For most, the thought of a Caribbean island getaway conjures images of idyllic beaches bordered by azure ocean, swaying palm trees, and luxury resorts. While this picture of paradise can be found on Barbados, there’s so much more to this tiny coral outcrop than one could imagine. Insider’s guide to visiting Barbados.
The “most British” of the Caribbean islands, Barbados boasts a rich history, vibrant landscape, and infectious soca beat that resonates from north to south. Affectionately known as “Little England”, afternoon tea is a ritual, cricket is the national pastime, and dressing for dinner is a firmly entrenched tradition.
Planning a quintessential Caribbean escape? Here’s an insider’s guide to visiting Barbados.
THE BEST TIME OF YEAR TO VISIT BARBADOS
Barbados boasts a year round temperate climate that rarely drops below 70 degrees (21 degrees Celsius), and while the summer months bring patchy rain and the occasional hurricane threat local’s believe that “God is a Bajan” because severe weather systems rarely make landfall.
November through June clear skies and sunny days attract the majority of visitors to the island. Christmas and New Year see a peak in occupancy and consequently prices soar. For those seeking a more affordable escape, July and August offer discounted rates (up to 50% off peak prices) and the opportunity to take part in some of the island’s famed festivals such as the Crop Over Kadoonment Day.
For travellers who crave an appealing blend of price, weather, and activity, May is the perfect time to visit. Most of the island’s main attractions are still open, the rainy season has yet to set in, and the winter crowds have long since dispersed.
Visitors to Barbados should also consider the opportunity to explore other Caribbean islands during their visit, take a look at eShores multi centre holidays for some great itinerary ideas. Insider’s guide to visiting Barbados.
WHERE TO STAY ON BARBADOS
Barbados is divided into 11 parishes, but for ease of planning your visit I can tell you there are really only three areas to consider when booking accommodation.
THE WEST COAST – SPRING GARDEN TO SPEIGHTSTOWN
Known as Barbados’ Platinum Coast, the west is home to manicured beaches, mill-pond calm ocean, and luxury resorts. Plan to stay on the west coast if you have a flexible budget and are keen to sample the very best of island life. Insider’s guide to visiting Barbados.
For the ultimate Barbadian retreat check into Cobblers Cove Hotel or the Coral Reef Club. Both properties are the epitome of West Indian elegance and offer a Caribbean charm like nowhere else on the island.
THE EAST COAST – CRANE BEACH TO PIE CORNER
Tranquil and unspoilt the east coast of the island is ideal for travellers looking for a quintessential Barbados escape. Battered by Atlantic breaks the coastline is juxtaposed to that of the west; the beaches are sculpted into undulating dunes and the palm trees grow crooked under the constant strain of onshore winds.
There are very few places to stay on the east coast, however the Atlantis Hotel is ideal for visitors keen to explore Bathsheba and the rolling hills of the island’s interior.
THE SOUTH COAST – CRANE BEACH TO BRIDGETOWN
Heavily developed and home to the country’s capital Bridgetown, the south coast is the epicentre of the island’s tourist trade. Wide swathes of flat sandy beach and clam bays are perfect for families and couples looking to relax in the sun.
The south is also the centre of the island’s party scene which is based in and around St. Lawrence Gap. Affordable accommodation options range from $50 to $180 per night. Don’t forget to check out self-catered options on Airbnb.com.
THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT BARBADOS
Barbados is an island where by and large everything works (transport, communication etc) and you can find almost anything you need. Having said that, visitors should make allowances for the island mentality that makes Barbados what it is, a paradisical island escape.
Barbados boasts a number of major supermarket chains that stock the majority of items you’ll find in your stores at home. You should note that almost all food and beverage products are imported and so will likely be more expensive than in the UK and major US cities.
Travellers with dietary requirements will find at least one or two options on most menus (or can be accommodated by the chef), and dairy and gluten free basics are widely available in supermarkets and speciality stores.
Check out barbadosglutenfree.com for more information. Insider’s guide to visiting Barbados.
sider’s A traditional Bajan meal can be bought in a rum shop – these come in all shapes and sizes and are found in all neighbourhoods and towns on the island – for around BB$25. Currently this is around US$12 and £9. It will consists of chicken, pork, or fish, with macaroni pie, cou cou, or potato, and salad.
CRIME ON BARBADOS
The island does not suffer the blight of crime that others in the region struggle with (visitors will feel safe when walking through the capital and along the coastline), although it is advisable to remain diligent with valuables and personal safety. Just as you would when travelling to any unfamiliar destination.
BARBADIAN LAWS AND CUSTOMS
Tipping is welcomed (10% is standard) although not expected. Double check to make sure gratuity has not been included on your bill.
The Caribbean style of dancing, especially in bars and clubs, is far removed from that in the USA and Europe. Don’t be alarmed if you see party goers grinding and wining up against each other into the wee small hours.
Topless and nude sunbathing is illegal on Barbados.
It’s an offence for anyone, including children, to dress in camouflage clothing. The recognisable print is reserved for the island’s military.
DRIVING ON BARBADOS
As a visitor to Barbados you will need to obtain a local permit to drive. These can be acquired through your chosen car rental agency or by visiting the Barbados Licensing Authority – offices located in Christchurch, St. Michael, St. Peter, and St. James.
Be aware that the rules of the road are practised in a rather relaxed manner on the island. Indicating appears to be optional, while horn hooting is customary and can mean anything from “Hello mate” to “I’m turning left and you need to get out of my way”.
There is currently no drink-drive limit, however a driver’s blood alcohol level is still recorded at the scene of any major accident.
Take extra care at dusk as many vehicles drive without lights until long after sunset.
PUBLIC TRANSPORT ON BARBADOS
Taxis are not metered. Always negotiate a rate before getting into the vehicle. As you exit Grantley Adams International Airport you’ll see a board with taxi rates to each parish, if you choose to you can negotiate on these rates with the awaiting drivers.
The public transport system is relatively simple. Routes go one of two ways (to or from the capital) along the three major routes on the island.
Passengers can choose between a blue government owned bus, a yellow privately owned bus – which often blasts out reggae and soca music from a home-built stereo system, and a privately owned taxi known as a Zadar – noted for their erratic driving style and probably not the safest option.
All buses have the final destination on a wooden plaque in their front window.
You can’t swim on the east coast because the tempestuous Atlantic Ocean whips up the water into a frenzy on a daily basis.
Rip currents and waves make swimming and even surfing quite dangerous, although experienced surfers can often be found riding the waves in the Soup Bowl near Bathsheba. Beginner surfers should head down to the south coast for an easier ride.
There are very few critters that can cause you trouble on Barbados. If you’re staying on the east or west coast (or exploring the island’s interior) watch out for centipedes. These creepy crawlies can give you a nasty nip which may require treatment.
It’s unlikely you can handle the local hot sauce. If you like a fiery kick try the Bajan pepper sauce which is offered as a condiment at most local restaurants and can be bought in all supermarkets.
Be aware that the potency of the rum punch served across the island can vary dramatically. Those that stew their brew serve up a stronger hit, so remember to pace yourself when trying somewhere new for your sundowners.
You’ll probably find that you’ll be approached by a beach vendor on the pretence of selling you a shell necklace, and when you decline they may offer you drugs instead. Politely decline, there’s nothing sinister to be wary of, the locals are business savvy and take opportunities to earn when they can.
Barbados has strict drug laws and it is not advisable to partake in recreational use whilst on the island.
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Have you been to Barbados? Share your insider advice with us in the comments below.