Our reviews have always warned readers that those expecting an active night life should look elsewhere – and, by elsewhere, I am referring to the destination, not the hotel. The public areas of the Coco Reef are almost deserted by 10:30pm every night. This is not unique to the Coco Reef – we have experienced the same at every hotel on Tobago. The truth is that Tobago’s ‘vibe’ is so relaxed that the vast majority of visitors simply crash by 9:30-10:00pm – even those very considerably younger than us.
When John Jefferis purchased the old Crown Reef Hotel in 1991 and started the massive US$50 million rebuilding project that eventually became the impressive new Coco Reef Resort, the beach was a scrappy little affair largely only visible at low tide (click here to view a 1960s postcard showing the old hotel). Then, in 1999, tropical storms and tidal waves associated with a hurricane further north (Tobago is south of the hurricane belt) swept what little beach there was away and caused extensive damage to the beach-front. In response, the hotel built a 300m rock wall to protect the bay and created a new beach with 7,000 tons of powdery white river sand from Guyana.
Detractors still criticise the Coco Reef’s man-made beach. However, the sea may have taken that original scrappy little stretch of sand away, but it has returned it, and with a rate of interest that makes payday loan companies look parsimonious. New sand is brought in on every tide. It has filled the lagoon and covered the beach. Natural golden coral sand now covers the imported white river sand, making it one of the finest beaches on the island. The only problem is that the lagoon is now excessively shallow. Less than half of it is more than waist deep.
Serious swimmers will be horrified by the lagoon. In fairness, it does mean that they can enter the water without any concerns of undertow or breaking surf and then swim out through the main entrance into Cable Bay, where they will encounter sheltered, but otherwise normal, sea conditions with good swimming. On the other hand, the lagoon is absolutely perfect for non-swimmers, young children, the elderly or anyone with mobility issues. It is somewhere that guests can wallow in the shallows without any fears of being swept off their feet by a wave.
The lagoon wall is not exactly a thing of great beauty. However, it undoubtedly protects the beach and has created an environment that offers guests the safest swimming on the island, no matter how rough the sea conditions outside. Another major advantage is the marine life that the lagoon wall supports. We could do without the noisy gulls that roost there, but the wall has become a full-blown reef in its own right. It is home to a wide variety of fish and sea life.
The lagoon is an ideal training ground for snorkelers. Swimming and snorkelling outside the protection of the wall should only be done with great caution; not because the seas are any more dangerous than elsewhere, but simply because boats and Jet Skis also use these waters. In fairness, local boat and jet operators have become more responsible in recent years and most give the waters outside the lagoon a relatively wide berth.
The numerous palm trees planted when the beach was created are now mature and provide lots of welcome shade. There are 30 or more thatched parasols and a huge stock of comfortable sun loungers. Despite this, some people still rush to the beach first thing in the morning to ‘bag’ their favourite positions. The truth is, however, that there’s a perfectly adequate stock of loungers and sun parasols, with even more in reserve.
Beach attendants from the Bacchanals beach bar make irregular patrols along the shoreline taking orders for chilled water and drinks. Being a private beach, guest need have no fear of being ‘hassled’ by beach traders.
The activity facilities at the Coco Reef Resort are relatively limited and possibly reflect the expectations and requirements of the average guest. The hotel is not a ‘family’ or ‘activity’ resort and visitors seeking extensive sporting facilities will be disappointed in both the hotel and the island.
Complimentary snorkelling, paddle boats and kayaks are available. Water sports are operated, on a concession basis, by Derek Chung of Undersea Tobago. They are one of Tobago's very best dive operators and we have no hesitation in recommending them to guests, whether beginners or advanced divers.
Given the wonderfully safe and gentle swimming conditions in the lagoon, a swimming pool seems totally superfluous to requirements. However, the hotel does have a small pool. The surrounding pool deck is furnished with a good stock of sun recliners, so guests who don’t want sand between their toes need have no fear.
The hotel has two floodlit hard-court tennis courts and lessons can be arranged. The hotel can also arrange various other tours and activities, including golf on the excellent Tobago Plantations course or older Mount Irvine Bay course. We would recommend that you book tours and outside activities either directly with the operator concerned, or through the services of the hotel’s Social Director. Tobago is not best suited to large-party tours. Personally, I would prefer to negotiate a day-rate with a friendly taxi driver rather than going on a tour in a party of more than three or four other visitors.
The small Coco Spa is housed in an attractive complex at the top of the hotel and offers a range of services including aromatherapy massages and various forms of beauty treatment. The complex also features a small gym with a basic range of fitness equipment.
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