Caribbean, Tobago

7 Must-Have Cultural Experiences in Tobago

If you ask me, Tobago is the cultural capital of the Caribbean. It’s home to a century’s old sporting event that is as unique as it is intriguing. It’s host of one of the most extravagant wedding processions you will ever witness in real life. And it upholds one of the most sincere fishing customs, deeply rooted in the spirit of lending a helping hand. Indeed, culture plays such an important role in the island’s identity, that participating in its customs and traditions is a mandatory part of the visitor experience. So, if you are seeking activities that are truly, distinctively Tobagonian, here is a list of 7 must-have cultural experiences in Tobago.

Sample Dirt-Oven Bread

Trying local cuisine is a must. Even if you’re not a foodie, there are certain dishes you must sample while visiting a destination. For Tobago, one such treat is dirt-oven bread, or tarts…anything made within the raw confines of this crudely made device. A long-standing tradition on the island, these dirt-ovens are few and far between, but the time invested in acquiring them is always well worth the effort. Primarily concentrated in the countryside, and known to operate on erratic timetables, dirt-oven baked goods are as yummy as they are scarce. I highly recommend making the visit to Castara or Roxborough, L’Anse Fourmi or Moriah to purchase some.

Try Curry Crab and Dumpling

Experience Tobago: Curry Crab & Dumpling

Another dish that’s among the must-do cultural experiences you must have in Tobago, is curry crab and dumpling. Unless of course, you’re allergic to shellfish. The trick with curry crab and dumping though, is that you have to know where to buy it. Once upon a time, you could sample a decent dish at one of the food stalls at Store Bay Beach. However, frankly speaking, the quality of CCD at those venues have waned over the years. So, my only strong recommendation for a scrumptious curry crab meal is a small take-out eatery in Buccoo. The peach-colored house is located opposed the Buccoo Nature Park. There, the crab is always flavorful and accompanied by generous portions of dumplings and provision on the side.

Watch the Goat Races

Cultural experiences in Tobago

Yup you read that right…goat races. In Tobago, they race goats instead of horses and it’s every bit as entertaining as you’d expect it to be. Tethered to exactly 9 ft of rope, thoroughbred goats and their human jockeys thunder down a race track for brief races that barely last a minute. It’s simultaneously a display of great athletic prowess, as well as a source of comic relief. The goats are raised and trained specifically for this annual sporting event. While their trainers are among the fastest and fittest runners on the island. It might not be something that you need to ever see again in life, but trust me when I say you should take in this spectacle at least once.

Walk in the Tobago Ole Time Wedding

Cultural experiences you must have in Tobago

You might not be an official part of the wedding party, but for one day every year, anyone can play the role of “guest” at the Tobago Ole Time Wedding. The elaborate procession is the main event for the village of Moriah’s annual Tobago Heritage Festival presentation. The over-the-top wedding party comprises dozens of bridesmaids, groomsmen, flower girls, and other intriguing characters that include the “Massa” and his dolled-up wife; as well as the village “Maco”, but, for the thousands who fill the narrow, winding village streets for this annual reenactment, they just as much as part of the festivities. Dance the brushback to the beat of the tambrin drum and become a part of one of the island’s most popular cultural events.

Help Pull in Seine

Tobago Experience: Pull seine

The tradition of helping fishermen pull in their seine (fishing nets) is a prime example of Tobago’s practice of “len’ hand”. Probably my favorite local custom, it invites anyone on the beach to assist in pulling in the fishing nets. Comprising thick rope and lead weights, these nets are already quite heavy. Add a large catch to that equation and it’s quite an arduous task for a small fishing crew. As such, fishermen are always grateful for any support they receive. And, once the net comes back laden with fish, they share their catch with those who helped. It’s not only a unique way to get a good workout, but you’re also treated to freshly caught fish as a reward!

Attend a Queen Show

Cultural experiences you must have in Tobago
Photo courtesy Division of Tourism, Culture & Transportation

“Queen Show” isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of an island paradise, but they are indeed a big deal in Tobago. Everything from village competitions, where delegates vie for the right to the title of Heritage queen for a year; to inter-department contests within the Tobago House of Assembly, where members of staff go head-to-head, it’s a ladylike battle of talent, glamour, and cultural relevance that should never be missed. Just as entertaining as these shows, is the thoroughly invested supporters. With their colour coordinated, printed t-shirts; attention-grabbing noise-makers; customised chants; and vocal criticism of decisions not in their favour, the audience is every bit as committed as the contestants.

Dance the Cocoa

Tobago Experiences: Dance the cocoa

If ever there was a tradition that was simultaneously symbolic and entertaining, it’s the dancing of the cocoa. Once a routine task carried out by plantation slaves in preparation to take the cocoa beans to market, this practice involves stamping on the beans with one’s bare feet to get them looking nice and shiny for purchase. Now, this tradition is acknowledged and reenacted annually in the village of Charlotteville, during their National Treasures Day event for the Tobago Heritage Festival. Villagers lead the performance to get things started off, however, eventually the floor is opened up for observers to try their hand (or feet, in this instance) at the messy but fun ritual.

Cultural immersion plays a significant role in any fulfilling travel experience. It’s not enough to simply touch down in a foreign land just to check it off a bucket list. As we journey to different places it’s important that we’re mindful to expose ourselves to the things that make each of these destinations unique. Learn about their history, their traditions, and the cultural elements that make them truly unique. While this list is truly only a drop in the bucket as far as cultural experiences in Tobago, it should get any conscientious and culturally curious traveler off to a good start!

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