Barbados Guide, Caribbean
Bottom Bay Beach, Barbados.
Exploring the island won’t take long, a day at the most if you keep moving and don’t doze off on a beach.
Barbados takes a conservative view of homosexuality and there is no gay scene so if that’s your inclination be very discreet.
Topless sunbathing or nudity out of doors is forbidden, as is the wearing of camouflage clothing! WTF?
Sargassum Seaweed overload clogs up beaches in some yers so check it out before booking, walls of this stinking stuff could take the sheen off your Caribbean vacation.
Trivia: Rihanna, the pop star, is a Bajan (aka Barbadian) or native of Barbados. Maybe that’s why she’s so keen on flashing her assets?
Barbados can be inexpensive or ignore-the-price luxurious due to the great variety of accommodation ranging from uber-luxurious resorts on the glam-sand west coast down to guest houses, hostels and B’n’Bs scattered liberally around; local public transport is cheap, beaches are available to the public for no charge and flights from the USA and Canada are fast (3-5 hours) and competitively priced. Direct flights from UK are also common and relatively low-cost though travel time is around 8 hours from London, England. More flights information.
Eating out can be expensive but Barbados does plenty of food stalls and rum shacks that are well priced.
Activities tend to be overpriced too so stick to walks, beaches and bus trips and you’ll find Barbados a fine budget destination.
Things to Do in Barbados
Apart from hitting the beaches you could
• stroll Andromeda Botanic Gardens in Bathsheba, east coast. Many and varied plants and trees are well laid out, photogenic and fascinating for gardeners but quite hilly and uneven for those with walking difficulties.
Alternatively, or as well, there’s a Flower Forest in St Thomas Parish with well organised winding paths taking you past astonishing, labeled tropical flowers. ‘A paradise’ some say!
• shipwreck diving.
• visit the Barbados Wildlife Reserve to see monkeys, turtles, iguanas, frogs, peacocks, crocs, humming birds and more in a delightful location; don’t miss monkey feeding at 2pm,
• check out George Washington House Museum in Bridgetown, though it’s more about the lovely house than the significant politician. Barbados is the only foreign state Washington ever visited. Interesting for oldies but the kids may die of boredom.
• take surfing or paddle boarding lessons with amiable and well-organised Surf in Barbados Surf School in Christ Church Parish.
• go caving in Harrison’s Cave, St Thomas, more or less the middle of the island. See magnificent stalactites, stalagmites and an underground river with a lively history, all in the comfort of a luxurious electric cart. It’s impressive but overpriced.
• horseback riding from Ocean Echo Stables in Newcastle, southern east coast. Friendly, efficient and not expensive. Alternatively another good stables is Caribbean International Riding Centre in St Andrew Parish, northeast Barbados.
• Golf. Various courses are on offer on the island but Apes Hill Golf Club is quite new and a favourite (of local monkeys) due to spectacular views, superb layout and friendly staff. Green quality is, however, substandard, some say.
• stroll the South Coast Boardwalk, a couple of kilometres that’s especially lovely at sunset but good early but it’s a bit hot for a midday hike. All ages and abilities use it – joggers, fast walkers, strollers, talkers and quiet people, wheelchairs, blind people, seniors, teenagers and babies in prams.
• visit stunning St. Nicholas Abbey among the sugar fields of the north island, an old plantation house with gardens, rum distillery, historic avenue of mahogany trees and breathtaking view of the island’s East Coast, with charming owners and staff.
• visit Hunte’s Gardens, NOT a botanic garden but an eccentric individual’s Eden of exotic tropical plants in a large gully, statues and quirky arrangements. It’s a photographic must and needs about 45 minutes but costs $15. The number 5S bus from the Fairchild Street bus station stops outside Hunte’s Gardens and runs roughly every hour.
And then there are the usual Caribbean island activities such as surfing, board surfing, zipline rides, submarine tours, scuba diving, ATV tours and catamaran trips.
