Candid Cruising: Tobago Cays
So you can swim with turtles. That is the "big" attraction to the Tobago Cays. Well, the cays are geographically cool, located within an interesting barrier reef configuration which allows anchoring in what appears to be the open ocean, but in fact is protected from the swell. You'll find aerial photos in every slick sailing magazine.
Reality hits the Tobagos pretty hard. The water in the turtle area was murky. There are a few harrassed turtles dashing to and fro, just trying to get a bit of grass from time to time. Seeing them requires persistance and, when the weather is good during prime season, you'll be running into other snorkelers right and left who are all after the same poor creature.
The Tobago Cays stunning geography underlies a mediocore experience.
The boats are crammed in left and right. Boat boys zip too and fro. "Boys" is a term of art, these are old guys with nice outboards, nice boats and nice jewelery. They have a guild going, and they are at the top of the heap. On the plus side, since they aren't starving, they leave you alone once you say no.
If it's turtles you want, there are far better options in Martinque, Guadeloupe and others where we had some incredible, unplanned encounters. If deserted white sand beaches and world class snorkeling are what you want, the Exumas offer far more of both, and you'll be alone half the time. There was some decent snorkeling for fish around the Northeast end of Jamesby Island, but nothing better than other, less hurried places.
If you are here, may as well stop, but only once. Hiking the cays rewards you with some stunning vistas, and the outer barrier reef looked promising from a diving/snorkeling point of view. Unfortunately, when we were there, it was blowing hard and the reefs were dangerous for anything less than an expert diver, which we certainly weren't at the time.
Watch out for current. It rips pretty fast between the islands, creating some back eddies and other trickery.
Brace yourself. Cruise ships arrive nearly daily and disgorge hundreds on the best beaches, which have been setup with T-shirt vendors and their ilk. Woo-hoo.
This is by no means an ideal anchorage, but the holding was good in sand. Current flips you around some and watch out for other boaters near you. Better anchorages abound, but were over-run during the peak season in January. Google Map
What to Buy
If you must have a T-Shirt, this is your place. If you have money to burn, the boat boys will find a way to get it for you.