Barbados, in the Windward Islands of the SE Caribbean, is a popular holiday destination with people from the US and Europe, particularly the UK. Many people come for a couple of weeks and see little outside of their resort and the strip of beach in front of it.
And while it does have great beaches there is a lot more to Barbados including a fascinating history, great botanical gardens, cricket and music loving locals, and good food and drink.
We had a few days there as part of our island hopping through the Caribbean on a budget. Here are a few suggestions of things to do.
1. Visit Lots of Beaches and do Some Snorkelling
Don't restrict yourself to the beach where you're staying, Barbados has many beautiful white sand beaches. The west and south coasts are more protected than the east so these beaches are better if you want calm water for snorkelling.
Holetown Beach, Sandy Beach and Paynes Bay Beach are all good for snorkelling. The beaches adjacent to the capital, Bridgetown, are also good.
2. Go to Oistins Fish Fry on a Friday or Saturday Night
The township of Oistins, a short drive south of Bridgetown, is renowned for it's Friday and Saturday night fish fries. A strip of small wooden restaurants line the main street and the beach. There are more restaurants along an internal courtyard between the street and beach, so there are lots to choose from. And with so much competition the standard is high.
We went on a Friday night and had grilled and fried flying fish, fish cakes, salad and Banks beers – yum.
It goes from 6.00 pm to 10.30 pm with live and DJ music providing a great, Caribbean backdrop.
3. Spend Some Time Wandering Around Bridgetown
Bridgetown is easily explored in a day. A good starting point is the walkway along the river.
The pedestrian street of Swan Street is also a lively stroll.
Other sights worth seeing include St Michael's Cathedral which dates back to 1665, the Nidhe Israel Museum and Synagogue, which gives a well presented history of the Barbados Jewish community, and the Garrison Savannah historic district to the south of the city.
The beach area close to town is also clean and worth a dip.
4. Hire a Car for the Day and Explore the North of the Island
A great way to get to know a place is to have your own wheels and chart your own course. We're travelling on a budget so hiring a car is a luxury, but a day here and there is a wonderful indulgence.
In Barbados we hired a car for a day to explore the north and east of the island as we'd been staying in the south and the west.
We drove from Holetown on the west coast north to Speightstown, a less touristically developed coastal settlement.
We then headed inland to St Nicholas Abbey. This was a fascinating place. It is a grand old plantation house, one of Barbados's oldest. The house is in excellent condition, with rooms decorated in the style of the time.
It also houses a rum distillery and a free rum punch and rum tasting is included in the entry price ($US20/$BD40). There is also a fascinating short film which describes how the sugar cane plantation operated back in the 1930s using original footage taken at the time.
From St Nicholas Abbey it was a short drive to Cherry Tree Hill for expansive views of the East Coast.
We then headed down to Bathsheba for a close up of the wild Atlantic east coast. Bathsheba's coast is made all the more dramatic by large boulders that are strewn along the shoreline.
We then made our way to Welchman Hall Gully. This is a really impressive botanical garden that occupies a long gully.
It includes remnants of Barbados's original rainforest.
There's also a resident population of Barbadan green monkeys.
5. Have a Rum Tasting
This IS the Caribbean and RUM is the drink.
As well as the very mellow 12 year old St Nicholas Rum we tried Barbados has a number of other rums, with Mount Gay being the most well known. If you're really keen you can tour the Mount Gay Rum Factory which is just to the north of Bridgetown.
Whether it is the locally popular rum punch, or a mojito, or just a rum and coke on the rocks, it's not a bad thing to sip while you watch the sun go down over whatever beach you're sitting on.
Conclusion – Some Notes on Costs
Throughout our travels around the Caribbean we aim to live within a set budget. We've given ourselves a target of $AUS100/$US70 per night for accommodation. If we go over budget we reduce our other costs (ie food and activities) to compensate.
Barbados is considered fairly expensive for accommodation, but we found self catering apartments in the south (near Silver Sands) and on the uber pricey west coast (at Holetown) for around $AUS110 – 120 per night. By doing most of our own meals we also saved a fair bit.
We visited in May, which is low season and a good time to get accommodation bargains.
Another tip is that we hired the car the day before we were due to fly out. The hire car was delivered to our hotel one morning and we dropped it at the airport 24 hours later, saving ourselves an expensive taxi fare to the airport. The car cost $US100 for the day. This included full comprehensive insurance, unlimited mileage, a Barbadan driving permit, one way fee ($US5) and half a tank of petrol (to be returned empty, and it turned out to be enough for our northern trip and the drive to the airport). The airport taxi would have cost us $US40.