Best Beaches on Barbados
There’s a clear distinction between this island’s wave lashed Atlantic east coast, tranquil west and southwest coast Caribbean waters and the half ‘n’ half southeast coast, where, as it happens, some of the best beaches are found.
All beaches are open to the public even if a property, such as a luxury hotel like Sandy Lane, appears to own the beach it dominates. They can own the sand up to the high water mark but strolling proles are free to wander and peep from the waterline!
The waves on this coast can make swimming challenging. Or fun, depending on your viewpoint!
Crane Beach gets a little narrow at high tide and the waves can be intimidating. The Crane Beach Hotel is out of the picture to the left. Photo by PatDoy.
Crane Beach has been topping the worldwide beach charts for many years with a winning combination of fabulously soft, pinkish sand thumped by fun, surfable azure waves and backed by steep dunes and mature vegetation. However, the beach width is shrinking, this is no place for relaxed swimming and forget snorkelling.
The adjacent headland houses an elegant old hotel, the Crane Beach Hotel c. 1867, which is unsurprisingly expensive. Photo.
Bottom Bay is the most scenic beach on the island, with brilliant, soft, pink sand, elegant palms and energetic waves of turquoise powering an unsafe undertow – and little else! Very few people around, no chairs, no hawkers (yet! ), no noise, only jagged cliffs and the sigh of the wind. Picnic but don’t swim. Photo at top.
Foul Bay is an unspoilt gem, a picturesque, secluded beach well away from the touristy, vendor-harassed, hotel-dominated west coast strands, but Foul Bay still has the usual facilities such as parking, toilets, showers and rangers. The sea is often rough with strong currents.
Silver Sands is Barbados’ best board surfing location with steady winds, just enough waves to make life interesting and an international competition every February, the Waterman Festival.
The famously opulent Sandy Lane hotel. Public access is permitted but not easy to locate. Try walking north from Paynes Beach. Photo by Randy Storey.
Milder waves and more accommodation and transport options than further along the south coast.
Miami Beach, aka Enterprise Beach, is an unpretentious beach loved by locals at the weekend, and they should know! The water is generally calm and turquoise, the sand powder white, the shore lined with shady casuarina trees, a lifeguard is on duty and showers, toilets are on site. Vendors too are there, but seem relatively relaxed and lacking in push.
Parking is easy, the place suits families very well as it’s safe enough to let the kids off the leash and outside the weekend it’s not crowded.
Miami Beach is two minutes from Oistins fishing village, so take a walk over there for a fishy bite if the beach food wagons don’t suit your palate.
Accra/Rockley Beach is one of the most popular beaches in Barbados, with a classic combination of fine features – clean, soft white sand, aquamarine waters that are generally not too bouncy, shade trees and useful kiosks, café along the shoreline. There is a lifeguard on duty in season, sun beds and parasols for hire and a few water sports facilities available. Nearby are a handful of little souvenir shops. But, Rockley is commercial and touristy! If you want isolation go elsewhere.
Dover Beach is a busy stretch of soft sand at the southern end of the St. Lawrence Gap, bordered by a number of hotels it hosts medium size waves and plenty of facilities for young and old visitors, as well as bars and clubs nearby to cater to the rampant in-betweens.
Worthing Beach, near St Lawrence Gap, is quite small but pristine, with calm crystal water protected by a reef and white sands.
Hastings Beach is a nice long patch of sand sheltered by artificial reefs and conveniently located near many sights, tourist accommodation and the new boardwalk. Some rocks and stones in the sea but none on the shore. A good family beach with plenty of facilities, snorkeling and turtle watching.
Carlisle Bay on the southern west coast not only offers tourists placid, clear turquoise Caribbean waters and brilliant white sand fitted with chairs and parasols. Swimming is relaxing but deepens rapidly and offers great snorkelling and superb shore diving with a number of wrecks and plenty of marine life – eels, turtles, lobsters, sea horses and a kaleidoscope of reef fish. Visibility is excellent and and currents negligible. Turtle snorkeling excursions are an option! The beach has some kids activity possibilities.
