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Aisha Sylvester — off the beaten path in Tobago | Q&A

Aisha Sylvester is a Tobago-based travel blogger and digital marketer. We talked to her about her favourite sites and experiences on the island — from sightseeing and hiking to food and beaches

CAROLINE TAYLOR: If you have a particular place or experience that’s your absolute favourite in Tobago, what is it, and why?

AISHA SYLVESTER: I love road trips to the countryside! Tobago might be small but there are so many places to see, things to do and mysteries to uncover that I’m still stumbling upon new things even after countless road trips around the island. I love getting into my car with no plan beyond “let’s head east” and stopping on a whim whenever I see a beautiful view or a new sign for an attraction I hadn’t heard of before. I love veering off the main roads “just to see what’s there” and I get so excited when “what’s there” turns out to be something absolutely and randomly amazing.

The picturesque village of Parlatuvier is a favourite of photographers and visitors. Photo courtesy the TDC

The picturesque village of Parlatuvier is a favourite of photographers and visitors. Photo courtesy the TDC

My favourite road trip route is along the Northside Road. At the end, you can head inland through the untouched Main Ridge Rainforest Reserve where the roads are lined with lush, green trees and, for long uninterrupted stretches the only sign of life are the cows grazing quietly along the roadside. My must-do stops on this route include the lookout point above Castara, where you can soak up a gorgeous view of the beach and the village; Castara Waterfall, which is just a short walk from the main road; Englishman’s Bay, for a mandatory dip in the water; Glasgow’s Bar for a drink and that postcard perfect view of Parlatuvier Bay; and my go-to lunch spot, the open deck at Sunshine Café where you can indulge in delicious homestyle cooking while taking in the sights and sounds of the rainforest down below.

Misty morning in Tobago’s Main Ridge Forest Reserve. Photo by Kevin Sammy

Misty morning in Tobago’s Main Ridge Forest Reserve. Photo by Kevin Sammy

CT: If people only had one day — or even just a half day — to get a taste of Tobago, what day/half-day trips or tours would you recommend?

AS: Tobago is a destination that’s meant to be savoured, so if you have less than 24 hours on the island I highly recommend indulging in a coastal cruise. These tours usually last around eight hours so there’s absolutely no rush, and you still get to take in a variety of sites and unique experiences all while being treated to rare views of Tobago’s coastline! Stops usually include snorkelling at Arnos Vale reef; swimming at Cotton Bay, a lovely beach that’s only accessible by boat; enjoying a delicious local lunch on No Man’s Land and, of course, a mandatory dip in the mystical waters of the Nylon Pool.

The coral reef at Cotton Bay, accessible only by sea. Photo by Brenda Delzin

The coral reef at Cotton Bay, accessible only by sea. Photo by Brenda Delzin

CT: What are your favourite beaches, coast to coast, and why?

AS: I’m yet to encounter a beach in Tobago that I didn’t like. But if I had to identify the Tobago beaches I absolutely LOVE, they would be Buccoo beach, Englishman’s Bay, and Pirate’s Bay (in no particular order). Why? The short answer is: I love the beach but hate crowds and all three of these beaches offer pristine stretches of coastline without the clutter.

Just in case you’re curious, here’s the long answer: Buccoo Beach is located in, you guessed it, Buccoo Village on Tobago’s west coast. Unlike most of the other beaches on this side of the island that have been developed for the convenience of its visitors, Buccoo has maintained its wild and untamed beauty, which makes it endearing for those who truly want to feel as if they’ve escaped to a little slice of paradise. The water is always calm and most times its crystal clear; the sand is powder soft; and the cherry on top is the mangrove that borders the sand, offering just the right amount of shade.

Beautiful Buccoo beach. Photo courtesy TDC

Beautiful Buccoo beach. Photo courtesy TDC

Englishman’s Bay is a well-known beach destination on the island but luckily (maybe because of the distance) it’s never overrun with people. It possesses all the typical characteristics of an ideal beach — powder soft sand and startlingly clear water — but what I love most about it is the way the rainforest seems to kiss the coastline with lush green trees creeping their way up the sand and almost into the water! The trees deliver perfect shady nooks for those hiding from the sun, but they also give you the feeling that you’re literally the only person on the beach at times, even if there are a handful of other people around. The rustic hut with the swing is an Insta-worthy bonus.

