Amazing Tobago, amazing trip, amazing dives and amazing people! Our trip to Tobago was as usual a success! From mantas to macro we got it all!
In a good economy, most people will dive where the adventure gives them a reasonable return on their vacation dollars. When money is tight, we become far more selective, choosing to stay closer to home or go to places we can reach with inexpensive air fare. Therefore, we read the dive magazines, search the web, and check out Undercurrent.org for the latest reviews. Trinidad-Tobago just doesn’t make most people’s top ten list, and the limited reports I saw were not very favorable - so I wondered why would PADI Sport Diver magazine pick this place for one of their special group tours? Would it be worth the money to put it on my list of dive locations this year? In March my wife and I had a great stay at Turneffle Lodge Resort in Belize and plan on going back again. But we were searching for our summer trip and the list of possibilities reflected Little Cayman, BVI, Bonaire, Bahamas, and Curacco – all popular sites that get great referrals from the Sport Diver community.
Tobago is located just south of the hurricane belt off the coast of Venezuela, so it is usually outside the path of this summertime threat to travel plans. Trinidad and Tobago are completely different islands, much like Grand Cayman and Little Cayman are. Trinidad is large, industrial and sweaty; whereas Tobago is a tiny, postcard pretty, quiet, and warm with fresh trade winds (average temperature 30C (86F) island. To put it in perspective, Trinidadians holiday in Tobago and this West Texan figured the “cooler” weather would be nice. You will find air conditioning and fans in most locations for comfort. But it is still very humid, thus the rain forest!
Tobago’s peak season is January – May as that is their ‘dry season’. It is cooler (just 80F!) and rains little and for that reason, it is the most expensive time to visit. Low season is June- December and is the so called ‘wet season’ - not to be confused with ‘monsoons’ folks, and yes it did rain on us – but not for very long. The island is at its most beautiful in this season as everything is full of color.
The local currency is the Trinidad & Tobago dollar (ttd’s), and the exchange is roughly $0.16 for 1 TT$ at the time of this writing. What do you get for your money? Well, a bottle of the local beer, Carib, costs about 8 TT dollars ($1.27) at most beach or local bars. A local take-away dish - ‘roti’ - can be had for no more than 8 TT dollars and comes with chicken, beef, shrimp or goat and is delicious.
A lot of hotels and guesthouses are in the Crown Point area and near to the airport. Scarbough is just up the coast from the airport (on the way to Speyside). It is the largest town on the island and where a lot of folks head for. Our group was staying even further up the coast at Speyside, the place I would most recommend for all experienced divers to head for.
Dress casual and for coolness with some good insect barrier protection. If you’re staying in one of the top hotels then you may want to pack a few posh frocks or shirt and tie but generally shorts and T- shirts are the norm. Speyside is predominantly known on Tobago for its diving opportunities and the reason for our staying there. Because of its currents it is also a dive area for the Intermediate to Master experienced diver – so be sure to check with your dive operator and be in good shape. The diving is simply fantastic, and it’s here that you’re likely to see the island’s famous manta rays. From Speyside you can almost throw a stone to Goat Island with Little Tobago, a 450 acre bird sanctuary, just beyond. We spent some top-side time on Little Tobago taking photos of the birds to decompress a little. What a climb and I was the last one to the top!
Tobagois a nature lover’s toetingling paradise. No other island can boast such diverse and abundant wildlife - thanks to the fact that Tobagowas once part of South America. This tiny island of only 26 miles by 7, has hundreds of species of birds, plants, flowers and wildlife; has the oldest protected rainforest in the Western Hemisphere; is surrounded by healthy coral reefs; has superb and varied scuba diving; has undeveloped and unspoiled beaches; and the world’s largest brain coral. It also enjoys the coastal contrasts of the Atlantic Ocean on one side of the island, and the Caribbean Sea on the other. So you have it all, and can probably do it all in a fortnight’s holiday, thanks to the tiny size of this jewel of an island – but you really need at least a week.
Nobody goes to Tobago for the nightlife. The island is so laid-back and relaxed that most people are in bed by 10:30pm. A local idiom says "get up with the sun, go to bed with the sun." We went there to take under water photos and hopefully to see the mantas and wow did we!
Book Ends, Japanese Gardens, Blackjack Hole, Cathedral and Spiney Column are the best dive sites, with Books Ends and Blackack Hole being my favorites. Our first dive on Sunday was to Cathedral and I dropped down the wall to 103 feet to drift along and snap my first shots. After swapping tanks at the dock it was back out for the second dive of the morning to Japanese Gardens and a more shallow dive to 83 feet and make the ride around the corner of Goat Island. On Monday I settled into Blackjack Hole and snapped frame after frame of coral, sponges and marine life of all sizes away from the strong currents. It was while taking a leisure drift along the coral at Spiney Column one afternoon that we all looked up to see a hovering space craft above us – no it was the elusive manta that we came to Tobago to see. None of our boat rides to the dive sites took more than 15 minutes. Japense Gardens is a photographers dream come true and I was glad I was no longer restrained to how many pictures I could get on a roll of film, just praying my batteries would hold out longer than my air. Book Ends was a thrill with surge breaking on the rocks and reef above us, a great wall, and I deliberately added more weights to stay low in the current around 70 feet. As a private pilot I’ve had some wild rides, but “surfing” this current over the reefs was so much fun I had to put the camera away and just enjoy the ride. It takes a little work to stay with your buddy, as miss judge the current and they’ll go one way while you go another. Sort of reminding me of that movie where the ore car of people go one way while the other car disappears down some other track. I spent some time on the surface with my sauguage blowing my air horn to get the boats attention and get picked up, but what a thrill.
To answer my initial question, yes it was worth putting Tobago on my must dive list and all of the reports I had read in preparation for this trip were simply wrong or those divers had not been to Speyside. Blue Moon and Manta Ray were professional dive operations and their resorts provided good food, relaxation, and were wonderful hosts for our demanding group. I look forward to another opportunity to dive with Ty Sawyer and Michael Pitts to glean more photography and dive tricks from these two great professionals and am now happy to call them friends.