You can walk along beaches to Bridgetown in 20 minutes.
Folkestone Marine Park is not a regular beach, more a jumping-off point for self-guided snorkelling tours with masses of fish and turtles happily co-habiting with you and the kids, but steer well clear of the fire coral. The beach is actually quite small with shady picnic tables, toilets and showers. After that head down the road to Paynes Bay for a more normal beach.
Paynes Bay Beach is currently a serene, calm-water beach scattered with stones but is in danger of being overdeveloped – it already houses Sandy Lane Hotel at the north end around a headland and entrepreneurs appear excited about the proximity of the most famous hotel in Barbados.
Turtles, both green and hawksbill, nest and swim nearby so snorkelling is one of the things to do here and catamarans full of snorkists drop by regularly. Parking is difficult and access not obvious.
Mullins Bay is a popular destination for sunbathing, swimming and bridging the gap with some drinks. Mullins is a scenic bay with stereotypical soft white beach washed by calm Caribbean waters plus a beach bar, all necessary facilities and moderate snorkeling on offer unless you prefer to wreck the tranquility on a jet ski.
Brandons Beach/Brighton Beach are two halves of one glorious stretch of golden sand, with Brandons to the south and Brighton to the north.
This is another typical Barbados beach, with the perfect sand, calm azure waters and facilities up the wazoo, including lifeguards and security.
Cattlewash, Bathsheba, on the east coast, several miles long and battered by the Atlantic Ocean, it’s not very safe for swimming but great for walks. Photo by Postdlf.
Bathsheba Beach is a wonderfully scenic, rugged stretch of shore (and National Park) with magnificent rock formations and world-class Atlantic surf – the Soup Bowl wave is notorious – that comes in fast and clean, perfect for short boards. Bathsheba fishing village becomes Surf Central several times a year when surf competitions blow into town.
‘Normal’ tourists love the place for its unspoilt space and grandeur, who needs to surf? Walks are terrific, the view from Cherry Tree Hill is fabulous, bathing in rock pools at low tide is a delightful way to hang out and and there are some decent eating places nearby.
Locals swim here but you’d need to be quite confident to plunge into those waves, especially as sea urchins seem fond of these waters and the undertow is, literally, a killer.
Bath Beach in the Bathsheba region is protected by a curving bay and reef so unlike most east/south coast beaches the water is fairly calm with small waves and fine for a lazy swim. It’s little developed but still has lifeguards, parking, changing, picnic and other facilities, a bar, restaurant nearby and plenty of shade.
Barbados’s currency is the Barbados dollar (BD$) that has a fixed exchange rate of just about 2 BD$ = 1 US$, but dollars cash are accepted though change is given in BD$. Most credit cards are accepted. Other currencies can be easily changed at banks, and ATMs are everywhere in towns.
Electricity: Barbados uses a 120v/60hz system with US/Canadian style plugs.
Language: English is the official language and naturally leans towards British English.
Religion: 95% of the population are Christian, the majority being Anglican denomination.
The high (dry) season is, as usual in the region, December to April, with significantly less rainfall than July-October, which is also the hurricane/stormy season, meaning rougher waters, more cloud, debris on beaches as well as rain. Barbados is outside the principal hurricane strike zone.
The best months for a cheap holiday in Barbados are June, November and early December. September and October are the worst months.
Average high/low winter temperatures are 28C (83F)/21C (70F). Average high/low summer temperatures (July-September) are 30C (86F)/23C (74F).
The only international airport on the island is Grantley Adams International in the far south of Barbados. Direct flights from USA to Barbados fly from Miami in 3. 5 hours, New York in 4. 5 hours. From Toronto, Canada it takes 5 hours. Flights leave from other cities too bit not necessarily direct.
Non stop flights from UK are available from British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, mainly from London Gatwick or Manchester. Many British agents run charter flights to the island on good value packages.
