Barbados: The Gem of the Caribbean Sea..
Barbados. That place you hear about in the celebrity magazines, the epitome of paradise that floats in your mind on a dreary February morning in the office. Known for its sunny weather, pristine beaches and world-famous rum, many people dream of visiting this small rock just outside of the Caribbean chain, but what is there really to it?
Some basic facts
to begin with:
Location: 13°10N, 59°32W. The easternmost island in the Caribbean, Barbados is slightly north of Guyana, west of Nicaragua and southeast of Florida.
Area: Barbados isn't particularly large; with a surface area of 166sqmi [431sqkm] - 33mi at it's longest point and 32mi at its widest - it's just slightly larger than Detroit
Geography: Unlike its volcanic neighbours, most of Barbados consists of limestone. It is also fairly flat, with the highest elevation being 336m - just over 1,000ft. The eastern coast is relatively elevated, consisting of clay hills. Underneath the island lies a labyrinth of caves, in which the majority of the island's freshwater is located.
Contrary to popular belief, Barbados is NOT bordered by the Caribbean Sea; it is surrounded on all sides by the Atlantic Ocean. This topic is subject to much debate however
This is due to its slightly more easterly position than the rest of the Caribbean islands. However the west coast of the island is very calm and can be considered the Caribbean Sea anyway.
Geologists also believe that it is due to this unique position that Barbados gets affected by a very limited number of hurricanes - there has not been a direct hurricane hit since 1955!
Weather: An ongoing local joke is that the weather forecast rarely changes from "sunny with scattered showers". Temperatures remain between 21C and 32C yearround, being slightly hotter in the middle of the year.
As with all other tropical countries, there are two distinct seasons - Wet and Dry. The wet season, also know as Hurricane season, runs from June to November, while dry season lasts from December to May.
Language: The official language is English, and while the majority of the locals are very well-versed in English, many speak the local Barbadian dialect, known as "Bajan". It takes a couple of days to grow accustomed to it, but it's basically a slightly mangled variant of English (:
Population: The island has a population of about 270,000 people. This is predominantly African descendants, however recently there has been a large influx of Chinese, Arabic and Indian migrant workers along with Guyanese nationals. There is a small expatriate population, along with descendants of the white planter class of years gone by.
Currency: Barbados has its own currency, known as the Barbadian dollar. It is pegged to the US dollar at 1.98 for every $1US - most locals use the simpler 2:1 ratio. Many businesses will accept US dollars, some may even accept UK Pounds. Most international credit and debit cards are accepted, and ATMs are abundant.
Organisation: The island itself is separated into 11 parishes - St. Lucy, St. Andrew, St. Peter, St. James, St. Michael, St. Thomas, St. Joseph, St. John, St. Philip, St. George and Christ Church. While not given any particular administrative power, each parish has it's own sense of community - and according to some, its own accent variant! St. Michael [southwest], St. James [west], St. Philip [southeast] and Christ Church [south] are the more populated parishes.
Capital City: Bridgetown is the capital city and the central hub of the island. It is located in St. Michael, in the very south-west corner of the island.
Local Industries: Agriculture and tourism are the two major industries in Barbados. While many foods are produced, most of it is just for local consumption. However Barbados is a very large producer of sugar cane, with two end results of that being sugar and rum! Fishing is also a relatively large industry.
Telecommunications: The two local telecom. services here - Digicel and LIME - allow roamers from most major countries to use their foreign cell phones in the country. Internet services are mostly on par with developed countries, and are very stable. Also, calls from landlines to other landlines are free!
A few important [and random!] laws
- In Barbados, we drive on the LEFT hand side of the road
- Camoflauge clothing is illegal in Barbados, and you can be fined for wearing it in public. Something about impersonating the military..
- It is a huge matter of debate here, but as far as we're concerned there is no enforced drinking nor purchasing age for alcohol and tobacco products in the island. Alcohol for all! However I do believe it is 16 for drinking and 18 for purchasing. You will rarely if ever get ID'ed for either though. All locals will say that if you can see over the bar, you can buy alcohol.
