Where do you start when talking about Barbados, or Bim as it is affectionately known by the locals? The beaches right? It’s all about the beaches. Well I imagine that for many people, that’s all it’s about. And why not? They’re spectacular, picture postcard scenes featuring palm trees, gorgeous sunsets, white sands and the loveliest shades of crystal clear blue water we have ever seen.
One absolutely fantastic thing about the beaches here, is that there are NO private beaches. I imagine it’s a law long since passed by the government, who incidentally managed to place their headquaters right next to the best beach. The result is no matter who you are, be that a rich corporation running a 5-star resort or two, or a multi-millionaire Bajan pop-princess snagging the best real estate on the island (One Sandy Lane) you cannot buy the stretch of beach between you and the beautiful blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Barbados is NOT in the Caribbean Sea, contrary to popular belief, but is still considered to be part of the Caribbean region.
No private beaches = bad news for Rihanna perhaps, but great news for the rest of us. The hoi-polloi can join celebrities such as Tiger Woods (he got married on the golf course at Sandy Lane) and the Rooneys (do they really count as celebrities?) under their umber-ella ella ella on the sandy beach of Sandy Lane, and they can’t stop you! Just because you’re allowed on the beach though, don’t think it’s going to be easy to get there. Access from the highway is either difficult or impossible, we didn’t try too hard to find out, but you can go to the next beach along and walk across the sand (and knee-deep water) or swim there 🙂
Anyway, with this blog we’re aiming to show there’s far more to Barbados than just the beaches, but that’s as good a place as any to start. Our favourite beach spots, in no particular order were:
The closest we have ever seen to talcum-powder-like white sand was at Carlisle Bay, just a few minutes walk from the hustle and bustle at the centre of the island’s capital, Bridgetown. If you didn’t know it was there you could easily miss it as it is well hidden by buildings. From Barbados Town centre if you cross the bridge by the harbour and keeping going straight you will find it but if unsure ask for directions to the Boatyard or Copacabana.
Within Carlisle Bay you can find a couple of beachclubs. Copacabana was recommended to us however this was not looking open when we visited so instead we went to The Boatyard; It is so well known, it even has its own song! For US$25 for the day you can use the facilities including showers, changing room, beach chairs and tables, diving board and sea trampoline. In addition to this you get US$20 back to spend at the bar on food and drink and get a free snorkelling boat trip thrown in. Covid wise you have to provide your contact details, wear a mask, have your temperature checked and sanitise your hands.
Be aware the food and drink prices are a little expensive and therefore you can’t get much for that money but for us the snorkelling trip was our highlight – we swam with green turtles! Videos are on our Instagram page here.
The distance of the boat trip itself was actually a little disappointing; the turtles were just a short distance away from where we swam on our first visit, opposite the government building, and the boat really didn’t go far. We did also however get a chance to snorkel over a couple of shipwrecks and saw some amazing fish here too. There was quite a strong current and even snorkelling was quite tough so this may not be possible without going on the boat trip.
The first beach we saw post isolation and still is a firm favourite. However the beach bar Surfside Restaurant led to us being ripped off majorly – word of advice get prices before you order a rum punch! BD$48 for 2 rum punches, which as it turned out over time, was by far the most expensive on the island, and in terms of quality didn’t make the top 5! We actually didn’t swim here but it was clearly a popular spot for both locals and tourists. We chilled here in the afternoon and grabbed a picnic.
If you want quiet and deserted this is the place. This was near our accommodation in Bridgetown and was a short walk. Lovely beach; although visibility wasn’t too great for snorkelling. If you expect beach bars this is not the place but if you fancy absolute privacy then this is a lovely place to spend the afternoon.
Again, if youre looking for a bit of privacy and no crowds then the Speightsown stretch of beach is a nice spot. Depending on exactly where you get in the water it is very shallow for quite a distance out. We spent a couple of afternoons just chilling!
Find your own!!