Nationals from US, Canada, Mexico, UK, Europe and many other countries may stay in Barbados for 28 days with just a passport and return flight ticket. Cruise ship passengers OK unless they are citizens of East Europe, CIS, China, Taiwan, South Africa. Full Barbados visa information.
• Taxis have no meters but some destinations have fares fixed by the government, so check before getting in the cab.
• Car rental is not expensive but the Barbados road system is densely packed, they drive on the left (British-style), signage is erratic and car ownership almost 1-to-1 so traffic gets congested regularly around Bridgetown, especially at rush hours, which includes lunchtime! That being said, car hire is a fun way to explore the island’s attractions so do it, but drive with extreme care as roads can be narrow, very slippery when wet, in bad shape and pedestrians have a tendency to wander.
Bring your driving licence with you!
• Buses are cheap and run frequently along the south and west coasts so if you plan to stay there then using buses for main transport is workable. Fares are 2BD$ (1US$) per ride.
• Route Taxis, otherwise known as ZRs are cheap fare white minivans with purple stripes that stop more or less anywhere on a fixed route. There are also yellow private minibuses. Fares are about 2BD$ per ride.
• One of the best weekly events on the island is a local tradition in Oistins, west coast, where they hold a public, bargain-price fish fry – fresh out of the sea – every Friday, giving massed locals the chance for a noisy, colourful celebration of food, booze, music and ultimately dance.
• Regular Bajan food tends towards spicy fish dishes supported by cou cou, a kind of polenta, yellow corn cooked with okra or perhaps breadfruit and bananas.
• Salted fish appear on the menu a lot, as fish cakes for example, , an historical oddity from colonial times when salt fish could be stored for long periods without refrigeration.
• Fresh fish is naturally popular and often fried in an egg and bread crumb batter with heavy seasoning of fresh herbs, spices, garlic and onion.
• Meats? Barbadian roast pork is a delight and recognisable to English folk, as is black (and white) pudding, the white being sweet potatoes. Chicken is popular too, as a traditional Sunday lunch as well as more prosaically fried, barbequed or boiled.
• Carbohydrates are less British, with sweet potato, yams, breadfruit, bananas, cassava, rice, cou cou, pasta and potato all making an appearance.
• Vegetables are varied and often fresh in markets; the Saturday morning market in downtown Bridgetown is best.
Crime rates are low and the majority of visits are trouble-free although incidents of violent crime and opportunist thefts of wallets, handbags and personal possessions do occur.
Exercise caution when walking alone off the busy main roads and avoid isolated areas, including beaches, after dark. Do not carry large amounts of cash or jewellery. Valuables and travel documents should be left, where possible, in safety deposit boxes and hotel safes.
Tap water is perfectly safe to drink. Public health facilities are excellent.
Some west coast areas are basically playgrounds for the rich but it’s not difficult to find decent place to stay for a decent price. Dover Beach, for example, has a fine collection of budget hotels, hostels and guest houses, great sand and board sailing nearby and even the Friday Fish Fry in Oistins a step away (see Food above).
The east (Atlantic) coast is less attractive and has a smaller selection of hotels and guest houses, along with the limited swimmable beaches on offer; the south coast is the best bet for a large number of good value hotels, b’n’bs, guest houses, shops, restaurants, activities etc, along with some very fine beaches, albeit with some wave action; the west coast, aka Gold Coast, is the place for les riches to spend their hedge fund bonuses.
We searched for budget accommodation small size, on one popular website for 2013. Results: east coast, nothing; south coast 16 properties; west coast 1 guesthouse.
Traditionally all-inclusive hotels are the low-cost way to holiday on a budget but large families or even friendly families could share a villa rental by the sea for a modest price and save.
Apartments are often good value too, though some apartment hotels take on airs.
Whatever kind of place to stay you choose, search online using keywords such as cheap, budget, deals, offers, with Barbados, and something reasonable will appear. The budget is out there!