As you might expect from a Caribbean island, Barbados has white sandy beaches, turquoise blue water and year-round temperatures in the eighties, but its distinct personality and adventurous spirit are really what set it apart. The locals call it “a Bajan thing”, which describes everything from their easy-going demeanor and distinct dialect to their unique cooking style.
Tucked away in the southeastern region of the Lesser Antilles – directly east of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, southeast of St. Lucia, northeast of Tobago and Trinidad, and southeast of St. Lucia – Barbados is the easternmost island in the Caribbean. With the Atlantic Ocean bordering its northern and eastern coastlines, there is no shortage of surfing, fishing and breathtaking views. In fact, the east coast is home to the world-famous surfing site known as “Soup Bowl”, located in Bathsheba, which hosts national and international surfing tournaments throughout the year. Along the southern and western coasts, the calm waters of the Caribbean are ideal for swimming, snorkeling and water sports. This is where you’ll find the majority of the island’s hotels and resorts. Plus, the southwest coast is home to Carlisle Bay Marine Park, which features six shipwrecks and colorful marine life for you to explore.
To truly see all the island has to offer, you’ll probably want to rent a car or as the locals say, “hire a car.” This is probably the easiest and most affordable way to see the island, though keep in mind you will be driving on the left side. If you are not used to this style of driving, you may want to practice in a low traffic area before venturing on to highways or the busy streets of the island’s capital, Bridgetown. If you decide to rent a car, keep in mind that drivers must obtain a local driver’s permit, which can be purchased from most car rental companies or a local police station.
Getting around in Barbados is fairly easy once you are used to driving on the left. The island is divided into eleven parishes, which are similar to counties and make it easy to identify where you are. Follow H1 and H1B along the west coast and keep a careful eye out for signs indicating public access to beaches. Most of the west coast is dominated by private access hotels and resorts, so your best bet for enjoying the coastline is to watch for these public access areas.
Carlisle Bay, which is just south of Bridgetown, has a lovely stretch of beach that spans from Needham’s Point up to the capital. Standing at the very edge of Needham’s Point you’ll find the ruins of Charles Fort, which was built by the British in 1650 to protect the entrance to Carlisle Bay. The fort has been restored and now features a picturesque brick-lined cannon walk that overlooks the lapping blue ocean and displays 24 powder cannons from the early 1820s.
While in Carlisle Bay, be sure to check out the action at The Boatyard (+1 (246) 436-2622), where you’ll find Adventure Beach, which offers fun beach activities like ocean trampolines, iceberg rock-climbing and a water slide. Also available for rent are Wave Runners, kayaks, glass bottom boats, beach volleyball and more. The Boatyard’s oceanfront restaurant, South Deck Grill, is a great spot to stop for a bite and Sharkey’s Bar is considered “the liveliest bar on the island – day or night” with weekday parties like Fat Tuesdays, Sunset Wednesdays and Friday Night Lime.
From Carlisle Bay, follow H1 north into Bridgetown, the bustling capital. While this isn’t an ideal spot for tourists to be after dark, it’s one of the island’s best shopping destinations. Plus, the duty-free shopping means visitors will enjoy discounts up to 50% off prices you’d find back home – just make sure to present your immigration form or passport. DeCostas Mall, located in the historic Colonnade building on Broad Street, is the largest mall in Bridgetown with over 25 shops. Cave Shepard, also on Broad St., is the only department store on the island. For accessories and apparel that capture the Bajan spirit check out Ganzee, also on Broad St., which sells everything from leisurewear to Bajan spices.
Continue north on H1 to the Malibu Beach Club and Visitors Center (+1 (246) 425-9393). Here you can take a tour of the Malibu rum distillery and enjoy complimentary mixed drinks on Brighton Beach. Open Monday-Friday 9am-5pm.
The Mount Gay Rum Distillery (+1 (246) 425-8757, website) is located a few minutes north of the Malibu facility and is home to the world’s oldest rum, which dates back to the early 1700s. Tours run hourly beginning at 9:30am-3:30pm Monday through Friday and lunch tours are available on Tuesdays and Thursdays at noon and include a buffet of island fare.
