Barbados is endowed with 113km (70 miles) of beaches so first time visitors can be forgiven for heading straight for the sand and surf. Most tourists flock to the island’s legendary Platinum Coast to the west, which is lined with world-class, luxury resorts, spa hotels, sophisticated restaurants and manicured golf courses, all lapped by the limpid Caribbean Sea. The south coast has some of the best beaches while the east coast, pummelled by the Altantic Ocean, is less developed and attracts mainly surfers.
Although Barbados’s interior is unremarkable compared to its Caribbean neighbours, a jeep safari provides the best way to discover crumbling sugar mills, historic plantation houses, traditional churches reminiscent of England and colonial Bridgetown. The capital, and the nearby Garrison site, were granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 2012.
Combine this with Barbados’s indelible laid-back vibe, its passion for rum (over 1,500 rum shops dot the island) and calypso-infused festivals, and it’s no wonder people return here time and time again.
Things to see and do
Barbados’s capital Bridgetown – named after a crude bridge constructed by early Indian settlers – is the best place to enjoy the island’s colonial history.
Visit National Heroes Square, which boasts a statue of Lord Nelson, which was erected in 1813, well before Nelson’s Column was put up in London. Nearby are the neogothic Parliament Buildings, Bridgetown Synagogue (reputed to the oldest in the western hemisphere) and the pretty, pink pastel coloured facades of DaCosta’s Mall. When you tire of sightseeing, pop into one of the ubiquitous rum shops or head for a drink at the Waterfront area overlooking the marina.
Chalky Mount Potteries
Barbados’s famous Chalky Mount potters are renowned for their high-quality inexpensive art. You can watch the local potters at work at the wheel fashioning centuries-old designs – a respected 300-year-old tradition.
The baby-pink sands of cliff-flanked Crane Beach, an idyllic spot that is one of the most beautiful on the island, are perfect for a stroll. Moderate, foamy waves draw a body-surfing crowd and there are plenty of shaded spots to chill out until the magical sunsets arrive.
Cricket is the national sporting obsession, with Barbados hosting the World Twenty20 finals in 2010 at the newly expanded Kensington Oval pitch near Bridgetown.
Choose from barefoot village friendlies to international and local club cups – where many of the great names of West Indian cricket are honoured, most notably Sir Garfield Sobers.
East Coast Road
Barbados’s East Coast Road, hemmed by crashing Atlantic waves, is one of the island’s most exciting drives. A rugged coastal route overlooks treacherous reefs while an inland road weaves through rolling sugarcane to quaint plantation towns topped by church steeples. One of the most popular destinations on the east coast is Bathsheba, where giant coral boulders, which have broken away from ancient coral reefs over thousands of years, offer striking photograph opportunities. Bathsheba is also the location for the legendary Soup Bowl surfing competition.
Wahoo, dorado, barracuda, tuna and sailfish, together with mighty blue marlin and shark, all patrol Barbados’s deep sea waters. There are plenty of game fishing tournaments and inshore competitions to join or just grab a rod and head to the jetty.
With an abundance of stalactites, stalagmites, streams, lakes and waterfalls, Harrison’s Cave is a jaw-dropping spectacle. The caves, in the parish of St. Thomas, were first mentioned in historical documents in 1795 and then virtually forgotten for nearly 200 years, until being rediscovered in 1976.
In 1981, Harrison’s Cave was opened to the public. Visitors can enjoy a scenic trail from the clifftop to the valley floor, before entering the caves on a 40-minute journey in an electric cart led by guides. Self-guides walks are also possible.
It’s possible to gallop along the beach at sundown or simply trek along inland trails. Over two-dozen horse-riding events take place on the Garrison Savannah. Polo is also played to a high level by fiercely competitive Barbadian teams.
Barbados’s rainbow of coral reefs offers a pristine watery home to seahorses, sponges and giant sand eels. Hidden caves and shipwrecks provide plenty of underwater nooks and crannies along a shoreline nested by Hawksbill Turtles.
Taste the oldest rum in the world
Mount Gay Rum, on the island’s west coast, can trace its heritage back to 1703, making it the world’s oldest rum producer. Made from the sugar cane that thrived across the island, Barbados was once the favoured tipple of English sailors.
Visitors can learn about the refining, aging, blending and bottling process on tastings and tours, which run hourly between Monday-Saturday.
The Barbados Wildlife Reserve
The Barbados Wildlife Reserve’s resplendent mahogany forest is the roaming territory of green monkeys, tortoises, deer, raccoons, pelicans and otters. A walk-through aviary allows a leafy stroll with peacocks, turkeys, toucans, parrots, flamingoes, pelicans, lovebirds and macaws.
Lofty Mount Hillaby, the island’s highest point at 343m (1,125ft), offers incredible panoramas across the east, west and northern coasts. Dramatic vistas also abound from St John’s Parish Church over miles of jagged coastline and moss-covered family vaults dotted with tropical flora.
The island’s rugged south and west coasts boast world-class watersports where windsurfers, jet skiers, parasailers and water skiers enjoy perfect conditions. To ride the waves head to the Soup Bowl, South Point and Rockley Beach, Barbados’s surfing mecca.
Whizz through the rainforest at Walkes Spring
Aerial Trek Zipline Adventures offers soft adventure thrills as you whizz through the rainforest at Jack-in-the-box Gully, Walkes Spring, in the centre of the island. The scenic ride began operations in 2007 and is proving popular. Advance bookings are recommended.
Nightlife in Barbados
Bajans love to party with nightlife options in Barbados ranging from clubs, beach bars and pubs to rum shops, dinner shows and twilight boat cruises. Music ranges fom calypso and reggae to the latest R’n’B.
Most of the main nightlife spots are concentrated around the south and west coasts. St Lawrence Gap is the liveliest nightlife spot on the islands; it’s a one-street affair lined with smart pubs, clubs and bars. If you want to party with the locals, head to Oistins Fish Market on a Friday or Saturday night, where Bajans dance to the early hours in the open air with music ranging from country and western to the latest calypso.