Barbados is the most popular Caribbean isle with us Brits, and even though it hasn’t been a colony since 1966, quaint traditions like afternoon tea and a lively game of cricket make this tropical island feel like a home away from home.
Luckily those similarities with Britain end with the weather. Its blue skies, palm-fringed sandy beaches and warm clear seas make it a year-round paradise.
Holiday on the posh west coast of Barbados, nicknamed the ‘Platinum Coast’, which has lots of luxury hotels and gourmet restaurants along its 24-mile length. Alternatively, the south coast is much more fun for couples and friends with its lively nightlife and more affordable accommodation. Pastimes here include diving and other water sports, as well as more relaxing pursuits like rum tasting and dancing.
Getting there/getting around Barbados
Virgin Atlantic and British Airways both offer daily flights to Barbados. BMI flies three times a week from Manchester (for the Cricket World Cup from Nov 2006-Apr 2007 then reverts to twice a week). Airtours, Excel, First Choice and Thomas Cook all have direct charter flights.
The local buses are cheap and pootle along at a chilled, Bajan pace. Or you can hire a car, you’ll need to get a licence but it only costs £2.60 and is an unusual souvenir. Taxis are easy to flag down but not metered so arrange a price before you set off.
All the beaches on Barbados are public so even if you’re not staying at the celeb-tastic Sandy Lane Resort for example, you can still take a stroll along the beach there. Previous guests have included Wayne Rooney and girlfriend Coleen, Laurence Llewelyn Bowen and Michael Winner. Like other west coast beaches it’s renowned for its soft, white-sand beaches. Others to head for include Paynes Bay, Mullins Beach and Sandy Lane Beach which have calm waters ideal for swimming.
If you want to try out some water sports, the south coast beaches like Accra and Dover Beach are better as they are wider, with bigger waves and have a cooling onshore breeze. The east coast beaches attract local surfers enjoying the lively swell – although the waters around Bathsheba aren’t suitable for swimming.
Get a rum fix at one of the famous rum factories, such as Mount Gay, Malibu and FourSquare, where you can tour around the factory, and then enjoy a tasty rum punch afterwards. If you’re here with the family you can take the kids around a historic sugar cane factory instead.
First timers to Barbados mustn’t miss the island’s most famous subterranean sight, Harrison’s Cave, which features some massive fairy-like grottos full of waterfalls, stalamites and stalactites. After you’ve emerged from the cave tour take a wander to Welchman Hall Gully where you might see wild green monkeys playing in the thickly wooded ravine.
There are plenty of historic sights if you fancy delving into the past. Gun Hill Signal Station was built in 1818 by the British and offers spectacular island views. If you’re a bit of a closet David Bellamy, a tour around Andromeda Botanic Gardens or the Flower Forest of Barbados will make your day.
The Friday night Fish Fry at Oistins is an authentic experience that the locals welcome tourists to. Oistin’s has the island’s largest fish market and everyone gets their dancing shoes on after dining on delicious barbequed fish washed down with a potent rum punch.
If you fancy dressing up and having some posh nosh, head over to the west coast for a gourmet meal. The local catch of the day such as flying fish or mahi mahi (called dolphin there) features on most menus. Renowned restaurants include The Tides and The Mews, which are both in historic Holetown. The Cliff in St James and The Restaurant at South Sea in St Lawrence Gap have both won awards for their international cuisine.
Barbados’s nightlife really sets it apart from some of the sleepier Caribbean islands. The best place to head is the southern town of St Lawrence Gap which has several bars and nightclubs, including After Dark and The Ship Inn.
For dancing Bajan-style, get over to open-air Harbour Lights nightclub on Bay Street. Jazz fans can see live performances every night at the Waterfront Café.
Barbados is a duty-free country so there’s plenty of incentive to get away from the beach for the afternoon and buy some souvenirs. Head to capital Bridgetown and take a wander down Broad St, which is home to the island’s largest department store, Cave Shepherd, as well as plenty of other smaller arts and crafts stores. The rum factories also have some unusual souvenirs to take home.
The modern, but traditionally designed Pelican Village is a great place to go to buy local arts and crafts like straw hats, leather goods and colourful pottery. Just don’t get there as a cruise ship excursion arrives, or you’ll find horrendous queues!
Barbados family attractions
Hotels in Barbados welcome families with kids, and most offer a bunch of supervised activities. There are plenty of places to take the kids around the island too. Andrew’s Sugar Factory is the country’s biggest sugar cane processor and takes you on a tour to discover how the granulated sugar we eat is extracted from sugar cane.
If you’ve hired a car, take a drive up to the northerly district of St Lucy and visit the Animal Flower Cave, a bizarre rock pool full of coloured sea anemones. You’ll see animals and plantlife at Barbados’ Wildlife Reserve, a friendly, walk-through zoo which has see green monkeys, iguana, turtles and deer. Or get underwater without getting wet with a ride on an underwater submarine through some pretty coral and fish.
Barbados day trips
Enjoy a nose around other people’s houses with the open house theme run annually by the Barbados National Trust from January to April. On Wednesdays you can tour around one of Barbados’s private homes, many of which date back to colonial times. The 17th century Sunbury Plantation House and and St Nicholas Abbey are open for visitors year-round.
Head to Bridgetown and learn more about Bajan history at the Barbados Museum. While you’re in town, you can poke your head into the 17th century St Michael’s Cathedral and pick up some souvenirs on Broad St.
Polo matches and race meetings are often held at the Garrison Savannah just outside Bridgetown – your hotel will be able to give you a timetable.