Tobago Cays video below – scroll down to find it if you don’t feel like reading 🙂
After spending two incredible years sailing around the Mediterranean, my husband, daughter and I crossed the Atlantic in November/December (with crew) and landed on the Caribbean island of St Lucia. We spent the holiday season drinking rum punches, visiting with friends and enjoying family that flew down from the States.
Six weeks passed in St Lucia and it was eventually time to get off the island and explore further afield. My husband, Simon, and I decided to head south to St Vincent and the Grenadines (group of islands) with the idea that we’d sail around the south are for a while before turning North and eventually making it to the States to escape the hurricane season.
Our insurance provider requested that we were out of the Caribbean, or hurricane zone, by the end of June
We thought that it was best to go down, see everything we could and then turn north visiting islands on our way up towards Florida and beyond.
Prior to visiting St Vincent and the Grenadines not only did I not know they existed but I was completely blown away that places of such unspoiled beauty even existed.
Our first stop was Bequia, a lovely island with a great vibe. Read my article, ‘Discovering Bequia,’ here. And then we went to Mustique, or Billionaires Island, and that was yet another interesting experience (Read my article on Mustique here – find out why I only gave it a 6 out of 10 rating).
Tobago Cays Video
After the tiny privately owned island of Mustique, we went south to Tobago Cays and were completely blown away
Tobago Cays is an area containing several reefs – there’s one huge reef contained within another reef, both horseshoe in shape. Within the reefs are small uninhabited islands filled with palm trees, silky white sand, iguanas, tropical birds and of course, loads of palm trees.
There are two main anchorages in Tobago Cays
The first is on the north side of the reef. There are mooring buoys and places to anchor between two tiny islands. It’s noted in the pilot book that this spot is the most picturesque and I’d have to agree.
When we entered the narrow canal between the islands we were met with turquoise water, palm trees hanging over the white sandy beach and a wonderful mix of navy blues and lush greens with a soft blue sky backdrop. Peppered throughout the water way were catamarans and monohauls flying mostly, to my surprise, French flags.
After scooping out the area and having a bit of assistance from the locals in fishing boats, we dropped our anchor at the very back end of the canal. One of our charts noted a 2 meter depth further up and another chart said 9 meters. Our keel is 2.4 meters so we didn’t want to take any chances!
Little did we know that after dropping our anchor we wouldn’t lift it for five days!
Considering there’s nothing on the island – no shops, no services, no nothing I didn’t think we’d want to stay in one area that long. Of course I love solitude, nature and unspoiled beauty however I also love trying out local cuisine in the restaurants, nosing through boutiques, and being amongst people!
That being noted, we were not alone nor did we have to forego local cuisine
As luck would have it one of the boats we crossed the Atlantic with us (there were 250+ that crossed), anchored next to us. Our friends had two children so our daughter was sorted regarding the playing aspect. And then over the course of our five day stay another two ‘kid boats’ came in and anchored – all boats that crossed the Atlantic and all containing children.
Tobago Cays became a playground for the children and adults alike!
During the day we’d all take our dingy’s to the nearby beach or go for an adventure on one of the other islands. An area is cordoned off to swim with the turtles, however we had turtles all around the boat popping up every few minutes. None of them minded us snorkeling with and around them.
Along the beaches we found living coral (not something to be found off every island anymore), majestic sized stingrays, moray eels, enormous 2’ puffer fish, loads of colorful small fish and a ballizion conks and conk shells!
To our delight, our daughter happily used a mask and snorkel enjoying all the fish without complication or freight! Until recently she wouldn’t put her head in the water or use a mask.
Perhaps the older children that she’s playing with have caused here to up her game?
Most days we all met on the beach for a while, with the children running around the island looking for shells, playing games and having an enormous amount of fun. The adults would find shade, set up the towels and sit around swapping stories about what islands are good, where to get the best lobster, future cruising plans, incidents concerning pirates below Grenada (a couple boats were recently held at gunpoint while the boats were completely ransacked and anything of value was taken – don’t worry Mom, we’re not going that far south), difficulties getting parts flown in and so forth.
Although there are no bars or restaurants on the Tobago Cays, locals from Union Island offer a beach BBQ. There are picnic tables and some covered areas with huge drum grills.
For $120 EC (about £30 GBP or $45 USD) we got a massive grilled lobster, baked potatoes seasoned with local herbs, a lovely rice mixture, tossed salad and cake for dessert.
The husband and wife team that provided us with dinner, Simon and Aquilla (not sure if that’s spelled correctly), even created a meal for the children.
They did some lovely grilled chicken and the kids ate ever bit
During the lead up to eating the BBQ, the families all watched the locals cut and clean the lobsters. All the inedible parts were thrown in the sea for the puffer fish and stingrays to swim buy and pick up. We had a live aquatic show at our feet.
The whole evening was bliss – the sunset, laughing children, amazing wildlife, great food and being able to share it with friends made it an incredible experience.
Over the course of five days it was interesting to watch the ebb and flow of boats in the channel. When we first arrived there were a handful of boats. We wondered why we were so lucky to find space as the pilot book indicated that the area, being the most picturesque, gets crowed quickly. All but one of the days we spent in remote quietness.
And the two catamaran flotillas came in and our peace was shattered
It wasn’t so bad that the channel filled up with every mooring buoy being used and seeing catamarans anchor on top of each other. For us, we were all far enough away from the buoys not to be too close. What was annoying was the constant and incessant use of the VHF radio on channel 69, the cruisers choice of channels.
No one minds people talking on the channel to get berthing instructions, or discuss where to be at a certain time, but from around 2pm until 8pm these two flotillas were discussing the beauty of the area, the lobster dinner arrangements, what happens if it rains, the location of latecomers, and random inside jokes.