If you wish to visit other fairly posh resorts such as Waves Spa and Hotel you can either book up at around $500 a night, or you can get a bus there for $3.50 and use the public access alleyway, and lay on the same sand, and swim in the same sea. Guess which we did? A deserted beach all to ourselves! Just bring your own towel and rock up! Look up any expensive resort and you can access their beach; chances are as well that they have picked prime spots and they have marked safe areas for swimming. You could choose to stay at The Great House for round £7,000 a night, but you’d still have to share the local beach with the likes of us 😉
As I mentioned earlier, contrary to popular belief, Barbados is not in the Caribbean sea, it is surrounded on all sides by the Atlantic Ocean. Of the four coasts, north, south east and west, only the sheltered west coast is suitable for the activities we enjoy, i.e. swimming and snorkelling- This is known as The Platinum Coast. It’s where most of the holiday makers go, it’s where the best beaches are, and where most of the top resorts and most expensive private residences are. The pictures show why the rugged north coast is not suitable for swimming.
The wild east coast, the side where there’s more tropical jungly areas, has some beautiful beaches too, including Bathsheba which is definitely worth a visit. The Soup Bowl is a popular spot for surfing but for general swimming it is not safe.
There is only one place in the east coast where it is safe to swim and that is the Crane Resort, where the bay is protected by a reef. It still looked pretty choppy though!
The south coast is also more suited to windsurfing but there are some areas in which you can swim and snorkel including Dover Beach, Worthing Beach and at Maxwell Beach. We did only venture as far as Hastings however and it definitely wasn’t suitable for swimming; it was though a lovely spot for sunset and there some good bars and restaurants along there.
I like to think of myself as someone who does take the time to stop and smell the roses, always on the lookout for something interesting, usually something I’d never seen before, nor am ever likely to in the UK. In Barbados, there is an abundance of exotic creatures and animals; some nice some not so nice! The flora and fauna are all beautiful!
These can be found all over the island however we were lucky enough to have some regularly visit our accommodation in Bridgetown, drawn in by having a guava tree in the garden. Monkeys love guava! Perhaps the most we saw however was at the Barbados Wildlife Reserve. We saw loads of monkeys of all different ages just at the car park here. Just as a tip, if you wanted to visit the reserve purely to see the monkeys you don’t even need to pay the entrance fee. We decided we had seen enough from the car park!
The chances are you are aware of these little fellows on your first night even if you don’t realise what they are. They make the really loud whistling noises at night alongside the chirruping crickets! Now these little things are harmless and are actually really cute if you get to see one (which is very likely). If it has been raining watch your step outside!
Yes you read that right! one of our biggest suprises in Barbados is the sheer amount of chickens roaming around freely; in roads, in gardens they are everywhere! Many of which look like they should appear on a Kelloggs packet! We asked why there are so many chickens everywhere and if they belong to people but it appears many are not owned they just wander freely – chicken dinner anyone?
As found in most hot countries there a lizards everywhere; mostly very pretty greens but there are variations. These are harmless and funny to watch especially when they get a bit clumsy. We had one who appeared to live in a plantpot on the table and would regularly fall out with a bit of a stunned expression!
These are a right nuisance but not to be confused with the rather fiesty and more irritating centipedes. These millipedes come into houses regularly and seem to appear out of nowhere. They can be up to a few centimetres long and move quickly; they are pretty harmless although we wouldn’t recommend touching one – a simple dustpan and brush will suffice!
One to be avoided for sure as they can give a nasty bite! These show up a lot in rainy season and will often come indoors. We were lucky enough to avoid seeing these critters but the bite is said to be very painful – get rid of one quick if you find it in your house. – Thanks Natasha for your pic!
These are pretty, but really not nice and we were lucky we only actually saw one on our trip but we know they are a thing and can cause nasty skin reactions! The one below was happily wiggling around on a chair but despite his pretty looks he is a Frangipani and one definitely to be avoided due to being very toxic; both from a bite and irritations from the hairs on their spines.
