07 Apr 10 MUST SEE FESTIVALS and EVENTS in TOBAGO
The captivating Caribbean island of Tobago seems a perfect idyllic retreat for vacationers on the lookout for a peaceful laidback and carefree holiday but it has more to offer than its natural beauties and serene ambiance. For an island known widely for “liming”, which is an important part of the Caribbean art culture, which means sharing a good conversation and laughter amidst a good dose of music, fun and drinks; festivals and social events add that extra zing to the holidaying spirit. Vibrant dressing up, dynamic energy and music from all genres become the staple during these events which is a part of the Tobago monthly calendar. When the border reopens post-pandemic, get a Covid test done and step in any month to be greeted with a one-of-its-kind festival in all its glory. So while in Tobago do tick off a few of these top 10 most treasured festivals from your itinerary, depending on the month you visit, to be holistically rejuvenated.
1) TOBAGO CARNIVAL
Known simply as the “Bago Carnival”, the year starts off with this carnival which epitomises the definition of color and calypso music. Come Mid-February and the streets of Tobago witness the most beautiful eye-catching parade of colors, revelry, soca and calypso music, good creole food and free-flowing drinks. This carnival has stuck true to its roots and hence holds fast many of the island’s age-old traditions. From African drumming to steel bands, bottle and spoon bands and many more quirky forms of traditional music is the pulse of the carnival.
The main highlight of this carnival is the Mud Mas which continues to grow in popularity. The streets are slithered with purified and treated mud and you have the freedom to dress up whatever you can and get drenched from head to toe in this fun-filled mud spa kind of experience. It might sound gross or scary, but at the end of it, the therapeutic property of the mud will leave you rejuvenated. For the ultimate satisfaction, a dip in the sea waters post the mud bath is a must. It will give you the most hassle-free yet intimate experience of the rich cultural side of the island nation.
2. CARNIVAL REGATTA
For boating enthusiasts, mid-Feb is the time for you to visit Tobago and witness the Tobago Carnival Regatta. A mini Regatta village is set up in Pigeon Point from where the “Festival of Wind” flags off in a partying atmosphere surrounded by food, games and other events. It’s a four-day event of yacht racing divided into four classes – racing, cruising, charter and liveaboard and you get to witness a huge display of colorful regatta as they challenge one another in the surrounding waters off Crown Point.
3. GOAT AND CRAB RACING FESTIVAL
One of the singular events of Tobago is the extraordinary Goat and Crab Racing Festival held every year on Easter. Traditionally held at Buccoo Beach, it is a very hilarious fun event for the visitors to watch. It witnesses huge cheers of the audience amidst the seriousness of the participants ( “jockeys” )and the ones betting for the goats and crabs. The specially trained well-decorated animals dash down a 110 metre track to the finish line, who are held by long ropes by the barefoot “jockeys” who hurtle behind them. Though it seems funny, the earnestness by which it is played makes the event one-of-its-kind.
4. TOBAGO JAZZ EXPERIENCE
Normally held during the last week of April, the week-long Tobago Jazz Experience is one of its kind and the whole island seems to reverberate to the sound of music from every corner be it on the beach, inside the bars, lounges, or in parks too. The key venues of the fest are Pigeon Point, Scarborough, Speyside, Signal Hill, Castara some of which even give the privilege of free entry. Exhibiting some of the very best of indigenous music of Tobago and the Caribbean and regional jazz, it also showcases world music talents alongside soca, pop, hip-hop, R&B. The festival has attracted stars such as Sting, Diana Ross, Elton John, Miguel, Shabba Ranks, John Legend, Jill Scott, Jennifer Hudson, Angie Stone, Janelle Monae and many more.
Though worldly acclaimed as a jazz event, the festival also serves as a talent hunt for calypso, soca and chutney music. Head over to Tobago to get the real feel of good music amidst a different kind of hospitality.
5. CULINARY FESTIVAL
If you are those travel nomads with a gastronomic urge to taste the local gourmet around the world, then do visit Tobago during May/June at Pigeon Point Heritage Park. Your stomach will be in for an epicurean roller coaster ride as the island’s best chefs, cooks and even bartenders exhibit their culinary skills and partake in mixology competitions. It’s worth the show when you get to sample and savour the local dishes and signature cocktails of the island.
