Colors, seductive landscapes and blue ocean is first thing that pops in my mind when I think back about Barbados. It’s popular to visit during the dry season (January-June), however, the year around average temperature is 30 degrees and only difference one can notice is occasional 30 minutes shower during wet season followed by sunny sky that in minutes erases all the traces of rain. Nature is overwhelmingly beautiful year around.
To start– you are likely to arrive on the island either through Gently Adams airport or on one of the ship cruises.
Gently Adams Airport located at the south-east of the Island, is very busy welcoming flights from US, Canada and Europe multiple times a day, but it’s often used as island hopping point as well. Despite all the hassle, it works like a clock. You will be processed very quickly and on your way to your accommodation before you had time to take in beauty of the airport building. Checking couters are housed under the tent like roof top construction enabling sweet tropical breeze to wash over your face the moment you de-plane. There is a line of taxi parked right outside of the airport and they charge reasonable price to get you to your destination. However, for the local transportation when you are not logging suitcases, I would recommend little 8-10 seat buses. They are privately owned and no matter the distance they will charge you flat rate 2 dollars. Don’t let their worn out appearance stop you from hopping on, as it is part of island experience, very safe and often used by locals as well as tourists.
On the way from the airport architecture is the next thing that will catch your eye. Like many things on the island it is a result of economic expansion that occurred around the sugar cane plantations. Owners built magnificent properties that to this day stand the time to testify about their power and wealth as well colonial regime which produced deep division between plantation owners and slaves. Chattels, wooden cottages that were ment to be dismantled and easily transported from one plantation to next were occupied by slaves, but despite their humble appearance and size, they add warmth and charm to island. Often painted in bright, lively colors they give gingerbread house impression. To accommodate ever rising tourist pilgrimage spectacular hotel resources rose overlooking sandy beaches.
Your place to stay will be dictated first by the depth of your pocket and then entertainment options. If you fancy celebrity and socialites run-ins, then West coast is your choice. It will set you back quite a bit. A villa where Robbie William, allegedly, stayed includes private pools, direct access to the beach, security guard, private chef and house keeping and all that for 2000$ per day.
More affordable in price will be hotels or guest houses, especially on the south of the island. Choices are endless and they will not disappoint. Most of them have private pools and easily accessible top 10 world beaches like Sandy Lane, Batsheba (known by its crashing waves that attract champion surfers), or the south west corner of the island known for world class golf-courses.
Sandy lane is the most famous not only for the tournaments, but also for celebrities like Tiger Woods who got married right on the golf course. Overlooking the blue ocean with grass that acts like fitted carpet and frangipani trees all over the place makes it a perfect venue. Another interesting fact, the island is known as an exotic wedding destination. The fact that the marriage is internationally recognized and all you have to have with you is a valid international birth certificate, makes it even more alluring. The minister will come to any spot on the island to marry you. On the beach at sunset is very popular choice by newly weds.
So, once you have settled in and soaked up some sun, you will work up an appetite. I have very divided feelings when it comes to dining experiences. Don’t get me wrong, I have had one of the best tapas experiences right there on the island — the unforgettably restaurant named Tapas in Hastings overlooking the south coast boardwalk and ocean, noodles from Lime Grove take-out can go hand in hand with some of the best Street food from Thailand, for a Michelin star dining experience you don’t have to look too long — my favorite restaurant Cliff. Chef Paul Owens has many British stars and royalties flocking to the island for the sole purpose — dining a la carte. And the list goes on, but when I fly almost 10000 km, I want an island experience and typical food locals are queuing for. For that, unless you have good instructions ahead of time, you will have to look harder.
The Oistins fish market Friday night Fish Fry is the starting point. Among dozens of sea food grill joints one steals spotlight. You don’t have to be brainiac to realize, if people are queuing in front of place, that food must be good. The Oistins fish market is filled with small joints serving freshly caught marlin, sward, tuna, shrimp every day of the week, but a little shack called ‘Uncle George’ is a whole other story! For one, they are open only one day a week on Friday and two – you will find locals eating there and that is my kind of Michelin guide. Uncle George brings lot of heart and soul in his food. They don’t just serve grilled fish, the side dishes are equally spotlight worthy. Salads, mac and cheese, rice and pies, baked potatoes are usually not your everyday choice with this sort of sea food, but it works! Their home made tartar sauce is a well kept secret and it has left some serious Francophile’s speechless. If you ever find yourself nearby, this little place is simply must.
