Running with the goats (and crabs) in Tobago | Word of mouth

Tobago’s unique Easter goat and crab racing in Buccoo is one for your bucket list. Aisha Sylvester tells us why

  • The Buccoo Goat Race, reportedly started by Barbadian Samuel Callender in 1925, evolved into the Buccoo Village Goat & Crab Race Festival. It usually takes place on the Tuesday after Easter at the Buccoo Integrated Facility. Photo courtesy Tobago Tourism Agency Ltd
  • Photo courtesy Tobago Tourism Agency Ltd
  • Photo courtesy Tobago Tourism Agency Ltd

If Easter weekend finds you in Tobago, there are myriad activities to enjoy — but only one is so iconic, so extraordinary, that it absolutely cannot be missed: the annual goat and crab races.

Hosted in the colourful village of Buccoo on the Caribbean coast, the undeniably quirky and unconventional spectacle of sprinting goats has served as the climax to the destination’s Easter observances for almost a century. Crab-racing was added to the mix more recently, for good (somewhat comical) measure.

Goat-racing emerged as the “poor man’s version” of horse-racing, with humble beginnings in the early 1900s. Since then, it has evolved into one of Tobago’s most recognisable cultural calling cards — warranting the unofficial extension of the traditional four-day long weekend by an extra day, known as “Easter Tuesday”.

Its elevation from the unpaved village streets to a state-of-the-art track at the Buccoo Integrated Facility is testament to just how embedded this activity is in Tobago’s DNA. Not to mention, the annual pilgrimage of throngs of locals and visitors to the otherwise sleepy seaside hamlet serves to reinforce its significance to the island’s tourism product.

If you find yourself among the thousands descending upon Buccoo on Easter Tuesday, rest assured you’re in for a truly one-of-a-kind experience. Nothing can fully prepare you for the sight of man and (miniature) beast dashing down the track, tethered by exactly nine feet of rope.

Try not to blink, because the races end in a flash — with the sound of thundering hooves and feet drowned out by the relentless clamour of cheering onlookers rooting for one pair or the other.

And make no mistake: once the starting gates open and the dynamic duos take off, it’s immediately clear that these are no ordinary goats, nor are their jockeys your run-of-the-mill sprinters, and winning isn’t something that happens overnight. Both humans and animals undergo months of intense training, and the goats are placed on strict diets in order to optimise their performance.

To make the most of the experience, getting there early is a must. Front-row bleacher seats are prime real estate, but the railings bordering the track get you so close to the action you can feel the ground shake as the contenders race by.

For this writer, though, the best spot in the house is at the very end of the track, facing the gates. From this vantage point, you can clearly identify the jockeys who have successfully nurtured a symbiotic relationship with their goat versus the ones who lack the coordination and timing to decimate the competition.

After you’ve had your fill of the caprine athletics, crab-racing allows you to get involved in the activities — no extensive training or diets required. Fair warning, though: while this particular activity may not demand great preparation or discipline, a healthy dose of patience and a sense of humour is beneficial if you attempt to guide these unruly crustaceans toward the finish line.

The event is about much more than racing, though. Spectators are enveloped in a community-wide ritual filled with food, culture, music, and all-around merriment. Against the picturesque backdrop of unspoilt Buccoo Bay (you can enjoy horse-riding tours here too!), vendors line the streets pedalling everything from delectable local dishes to vibrant crafts and clothing.

All in all, it’s easy to see why this unique festival has cemented its position as the main attraction on Tobago’s Easter calendar of events. Don’t miss it if you’re lucky enough to be on island when it’s taking place!

Funding provided by the 11th EDF Regional Private Sector Development Programme Direct Support Grants Programme.
The views expressed on this website are those of the the authors and do not reflect those of the Direct Support Grants Programme.