Buccoo Reef or Speyside Reef?
Any island worth its salt has a coral reef or two… or plenty.
Luckily for us, Tobago has many.
Check out this coral reef map I found below on the World Resources Institute website.
What Is A Coral Reef Anyway?
That bastion of knowledge (Wikipedia… tee hee) defines coral reefs as follows:
“Coral reefs are diverse underwater ecosystems held together by calcium carbonate structures secreted by corals. Coral reefs are built by colonies of tiny animals found in marine waters that contain few nutrients. … Most reefs grow best in warm, shallow, clear, sunny and agitated waters.”
That last line sounds like Tobago self!
Without further delay let’s size up the competition.
In Tobago, if you’re talking reefs, no doubt you are talking Buccoo Reef.
Since the 1970s Buccoo Reef has captured the fascination of visitors to Tobago AND the world at large.
In fact, Buccoo Reef got the attention of one Jacques Cousteau.
Quite possibly one of the most well-respected oceanographers and explorers in modern history.
Mr. Cousteau’s humble opinion was (and I quote): Tobago’s Buccoo Reef is the THIRD MOST SPECTACULAR SIGHT IN THE WORLD.
That’s a serious endorsement but Buccoo Reef has some stiff competition coming from the East.
Clearly, Cousteau made this statement before ever seeing the coral reef in Speyside.
Speyside Reef has something that no other reef in the western hemisphere has…
You’ll have to read further down to find out exactly what it is.
Don’t you love the intrigue?
I know you do!
How Do You Assess A Coral Reef Death Match?
I chose five (5) criteria to judge these two coral reef behemoths.
1. Price – How much will it cost to go there?
2. Accessibility & Duration of Trip – Is it easy to get to by land and/or by sea and how long will I be there?
3. Commercialization – Will there be lots of other tourists there?
4. Flora & Fauna – What type of aquatic life will I encounter there?
5. Perks – Do any extras come with this trip?
6. Downsides – Are there any negatives I should know about?
Important to note is that the absolute best way see either of these coral reefs is by glass bottom boat.
Cecil Anthony, a son of the Tobago soil is credited with developing the glass bottom boat.
Mr. Anthony’s demise, ironically, was on account of a getting a fish bone stuck in his throat.
Though he is no longer with us, much of Cecil’s original concept for this reef going vessel is still used in Tobago and other parts of the world today.
Alright, are you ready to take a seat ringside and watch these two coral reefs duke it out?
In my best Mills Bee Lane III voice: LET’S GET IT ON!
Buccoo Reef, off the village of Buccoo
A visit to the Buccoo Reef can set you back $100 if you are departing from Store Bay.
Think $100 is too much?
Head down to the perks section to see exactly what you get for that amount.
Seems like a no-brainer to me.
There is a designated ticketing booth at the Store Bay beach facilities where you can purchase your ticket easily.
Accessibility & Duration of Trip
There are 2 main ways to get to Buccoo Reef.
You can either catch a glass bottom boat at Buccoo’s Marion Bay or you can get one at Store Bay.
Both Store Bay and Buccoo are easily accessible by land.
Many visitors find Store Bay more convenient because it is so close to the airport and the general Crown Point area.
For the purpose of this matchup, we will focus on Store Bay.
It takes 20 minutes to get to the Buccoo reef from Store Bay.
Boats leave the bay at 11am and 2pm daily.
The duration of the tour is roughly 2 hours and 30 minutes.
Buccoo Reef is a long established tourist attraction on the island.
An average sized glass bottom boat can hold roughly 60 people with some 12 glass bottom boats operating out of Store Bay alone.
If each boat pulled out of the bay at least once on a daily basis, packed with visitors i.e. 365 days per year, then that would put us a shade over 262,000 persons per year.
That’s not even counting reef-goers from Buccoo.
Let’s just say you won’t ever be alone on the reef.
I don’t know that the numbers ever get up that high but Buccoo Reef is one of Tobago’s most popular tourist attraction.
Still, even if the numbers were really half the guesstimated figure it would be heavy traffic for an island with a population of only 65,000.
Flora & Fauna
A multitude of sea creatures await you at Buccoo Reef.
Colourful fish like the parrot fish, maybe even a lionfish or two.
I myself have come across a swordfish on one of my adventures there.
The seafloor fauna is nothing to balk at either.