I felt as if the flotillas highjacked channel 69
But if that was the worst of my issues while anchoring in Tobago Cays it goes to show you that overall it’s a great sailing destination.
Side note: I hear you say, ‘why didn’t you just turn off your VHF?’ Well…considering that there were four of us boats arranging children pick-ups/drop-offs and our evening plans we needed to keep them on. We could have temporarily switched channels but we didn’t know the onslaught of communications that was coming.
So…as I mentioned above, for the most part the anchorage was relatively quiet. We asked a few of the locals why it wasn’t jampacked and they responded that people are going to other destinations. They also explained that there are more charter or flotilla boats in the area than there are private boats. Some nights are very busy for them when the charters come in and then other nights it’s relatively quiet.
Incidentally, it’s not just sailboats that anchor in Tobago Cays
We were fortunate enough to have the late Steve Jobs’s motor yacht drop hook off our port side
Heck, it’s not a boat…it’s more like a floating palace. The boat is 79 meters long and cost over $100 million to build. Personally I didn’t find it attractive to the eye.
There were several other smaller motor yachts that also anchored in the area. We were also visited by one of those cruise ships that has sails. The cruise ship only stayed for a few hours and there must have been less than 20 people that actually ferried from the ship to the small island.
What I found very interesting was that most boats in the area were French
Another local explained that many French people charter a boat out of Martinique (French Island) and sail down to the Tobago Cays. I couldn’t believe the lack of Americans in the area – did they not know about this amazing gem? It made me wonder if certain nationalities have particular hot spots that they frequent more so than others?
Needless to say, all the other boaters that we came across where very kind and interested to share smiles.
What about the weather?
While anchoring in January we found that most days were sunny with a constant breeze – sometimes gusts would flow threw the channel. It rained every night, often with a serious downpour. Only one day did we have long-term rain that lasted from around 3pm to 5pm – usually the showers or squalls came and left quickly.
One day I was able to do laundry but I had to put three clothes pegs on every item I hung out
The wind can really get up in the Grenadines! The worst feeling is when you look out at your laundry line and there’s a gap between two items. In Bequia we noticed something colorful on the seabed and discovered it was one of our towels!
My overall rating for Tobago Cays is…
Overall, I give Tobago Cays an 8 out of 10. It’s downright beautiful. The sea and land life is great. The local people are kind and helpful. There’s really very little negative that I can say about the place. When pressed my only issues were the, at times, very strong winds and the arrival of flotillas.
My rating, however, is skewed
What truly made Tobago Cays an absolutely incredible experience was having so many sailing friends around us. In total, there were four couples, one lovely single guy, two crew (both 20 year old Kiwi’s!), and six children. Aged between 3 years to 49 years old with nationalities from Canada, America, Ireland, New Zealand and Britan, four boats all converged in Tobago Cays to make memories.
It doesn’t happen all the time, but when sailing communities meet up with each other it’s magical
Tips for Tobago Cays
– From our experience Tobago Cays was only crowded when flotillas came in. By listening out on channel 68 you can often uncover where the flotilla boats are going (several boats all travelling together). Knowing that an anchorage will be full of flotilla boats will help you to decide where not to go that evening. Tobago Cays is an absolute gem – well worth a stay.
– The cost to anchor in Tobago Cays is $10 EC (about £2.50 GBP or $3.25 USD) per person per night. Regarding children…they didn’t charge us for Sienna as she’s so young – 5 years old. I think it probably depends on who is asking you for the money?! We paid for three nights, the park attendants wrote a receipt for four nights but we ended up staying for five nights. The attendants didn’t come back to ask for more money, so we ended up paying $90 EC for five nights.
– You can buy a beer or soft drinks on the north island. The locals that provide the beach BBQ’s for lunch and dinners have coolers of drinks. If you do sign up for a lobster dinner you can bring your own drinks or buy them.
– On the north side of the island there are four or five boats that take turns soliciting the BBQ offer to newcomers. Each boat works independently from each other. Whoever greets you first is the person you need to work with regarding the arrangements for dinner so be careful not to say ‘yes’ or ‘maybe’ to more than one boat. This area of the Caribbean is very poor so going for the meal seriously helps those that are making an effort to create an income (Furthermore, the meal is great!)
– Every morning a boat comes around offering baguettes ($15 EC), croissants and banana bread. If you ask for fruits or vegetables they’ll bring them to you the following day – that goes for asking any of the locals in the area.
– There is a legitimate garbage removal service. A boat comes along that has ‘garbage removal’ written on the side. It’s $5 EC for a small bag and $10 EC for a large bag – you even get a receipt. They take it back to Union Island for you.
– The current off the boat on the north channel is very strong – we would let the children swim off the boat. Getting to shore, however, it’s a very quick dingy ride and the current wasn’t too bad near the shore. Anchoring within the horseshoe reef (the south side of the island) has less current and you may have less current to swim off the boat.
– There are loads of sea urchins so wear shoes or flippers. This goes for all the islands we’ve visited thus far. Sienna accidently kicked an urchin and had a bit of a cut but otherwise, all the children survived without incident.
– WARNING: The islands are full of poisonous trees. I think it’s called a pashmiele tree (or something sounding like that). If I had an internet connection right now I’d look up the name. I’m on anchor in Chatham Bay on Union Island and there’s no cell coverage here at all ☹ On the north island of Tobago Cays many of them have red spray-painting around them. Ironically, there’s a swing handing from the one closest to the BBQ area. Don’t let anyone climb on the trees and if it rains, get away from the tree. When water mixes with the bark or leaves and lands on you it can cause a very bad reaction.
Am I missing anything on Tobago Cays? If yes, please leave your comments below 🙂