In super safe England, there is very little in nature that can harm you. Of course there are exceptions, but because we know our own country so well, there is nothing for us to worry about. When we travel to a new country however, we always do some research. Sometimes more thoroughly than others admittedly, but we usually cover the basics such as safety and security. The ‘do not go here’ and the ‘do not do that’ kind of thing. I was shocked when our research showed that the biggest danger to us in Barbados, was a tree! The machineel tree. It was widely planted because they act as a great windbreak and of course provide great shade, something you cannot get too much of in Barbados. (Though you mustn’t take shade directly underneath them.) We were told first hand stories of sheltering near one in a tropical storm, and very soon after the guy’s entire face had swollen up and blistered. There are stories on the internet from people who have eaten the fruit which is similar to a very small, very sweet apple. The people telling the tales are lucky to be alive, as anaphylaxis can, and does result.
The locals refer to the fruit as Beach Apples as along with countless coconuts, these are what you find in large quantities on most beaches. When we first arrived many a local passer-by would kindly warn of of the trees; don’t touch them, don’t eat the fruit, don’t even stand under one when it’s raining, or near one when it’s windy. We saw loads of these around the coastal areas and most were marked with a big red circle around the trunks to warn people. Most, but not all! . The fruit is poisonous and you can get nasty blistering if you shelter under these in the rain. Be careful where you sit and if you visit Barbados with children, make sure they don’t eat the apples!
Mongooses were introduced to the island to help with a rat problem, especially around the sugar cane plantations. Only after they were here did anyone notice they are active only during the day, whilst rats are nocturnal, so the hunter and their proposed prey are still yet to meet. We saw two mongooses, unfortunately they were too fleeting for my camera. You can however read more about them here
Another very elusive creature in Barbados and so tiny they are difficult to capture on camera. We were lucky enough to spot them on several occasions but not quick enough with the camera! There are two types found here; the tiny antillean crested and the Green Throated Carib. More information is available on this site.
Accommodation and The Towns
For the month we spent in Barbados, we moved around and spent time in each of Holetown, Bridgetown, and Speightstown.
In Holetown we stayed at the All Seasons Europa Hotel, and this is where we completed our spell in quarantine. You can read more of our experiences there on the Entering Barbados during COVID 19 blog post. The hotel did have a nice pool area which we managed to make use of on our last day. Unfortunately the bar was not open and the restaurant was by order only even out of quarantine.
Holetown itself was a quaint little place; there was a lovely little craft market area (the Chattel Village), a big Massy supermarket and some bars and restaurants. It was very quiet when we visited, however we had a couple of lovely picnics on the beach with our lunch from Massy’s. It is definitely worth popping by.
We stayed two weeks here in an AirB&B, Cozy Corner, kindly hosted by the lovely Joanna. The property itself was small but self contained and had everything we needed. Despite it’s size Joanna had done an amazing job in making the best use of the space available and we had excellent wifi, TV, a fully equipped kitchen and a bathroom with shower. It was a lovely place to stay and Joanna’s communication was excellent; often checking in with us and giving us suggestions as to whats on around the local area. She liked to tell us where the ‘lime’ was and we were out together on a couple of occasions. We could definitely see why she was a superhost!
The area we were based in was out of Bridgetown town centre and not far from Black Rock Main road. There were good transport links here.
We travelled into Bridgetown several times during our stay as this is the place to go for any shopping needs, from clothes and souvenirs to food you are likely to find it here! Bridgetown has a great fruit and veg market at Cheapside just near the bus station. It was the busiest place we found as you would expect for a capital city but Covid guidelines were really followed here with temperature checks, masks required and sanitising at every shop entrance. We sanitised our hands at least 5 times in 5 minutes when flitting from shop to shop.
We also walked around the quayside area around sunset where all the catamarans are docked and had a chuckle at some of the names!