Englishman's Bay, Tobago. Photo by Chris Anderson

Englishman’s Bay, Tobago. Photo by Chris Anderson

Truth be told, there are many reasons to love Pirate’s Bay — ideal water conditions topping the list — but the thing I love most about this beach is the act of getting there. Whether you hire a boat to enter by sea or you climb the stairs and access it by land, the journey exposes you to various aspects of nature at her very best. To approach the beach by boat is to get a unique view of Charlotteville’s lush coastline while riding high on the waves. On the other hand, descending the stairs through the tall trees and lush vegetation leaves you in awe of the island’s diverse flora. Both experiences always remind me just how truly amazing even the simplest excursions on this island can be because you are always enveloped by nature.

Charlotteville. Photo by Chris Anderson

Charlotteville, Tobago. Photo by Chris Anderson

CT: For those who love nature and the outdoors, what are the sites you think locals and visitors should absolutely visit?

AS: There is so much for nature lovers to see and do in Tobago that it’s hard to know where to begin — so I’ll throw in a little bit of everything.

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When it comes to beaches, I always recommend that true outdoor enthusiasts stay away from the popular, developed spots. Englishman’s Bay, Castara Bay, Richmond Bay, Pirate’s Bay, and King Peter’s Bay are all lovely beaches that allow visitors to feel like they’re truly connecting with nature. No loud music, no modern infrastructure and no crowds — just the sound of the waves and wildlife.

For those chasing waterfalls, I’d of course recommend Argyle Waterfall, the highest and most popular waterfall on the island. However, I’d also challenge nature enthusiasts to wander even further off the beaten path and visit a few falls that might not already be on their radar. Make the trek to Twin Rivers Falls deep in the Pembroke forest; wander just a stone’s throw off the Northside Road to Castara Waterfall; or take a three-minute stroll for a dip in the two pools of Parlatuvier Waterfall.

If you’re not in the mood to get wet, then take a guided tour of the Main Ridge Forest Reserve and learn about the flora and fauna that dwell within the borders of the oldest protected rainforest in the western hemisphere.

Argyle Waterfall. Courtesy The Division of Tourism and Transportation

Three levels, each having a pool, make Argyle Waterfall a delight. The trail passes through a wonderland of wild orchids and majestic trees.
Courtesy The Division of Tourism and Transportation

CT: What makes the island special as a destination for eco and adventure lovers?

AS: A large part of Tobago’s charm is the island’s ability to bring people closer to nature. Even if you’re staying in more developed areas, you can find yourself almost completely off the grid and on a mini adventure in a matter of minutes! Whether your preference is trekking through the jungle or snorkelling at a reef; diving a shipwreck or ATV-ing up a mountainside, Tobago offers such a wide variety of eco activities anyone who loves being outdoors will be able to find something that piques their interest.

On top of the world. Photo: Daniel Knecht, instagram.com/2radwanderer. Courtesy Tobago Mountain Bike Tours

Riding the Top of the World Trail near Arnos Vale. Photo: Daniel Knecht, instagram.com/2radwanderer. Courtesy Tobago Mountain Bike Tours

CT: The island’s biodiversity is tremendous — including our dive sites. Where are the best places to head?

AS: It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but diving is one of the best and most unique ways to explore Tobago. I’ve been diving in several destinations throughout the Caribbean and I’ve loved every single experience but when it comes down to it, Tobago will always be my diving “home”. The island has such a diverse offering of dive sites, both in terms of terrain and difficulty and I am taking great pleasure in sampling as many of them as I can.

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My favourite dive on the island is the Maverick, a purpose-sunk wreck off the coast of Mt Irvine Bay. I love it because it’s the perfect example of man and nature working together to create something positive, unique and sustainable. Over the course of two decades, coral formations have covered the frame of the ship almost completely, creating a home for various forms of marine life and it’s always amazing to watch them exist within and around this manmade structure.

I must add that, while I’ve never gone diving in Speyside it remains a popular and highly rated dive destination on the island and I hope to conquer a view sites in the east over the next few months.

Photo courtesy Undersea Tobago

Photo courtesy Undersea Tobago

CT: Hiking is a popular and rewarding activity. What are some of your favourite treks, from easy to advanced?

