A guide to souvenir and gift shopping on Tobago
Those expecting heavy doses of retail therapy are going to be sadly disappointed by Tobago. Nobody, but nobody, goes to Tobago to shop. Those wishing to buy souvenirs or presents for family or friends are going to struggle. We mustn't complain; this very lack of commercialisation is exactly what draws most of us to Tobago. The nearest thing to the sort of shopping experience that many visitors will be used to is the new Lowlands Mall, located on the north side of the Claude Noel Highway opposite Tobago Plantations estate.
For many years, coral was the souvenir to take home from Tobago. We are thankfully better educated now and know that buying coral, whether in its entirety or as part of jewellery, is most definitely not acceptable. The same now rather sadly applies to those beautiful conch shells. Please see the section at the bottom of this page regarding conch shells and coral, etc.
Your choice of souvenirs is pretty much restricted to some local handicrafts; wood carvings, leather sandals, bags, tams (head covering) and non-precious jewellery, most of which are made by the local Rasta community.
While relaxing on the beach, there's a good chance that you will be regularly approached by guys selling hand-carved coconuts. Some of these can be extremely attractive and many of these guys will even carve shells in front of you, personalising the carving with your own name and to your own design. Their skill is undoubted and the chat can often be as entertaining as the carving.
Local rum is a good alternative. It is cheap and of very high quality. Royal Oak is a popular brand.
There is some very nice batik work available, but it can be very difficult to tell where this originated ( very little from Tobago). There is a nice little batik shop above Penny Savers in Canaan, and the Batik House in Scarborough is well worth a visit. The stalls at Store Bay can offer good value. Our favourite souvenir shop, the Cotton House in Bacolet, sadly closed in June 2012, but other useful sources are:
- Shore Things, Lambeau. One of our favourite shops in Tobago - not simply because of the excellent range of souvenirs, crafts and CDs of local music that they offer, but because I can tuck into their wonderful cakes and juices while Jill is shopping. I have also always be struck by the friendly and efficient service of owner Giselle Beaurn and her team. Open most days until 5:30pm. Telephone: 635-1072 or email now.
- Batiki Point, Buccoo. A small Batik studio and craft shop located opposite the beach facilities in Buccoo Village. The shop is owned and run by Tina Friman and there are a nice selection of wall-hangings, wraps, t-shirts, clothes, art and craft, all designed and made by local artists. The are open from Monday to Friday 11am-6pm and on Sunday evening (during Sunday School) from 6pm. Tina can be emailed at email now or contacted at (868) 631-0111.
- Forro's Homemade Delicacies, The Andrew's Rectory, Bacolet Street, Scarborough. Located opposite the fire station on the road out of up-town Scarborough, towards Bacolet, Eileen Forrester, the wife of the Anglican archedeacon of Trinidad and Tobago, runs a fascinating small kitchen and shop, cooking and bottling local condiments, preserves and sauces. Delicious items such as guava and golden-apple jelly, lemon and lime marmalade, tamarind chutney and hot sauces; all packed in little straw or even bamboo baskets. Prices are very reasonable. Telephone: 639-2485.
Before you buy any souvenirs, it is important to remember that trade in many animals, plants and products made from them is controlled internationally to safeguard endangered species. It may be illegal to import some items; or a licence may be required to do so. Failure to comply with these laws may result in confiscation of the items and a heavy fine.
As far as Tobago, goes, this particularly applies to conch shells and corals - including hand-crafted jewellery incorporating coral fragments. Ignore any cock-and-bull stories about it being OK to take these items hom told to you by beach vendors or retailers - IT IS NOT OK.
I would refer UK travellers to the useful DEFRA article Advice for Travellers