- All beaches in the island are by law public and must be accessible by locals. There is no such thing as a private beach. Not even the elusive Sandy Lane beach! [that one's a pain in the ass to get to though..]
- It's illegal to break or remove coral reefs.
- Along with the standard stuff [e.g. no drugs] and general common sense, Barbados is fairly laid back (: Safety
: Is it dangerous?
Compared to most other countries in the Americas, Barbados is considered to be fairly safe. Tourists are not frequently targeted by crime, however like in all developing countries vigilance is key.
One thing to watch out for, especially for lone women, are the local men - they will constantly attempt to gain the attentions of a foreign woman. The best thing to do is completely ignore them, trying to be nice will only result in them not leaving you alone every single time you return to that location! More of an annoyance than a safety concern though. When
Should I Go?
Usually the best time to visit the Caribbean is during the dry season - still nice and warm, but you won't get completely and often randomly drenched! It's also a lot less risky as there are no hurricanes in the dry season.
Barbados has a few unique public holidays you should be mindful of..
3rd Monday in January - Errol Barrow Day
April 28th - National Heroes Day
May 1st - May Day
1st Monday in June - Labour Day
1st Monday in August - Kadooment Day
November 30th - Independence Day
..along with Easter and Christmas, both heavily celebrated!
Also, most businesses will be closed on Sundays.
Do I Get There
There are direct flights to Barbados from Miami, Atlanta, JFK, Charlotte, Toronto, Caracas, Manchester and London, along with several other Caribbean nations such as Trinidad, Grenada, St. Vincent and various Grenadine islands, St. Lucia, Dominica, Antigua, St. Kitts and Puerto Rico. Probably forgot a few in there.. But it's pretty easily accessible for its size.
Barbados is considered to be the hub for most international flights to the vast majority of the Eastern Caribbean, and so the airport is fairly large.
The only other option besides a plane is a cruise ship - due to having to sail in open water it is rather difficult to sail between Barbados and the other Caribbean islands independently and no designated services are in operation. Getting Around
: Now that I'm here..
Public Transport: There is a somewhat reliable public transport system in place in the island, however it is not particularly tourist oriented.
There are three types of public transport - the Transport Board buses [big and blue, safest, requires exact change], privately owned buses [smaller, yellow, not as safe], and the privately owned gypsy vans, known locally as ZRs [pronounced Zed-Arr; small, white, not particularly ideal for tourists]. All public transportation costs $1.50BBD regardless of destination.
Taxis: No taxis in the island have a meter system, and so they always provide a flat rate which tends to be borderline outrageous. There are plenty of taxis to go around and competition is fierce so feel free to haggle slightly with them. Not too much however, otherwise it might be seen as slightly offensive.
Hire cars: There are many companies in the island that provide hire car services, and this is probably the best way to see the island. Some airlines and hotels have joint agreements with local hire car companies, check with your travel agent before leaving. There are two major highways on the island - the international-standard ABC Highway, and Highways 1 through to 7 which are more like glorified roads. Mostly everything is well-signposted, and if in doubt all the roads tend to lead to each other somehow! It doesn't take longer than an hour to drive from one side of the island to the other. Where to Stay
Barbados prefers to advertise itself more as a luxury getaway than a budget destination, and so most local accommodation isn't particularly cheap on the pocket, and there are no facilities designated for backpackers. Sorry, guys ): However, that doesn't mean the hotels are outrageously priced either. As a rule of thumb - South Coast = cheap, East and West Coast = expensive.
There are several lower-budget hotels located in the St. Lawrence Gap strip, such as Time Out in the Gap. A popular choice amongst locals is the Accra Beach Hotel, located right on one of the most popular beaches on the south coast.
Another popular choice is the Hilton Hotel, located in a prime location on a picturesque headland about a mile away from the city centre. My first recommendation for mid-budget travellers.