Continuing up the west coast on H1 toward Holetown, you will find a number of public access beaches, including: Batts Rock Bay, Crystal Cove, Tamarind Cove, Sandy Lane Bay and others. Holetown is a lively beach in the parish of St. Thomas. It offers a number of hotels, restaurants and charming boutiques. East of Holetown is Harrison’s Cave (+1 (246) 438-6640, website), which is a natural phenomenon of stalactite and stalagmite formations as well as an underground waterfall. Harrison’s Cave is open Wednesday- Sunday and tours run from 9am-4pm. Prices are $25/adult and $12/child (16 years and under).
There are several more public access beaches north of Holetown, including Alleynes Bay, Mullins Beach and Cobbler’s Cove. As you visit the west coast beaches, beware of the indigenous machineel trees which have a grayish trunk, shiny green leaves and bear fruit that look like greenish yellow apples. These trees, which stand about 50 feet tall, are considered the most poisonous in the world and merely touching them can result in severe skin blistering. Make sure not to brush up against them or take shelter under them during a rainfall. Also, it’s not unusual to find apples strewn along Barbados’ west coast beaches. While some may be harmless, accidentally eating an apple from a machineel tree can be fatal.
The next major town north of Holetown is Speightstown, in the parish of St. Peter, which is known for its excellent swimming and snorkeling conditions. If you’re an art lover, the Gallery of Caribbean Art (+1 (246) 419-0858, website), located on Queen St. in the Northern Business Center, is worth a visit. It exhibits paintings, sculptures and photography from the region’s finest artists. Hours are weekdays 9:30am-4:30pm and Saturdays 9:30am-2:00pm.
Take H1B to the northern end of the island where you’ll find the parish of St. Lucy. This is the least touristy area of the island and is famous for its natural beauty with attractions like The Animal Flower Cave, located at the northernmost tip. The Animal Flower Cave is the only accessible sea cave on the island and inside you’ll find water pools filled with colorful sea-anemones, which the locals call “animal flowers”. The Animal Flower Cave is open daily from 9am-4pm for and guided tours cost a small fee of approximately $2. For more information call +1 (246) 439-8797.
As you make your way around to the northeastern side of the island, H1B intersects with H1C and connects with H2 near St. Lucy’s Church. Take H2 to the Barbados Wildlife Reserve (+1 (246) 422-8826, website), which is home to a broad array of wild animals, including a tribe of 26 Barbados Green Monkeys. The park is open daily from 9am-5pm (the last admission is at 4pm) and the best time to catch a glimpse of the Green Monkeys is around feeding time at 2pm. Ticket prices cost $11.50 for adults and $5.75 for children ages 12 and under. Ticket prices include admission to Grenade Hall Forest & Signal Station attractions, which features tours of the island’s original signal station and access to hiking trails through Grenade Hall Forest.
As you continue on your way, you’ll notice that the east coast of Barbados is far less populated than the west coast and is known for its breathtaking views of the rugged Atlantic coastline. Continue on H2 south (a.k.a. the East Coast Road), stopping to admire the views at Cattlewash Beach and check out the surfers at the “Soup Bowl” in Bathsheba. Just below Bathsheba you will find the Andromeda Botanic Gardens perched on a hillside overlooking the ocean. Spanning over six acres, the gardens contain hundreds of species from all over the world. Call +1 (264) 433-9384 for details.
South of Bathsheba, H2 turns into H3, which you can follow along the coast to other public access beaches like Martin’s Bay and Bath. Southeast of Bath is the East Point Lighthouse, located at Ragged Point which is the easternmost tip of the island. On a clear day, you can admire the view all the way up the coast from this spot. Follow H4B as you wrap around to the southern coast of the island. Bottom Bay, Crane Beach and Foul Bay all have public beach access. Turn on to H6 and head towards the island’s fishing capital, Oistins.
Continue southwest on H6 until you reach Oistins. Here you’ll find an open air fish market, which is open daily and offers fresh selections of dolphin, kingfish, sailfish, barracuda, tuna, red snapper, chub and, of course, the fish of the island: flying fish. Be sure to come back on a Friday evening for the weekly “Friday Night Fish Fry,” which features Calypso music, local artisans, rum punch drinks and a variety of Bajan fish dishes. The festivities begin at 6pm and you can expect to pay about $7 – $10 per plate.
