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The Tobago Cays: An Essential Guide to the Grenadines Gem

Of all the idyllic Caribbean destinations of the Windward Islands, the Tobago Cays of the southern Grenadines tops the list.

White sandy beaches, uninhabited islands, pristine coral reefs, and a laid back Caribbean island vibe await you.

Much of the allure of the Tobago Cays can be credited to the National Park designation – regulations protect the marine environment such as no fishing and anchoring restrictions.

Another reason it’s unique – boat visitors only! It’s accessible by private yacht, water taxi, or tour operator. This keeps the number of visitors down that such a special place would otherwise attract.

There are 5 cays that make up the park, with four of them falling inside the protection of the 4km long Horseshoe Reef. The 5th cay (Petit Tabac) lies alone outside and happens to be the one Jack Sparrow visited.

Here’s what I’ll cover:

Tobago Cays looking south
View of the Tobago Cays from the NW | Sail Rock is visible in the distant background

Where are the Tobago Cays?

The Tobago Cays are located in the country of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, to the south of St Lucia and north of Grenada.

Canouan, Mayreau, and Union Island are the closest Grenadines islands with hospitality and overnight resources. If you want to stay in the Tobago Cays, you’ll need to do it on a yacht, such as on a bareboat charter trip.

How to get to the Tobago Cays

Canouan (CIW) and Union Island (UNI) have small airports that you can connect to from the primary St. Vincent airport, Argyle International airport (SVD). SVG Air is the primary operator.

If you prefer not to take a short hopper flight, various ferries are available in Kingstown. These take 1-3 hours depending on where you are staying in the area.

Check with your local hotel/accommodations about who they would recommend as a tour operator or water taxi.

Visiting the Tobago Cays by yacht

Again, the Doyle Windward Island Cruising Guide (link below) is your friend here.

The recommended approach is to follow the black and white markers between Baleine Rocks and Mayreau. Remember the 5 knot speed limit once you get to the park.

White sand beaches await you in the Tobago Cays

Tobago Cays planning resources

Check out the Tobago Cays Marine Park official website for some basic information and the latest regulations.

For cruisers and those taking sailing trips, you’ll want Doyle’s Guide to the Windward Islands. It’s the gold standard as a cruising guide for this part of the Caribbean. On the Tobago Cays, it will have additional detail on navigation, approaches, anchoring, local resources, and more.

2021-2022 Sailors Guide to the Windward Islands

If you're sailing in the Grenadines, you'll want to make sure you have a copy of Doyle's Guide.

I wasn’t able to find any great maps online. I’d suggest downloading the Boating App, which you probably already have if you are sailing. Navionics chart viewer is another option online.

Petit Rameau at Tobago Cays
The anchorage between Petit Rameau and Petit Bateau | Most yachts use the mooring balls or anchor closer to the reef

Advice for charter yachts and cruisers

If you’re looking for solitude in the Windward Islands, you won’t find it at the Tobago Cays. It’s a well-known and busy destination in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Besides other sailing yachts, you can expect boat boys, day excursions, and local dive boats plying to and fro through the turquoise waters.

For charterers, many full-time cruising vessels depart the Caribbean over the summer, due to insurance reasons associated with hurricane season. This might be a quieter time to visit the Tobago Cays.

While Horseshoe Reef provides excellent protection from the tradewind waves, there is no protection from the trades themselves. If the Christmas winds are blowing, you may want to find a better time to visit.

Tobago Cays rules and regulations

Visit the official marine park website for the full list – here are some of the big ones:

  • Park entrance cost and fees:

    • It costs $10 EC (about $3.70 USD) per person/day to visit the park

    • Mooring fees are $45 EC/night, although anchoring is also permitted in sand

  • Vessel speed in the park is limited to 5 knots – this is intended to prevent jet skis from tearing through the anchorages

  • Use the mooring balls when available; no anchoring around coral or sea grass

  • No unaccompanied scuba diving – you’ll need a local, registered guide

  • No fishing

  • Pets are not allowed

Green sea turtles in the Tobago Cays

What to do in the Tobago Cays

Snorkel to see some green sea turtles

The green sea turtles are abundant in the area due to conservation efforts. You’re likely to encounter them in most places where you can snorkel and along Horseshoe Reef.

One of the best places to see them is on the west side of Baradal. They have established an area, marked by buoys, to observe them.

Dive with on pristine coral reefs

Make reservations in advance for a dive charter with one of the local operators. Grenadines Dive comes recommended. They can even pick you up right from your yacht.

If you decide to to this, you’ll get to visit some of the best dive spots in the Windward Islands: Mayreau, Horseshoe Reef, and World’s End Reef.

Petit Tebac
Petit Tebac, the filming location of the Curse of the Black Pearl

Visit Petit Tabac where Jack Sparrow was marooned

Petit Tabac is the one cay located outside the Horseshoe Reef. It was used for the scene in Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl where Jack and Elizabeth were marooned. Good luck finding his rum stash!

The island makes for a great daytrip and picnic. Relax in the calm waters on the north side and wander along the beaches.

If conditions are settled, there is a small anchorage for 1-2 yachts. It requires some eyeball navigation but is otherwise clearly seen with a sandy bottom. Consult your Doyle guide.

You could take your dinghy over, but it’s about 2 nautical miles around the reef. Best only in calm conditions, otherwise you are sure to get wet!

Go hiking for a 360 view of the Grenadines

Petit Bateau, Petit Rameau, and James Bay all have hiking trails where you can check out the local flora and fauna. Expect to see some of the protected bird species or iguanas that make the park their home.

You’ll also be treated to spectacular 360 views of the surrounding Grenadines!

Arrange for a beach barbeque with one of the local boat boys

If you don’t find the boat boy vendors, they’ll find you. They can help you out with most anything you need: supplies, ice, quick trip to one of the other islands, etc. Just ask and they will probably figure out a way to make it happen for you.

Vendors that sell shirts, food, etc are limited to Petit Bateau at the north beach.

Many specialize in beach barbeques and will be happy to arrange it for you. There may not be a better combo than fresh spiny lobster (as long as it’s in season), cold beer, and an epic Caribbean sunset on the beach.

Kite surfing in the Tobago Cays
Kite surfing behind the protection of the reef

Kite surf behind the protection of the reef

If kite surfing is your thing, the Tobago Cays are an excellent destination to tear across the water behind the protection of the reef and with the steady trades in your kite.

While the speed limit in the park is 5 knots, you can exceed this while kite surfing as long as you are in the designated areas:

  • North of Petit Rameau

  • SW of Jamesby

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