Tobago Festivals & Holidays
Tobago's Biggest Festivals & Events
Tobago stages a major festival or event every few months and mini-festivals every month. It’s a wonder there’s time to rest. Here are some of the biggest.
Harvest & Fishmerman’s Festivals
Harvest festivals were originally village thanksgivings for the produce of the previous year. People invited friends from other villages to join them at church ceremonies, cantata (a musical entertainment by the village choirs) and something to eat afterwards. The tradition mushroomed into massive village cookouts. Now there are Sunday
harvest festivals in one of the island’s villages every month, where villagers share food and drink and communal celebration.
Fisherman’s festivals take place in the coastal villages during the year, mainly on St. Peter’s Day
(June 29); he is the patron saint of fishermen. Like the harvest festivals, they begin with church services in the morning and end with eating, drinking, and partying into the night. The biggest celebration takes place at Charlotteville’s Man-O’-War Bay
, with other smaller festivities taking place up and down the coast.
Tobagonians enjoy a Carnival
season that coincides with Trinidad's Carnival
, but is more laid back than the sister isle’s, and focuses more on the theatrical and folk elements of Carnival. There are even calls for the date of Tobago's Carnival to be moved so that it isn't overshadowed by Trinidad. In Tobago, most play traditional mud mas
(said to be therapeutic for the skin) – which of course necessitates an ocean swim afterwards. The Tobago House of Assembly (THA)’s Inter-department Queen and Calypso Show, and the Roxborough Afro-Queen and Windward Calypso Show, are staple seasonal events.
Buccoo Goat & Crab Racing Festival, and Mt. Pleasant Goat Race
Perhaps the most unique of all Tobagonian traditions is the Goat and Crab Races. At Easter time only Friday and Monday are official holidays, but Easter Tuesday is not really a day for work in Tobago: everyone heads to Buccoo for the Family Day and Goat and Crab Races. Started almost 80 years ago, goat racing a "regular folks" response to the colonial class’s pastime of racing thoroughbred horses in Trinidad. Here you can watch competing goats race helter-skelter to the finish line, prodded by barefoot "jockeys" who sprint behind their charges holding them at the end of long ropes. This is a serious business for the owners, trainers, jockeys and those who place unofficial bets. The event is held on Easter Monday and Tuesday at Mt. Pleasant and Buccoo, the main location.
The Festival has been hosted in Buccoo for nearly 80 years, and in fact is so nice it’s done twice: first from Easter Sunday to the following Tuesday, and then again for the Heritage Festival mid-year. All the trappings of horse racing are still there – stables, trainers, live commentators – except that the "jockeys" have to run alongside their steeds. On each occasion, there is special training for the goat "jockeys", and a 110m track is constructed especially for this race; even Virgin Atlantic’s Richard Branson has taken part. Alpines, Toggenburgs and Saanens, all a head above the garden variety of goat you’ll meet grazing roadside, have special diets (oats, vitamins, pigeon peas for iron) and training regimens for months. Stamina is built by taking the goats swimming. The racing goats decked out in their coloured coats are as impressive as any Arab stallion — and can they move!
In the crab race, jockeys use a short length of string to guide the competing crustaceans toward a checkered flag (poking and prodding are also legitimate techniques). The crabs' somewhat dubious reward for their usually slow, sideways effort is inclusion in a pot of crab ’n’ dumpling...
And of course, each April there is jazz! Jazz on the beach, jazz in bars and lounges, jazz in the park, jazz everywhere! For four years, the Plymouth International Jazz Festival headlined pop, R&B, hip-hop, soca, and jazz stars from around the world. The Tobago Jazz Experience replaced April’s Plymouth Jazz Festival in 2009, and is now held at the Pigeon Point Heritage Park, featuring the best in local and regional jazz and world music talents. While it still has international headliners as part of the show, like its predecessor, the new focus is more on local, regional, and “world music” artists. A few shows are free, and there is a Caravan feature which takes some performances to different villages around Tobago. The 2010 version featured R&B star Chaka Khan, who closed out the four-day event, and neo-soul sensation Erykah Badu. Previous events have attracted Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Mary J. Blige, Sting, Diana Ross and George Benson. Though marketed as a jazz event, the festival draws on talent from several genres, including calypso, soca and chutney. It is normally held during the last week of April, from Thursday to Sunday. Jazz purists flock Tobago for Jazz on the Beach at Mt. Irvine.
