Tobago Village Business

There’s a quiet revolution taking place in Tobago tourism. It is not on the busy south-west of the island where big hotels straddle the beaches. But if you follow the winding Northside Road to the village home of a Prime Minister and President of the twin-island republic, you’ll discover the transformation of a fishing village into the quintessential Tobago adventure destination. Castara clings to the forested western slopes of the Main Ridge reserve and looks into the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea. Here indeed is Paradise. Pat Ganase considers Castara.

WaveSong at Heavenly Bay, Coast Hanger, Shady Mango, Sea Steps, Dolphin, Hummingbird, Breadfruit Grove, Sunset, Birdsong or Fiddle Tree! Ali Baba's Sea Breeze is tucked up a secret slope overlooking the quiet Castara cove.The names of cottages call to you and sing invitations to this vacation village on the west coast of Tobago facing the Caribbean Sea. Homegrown developments in Castara over the last 25 years have blossomed into resort cottages scattered like stars and nestled on the forested slopes below the island’s Main Ridge reserve. The result is an idyllic resort village intertwined among the residences of Castara.

Spectacular sunsets over Castara Bay seen from Birdsong.(All photos courtesy Castara Retreats)
This trend away from the exclusive all-inclusive tourism plants of the past is building community-visitor relationships from the ground up. Castara is answering the question, what do adventurers wish for in strange lands? And it is setting the pace in the movement away from mass visitor groups, facilitated by the expansion of modern communication and on-line marketing. The village might feel like an place lost to time, but it is advanced in all key aspects: construction, services and access, fostering entrepreneurship, investment and employment. The result: clients that are individuals, couples or families who have opted for longer stays; a week is not too much; many of them returning year after year.

What has turned this sleepy village on the way to Englishman’s Bay or Parlatuvier or Bloody Bay or L’anse Fourmi into a destination? Perhaps, this has been 300 years in the making.

In the period after 1770, the Castara estate was managed by Laird Ferguson who became Lt. Governor of Tobago. The bay was called Charles Bay by the English, whose ships fetched sugar here at the end of Dock Road. Sugar was grown on the estate until emancipation in 1839. After the emancipation of the slaves, cocoa was planted. Edwin Williams of Castara recounted (Trinidad Express, 2010) that an earthquake followed by a hurricane destroyed many homes in the village near Englishman’s Bay causing the migration of families to the area where the Castara river empties into Castara Big Bay, a centre of fishing and farming. Castara Small Bay, fondly known as Heavenly Bay, supports reefs suitable for snorkelliing.

Seine fishing in Castara Bay

Today, Tobago’s Northside Road climbs over the western edge of the main ridge from Scarborough to Moriah and winds above the coastline to Castara. The Mt Dillon to Castara stretch was completed in the 1960s; before which it was common to go by coastal steamer from Plymouth or Scarborough. Sheltered and separate, engaged in fishing or farming, isolation made the families of Castara independent, resourceful and self-sufficient, qualities that keep them close and connected as a community, confidently welcoming and generous to visitors.

One of the first modern “guesthouses” in Castara was owner-managed Blue Mango Cottage which opened in 1992, offering three apartments – Sea Steps, Sweet Point and Trinity’s Cottage. The success of Blue Mango, acclaimed by word of mouth, and later in international media, encouraged others to build guest cottages. The Castara Naturalist is right on the beach, with 14 apartments named after sea creatures. Ali Baba's Sea Breeze overlooks Heavenly Bay.

Cottages hidden in the trees are barely seen from the beach

This is the Castara that Steve and Sue Felgate chose to invest in, after a visit in the late 1990s, some 20 years ago. The Felgates live in Hay-on-Wye (a traditional town on the river Wye) in Wales. Steve has a business background and retired in 1998. He now devotes much of his time to Castara Retreats and sustainable tourism. Their daughter Lorna who worked with international NGOs in Africa and London is the marketing and communications director for Castara Retreats. 

