Barbados is such a special place to me. I've been coming to this Caribbean paradise since I was sixteen and I've chalked up another thirteen fantastic trips since then. Each time I go back I like to rekindle my Bajan love-affair with some new adventures around the island or by taking a friend who's never been before and introduce them to the best Barbados has to offer. It makes even my most well-trodden paths new and exciting all over again.
I've found some of the best secret beaches, eateries and lodgings over the years I've been coming here and I hope you'll add them to your list when you visit the island.
With flights to this former British colony up for grabs for as little as £220 (with SecretFlying.com), if you thought this favourite vacay-location of the rich and famous was out of your price range or if you're a jet-set bitch who only travels in 5* luxury all-the-way, Barbados is a must-do for anyone keen to experience the white sands, clear waters and all-year-round warm weather of the West Indies.
BEFORE YOU TRAVEL:
CURRENCY: Barbados has its own dollar which is roughly half a US dollar; so if your meal costs $50Bds that's $25USd. Most places accept either Barbados or US dollars and don't be surprised if you pay with US currency but get your change back in Bds - this is completely normal.
ON ARRIVAL: At the baggage reclaim you'll see lots of luggage handlers standing around with trolleys. You can get your own trolley and haul your own luggage but for a reasonable tip one of these guys will load all your luggage and get you out through 'anything to declare' and into a cab. If I'm travelling with my family and we have lots of luggage it's worth 10 bucks to have one of these guys help. They'll also speed you through the queue and quickly hail a taxi without you having to wait. If it's just the two of us though, I prefer to wheel my own case. When you get outside the airport go to the taxi stand directly in front of you and book a taxi with them. They'll tell you which car to go to and the fare will be fair.
LANGUAGE: Barbados is an English speaking country so you'll have no problem if you're an anglophone but other languages aren't widely spoken at all from what I've noticed.
FOOD: Seafood on this tropical island is superb so try all the different fish on the menu during your trip. Flying Fish is the national dish - I like mine blackened with spices and served with coleslaw and macaroni pie! Don't be offended if you're offered 'dolphin' - this is dolphin-fish, not mammal-meat. If you're not a fish-eater (this is a great place to broaden your horizons) most restaurants will have chicken or pork options but be prepared to pay a hefty premium for steak as it has to be imported. As well as beef, most of the vegetables are imported onto the island which makes them extremely expensive compared to what we're used to in the UK. As a result, we didn't see much green on our dinner plates when we ate out and we were seriously craving greens when we landed back in the UK. PS the tap water is safe to drink.
SAFETY: I've never felt anything less than completely safe in Barbados and I've never run into any trouble at all. Having said that, I wouldn't put myself in a dangerous situation. It's best to avoid going to the beach at night and don't wear expensive watches and jewellery if you're strolling through the city centre after dark. Topless bathing is against the law so it may draw unwanted attention if you decide to go au-naturel. For LGBT travellers, be aware that Barbados still has historic laws against homosexuality but I've always experienced only warm welcomed and friendliness from the locals. You're unlikely to get lynched for stealing a kiss on the beach or holding hands at dinner but remember to respect the customs of the host nation and be somewhat discreet...don't be surprised to hear some muttered comments if you're being flamboyant and outré.
The Crane, St. Philip: I've been to The Crane for lunch and cocktails many times over the years but I'd never booked a room until this last trip. Open as a hotel since 1887, today The Crane combines charming original buildings with a magnificent residential resort of cascading waterfall pools and lush, manicured gardens. Although it's got a kind of 'Disneyland' vibe of a purpose-built little pretend village, I always feel like it's still something of a secret hideaway because it's a fair distance from all the main tourist spots on the island and we could feel the history when we had drinks at one of the oldest original building on the resort which is now the cosy Coach House bar. If, like me, you love sushi then make sure you add The Crane's Zen to your list; the food is amazing and the restaurant sits right on the edge of a sheer drop down to the beach below with floor-to-ceiling windows so you can take in one of the most stunning views on the island while you eat. We booked an ocean-view suite that had a private plunge pool on the balcony but to be honest the pools around the resort are so fantastic you won't miss out if don't manage to bag one with it's own plunge.
