Travel Expert Lewis shares his recommendations and experiences from beautiful Barbados. Let’s say, he is something of a guru on Barbados!
An island full of history, hospitality, tax-free shopping and copious amounts of rum, Barbados is an ideal destination for those who are making their first visit to the region. It’s also great for those more seasoned island-hoppers looking for Caribbean culture and beaches without too long a flight.
The most easterly of the Caribbean islands, Barbados benefits from arguably some of the finest weather and the best sunsets in the region. There are beaches on both sides of the island; the east coast, facing the choppy waters of the Atlantic Ocean, is perfect for watersports lovers. For those who prefer something a little more relaxing, there’s the west coast, which faces the calmer waters of the Caribbean Sea. This area is great for diving, snorkelling and catamaran sailing. If you can’t decide between the two, or fancy experiencing a bit of both, Barbados is only 21 miles long and 14 miles wide, so it’s easy and quick to get around.
Barbados seems to have perfected the balance of Caribbean hospitality and culture, as well as throwing in a bit of British colonial history to the mix. This is a fantastic destination to explore! Here are my top recommendations for a first timer to Barbados.
Oistins on a Friday night
During the day, it’s a sleepy little fishing community, but as the sun sets every Friday night, this small town in the parish of Christ Church comes alive. Both locals and tourists flock here to let their hair down! They come to eat, drink, dance and socialise.
All over Oistins there are food stalls selling local fish dishes as well as jerk chicken, peas and rice and bottles of the local beer. All the while, reggae music plays and dancers and other artists perform on the central stage. There are also local craftsmen selling souvenirs on the beach. If you are looking for a quintessential Bajan experience, visiting Oistins on a Friday night is a must. In fact, a lot of hotels will offer an excursion to the Friday fish fry that you can book once you’re out there. Some of these packages include your meal, but this will tie you to one particular outlet. Opt for an excursion with transport only so you can wander round and explore more freely then settle on a street food seller that suits you. If you do anything in Barbados, make sure you go here.
Tour Harrison’s Cave and its surroundings
Harrison’s Cave is tucked away in an unassuming gully in the central uplands of Barbados and has been naturally formed by water eroding the limestone rock. There are a few different options available to view this natural wonder. A good option when travelling with children is to take the tram tour at 60 Barbados dollars per adult (£24 approximately) or 30 dollars per child (£12 approximately). This tour takes you on a custom-built electric tram down into the cave, with expert commentary from an on-board tour guide. There are also two opportunities to stop, get off, have a look around and take some pictures of the waterfalls, stalagmites and stalactites that surround you.
If you’re 16 or over and looking for a bit of adventure, the eco tour will take you around the nature trails that surround the cave, before you strap on your headlamps and clamber through the cave’s natural passages, just as the early explorers did. This four-hour tour is great fun but will set you back $200 (or around £80).
Take a reggae bus to Bridgetown or Holetown
There is so much to see in the island’s two largest cities. They are both a tax-free paradise, offering up countless jewellery shops and duty-free stores. Holetown is home to the Lime Grove Lifestyle Centre. This high-end shopping centre boasts, among others, stores such as Louis Vuitton, Hugo Boss, Cartier and Ralph Lauren. The urban capital, Bridgetown, is home to the Agapey Chocolate Factory. Tours of the factory go three times a week, but ensure you book early.
For those interested in sport, the Kensington Oval cricket grounds are located about a 15-minute walk north of Bridgetown, hosting a number of the West Indies’ international matches. Be sure to check your travel dates if you want to catch a game or simply just book a tour of the grounds to learn about the history of cricket in the West Indies.
To get to either city, do as the locals do and head to one of the many bus stops located near your hotel. There are two bus routes, which go clockwise and anti-clockwise around the island. The government puts on a public bus service around this route, but in addition to this, there are the privately owned reggae buses. Running to no particular timetable but being much more frequent than the government buses, the big, yellow reggae buses are owned by the bus drivers themselves, are fully insured and are all unique in design. A single fare is $2 (80 pence!) and they all play loud reggae music or the local radio stations. Simply press the bell when you want to stop and they will pull over wherever you want. Travelling on one of these buses is an experience in itself.
Take a tour of the Mount Gay Rum distillery
Where would the Caribbean be without its rum? Well, probably in the same place they are now, but they wouldn’t be as laid back! Rum began life as a by-product of the sugar industry and was originally so potent and undrinkable it was known by the name ‘Kill-Devil’. It took a lot of passion, science and ingenuity to perfect it into the drink we now know as rum and what better place to learn the history of the tipple than at the world’s oldest surviving distillery? A tour of Mount Gay’s Bridgetown distillery will not disappoint, especially when it gets to the tasting! A sample of a wide selection of rums rounds off the tour nicely but if you still want more then you have to try the cocktail-making tour, which concludes with a competition against your fellow tourists to make the best cocktail using the ingredients put before you. Three guesses what your prize is if you win!? If you still want more rum, there is a fantastic bar in the main guest reception area that offers drinks made with the island’s favourite strong stuff… Maybe best to get a taxi back!
Step on board Concorde
Did you know that Concorde used to operate a regular, scheduled service to Barbados? Did you also know that due to the time zone change and the aircraft’s phenomenal speed, Concorde actually arrived into the island before the time it took off in Heathrow?
Located just next door to Grantley Adams Airport, the Concorde museum is the must-see attraction for the plane geeks among us. A purpose-built hangar houses G-BOAE: the last Concorde ever to fly supersonic and the first Concorde used by the Queen, still in its British Airways livery.
Learn about the engineering feats that made this plane possible, re-live the glory days of this magnificent plane and take a seat in the most sought-after chair that all supersonic passengers scrambled for: Seat 1A. This was not your standard extra leg room seat! 1A was the seat the Queen travelled in whenever she flew Concorde and was located directly in front of the speed and altitude displays that showed passengers the progress of their journey.
The Concorde museum also features artefacts from the days of faster-than-sound travel, such as the personalised cutlery, crockery, crew uniforms and tickets, and there are plenty of friendly and knowledgeable guides to show you around. Many of the Concorde pilots fell in love with Barbados when they flew into Bridgetown, so a lot of them now have houses on the island. Although the flight time now is a bit longer, they regularly come to the museum to give talks about what it was like to be in the elite club of Concorde pilots, a smaller club than the number of US astronauts that have been to Space.
Tour the west coast by boat and meet the turtles
You simply can’t visit Barbados without getting into the crystal-clear waters of the Caribbean Sea. The best way of doing this is by taking a catamaran trip up the west coast. Nearly every hotel will offer such a tour and it comes highly recommended. Greeted with a class of juice or a rum punch (naturally), you will board your catamaran from the beach of your hotel and take to the waves. An expert crew will be able to find exactly where the sea turtles are swimming, then it’s snorkels on and into the water to meet them and to explore the marine life around you. Of course, most hotels will also offer diving courses if you wish to dive deeper and see more, but if you’re just starting out then snorkelling (either from the beach or from the sea) is a great place to begin.
Barbados really can offer something for all travellers, be it romance for couples, fun for families or just a bit of peace, quiet and culture. The people are just as warm and inviting as the waters that surround their island paradise, and you will get on famously with everyone you meet. If it’s your first time visiting the Caribbean, you will love the perfect mix of British and Bajan cultures and the warm friendly welcome that awaits you. The locals all believe that once you’ve been to Barbados, you will never holiday on any other Caribbean island but their own again!
Has Lewis tempted you to try Barbados? Take a look at our luxury Barbados holidays or call him direct on 01293 765452* for more tips and recommendations.
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