“We have lots of friends in Castara, and over the years we have received many acts of kindness from the local community.  It feels that we have grown together in meeting the opportunities of tourism in a sustainable way. … The development of tourism needs to be directed by the community and focused on long-term goals to protect the community, the local economy, and the environment.”

Steve and Porridge go fishing


The Felgates built Castara Retreats gradually, with local expertise and skills. Today, Castara Retreats comprises 15 units including a few that house families, others that house couples or individuals.
Writer Edmund de Waal (The Hare with Amber Eyes, The White Road) came with his family (wife Sue, and three pre-teens) in 2012. He wrote in the Telegraph magazine: “The idea of the place is that you make things up as you go along – drop in on a neighbor to ask if she will cook for you, ask for advice from Porridge about boats or about how to reach the local waterfall (cross the football field and keep going; it is worth it). This feels very natural but is completely dependent on you reading the briefing notes properly beforehand. You will not be managed.”

By the end of the family’s ten-day stay at the Birdsong villa - hiking the Main Ridge and Little Tobago with expert guides, visiting a cocoa estate and swimming in forest pools and beaches – de Waal concludes, “Indeed the cadence of life in Castara was so gentle that the more robust tourism of some of the other places we visited felt peculiar.”

Tourism in Castara is based on the hospitality of people who are happy and proud to share their way of life with visitors. It is so natural, Felgate says, “We all know the beauty of the island, its beaches, reefs and rainforests, but what is most surprising is the local people, and their warmth and generosity towards visitors.”

In the last three years, he says, “Over 30 stakeholders in tourism in the village came together to form a non-profit community group called Castara Tourism Development Association. The group is very active in harnessing the opportunities of tourism for the benefit of the community.  We employ about 20 local persons at Castara Retreats including the general manager, Porridge, who lives in the village. Our housekeeping team comes from Castara and Parlatuvier.  Some have their own tourism-related business, under the umbrella of Castara Retreats, including bread making, laundry services, car hire, and boat trips.

Creative tropical cocktails feature fresh limes
“Most importantly, we would like to see the benefits of tourism continue to spread across the community so that all who want to be involved can do so. This sharing of the opportunity is what generates goodwill, and it is the goodwill of the community in welcoming people, that makes Castara and its local economy successful, and sustainable into the very long term.”
Progress may have come slowly to Castara, but it is a pace that is comfortable for the community. Over the recent two decades, these owner-operated guest houses, beach houses and self-catered apartment units have evolved a distinctive and identifiable Castara style. Simple architecture, natural building materials and furnishings, person-to-person local services and a community ambience breathe life into a different tourism industry for Tobago.

Castara Retreats supports marine conservation in Tobago and works in partnership with the Environmental Research Institute Charlotteville (ERIC).

Sustainability, as the website for Castara Retreats proclaims, emerges from offering “an authentic Caribbean holiday in a uniquely local style; where guests can positively engage with the natural environment and local community – adding value and contributing to the economic well-being of the village. In return, visitors have an insight into the life of a Caribbean fishing village, lapped by the waves of one of the most beautiful beaches on Tobago.”

Local managers Porridge and Jeanell



Visit:
Ali Baba's Sea Breeze and Tours: http://www.alibaba-tours.com/seabreeze.htm
Blue Mango: http://www.blue-mango.com/
SeaScape:  http://www.seascapetobago.com/
Naturalist Beach Resort: http://www.naturalist-tobago.com/
Castara Retreats: https://www.castararetreats.com/
Environmental Research Institute Charlotteville:
http://www.eric-tobago.org/index.html

(All photos courtesy Castara Retreats)

Comments

  1. Hello Wildgirl! I have only just stumbled upon your blog! It's a late read ... but a great read. I will be adding you to the blogs I follow @ www.trailspots.com ... also Blogger! Based in Trinidad ... a visit to Tobago is overdue!

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