A travel guide to Barbados: What to see & do on this eastern Caribbean island
There’s more to Barbados than booshi hotels, dreamy beaches and Rum Punch cocktails says Nick Constance.
Ask any Bajan local for directions and according to Brett Callaghan – of Totally Barbados – they’ll probably send you on your way with something similar to this: “Make a right at the mango tree. Bubble up the street, wiggle ‘tru and go so”.
More lyrical than a GPS, for sure.
In addition to the beaches and bays you’ll find hedonistic nightlife, a Unesco World Heritage–listed capital, and a seriously good “surf ting” on the east coast. Not to mention the idyllic hotels, the warm and welcoming locals and the bluest sea you’ve ever laid eyes on.
One of the best things about Barbados is that all beaches are open – no private stretches of sand for residents or ‘hotel guests only’.
When you add it all up, there’s something for everyone, here. In fact, one million people visit the island each year, most of them coming from the UK, US, and Canada.
What to See and Do
The first morning, I visited George Washington House and the Garrison tunnels, in Historic Bridgetown. Two excellent guides provided a fun, but informative tour starting with an interesting film about George Washington’s stay in Barbados. Next came a chance to explore the recently discovered network of ‘secret’ tunnels running beneath the Garrison complex.
The tunnels were actually built – not for military purposes – but as a drainage course for the then swampy Savannah. The wet conditions of the swamp attracted mosquitoes, which in turn brought life-threatening Malaria. When the drainage system was built, death by Malaria fell drastically within the Garrison.
The 151-acre site was created in 1705 by the Brits to protect trade interests in the southern Caribbean. Each Thursday at 12 noon there is a Changing of The Sentry Ceremony performed in the 1858 Zoave uniform. A 3-hour Garrison Tour is offered on Thursdays to coincide with the Ceremony.
Nidhe Israel Museum
Housed in a restored 1750 community centre, this fascinating museum documents the story of the Barbados Jewish community. It’s one of the oldest synagogues in the Western hemisphere and a Barbados National Trust property.
In 2011, both the synagogue and excavated Mikveh (a bath used for the purpose of ritual immersion in Judaism) were designated as UNESCO protected properties within the World Heritage Site of Historic Bridgetown. Definitely worth a visit.
There’s so much to see and do on Barbados, the list is bewildering: Hiking, Biking, Segway trails, Jeep Safaris, Snorkelling, Surfing, Beach Horse riding and Jet Blading. Everything from hiring a private Catamaran for the day to visiting the island’s No 1 natural attraction, Harrison’s Cave, there’s something to satisfy even the most adventurous soul.
Let’s not forget, Barbados is also the perfect place to say “I DO”. Whether it’s a shoe-string thing, or a right Royal palaver, this jewel of an island has it covered. Oh, and you don’t need any notice to get married.
Tickle Your Palate
My first taste of Bajan hospitality was a hearty lunch at Champers restaurant, in Skeetes Hill, Christ Church. Without doubt, Champers is one of the best-located, high-end restaurants on the island.
Overlooking Rockley Bay, on the South Coast, its oceanfront setting is spectacular, especially if the sea is lively and the waves are crashing melodramatically against the rocks below; try for a table near the rail and get a free sea-spray facial.
It offers an eclectic menu fusing classic Caribbean and European dishes: my starter of Crispy Vegetable rolls, for instance, came with Mixed leaves, Soy and Sesame dip and the main course of Grilled Atlantic Salmon was pimped up with wholegrain mustard sauce, savoury rice and fresh, garden salad. I almost went for Cajun Dolphin, but emotion got the better of me. champersbarbados.com
I invited my friendly guide and driver, Emmerson Clarke, to join me for lunch and we had a great time chatting about cricket and London. In fact, much of my enjoyment of Barbados was down Emmerson’s insider knowledge and constant chit-chat. He even stopped off at his home, to see if he had a charger to fit my laptop.
If you’re looking for more casual dining, try Oistins, on the South Coast. Friday night at Oistins Bay Gardens is fish-fry night, when the area heaves with a joyous mix of locals and visitors alike.
Swordfish, Tuna, Marlin and Snapper are skilfully grilled outside the many wooden huts, and served with classic Bajan sides of Macaroni pie or rice and peas. Wash it down with a bottle of chilled Banks beer and you’ll be chatting Barbadian in no time.
This is high-energy, fun-filled, no-frills dining – you eat out of takeaway box seated at last-supper style communal tables. My enthusiasm was dampened by the fact we had to queue (at Pat’s Place) for nearly an hour, but I guess this speaks volumes for its popularity. Dress down Friday.
East Side Story
After lunch, Emmerson whisked us off for a tour of the East Coast, over on the Atlantic-whipped seaboard.
The landscape here is at times lyrical, at others bleak and desolate. With towering cliffs, rugged rocks and wild, exploding waves, this coast looks so very different from its Caribbean counterpart.
I probably wouldn’t spend an entire holiday on the East Coast, but it does make a fabulous day trip. The most easterly spot is Ragged Point, where’ you’ll find East Point Lighthouse. On a clear day the view extends along the entire coast as far North as Pico Tenerife.
You’ll also find the Andromeda Botanic Gardens, a 6-acre site in the village of Bathsheba, Saint Joseph. Offering light refreshments, the garden cafe is surrounded by lavishly coloured palms, orchids, and exotics shrubs – some of which are not found anywhere else in the Caribbean. A delight, even if you’re not a green-fingered wizard in the garden.
The Holy Spirit
In addition to the coastline, make sure you go inland and visit one of the plantation house hidden amongst the sugar cane fields.
Speaking of sugar, no visit to the island is complete without a daily tot of rum. Revered in Calypso and Soca songs alike and celebrated with its own Sugar & Rum festival, Bajan Rum has been produced here for over 300 years.
Rum shops are, in fact, as much a part of Barbados as the pub is to Britain.
Mount Gay, West Indies Rum, and Foursquare Rum are just some of the distilleries offering guided tours. In addition to the distilling process, many have added attractions such as a sugar machinery museum, folk museum, bottling plants, and a glass-fusing studio. It makes a fascinating tour.
So whether it’s on the beach, in the bar, or over a lazy, rum-soaked lunch this sweet, golden nectar simply tastes better in Barbados. Apparently, a ‘dooflicky’ is Bajan for celebration. Cheers!