Tobago Culinary Festival
Produced each May by the Tourism Department of the THA, this free international culinary event invites you to sample dishes from around the world, and especially those native to Tobago
, all in the beautiful and relaxed environment of Pigeon Point
Tobago Heritage Festival
What event gives you the chance to be part of a 18th-century-style wedding procession, listen to lively storytelling, sample Tobagonian delicacies, get the inside scoop on obeah, and jig to the rhythms of tambrin drum and fiddle? Why, the Tobago Heritage Festival
, of course! Drag yuh bow, Mista Fiddla!
The Tobago Heritage Festival
is the most anticipated event on Tobago’s cultural calendar
, running for two weeks from mid-July to August 1. It is the premier cultural event on the island, with a new theme every year. Started in 1987, it is dedicated to preserving the cultural traditions of the people of the island. Aside from the opening and closing nights, the productions take you to different villages for dances, food, music, storytelling and other traditions.
The festival serves not only as an entertainment event, but a way of teaching and passing on communal values and customs. Each village produces an event showcasing the island’s unique mores and traditions. The action moves nightly from village to village, with communities presenting local traditions of dance, drama, music, storytelling
. Typical presentations are the Ole Time Tobago Wedding
, Folk Tales and Superstitions
in Golden Lane
and Les Coteaux
, Games We Used to Play
, Salaka Feast
and Invocation Dance
Tobago Muhtadi International Drumming Festival
Started in Canada by Trinidad-born Muhtadi Thomas, the Muhtadi International Drumming Festival has had a Tobago edition each August since 2005. Drummers from all over the globe celebrate the personality of the drum in all its forms over two days, with daytime workshops and live performances at night. The event has drawn performers from the Ivory Coast, Guadeloupe, India, and of course, Trinidad and Tobago.
Great Fête & Carib Great Race
The Great Race (August) is a major event that draws Trinidadians to Tobago in droves. First held in 1969, this 84-mile speed-boat race
from Trinidad’s Gulf of Paria to Crown Point in Tobago ends in the ultimate beach party (which starts well before the boats reach the finish line and ends in the wee hours of the next morning). The race starts early in the morning, and the first boats normally arrive at about 9am on the beach. Originally tied to the Great Race festivities, Tobago’s Great Fête Weekend (July/August) is now a separate five-day beach party at Store Bay, Pigeon Point and Mt. Irvine.
Tobago Fest is a recent addition to Tobago’s social calendar. This Trini-style Carnival takes place in September. In keeping with Carnival tradition there’s a Parade of Bands, a Fest Queen Contest, Night Mas’, J’Ouvert, soca concerts and steelband.
Blue Food Festival
The Blue Food Festival celebrates the use of local root crops in food preparation, especially dasheen
. This October event brings the whole island to Bloody Bay on the northwest coast
. A truly unique culinary experience, it sees the dasheen plant – all
of it – used to prepare all kinds of mouth-watering dishes, including bread, cookies, lasagne, and even ice-cream. “Blue food” covers any root crop from the ground, like sweet potato, cassava, or yam. Why blue? Some varieties of dasheen can turn blue or indigo when cooked, so the expression has become a catchall for root crops in general. The event is hosted by the village councils of Bloody Bay, L’Anse Fourmi and Parlatuvier in early to mid October, in the lead up to National Tourism Week. The festival takes place in the countryside amidst the lush green forest of the Main Ridge
, and includes a culinary competition, a cultural show, a mini zoo and sometimes a queen show. A blue food cooking competition is the festival highlight: skilled cooks compete to create fine dishes from dasheen. Some of these might surprise you: the entire dasheen plant is used to make bread, cookies, lasagne, even ice cream. A cultural show, a mini zoo and sometimes a queen show entertain the crowd.
For a full listing of annual events and public holidays, visit the Calendar section.