Next on the list is Shakers. The menu and atmosphere reminds of family’s Sunday supper. Rarely tourists find this little restaurant, since it is little bit off the road and not directly on the beach. Shrimp in tempura batter served alongside baked potatoes. Coated with bajan spice mix which you will end up looking to buy and coleslaw with a pineapple dressing. Simple, effortless, yet so exciting to eat and you will notice that locals are dining there, since their tables will continue growing as the night progresses and new diners arrive. They stay quite late and share their tales of island gossip.
Next spot is Bombas which is also somewhat difficult to find for two reasons: one it is not well marked from the street and two… it has a bit odd working hours, but your effort will be rewarded once you try their fish chowder, fresh lobster or my favorite: scallops seared to the perfection with a ginger scallion marmalade… and the fact that the ocean is an arms reach from your table is just the cherry on top!
When it comes to satisfying your sweet tooth, you have to indulge in authentic and original rum cake called rum baba which is buy the way the number one recognized souvenir of Barbados. Originates from an over 100 year old family recipe….
And of course don’t forget to hydrate and take advantage of the coconut water which is sold on every corner. With machete’s skilled men open it before you and it costs almost nothing! And if your choice is something stronger….then making a day of visiting one of the rum distilleries will not disappoint. There are a few of them and Mount Gay and St. Nicolas Abbey are among the most famous. They showcase how sugar cane was ground and turned into rum. You can have 10 and 15 years old rum tastings and buy a bottle or two to bring with you. For a small extra you can have the bottles engraved with a personalized message. Their interior show cases furnishing and lifestyle of earlier ages.
Swimming with sea turtles and snorkeling over ship wrecks is another very popular tourist attraction. Catamaran cruises are well advertised and impossible to miss. They are a lot of fun, if the reason you get on them is partying and enjoying rum cocktails, but actual experience of snorkeling is not very entertaining, since all of the sudden you will find yourself swimming and bumping into twenty or more people in very confined space and it will take away from the experience itself. Locals have advised me and thank God I’ve listened and rented one of the smaller boats. They take 2-4 people max. Take time over the wrecks once big catamarans are gone and even make sure to capture your underwater experience with cameras. On the way back small snacks and cocktails will complete the experience.
The hilly center of the island has botanical gardens and underground caverns. They are some what reminiscent of the Highlands, hence the nickname ‘the Scotland District’. I just fell in love with Hunte’s Garden. What happens here is that owner took a stable and turned it into colonial style house. The carefully cultivated and nurtured rain forest surrounding it makes it look like scene from a movie …. you can explore it for hours and you are welcome to sit on one of the benches and chairs randomly scattered through the forest. Don’t forget your book because it is the coziest place to escape reality and melt into this serenity. A one of a kind experience! At end of the tour you will be invited into the house, where every nook is filled with history and carefully selected pieces. You will be served with rum punches or lemonade made from freshly picked fruit from their garden and spikes with freshly ground cinnamon. Sit and enjoy it and have your camera ready, because you will have company joining you – birds and animals are so used to the people, they will drop by for sure!
The Island is heaven for shopaholics. I mean designer clothes and accessories, best emeralds in the world at best price and of course art work. By far this is the most organized duty free shopping which I have experienced. You don’t have to worry about duty free papers, filling them correctly, leaving with the customs and than waiting and waiting for the reimbursement which more than once does not happen, here you shop tax free on the spot. All you have to memorize is the number if your passport and the number of your return flight.
And lastly, first of August is Barbados’s annual carnival. In the past it commemorated the plantation owners custom of allowing a day for celebration after the sugarcane crop was in. In sequins and skin hugging spandex costumed paraders, more than 10 000 of them, jump their way through the streets of Bridgetown. Locals are immensely proud of this carnival and take it very serious that is why it is most likely that on that day their national pride – Rihanna will be there and partake in parade. It is one of a kind experience.
And to sum up, if you find yourself on this dreamy island remember a little please and thank you will get you everywhere, arrogance is something they don’t tolerate no matter how highly you think of yourself, look for local food and never-ever speak poorly about Rihanna.