AS: Truth be told, I’m not a hiking enthusiast but I’m always game for a good trek if it leads to a beautiful waterfall. That being said, the trail to Highland Waterfall in Moriah is one I would highly recommend. It’s of moderate difficulty with a few tricky spots along the way but if I can do it with a smile on my face, anyone can! Especially since the reward is what I honestly consider to be the most breath-taking waterfall on the island. While other waterfalls occur in steps or layers, Highland is one continuous drop with a powerful flow, painting a very dramatic and majestic picture.

For those who prefer a low impact trek but don’t mind manoeuvring through thick bushes, the journey to Twin River Falls in Pembroke is a bit long, but quite easy. No hills, no cliffs, just an overgrown trail and the occasional stream-crossing.

And of course, for people who want to venture off the beaten path without exerting too much energy (or any energy at all), the villages of Castara and Parlatuvier both offer quick rewards in the form of waterfalls that are less than a 10-minute walk from the main road.

Tobago's Highland Waterfall. Photo by Brendan Delzin

Tobago’s Highland Waterfall. Photo by Brendan Delzin

CT: Where are your favourite places to lime and dine?

AS: My default spot for a good lime in Tobago is always the beach but if we’re talking about actual establishments

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Drinks

My favourite bar on the island is Glasgow Bar in Parlatuvier. It’s perched on the edge of a hill and gives you the most spectacular view of Parlatuvier village and bay. There are two decks both with the same amazing view but I prefer the upper deck because the breeze blows stronger and you somehow feel as if you’re floating above it all. It’s the perfect place to stop during a road trip just to take a break, sip a drink (non-alcoholic for the driver) and soak in the view. If I’m in the west, Bago Bar on the drive to Pigeon Point, as well as Renmar’s inside Pigeon Point are great options. Waves at Grafton has a great location although I find the food overpriced, I still love to take friends there because the proximity to the ocean and their fun swing chairs create the perfect beach vibe. If I’m going for a more refined experience I’ll head to Time 2 Wine in Shirvan Plaza where the decor is rustic-meets-trendy and you can enjoy a glass/bottle of wine and cheese platter all for a great price.

Dining

My absolute favourite restaurant on the entire island is Seahorse Restaurant. The food there is impeccable and consistent. They never have a bad day when it comes to taste, presentation or service. It’s located in Black Rock, just across the way from Grafton Beach. Dinner there is always a treat because you get to dine in the beautiful, rustic, well-appointed open-air dining area and listen to the waves crashing nearby. My favourite meal on the menu is the lamb (yum!) and I’m obsessed with their pineapple cheesecake.

Other favourite spots of mine…

The Fish Pot also in Black Rock, where you get delicious seafood and the best coconut cream cheesecake I’ve ever tasted. Jemma’s Treehouse Restaurant in Speyside where you can get a delicious spread of local dishes, including their amazing breadfruit pie. Traditions Bar at Pigeon Point where I’ve eaten the best curry and paratha on the island (seriously). The Suckhole, in Charlotteville that requires an abnormally long wait (longest I’ve waited was one and a half hours) but it’s always worth it! They serve delicious dishes, from seafood to chicken, and they’re always bright and colourful and perfectly presented for photos! Sunshine Cafe is a small dining establishment in Bloody Bay that could easily be mistaken for a parlour. But there’s actually a small deck out back that offers a great view of the rainforest. The cook Vanessa prepares the meals as you order it. Sometimes the wait is long, but the food is always great and on Sundays she offers up a Sunday spread that includes some of the best curried shrimp I’ve ever tasted!


About Aisha Sylvester

Photo courtesy Aisha Sylvester

Photo courtesy Aisha Sylvester

I’m a digital marketer born in Trinidad but living and loving life in Tobago. I spend a lot of my free time exploring the island, both by land and by sea. Whether it’s sampling freshly baked dirt oven bread from friendly villagers; trekking through the forest for a peaceful waterfall escape; or simply whiling the time away at the beach, I love being out and about indulging in some of Tobago’s most authentic experiences. Understanding just how much the destination has to offer, I share my excursions and discoveries through comprehensive guides on my travel blog, Island Girl In-Transit (islandgirlintransit.com). From road trips to top spots, it is my hope that my recommendations and tips will come in very handy for locals and visitors alike who are interested in truly savouring Tobago’s unique charm.

Posted by Caroline Taylor

writer & editor • actor, singer, producer & director • egalitarian • animal & nature lover • island girl • water baby • perennial discoverer

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