Place,” a quaint little local eatery right on the sleepy and picturesque main street. In addition to some of the best Nescafé that has ever tickled my taste buds, the eggs are from real chickens. Try them scrambled. They took my breath away.
After I caught my breath (special thanks to Norma, who in addition to be a fabulous chef can adroitly perform the Heimlich), I wandered down to catch the local festival I had heard so much about since my arrival the night before.
I forget the reason for this particular celebration, but does it really matter? Whatever saint from a forcibly imposed colonial religion was being venerated, festivals are windows into the soul of a community that let you take a glimpse behind the curtain and get an authentic taste of what makes a place like this so spectacular, unique and spectacular. I tore away the shroud of mystery, drank a few shots of rum with the locals and basked in the glow of true religious devotion. It was an once-in-a-lifetime experience. So I partook again a hour later.
Castara possesses the kind of charming little bit of rustic quaintness that can only be properly summarized with a top five list.
The top 5 books that should inspire you to come experience this little bit of heaven on earth:
(1) “Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer – After reading this, you’ll want nothing more than a beach vacation and beers to drown your sorrows. Check and check.
(2) CIA World Factbook by unnamed spies – an inspiration for almost any travel destination, but check out this little factoid on Trinidad and Tobago: Pitch Lake, on Trinidad’s southwestern coast, is the world’s largest natural reservoir of asphalt.
(3) “House for Mr. Biswas” by V.S. Naipal is a Trinidad and Tobago native famous for two things: getting in Paul Theroux’s angry crosshairs and winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. Yes, I read Nobel Prize winning authors and let their awesome-sauce wash over me for inspiration. So should you.
(4) “The Snow Leopard” by Peter Matthiessen. Do I even need to explain the obvious connection?
The best-kept secret about this undiscovered gem is the variety of world-class options you have for lodging. Unlike most undiscovered gems, hoteliers have discovered Castara. There are 42 listings for possible lodging in this town of about 500 inhabitants that I found on the internet, but no more than 20 are nestled into the landscape as beautifully as Johnny’s Shacks, the rustic charmer that I picked to rest my travel-weary head for a few days.
Johnny is a well-preserved Englishman that came to Tobago on holiday a decade or so ago, fell in love with the place and just never left, which has to be a completely unique life story in this part of the world. It is the sort of enchanting tale that Jimmy Buffett should write a song about. Johnny boasted that this little slice of paradise boasts the most incredible sun-kissed beaches this side of the next cove. I drove to the next cove. It was true.
The sparkling crystal blue and azure waters in this off-the-beaten path locale are literally the finest I have ever seen. I mean like “War and Peace” good. Maybe even “King Lear” good. If I’d read either, could speak a bit more authoritatively, but I can say this… this place is spectacular. And unforgettable.
There best must be saved for last: the sunsets. Vibrant oranges, bloodstained reds, and lots of other fabulous colors just explode on the horizon, like an A-Bomb off Bikini Atoll, without the decades of radiation fallout and increased risks of all forms of cancer.
As I sipped on my world-class beer in the charming little beach bar with its homespun and charming sailing décor I could only think one thing – the sun has never set this awesomely in any other place. The moment was magical, literally suspended in time.
Castara: a must-see destination, before it becomes a mecca for sun-worshipers and gets overrun with people that read travel magazines.
Alternatively: Castara, a place that will touch you in ways that only the TSA thinks is normal.
When to Go: Anytime you have the money.
How to Get There: Airplane, most likely.
Need to Know: Use the latch to lock the door at public restrooms.
Things to Do: There’s a beach, do I need to explain everything to you?
Postscript for F.T.C. compliance purposes: I did not get paid anything or receive any benefit to write this post. However, I am willing to whore myself out to any destinations that wish me to glowingly review them. Price negotiable depending on how awesome and spectacular the review needs to be. I do prefer my freebies to be to unspoiled gems, but am willing to discuss other semi-precious stones as well.