Barbados packs a punch (not only the rum kind). This small island welcomes over 1 million visitors annually and shows them all a good time. Whether you’re a gourmet diner, water sports nut or shopping addict, you’ll find plenty to please you here.
The rich and famous migrate here like clockwork. But there are Barbados activities for every budget. And no matter how deep your pockets, you’ll have a warm welcome in Barbados.
The beach is the place to be seen in Barbados, and all beaches in Barbados have public access. So however exclusive the hotel clientele, you too are entitled to walk along the beach and paddle in the water.
The West Coast is the major draw. It’s classic Caribbean beach territory: golden sands, palm trees, azure seas and glorious sunsets. Oh, and top-end hotels (think Sandy Lane).
On the Atlantic (East) Coast, trade winds blow and surf crashes. If you’re not worried about sun-loungers or waiters, you may enjoy this. Some beaches (e.g. Bath Beach) have lifeguards, but otherwise it is not ideal for swimming.
Bring your picnic box to the Kensington Oval, dance in the ‘Party Stand’ and relax in the pools. This is cricket, albeit Barbados-style.
Match tickets are reasonably priced and usually available on the day. If you’re new to cricket: Test Matches last for 5 days. One-Day Internationals are more manageable.
For people-watching, gambling and cheering, head to Garrison Savannah racecourse in the Garrison Historic Area outside Bridgetown, home to the Barbados Gold Cup for Thoroughbreds and the Barbados Triple Crown series.
May sees the Mount Gay Rum Barbados Regatta. Mount Gay also sponsors the Round Barbados Race in January.
Forgotten your Gucci or Ralph Lauren? Fear not, Barbados’s duty-free shopping malls will soon have you kitted out. Broad Street in Bridgetown can solve most high fashion dilemmas, but there’s also a mall in Holetown (shop in between cocktails).
For souvenirs, the ‘Best of Barbados’ stores sell beach towels and t-shirts (etc). The Pelican Craft Centre in Bridgetown sells handmade jewelery. Otherwise, vendors will approach you on the beach. Expect to haggle.
Sun-bathing is hungry work, but Barbados food is up to the job. Whatever cuisine you like, it’s here. Seafood is the big draw. It’s very fresh and very high quality. Tuna, snapper, barracuda, mahi-mahi and shrimp feature highly.
Dress codes are mostly low-key. “Day-time beachy, night-time peachy,” as they say.
The West coast is the big restaurant hub. Here are a few favorites:
- Daphne’s: Italian-Caribbean fusion
- Elbow Room: DIY stone-grilling in Holetown, then go on to Lexy Piano Bar or Angry Annie’s
- Lone Star: Sunday roasts and shepherds’ pie
- Groots: Curries and seafood in a traditional chattel house – add your signature to the walls
Cafes advertise traditional Caribbean food on Saturdays (“Pudding & Souse” and “Cow Heel Soup”). Sundays see the Caribbean buffets at hotels, accompanied by steel bands.
#5 Rum (and Other Drinks)
They make the world’s best rum (and a lot of it) in Barbados. Mount Gay, Cockspur and Rum Sixty-Six are all manufactured here. How you drink your rum is a personal choice (I’m a Rum Sour gal), but do try different brands to see how the taste varies. The Mount Gay Extra Old and 1703, in particular, are worth a shot.
Visit a factory to learn about rum-making: Mount Gay for the large-scale operation or St Nicholas Abbey for a more personalized view.
Banks is the local beer of choice. For soft drinks, there are fruit juices, punches and the usual sodas. Tamarind is a particularly tasty drink.
#6 Hitting the Road
Self-drive is the best way to see Barbados. Car rental is reasonably priced and it’s impossible to go very far or very fast. So just relax and enjoy the drive!
Head a few miles inland and you’ll be surrounded by banana trees and sugar cane. You’ll see immaculate cricket pitches and a multitude of churches. And, of course, you can stop just to admire the scenery.
Expect to get lost – road signage is unpredictable. But you will find your way again, even if you have to follow the local bus!
#7 St Nicholas Abbey
If you only leave your sun lounger once, then do so to visit St Nicholas Abbey. This 17th Century plantation has beautiful gardens, a Jacobean mansion and a rum-making operation.
To get to St Nicholas Abbey, you drive up Cherry Tree Hill. At the top, you’ll have a fantastic view of the Atlantic coastline. You then proceed along an avenue lined with mahogany trees towards the plantation.
A short black-and-white film, shot in 1935 by a former owner, records the sea passage from England to Barbados and life on the plantation. It was labor-intensive: 10 men were needed just to turn the windmill.
The rum-making operation here is small. Rum is distilled in the traditional batch still process and aged in bourbon oak casks. 8- and 12-year-old spirits are bottled in individually-etched glass decanters.
The Great House is decorated luxuriously, as befits a home of its status. A 1936 Gentleman’s Chair dominates the study and the dining room is laid for dinner.
#8 Harrison’s Cave
Harrison’s Cave is a 2.3km stream cave system located under the central highlands. Come here to find out about Barbados’s geological history.
A visit to Harrison’s Cave and the Cave Interpretation Centre tells you the history of the caves. Outside on the valley floor, admire the bearded fig trees (“Los Barbados” in Portuguese) that gave the island its name.
Then it’s onto an electric train and into the caves. While you “wow” over the limestone structures, the constant ‘drip-drip’ sound will remind you that this is an evolving cave system.
#9 Barbados Museum
The Barbados Museum is housed in the former military prison. The galleries here provide a wealth of information on the flora, fauna and social history of Barbados. Even the building is historical – the shady courtyards once rang to the sounds of working prisoners.
Find out about Barbados wildlife, including the 19th Century ecological disaster when mongooses were imported to control rats. Social history includes a song to “Jin Jin” (Queen Victoria), sung after emancipation in 1838. There are also map collections and descriptions of plantation life.
Located at the mouth of the Constitution River, the Barbados capital of Bridgetown has little in the way of tourist attractions, but is a pleasant city. The British founded Bridgetown in the 17th century, in the area now called the Careenage. Head there to see government buildings and a picturesque marina. The square at the end of the Careenage used to be called Trafalgar Square. Although the (official) name is now “National Heroes Square,” the statue of Nelson remains – for now.
By the cab rank is a memorial plaque: this is a description of the ‘Cage’, where runaway slaves were kept until their masters came to claim them.
Broad Street is lined with colonial-style buildings (think Scarlett O’Hara). Most are now banks or duty-free shopping malls. They provide scope for attractive photographs, even if the shopping doesn’t appeal.
Handy Tip: Buy rum here to take home. The shop takes your flight details and you collect the bottles at the airport. Now that’s what I call service!
– Louise Heal