What we did determine was that Bridgetown is definitely a day time place rather than a nighttime location; we were quite surprised to discover that it was pretty dead on a Saturday night apart from a few food places and even these shut quite early. Whether this is the norm or due to covid is unclear. We never felt unsafe in Bridgetown but we did avoid walking down any dark alleys on our own and were aware of our surroundings at all times.
The good thing about being located where we were however was the fact we were able to get anywhere easily from our location; the west of the island or down south were easily accessible.
We moved to Speightstown on the northern west coast towards the end of our time in Barbados as we wanted to explore other parts of the island. We stayed at another Air BnB Cozy Tropical Escape for 10 days hosted by Rodney. It was a newly refurbished property and there were a few additions needed to make it more comfortable, which were immediately addressed by Rodney and it was an enjoyable and comfortable stay. We had a lovely outdoor area with a koi fish pond and a coconut tree which was a lovely place to sit and chill. It was also in a safe neighbourhood and even better it took 3 minutes 20 seconds to walk from back door to the beach. Also shout out to our adjacent neighbour Andrea who helped us out tremendously, even lending us her car at one point for us to visit the laundermat with!
Speightstown for us was a sleepy little place with a Jordan’s supermarket, a couple of bars and restaurants and general shops. If you want chilled this is the place to come but don’t expect nightlife or lots going on. We imagine though that it’s very different in peak tourist season when not in a pandemic. It is also on a good transport route and a great base to just chill.
Nightlife and Liming
Barbados, as much as it is about the beaches, is all about the lime. Here’s a couple of dictionary definitions of what that means
“This small island is known for liming—and it has nothing to do with the delicious fruit. Liming is the Bajan term for mingling, eating, drinking (rum, of course) and spending time with friends.”
“any leisure activity entailing the sharing of food and drink, the exchange of tall stories, jokes and anecdotes .”
Trust us, it is ALL about the lime 🙂
Three things struck us about the nightlife in COVID Barbados. One – it wasn’t easy to find. Two – Saturday nights are not a thing here, it’s all about Fridays for the big night out of the week, Three – Two or three decades after it died a death in the UK, Karaoke is very much still a thing here. With the help of the wonderful Joanna, we usually found something entertaining to do, and the hotspot for nightlife during our stay was always the south coast. Below are some of the places where we found the lime!
Blakey’s on the Boardwalk
Blakeys is located in Hastings and was easily accessible from Bridgetown. They have live entertainment here regularly and also happy hour between 5-6pm. They don’t open on Monday but it is a nice place with a good vibe and is a great place to watch sunset as well. Make sure you have good mossie repellent here as it is outside seating in the evenings. Check on their facebook page to see whats on.
We went to a Reggae night here which was fun! if you want to eat we suggest you get there early or pre book as it gets very full. Also be mindful if you are just going for drinks that that the bar area gets very crowded and busy as the night goes on. This is a couple of bus stops further up the road in Worthing. Check out their facebook page here.
Oistin’s Fish Market
This is a must do on a Friday night even if you only do it once. Good lime and good (although a bit pricey) food. We were unlucky enough to have torrential rain when we went but the flying fish really was lovely! There are a whole host of food places to eat and bars as well. Personally, we’d never order the dolphin, and were a little perturbed to see it on the menu. (Please see the comment below this post by V – apparently the ‘Dolphin’ on the menu is a type of fish, and not the mammal we would know as Flipper!)
On a Wednesday evening there is a lime here which involves 50’s music and lots of dancing. It’s fun and a great way to spend the evening especially if you’re into dancing. This is popular with the locals and attended by people of all ages and all abilities (including us!). It is located conveniently near the bus station (not the terminal).