While there is no such thing as a 100% all-inclusive in the island to protect local businesses, the west coast hotels will come quite close to that region. From the elusive Sandy Lane to many of the other cheaper yet equally good nearby establishments, you will be spoilt for choice!
If you prefer to not be in a hotel there are a number of guesthouses scattered throughout the island. One that is highly recommended by locals is the Rockley Golf Club complex - actually a very open and apartment complex, but one section of it is run as a hotel. If anyone is interested in the number just ask.
Is There To Do
Partying: Barbados is VERY well known for its nightlife. The main place to go is the beginning of the St. Lawrence Gap [known as just 'Gap'] strip, where there are several very different bars and clubs waiting. Alcohol isn't particularly hard to come by and so a number of nightclubs will hold all-you-can-drink nights, where you pay a very reasonable fee and proceed to drink as much alcohol as you desire. The three main places locals go to do this are the Reggae Lounge in the Gap [Thursday nights in or near holiday periods from 9.30pm-2am, $25], Harbour Lights near Bridgetown [every Friday night from 10pm-3am, $45-50], and the Boatyard about 30 seconds away [ever Saturday night from 9.30pm-2am, $35-45] - all prices local currency.
If you happen to be in the island in the first week of August, prepare for a major party session - the annual Kadooment festival is on the first Monday on August, where everyone is dressed in costume to parade down the highway
Beachin' It: What would the Caribbean be without the beaches? The most recommended beaches on the island would be Accra Beach, Miami Beach and Brownes Beach [south coast] and Paynes Bay and Sandy Lane Beach [west coast]. Where there are tourists, there's bound to be several locals offering you kayak or jetski sessions - arrange a price beforehand though, and double check which currency their quote is in, as these can be fairly expensive.
If surfing's more your thing, the East coast has plenty of it waiting for you. For the slightly less experienced surfer however, the waves on the south coast are gentler and safer. There are several surf schools along the south coast also.
Tours: There are a few island tours, the main ones are Island Safari and Adventureland. Both are 4x4 tours that take you in a circle throughout the entire island, to see all the hidden nooks and crannies throughout the island. Also there is a zip line trail on the east coast [I haven't been on it myself, it's supposedly interesting though]
..And What To See
Barbados, while not having particularly well-established monuments like other countries, has a few interesting points of its own. Some of these include the two bridges and two squares in Bridgetown - both opposite each other! - the former British Garrison which is now part museum, part horse racing track and part examination board headquarters [a building every bajan schoolchild wants to set on fire..]. There are numerous old churches still active throughout the island, with each parish having one major church.
Of course there's the natural sights too - in the north lies the Animal Flower Cave with its windows in the cliffs, slightly further south is Harrisons Cave, a journey into the vast limestone caverns under the island.
In the fauna category there's the Wildlife Reserve which is home to many of the island's own Green Monkeys - however you'll probably see these guys wherever there's a mango tree! There's about 20 of them in my front yard right about now stealing my mangoes ): Also, there's the Ocean Park aquarium - slash - mini golf course, more oriented for children but still a good day out.
What about food? Where to eat
This first thing may come as a shock to you: In Barbados, there is no such thing
as Starbucks, McDonalds, Burger King, Subway and every single other fast food chain - with the sole expecting being KFC! Instead, we have our own fast food chain called Chefette.
That being said, food in Barbados is often freshly made with the finest ingredients. The St. Lawrence Gap strip on the South coast and the Second Street strip on the West coast both have several different restaurants serving widely varying food, from local to Mexican to Italian. Other flavours of the Caribbean are abundant too, with several stalls and shops open selling Jamaican and Trinidadian delicacies. It's impossible to recommend just one place..
So when you think of Barbados, don't think of "just another tropical island". With its different formation and landscape, it truly makes for a unique holiday. If you do decide to visit this little beauty, I hope you have the best of holidays and return home with plenty of good memories (:
Sarah: Little girl, big dreams. Currently living in Scotland
British born, Barbados raised, slowly but surely getting out there. One day..
Next trips: Australia Late March-April; Europe Late June-Mid August