Foul Bay, St. Philip: Ssshhh! This is one of my biggest Barbados secrets but I want to share it with you because it's unlikely you'll find it with out a heads-up. If you've ever dreamed of being Robinson Crusoe on a tropical desert island then you can live that fantasy at Foul Bay. I stumbled across it by chance many years ago with my family after spotting the small 'blink-and-you'll-miss-it' sign for the beach as we were driving around the island in a yellow mini-moke not far from The Crane. This beach is truly epic in the proper sense of the word. It's a long and undeveloped bay with high cliffs at each end a beach that goes on for what seems like a mile. The waves are crashing so only the very strongest of swimmers should attempt to get in the water here; we only dipped our feet in the waves that came up the steep coarse sandy beach on the day we stopped by here. On this last trip, we packed a picnic as we always do and found a spot under a some palm trees to lay out our blankets and fantasise about being the only humans left on Earth. It's absolutely stunning and we didn't see another person the whole time we were there. We left feeling windswept and salty but there's no place on Barbados quite like Foul Bay for an authentic castaway experience.
Accra/Rockley Beach, Christchurch: Sometimes you need more than just a towel on the sand so Rockley Beach, with an abundance of sun loungers and parasols, makes a great beach to spend the day. A large parasol with two loungers is usually around $15USD from any of the beach boys. You can see the famous Champers restaurant perched up on the hill on the south-side of this bay but we gave it a miss in favour of the much more casual beach-front Tiki Bar which has an overwhelming menu of cocktails to try (and try, we did!). As much as I enjoy fancy restaurants and fine dining, I'm always happiest in Barbados with relaxed, authentic local hangouts and so we happily washed the sand off our feet under a tap and sat listening to reggae with a 'picky' lunch of local small plates then took a final rum punch back to our loungers on the beach. Cooper went boogie-boarding and was gutted when he lost his sunglasses after a gnarly wave took him underwater but as luck (and the crystal clear waters) would have it, we actually spotted them laying on the seabed about 10 minutes later!
Connie's Grill, St. James: This is quite possibly my single biggest recommendation to you and it's one that most tourists in Barbados will drive past without stopping. Connie's isn't a restaurant but it is hands-down the best food on the island. Move-over 'candle-lit soirées at The Cliff' because the authentic local taste of fresh catch of the day and home-cooked macaroni pie is lovingly provided at this road-side grill on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights on the main coast road in St. James. You'll find Connie just a few minutes south of the famous Sandy Lane resort. I love eating street food and Connie's Grill draws regular customers from all around. We had to queue for a while but it was so worth it. Luckily we were staying just up the road from where Connie and crew set up their grill and so we went on-foot and took our food back to our apartment and ate on the balcony while we listened to the sounds of the whistling tree frogs that sing all night after dark across island. PS - Connie is the gentleman who mans the grill, not the boss-lady who runs things.
Shades of Barbados, St. James: As well as staying at the Crane we also stayed across the other side of the island in St James which is where you'll find many of the most luxe hotels, villas, restaurants and shops in Barbados. If you want to treat yourself to a little something from Louis Vuitton before going for a massage at the Sandy Lane Spa then having a world-class dinner at The Cliff, rubbing shoulders with Rihanna, Simon Cowell and other Barbados regulars then St. James is where you need to be. Much more glam than the popular resorts on the South side of the island, you'll pay a premium to stay in this area. We stayed at a boutique 7-apartment lodging at Paynes Bay and had their penthouse apartment with sea views across the lush tropical garden. Shades is a great base if you like to eat out-and-about around the island without being tied to a hotel restaurant. I loved waking up every morning and listening to the rooster crow while having a cup of tea and toast with rum marmalade on the balcony before the sun was high and while the air was still cool.
Limegrove, St. James: When you're on holiday in the Caribbean for longer than a week, you'll be lucky to avoid at least one downpour, so I always like to have some activities in my back-pocket for when the rain comes down and despite our best British pluck, we have to reluctantly give the beach up for a few hours. Limegrove is where you'll find favourite brand boutiques; Louis Vuitton and Gucci stand face-to-face across a cobbled courtyard cocktail bar, with Breitling, Bvlgari and TAG Heuer tucked away in the maze of smart shopping avenues. We had an extra-large green smoothie each from the juice bar and went to the Limegrove cinema to see the new Star Wars movie. It felt sinful being inside a cinema while we were on holiday but we couldn't wait until we got back home to London and well, it was raining after all! Getting our greens-fix and our geek-fix at the same time!