Travel and Transport
Getting the bus
For the majority of our time on the island we relied on busses to get around. At BD$3.50 (£1.30) a trip of any distance this sure is the most cost effective and fun way to get from a to b. Whilst in Bridgetown we were spoilt by 3 different types of bus; the blue goverment service bus (exact change only accepted), the yellow reggae busses with music (and sometimes flashing disco lights) and the smaller white minibuses which served the local area. Whichever bus you got, and however many stops you stayed on for, the price was always the same. I think our longest bus journey would have been Speightstown to Oistins, which took around an hour, but still the price was BD$3.50
We mostly used the number 4 white minibus as it stopped very near our property, however for going to Hastings, Worthing or Oistins we walked down to the main road and caught a reggae bus or a blue bus. The white busses appear to stop a lot earlier than the others but none really run late into the night so if you are going some distance then it may be wise to consider a taxi home as like us you could wait for up to an hour and a half for a bus. Ask around locally where you are staying about local services; the blue busses only stop at stops whereas the others will often just pick you up at the side of the road anywhere.
By far the most expensive option and we generally avoided them after realising the cost of the trips from the airport and also to the polyclinic. When you can get a bus for $3.50 and have a boogie to some music why pay $58+ plus! If you do get taxis make sure you agree a price up front, confirm that if they mention dollars they’re talking about Barbados, not US dollars, and ask a local to help you call an authorised one.
We wanted to see more of the Island so we did hire a car for a few days at the end of our trip. It cost us the equivalent of £80 for a 3 day hire from Drive a Matic which we thought was quite reasonable. We also had a drop off of the car at our accommodation and collection at a different address. Most cars are automatic here and driving is on the left (vehicles right hand drive) so if you are used to driving in England this is pretty easy.
Some things to note if you do decide to drive in Barbados. People honk their horns….a lot.. however unlike in the UK this is not meant as an annoyance but more as a courtesy so others are aware they are there. This includes when going round corner, when approaching pedestrians, when giving way etc. It’s not rude and you likely haven’t done anything wrong it’s just the way of driving here. For most of the roads we drove they were ok but some around the East coast and the North are a little ropey so care is needed. We didn’t have a 4×4 and coped just fine. Bajan drivers are actually very courteous, especially to pedestrians when driving through puddles. and they always slow down to avoid splashing you.
Where to Visit
The beach life is great but sometimes it is nice to have a little trip out and explore the island a bit more. Barbados has a lot to offer besides its beaches and here are some of our recommendations:
Animal Flower Cave
Ok so we will be honest we didn’t actually visit the flower cave, neither of us are great fans of enclosed spaces and we had heard that there are amazing views of the North Coast here so we set the sat nav. We were not disappointed it was amazing and so different to the quieter waters of the west coast. Definitely worth a trip and a little walk over the rocks to get a drink. The flower cave costs $25 BBS each for entry and there is a small drinks hut there if you are thirsty (there could be food options but when we went there didn’t seem to be any)
Hunte’s Garden has been named “the most enchanting place on earth” and following our visit it is easy to see why. We met the owner Anthony on our visit and he and his team were hard at work maintaining the amazing gardens. A great place to chill out and spend the afternoon. It costs BD$30 per person for entry, and despute the rain it really was beautiful. Due to the rain Anthony even offered us free readmission on a sunnier day! More details are available on the website here.
Mount Gay Rum Tour
There are two locations in which you can have a tour of the Mount Gay facilities; one is in St Lucy and where the distillery is located and the other at the Visitor Centre in Bridgetown. We visited the Bridgetown location, booking on their website for the Premium Rum Flight Experience. This involved tasting 8 different rums and a large breakfast was advised. We had an 11.30am slot and when we arrived we joined the tour, learning about the distilling processes and sampling four of the different varieties. At the end of the tour it was realised that there was some confusion and we had been booked onto the basic tour so we then had an addition of a further 8 different rums. To say we were a little squiffy would be an understatement! It was a fun experience though and one we recommend; especially as at the moment they have 50% off all tours (use code MG002 valid December 2020).