6. DRAGON BOAT FESTIVAL
Inspired by the traditional Chinese pastime, every year in mid-June a weekend is marked where the clear blue turquoise water of Pigeon Point hosts a series of fast -paddling races between the senior and junior teams from both the islands, each with a 20 member crew, compete for superiority in rowing the Dragon-Boat. The long, narrow boats are mostly embedded with Chinese-style dragon heads and tails. Thousands of visitors throng the area to witness the inauguration of the dragon- boat race which is held in honour to mark the arrival of the Chinese immigrants some 200 years ago.
7. HERITAGE FESTIVAL
One of the biggest events on Tobago’s calendar, the Heritage Festival gives a sneak peek into the past cultures, rituals and traditions which have shaped the island. Getting a kick start from mid-July and running till August, this theme-based festival celebrates the folk traditions dating back to their African roots by showcasing historical drama, superstitions, storytelling, dance and culinary traditions of each village from the 1900s. Long-time games, heritage walks, harvest traditions, helping fishermen for the big catch in turn getting rewarded too with some fresh offerings, beach football and seafood breakfast are the plentiful activities on offer. Each village exhibits their own events like ‘ole time dance, ‘ole time mas, old-time Tobago wedding, the Plymouth Ole Time Carnival, and the Pembroke Salaka Feast which features the African-derived sacred dances like reel, limbo and jig to stick fighting. This festival is a celebration of all Tobagonian traditions so don’t give it a miss!
8. GREAT FETE
If you are willing to party hard on “the longest weekend of the world”, the Great Fete is for you. The beginning of August, which is also supposedly the spring break for local college-goers, witnesses one of the greatest footfalls in the world’s most talked about festival that is held at Pigeon Point. This annual party festival, once a part of the Great Race celebration, boasts of five straight nights of extreme partying with DJs, soca and Dancehall stars attending from various parts of the Caribbean and numerous challenges and activities to keep the party revellers engaged. You got to see it, to believe it.
Advice: Just be mindful of the turtles on the beach, as it is also the prime nesting season.
9. BLUE FOOD FESTIVAL
Have you ever heard or witnessed a culinary celebration that pays homage to the versatility of a traditional vegetable with great pomp and joy? Don’t give a second thought but head over to the villages of Bloody Bay, L’Anse Fourmi, and Parlatuvier on the northeast coast of the island during October. See how the Tobagonians celebrate Dasheen, a root crop, as it takes centre stage and plays a pivotal role in most of the dishes that are cooked for the festival. This festival aims to promote the consumption of this local variety among visitors and locals alike. Some varieties of Dasheen taro acquire a bluish or indigo tint when cooked hence the name of the festival.
This one-day gastronomic celebration brings forward local licensed chefs who brush their culinary skill and bring forward lip smacking innovative dishes made from Dasheen ranging from entrees, cookies, liqueurs, ice creams, sauces and even lasagne and desserts. Ranked as one of the world’s best food festivals by CNN, this gastronomic adventure is worth the visit.
10. HARVEST FESTIVAL
This festival is unique in its way of celebration as it is held all around the year on one Sunday of each month by one or more villages throughout the island. They celebrate the annual harvest and start it off by visiting the churches and then spending the whole day by communal feasting on tempting dishes and enjoying good music.
So while you visit Tobago, make it a point to attend this community feast in Tobagonian tradition while recognising the importance of food. Taste the delectable local Thanksgiving meal with the islanders who are deeply embedded in a spirit exuding bonhomie and geniality for friends and strangers alike.
Just as this tropical paradise can startle you with its blue turquoise water amidst the serene backdrop giving the most laidback of all holiday for the romantic hearted, it is also a treasure house of an active getaway where non -stop action is the call of the hour amid the best of hospitality and warmth. You have to be here once in your lifetime to experience both sides of the Caribbean delight.
- You should possess a valid 6 months passport from the date of entry into Trinidad and Tobago.
- Visitors do not typically require a visa to visit the island, however, there may be some exceptions. You get a minimum 90 days permit provided you have sufficient funds and a valid return ticket.
- Currently, due to the pandemic situation, borders are closed. If you have a permitted reason to travel, you must produce a valid Covid test negative report.