Mr Delicious at Miami Beach, Christchurch: Enterprise Beach (or 'Miami') is one of my favourite spots on the South coast of Barbados. We laid out blankets under the many trees and Cooper hired a boogie board to take full advantage of the rolling waves that are pretty safe here and easy to navigate, unlike the wild surf at Foul bay. We didn't need to pack a picnic as we'd planned to buy a light lunch from Mr Delicious's food van that's down on the beach all year round. I washed my flying-fish cutter down with a sweet coconut punch and Cooper had a peanut punch. I've been to Miami on a Sunday and in the afternoon it gets really busy with locals - they certainly know how to do a picnic; bringing fried chicken, pie and salad. It has such a good vibe, we didn't rush to leave and we stayed until the sun was low.
Bathsheba, St. Jospeh: Car hire in Barbados is inexpensive and gives you the freedom to properly explore the island. In the past I’ve had mini-mokes and jeeps; it’s so much fun to take the roof down and drive all over this small island which you can do in just a few hours. We drove across the middle of the island, over sugar plantations and uphill all the way to North Point, where we trekked underground into the animal flower caves and swam in the pools while we watched the huge Atlantic waves crash against the rocks and fill the pools. The big ocean waves here are perfect for surfing and the Soup Bowl at Bathsheba draws surfers from all over the world. Neither of us were ready to graduate from our boogie boards quite yet so we had lunch on the terrace at the historic Roundhouse while we watched the professionals ride the surf. Don’t skip the pumpkin fritters – these were a-maze-ing! …although I’d have served them with ice cream rather than a savoury dipping sauce. Our hearts sank though when we saw all the plastic rubbish that washes up on the wild Atlantic coast of the island. Shame on all of us!
Surfside, St. James: We came to this relaxed bar and grill a few times during the holiday and on Sunday night they had a steel pan band playing while we ate dinner. I still can’t decide whether reggae or steel drums give me the biggest Caribbean vibe but I’m happy with either. You’ll find Surfside sitting on the beach behind the police station in Holetown. Even if you have dinner somewhere else, Surfside is perfect for after-dinner drinks (are you noticing the trend here? I love rum-punch when I’m in Barbados!). Cooper wasn’t lucky enough to see this during our recent visit but a few years ago I was sat with friends and family having dinner at Surfside when a green turtle made her way out of the sea onto the beach. Barbados is very protective of its turtle population and conservationists were on-hand to make sure she wasn’t disturbed while she dug a hole and laid well over a hundred eggs. We were able to stand behind her and watch as she covered the hole then swam off into the dark night. It was a truly magical moment I never thought I'd see with my own eyes.
Paynes Bay, St. James:
I’ve wanted to try paddle boarding for a long time - the riders always look so serene, effortless and relaxed. Paynes Bay is a popular beach for all kinds of watersports and the sea is so calm here that we hired 2 paddleboards from a guy on the beach who gave us a short lesson then sent us out to practice. I can’t tell you how unprepared I was for how much more difficult it was than I thought it was going to be! Skilled paddle-boarders make it look so easy but it’s really tough on your core and lower back so I had to keep going onto my knees as my back was aching. I only fell off the board twice so I suppose my balance is good at least, and our instructor’s advice was true – look straight ahead, not down at the board to save yourself from wobbling! Fancying a bit more of an adrenaline rush we hired a jet ski and went for a blast along the coastline from Sandy Lane to The Cliff. Cooper took the controls and I hung on behind (which pretty uncomfortable every time we hit a wave). We made a loop around a beautiful sailing ship – check out our video on YouTube to see this - coming soon!
TravelCubs message in a bottle: As always, our time in Barbados lived up to all my expectations. It's the perfect island for Caribbean first-timers because it's beautiful, safe and there's plenty to do. You might just find yourself returning time and time again like me (I'm already planning my 15th trip for Christmas 2017). It's true to say, there's no Caribbean island quite like Barbados!
Ready to go?
We flew upper class with Virgin Atlantic from London Gatwick to Bridgetown. Flight duration is about 8.5 hours. We traveled in early December and stayed at The Crane and Shades of Barbados.
The island gets busy just before Christmas and flights are expensive if you fly back past Boxing Day.
June-November is rainy season (hurricane season) which you'll notice is reflected in the lower prices of flights and accommodation at this time.
February-May sees some of the driest weather but you'll pay a premium to visit during these months.