Just south of Oistins is one of the most popular beaches in southern Barbados. Its real name is Enterprise Beach but it has become known as Miami Beach over the years because, as the locals will tell you, it’s great for bodysurfing and body watching. While it remains relatively uncrowded during the weekdays, it is a popular destination for locals on the weekends.
On the very southern tip of the island, you’ll find Silver Sands beach, which is most well-liked amongst windsurfers, especially during the island winters when the trade winds create the perfect conditions for the sport.
Travel along H7 to complete the loop around the southern end of the island. You’ll find that this area has dozens of public beach access points and is one of most touristy areas of the island. Beach chair and umbrella rentals can be found on most southern beaches. End your day at St. Lawrence Gap, located off H7 in St. Lawrence, where you can enjoy Happy Hour as you watch the sun set over the bay and choose from several superb restaurants for dinner.
Whether you’re traveling to Barbados for action and adventure or just some good old-fashioned R&R, the island has a lot to offer. Horseracing is one of many beloved traditions on the island and the grass track at The Garrison Savannah has been home to the sport since 1865. Races continue to be held there every month, including the Caribbean’s premier horseracing event, the Sandy Lane Gold Cup, which takes place every March. The Garrison Savannah also hosts Barbados’ very own Triple Crown: The Banks Barbados Guineas is the first leg (every April), followed up by the Pinnacle Feeds Midsummer Creole on Saturday, July 4th and concluding with the United Insurance Barbados Derby, scheduled for Saturday, August 8th. For more information and a complete calendar of events, visit here or call +1 (246) 426-3980.
Polo is another Barbadian sport with a long history, dating back to 1884. The sport has flourished since its inception, resulting in the development of four Polo fields: Holders and Waterhall, which are located in the parish of St. James, and Lion Castle and Clifton, in the parish of St. Thomas. Polo events take place January through early May. Visit online or call +1 (246) 432-1802 for more information.
Golf has a major presence on the island too. In December 2006, Barbados became the smallest country to ever host a World Cup, which was held at the world-famous Sandy Lane Country Club. The island features five PGA standard courses: the Country Club and Green Monkey courses, designed by Tom Fazio, are both located at Sandy Lane on the west coast along with Robert Trent-Jones Jr.’s course at the Royal Westmoreland; the Barbados Golf Club and Rockley Golf and Country Club are located on the south coast.
For more information:
Sandy Lane Country Club: +1 (246) 444-2000, website
Royal Westmoreland: +1 (246) 422-4653, website
Barbados Golf Club: +1 248-8463, website
Rockley Golf Club: +1 (246) 435-7873, website
If water sports are more your speed, be sure to consider snorkeling and scuba diving. With water temperatures ranging from 77°- 84°F, Barbados is one of the few islands where you can snorkel and scuba dive year-round. Plus, the island is completely surrounded by coral reef so there is no shortage of underwater scenery. Tour operators offer every kind of adventure, from exploring reefs and shipwrecks to swimming with sea turtles, and if you’re really brave, a shark dive. Snorkeling trips start at $25/person and scuba diving starts at $60/tank. Other water activities include banana boats, catamaran sailing, windsurfing, waterskiing, jet skiing, ocean kayaking and tube rides. For more information and prices, check out Barbados Blue (+1 (246) 434-5764, website) and Reefers & Wreckers (+1 (246) 262-6677, website).
One great way to see the island and meet the locals is to lace up your sneakers and participate in one of the national hikes that take place at different locations every Sunday. The hikes are organized by the Barbados National Trust and are free of charge, although donations are welcome. The morning hike typically begins at 6am while the afternoon hike starts around 3:30pm. For a calendar of locations, visit FunBarbados.com.
Eat & Drink
When eating and drinking in Barbados, keep in mind that most prices include 15% VAT (value-add tax) and often include a 10% service charge. While an additional tip is not required, it is appreciated.