We’re talking brain corals, fire coral (don’t get close or it can be an itchy interaction) and a variety of sea fans.
Well for TT$100 you get way more than the reef.
Almost all Buccoo reef tours include the following:
1. Snorkeling at the Buccoo Reef.
2. A dip in the Nylon Pool – a shallow waist height pool in the middle of the ocean.
3. A stop over at No Man’s Land – a narrow peninsula (often the sight of many a seafood BBQ).
Many glass bottom boats are now outfitted with music systems.
This makes the ride to and from the reef chuck full of party vibes.
Depending on the tour operator you can have it all your way.
According to Ronnie Elliot, owner and operator of Cool Runnings Tours , you can custom build your trip with as much or as little activity as you want.
Contact Ronnie, let him know what you want and they will try their best to make it happen.
Worth mentioning is the fact that it is not necessary to know how to swim to visit the Buccoo Reef.
Usually a big concern for non-swimmers seeking marine adventure.
Buccoo Reef sounds impressive right?
There is a minus worth mentioning.
Over the years, the constant traversing has taken its toll on this reef.
Many would say that Buccoo reef is not nearly the attraction it was when Jacques Cousteau first saw it.
Despite conservation efforts, the wear and tear on the Buccoo Reef is evident.
Read on to find out what Speyside is bringing to the table.
Speyside Reef, off Batteaux Bay
A tour of Speyside’s prized reef is TT$200.
Not in the least when you consider what you’re getting.
Take a gander at the perks and see if you could walk away from such a deal.
Accessibility & Duration of Trip
By land, it is a 30-minute commute to get to the village of Speyside from Scarborough.
Speyside is on Tobago’s windward side and is almost at the very tippy top of the island.
The drive is scenic though with many breathtaking views and photo opportunities.
Once you’re in Speyside you can get to this coral reef via Batteaux Bay.
DevonneAdanna.com Insider Tip: Head over to Booking.com to book a stay at Top Ranking Hill View Guest House and make it a real island getaway filled with all the coral reef adventure you can stand.
At Batteaux Bay there are exactly 2 glass bottom boats operating tours of the reef.
We spoke to one of the glass bottom boat owners and operator, Mr. Max Davidson of Top Ranking Tours and he gave us all the skinny on what he calls, the “virgin” reef.
According to Max, the tour is about 2.5 hours.
And it only takes about 10 minutes to get to the reef.
Once the weather and seas permit, Top Ranking (the name of his glass bottom boat) leaves at 10:30am and 2pm.
With only two boats operating on this coral reef, you may find yourself the only person doing the tour on any given day.
Think… solitude and individual attention.
Top Ranking is only is only licensed to carry 25 persons.
And this is where you’ll be leaving from…
Flora & Fauna
Talk about untouched.
And time for the big reveal.
This underwater Carnival boasts the largest brain coral in the Western hemisphere.
Experiencing this brain in the flesh is one of those once in a lifetime, bucket list type activities so we encourage you to make it happen.
Most visitors often assume this brain coral is at Buccoo but no my friend that honour goes to Speyside.
In terms of fauna, the Speyside reef is an active reef.
Turtles, manta rays and even the odd nurse shark are just a few of the reef life you can encounter on a trip there.
So what exactly is included in your Speyside Reef tour?
Of course, a trip the Japanese Gardens.
A visit to the always enchanting Goat island.
This is a small deserted island just off the reef.
What is amazing about it is that the island is that it is a mini adventure all its own.
There is an abandoned house on the island with a reclaimed pool and even a little jetty.
Did I mention it was home to not, one but FOUR species of iguanas?
Also included is a tour of Little Tobago.
This little bird sanctuary is home to all manner of migrate and frigate birds.
If you’re an avid bird watcher, this is your spot.
If you’re looking for a small beach with nice water and a little alone time, Little Tobago has that too.
You don’t need to be an expert swimmer to experience Speyside’s coral reef (life vests will be provided), the current could be strong at times.
The boats do leave at set times but you are storngly encouraged to call and make solid prior arrangments.
Speyside is a long drive to find out there won’t be any tours happening on the day you decide to visit.
Which Coral Reef Won This Showdown?
Now that you’ve seen what these two coral reefs are made of, do you think you can choose?
Which coral reef would win in a fight? Buccoo or Speyside?
We’ll let you decide.
Tell us your choice in the comments below.