Meeting the Locals at Castara Retreats, Tobago This pioneering tourist project is a world away from the Caribbean of flashy all-inclusives

Meeting the Locals at Castara Retreats, Tobago
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It’s early morning at Castara Retreats on Tobago’s west coast and from my verandah I watch pelicans swoop over the crescent-shaped bay, while yellow-bellied bananaquits vie for space on the hanging bamboo birdtable. Rainforest cloaks the 17 treehouse-style lodges, built of cypress and cedar wood onto the hillside, and the air trills with birdsong.

Perched on the edge of a fishing village of the same name, Castara is a world away from the Caribbean of flashy all-inclusives. Run by locals Porridge and Jeannelle – in partnership with British owner Steve Felgate – the ethos is one of low-impact, sustainable tourism with staff as stakeholders and wider benefits for the whole community.

Porridge and Jeanelle
Porridge and Jeannelle

We want guests to go into the village and interact with the people who live here and spend money elsewhere, too,” says Steve – and the restaurant at the resort doesn’t open for breakfast to encourage this.

I wander down to Cheno’s Café for coconut bake and salt fish – and chat about my plans for the day (I must come back for a barbecue on Saturday night I’m told). There’s a friendly vibe across the village – no doubt partly thanks to the non-profit Castara Tourist Development Association, comprised of over 30 village stakeholders, which helps protect the community’s cultural and natural environment. A UN grant to support waste reduction is being put to good use: besides ‘green operation’ workshops, environmentally-friendly alternatives to harmful detergents, plastic bags and non-biodegradable packing are being introduced too.

The island itself is something of a nature haven. Just 26 miles long by six wide – the smaller part of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago – it’s a mountainous beauty and home to the oldest forest reserve in the western hemisphere (the French protected it back in 1776). The birdlife is prolific with over 220 species (even in Castara Resorts’ grounds you can spot 74 of them – including jewel-like hummingbirds). There are imposing waterfalls and some of best diving and snorkelling in Caribbean.

Fishermans Lodge

I spend a morning on a boat trip around the bay with Porridge, stopping to check out the marine life. Castara also works closely with the Environmental Research Institute Charlotteville (ERIC), another non-profit, and guests can dive with their marine biologists. Through ERIC, Castara also sponsors a coral regeneration programme for the bay and a training initiative for locals which teaches them to snorkel the reef, assist in surveys, and eventually lead tours. In the afternoon it’s fun to watch the fisherman pulling huge nets onto the golden sands of Castara Bay – lending a hand is welcomed or you can buy the catch of the day for later (lodges come with self-catering kitchens).

Castara Retreat Tobago

The resort is a place to really kick back in nature’s embrace – the eco-chic, airy one and two-bedroom hideaways have big terraces, hammocks and beautiful gardens. There’s a wonderful bar and restaurant, a yoga deck and spa treatments are available too.

Castara Retreat Tobago

But limin’ with the villagers over a rum punch, buying pumpkin loaf from the open-air bakery, taking in a Sunday morning church service, and generally soaking up the relaxed rhythms of village life is what a stay here is all about. It’s a pioneering model of a positive breed of tourism – and a win-win for visitors and locals alike.

Fact file: Prices range from £105 a night for a studio to £270 a night for a two-bedroom lodge. Find out more at Castara Retreats.

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