Jumbie’s Restaurant & Bar (St. Lawrence Gap, Christ Church +1 (246) 420-7615)
A five hour daily Happy Hour, plus beautiful views of the bays allow you to enjoy the sunset while taking advantage of discounted rum cocktails. The upstairs dining pavilion offers a full dinner menu of island favorites, such as Jumbie’s Fish Trio and Molasses Painted Steak. After dinner the downstairs transforms into a nightclub with DJs and live music. Appetizers start at $7; entrées at $20. Happy hour: 5pm – 7pm and 10pm – 1am daily, all day Sunday.
Pisces (St. Lawrence Gap, Christ Church, +1 (264) 435-6564, website)
Situated along the water’s edge of St. Lawrence Gap, Pisces is known for its excellent seafood and romantic ambiance. Entrees include local specialties Seasoned Bajan Flying Fish and Caribbean Lobster. Entrees start at $25. Reservations are recommended.
Brown Sugar (Bay Street, Aquatic Gap, St. Michael, +1 (246) 426-7684, website)
Located in a restored Barbadian home just south of Bridgetown, Brown Sugar features traditional Barbadian and Caribbean specialties. They offer a four-course all-you-can-eat lunch buffet, which includes an array of soups and salads as well as island favorites such as flying fish (prepared fried or steamed), macaroni pie, Bajan fish cakes, and souse (pickled pork). They also offer an expansive dessert menu that includes everything from Bajan Bread Pudding and Rumballs to Chocolate and Vanilla Gateaux. The lunch buffet is offered Monday – Friday and Sundays 12:00pm – 2:30pm and costs about $25/person. Dinners are served a la carte and the menu includes favorites such as Creole Fish Chowder, Tropical Fish Kebab, Curried Coconut Shrimp and Striploin Steak. Entrees start at $18.
The Waterfront Café (The Careenage, Bridgetown, +1 (246) 427-0093, website) is probably the most sought-out restaurant in Bridgetown. With both indoor and waterfront dining options, The Waterfront Café offers a full menu and nightly entertainment. The menu is a mix of Caribbean, American and seafood dishes, offering items like Bul Jol (cod fish salad), Pepperpot (a hot and spicy meat dish), the Bridgetown Burger and even a Philly Steak. Lunch prices start $7 while dinner prices start around $15. Open daily.
Where to Stay
The majority of the island’s hotels and resorts are located on the southern and western coasts. There are dozens to choose from with a broad range of prices. Hotels on Barbados generally have seasonal pricing; summer season is considered to be April 15 – December 14 and the winter is December 15 – April 14.
The west coast is by the far the most expensive area on the island when it comes to finding lodging and some rooms cost over $1,000/night. The accommodations at Tropical Escape (website) are a good value for your dollar with spacious rooms, balconies, a swimming pool with pool bar and easy access to Paynes Beach, which is just across the road. Summer rates start at $127 and winter rates at $151 plus tax.
Getting There: Flights arrive at the Grantley Adams International Airport, located on the southern end of the island. From there you can rent a car or catch a cab to your hotel. Cab fares generally cost about $30/hour.
Getting Around: The best way to experience the island is to rent a car. National Car Rentals is located at the Grantley Adams International Airport and will deliver your vehicle to your hotel free of charge. For a rate quote visit here or call 1-800-581-8773. A local license is required and can be purchased for $5 at most rental agencies or the local police station.
Currency: The local currency is the Barbados Dollar and the conversion rate is approximately $2 BDS to $1 USD. While many places accept US Dollars, you will most likely receive change in Barbados Dollars.
Weather: Temperatures generally are between 75 – 85F every day. The dry season is January to June. Though the island is located in the Caribbean, it is extremely rare to have a hurricane hit Barbados – the last one was in 1955.
Barbados Information: VisitBarbados.org
Safety: Swimming off the northern and eastern coasts of the island is considered extremely dangerous due to the strong currents of the Atlantic. The calmer Caribbean waters off the south and west coasts are more suitable.
Insider Tip: Try to avoid Bridgetown on Wednesdays. This is the busiest day for cruise ships coming into port, so the town and many tourist attractions will be extra crowded.