This is one for the cricket fans and Bajan’s are definitely into their cricket! The Oval is within easy reach of Bridgetown centre and several busses go past here. Tours are currently suspended but if you are lucky like us you may find a local game on when visiting. You can read more about our cricket experience in a separate post here.
November is rainy season, and writing this a fortnight after we left Barbados, I’m not sure if we had a single rain free day. The showers are heavy, but usually brief, and always followed by sunshine. Lots and lots of sunshine. All of this makes for high humidity and we felt like we were permanently wet, sometimes from the rain, sometimes from sweat, especially as we climbed the hill towards home when we were staying in Bridgetown. Rain or dry, it is always hot in November with temperatures night and day around the high twenties, low thirties mark. December, January and February are the peak tourist months here, so we imagine the weather improved the minute we left ;). Unfortunately the wet season brings the mosquitos and we are aware there were several cases of Dengue Fever along the South Coast. It’s easy to get complacent with repellent but you definitely need to be vigilant here.
No comment on Barbados would be complete without mentioning the people, who are amongst the friendliest in the world. We simply could not walk past anyone without them saying good morning, good afternoon or good night. Amusingly, to us anyway, good night is used as a greeting as well as as a farewell. As soon as the sun goes down, which was around 5.30/6pm whilst we were there, meet a total stranger walking into a bar, or on the bus, and someone would say good night. It made me smile every time. Ask directions and not only will you get them, sometimes they’ll walk with you to where you need to be to make sure you get there.
When we stayed in a local neighbourhood in Bridgetown, all of the neighbours stopped us for a chat as we walked past their houses into town. Carol and I were always together, except for one occasion when her knee was hurting and she couldn’t face walking up the Bridgetown Hill yet again that day. I went to the shops alone, and immediately a neighbour stopped me and asked “where de wife?” Never having seen us apart before then, I think he was genuinely concerned.
Another language peculiarity, was the use of the phrase “Yeah man” This is extremely multi-purposed, from a friendly greeting, to an invitation to fist bump, to being an acceptable answer to any question you can think of. Yeah man!
We had a fun conversation with a local guy at Oistins At one point the conversation turned to what we do for a living, and he said to us “I’m not gonna lie to you, I’m a drug dealer!” Well, at least he was honest! Drugs seemed to be easily available in Barbados, we never had to walk too far before someone would ask if we wanted to smoke something “special”. Our polite refusals were always accepted first time, and we were always wished well as we went on our way. This is just something to be aware of.
Special Mention – Rihanna
She is by far the most globally famous superstar to come from Barbados, and her childhood home has become a tourist attraction. It is not far from The Kensington Oval, and is well signposted. She still has a home in Barbados, but she’s clearly moved up in the world from where she was brought up.
Our Overall thoughts about our experiences in Barbados
Barbados is wonderful! For all I know, we were there at the worst possible time, what with COVID and the wet weather, but we still had the most fantastic time. We know November is in rainy season, whether it’s the worst month weather-wise I couldn’t say, and travelling in the midst of COVID’s grip on the planet just added to the strangeness of it all. The downside included a capital city dead after 6pm on a Saturday (every time we visited I couldn’t get the song Ghost Town by the Specials out of my head, it was so fitting) The upside was some of the best beaches in the world, nearly always completely to ourselves. I don’t think anyone will ever visit Barbados and see it quite the same way we did. Strange times!
I think it would definitely be a mistake to holiday in Barbados and restrict yourself to just the inside of a resort, even a 5 star one! I hope we have shown it has much, much more to offer than just beaches! Get out, go on the buses, that is an experience in itself, it just has to be done. See the wild north coast, see the largely jungle covered east of the island, go to Bathsheba. It’s a small island, only just a little bigger than the Isle of Wight so if you get a car, you can see most of what it has to offer in 2 days. Watch the cricket with the locals, eat the fried chicken, drink the rum and most importantly of all, and enjoy the lime 🙂
Next stop – Dominica (Not The Dominican Republic, that’s a different country)
Carol and Nigel xx