Isolated in the Atlantic Ocean, 100 miles (161 km) due east of St. Lucia, Barbados stands apart from its neighbors in the Lesser Antilles archipelago, the chain of islands that stretches in a graceful arc from the Virgin Islands to Trinidad. It’s a sophisticated tropical island with a rich history, lodgings to suit every taste and pocketbook, and plenty to pique your interest both day and night.
Geologically, most of the Lesser Antilles are the peaks of a volcanic mountain range, whereas Barbados is the top of a single, relatively flat protuberance of coral and limestone—historically, the source of building blocks for many a plantation manor. Some of those “great houses,” in fact, have been carefully restored. Two are open to visitors.
Bridgetown, both capital city and commercial center, is on the southwest coast of pear-shape Barbados. Most of the nearly 300,000 Bajans (Bay-juns, derived from the British pronunciation of Barbadian) live and work in and around Bridgetown, elsewhere in St. Michael Parish, or along the idyllic west coast or busy south coast. Others reside in tiny villages that dot the interior landscape. Broad sandy beaches, craggy cliffs, and numerous coves make up the coastline; the interior is consumed by forested hills and gullies and acre upon acre of sugarcane.
Without question, Barbados is the “most British” island in the Caribbean. In contrast to the turbulent colonial past experienced by neighboring islands, including repeated conflicts between France and Britain for dominance and control, British rule in Barbados carried on uninterrupted for 340 years—from the first established British settlement in 1627 until independence was granted in 1966. That’s not to say, of course, that there weren’t significant struggles in Barbados, as elsewhere in the Caribbean, between 17th- and 18th-century British landowners and their African-born slaves and other indentured servants.
With that unfortunate period of slavery relegated to the history books, the British influence on Barbados remains strong today in local manners, attitudes, customs, and politics—tempered, of course, by the characteristically warm nature and Caribbean style of the Bajan people. In keeping with British-born traditions, many Bajans worship at the Anglican church, afternoon tea is a ritual, cricket is the national pastime (a passion, most admit), dressing for dinner is a firmly entrenched tradition, and patrons at some bars are as likely to order a Pimm’s Cup or a shandy as a rum and Coke. And yet, Barbados is hardly stuffy—this is still the Caribbean, after all.
Tourist facilities are concentrated on the west coast in St. James and St. Peter parishes (appropriately dubbed the “Platinum Coast”) and on the south coast in Christ Church Parish. Traveling north along the west coast from Bridgetown, the capital city, to historic Holetown, the site of the first British settlement, and continuing to the city of Speightstown, you can find posh beachfront resorts, luxurious private villas, and fine restaurants enveloped by tropical gardens and lush foliage. The trendier, more commercial south coast offers competitively priced hotels and beach resorts, and the St. Lawrence Gap area is known for its restaurants and nightlife. The relatively wide-open spaces along the southeast coast are proving ripe for development, and some wonderful inns and hotels already take advantage of those intoxicatingly beautiful ocean vistas. For their own vacations, though, Bajans escape to the rugged east coast, where the Atlantic surf pounds the dramatic shoreline with unrelenting force.
Barbadians (Bajans) are a warm, friendly, and hospitable people who are genuinely proud of their country and culture. Although tourism is the island’s number one industry, the island has a sophisticated business community and stable government; so life here doesn’t skip a beat once passengers return to the ship. Barbados is the most “British” island in the Caribbean. Afternoon tea is a ritual, and cricket is the national sport. The atmosphere, though, is hardly stuffy. This is still the Caribbean, after all. Beaches along the island’s south and west coasts are picture-perfect, and all are available to cruise passengers. On the rugged east coast, the Atlantic Ocean attracts world-class surfers. Rolling hills and valleys dominate the northeast, while the interior of the island is covered by acres of sugarcane and dotted with small villages. Historic plantations, a stalactite-studded cave, a wildlife preserve, rum distilleries, and tropical gardens are among the island’s attractions. Bridgetown is the capital city, and its downtown shops and historic sites are a short walk or taxi ride from the pier.
You can fly nonstop to Barbados from Atlanta (Delta), Boston (JetBlue), Fort Lauderdale (JetBlue), Miami (American), and New York–JFK (JetBlue). Caribbean Airlines offers connecting service from Miami and New York via Port of Spain, Trinidad, but this adds at least two hours to your flight time even in the best of circumstances and may not be the best option for most Americans. Barbados is also well connected to other Caribbean islands via LIAT. Mustique Airways and SVG Air connect Barbados to St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Many passengers use Barbados as a transit hub, sometimes spending the night each way.
Not all airlines flying into Barbados have local numbers. If your airline doesn’t have a local contact number on the island, you will have to pay for the call.
Bus service is efficient and inexpensive. Public buses are blue with a yellow stripe; yellow buses with a blue stripe are privately owned and operated; and “ZR” vans (so called for their ZR license plate designation) are white with a maroon stripe and also privately owned and operated. All buses travel frequently along Highway 1 (St. James Road) and Highway 7 (South Coast Main Road), as well as inland routes. The fare is Bds$2 for any one destination; exact change in either local or U.S. currency ($1) is appreciated. Buses run about every 20 minutes. Small signs on roadside poles that say “To City” or “Out of City,” meaning the direction relative to Bridgetown, mark the bus stops. Flag down the bus with your hand, even if you’re standing at the stop. Bridgetown terminals are at Fairchild Street for buses to the south and east and at Lower Green for buses to Speightstown via the west coast.
Barbados has good roads, but traffic can be heavy on main highways, particularly around Bridgetown. Be sure to keep a map handy, as the road system in the countryside can be very confusing—although the friendly Bajans are always happy to help you find your way. Drive on the left, British-style. Seat belts are compulsory, and children under five must use a child seat. Use of a cell phone while driving is prohibited. When someone flashes headlights at you at an intersection, it means “after you.” Be especially careful negotiating roundabouts (traffic circles). The speed limit is 50 mph (80 kph) on highways, 37 mph (60 kph) in the countryside, and 20 mph (30 kph) in cities. Bridgetown actually has rush hours: 7 to 9 am and 4 to 6 pm. Park only in approved parking lots or in parking spots marked with a P sign.
Car Rentals: Most car-rental agencies require renters to be at least 21; some agencies have an age limit between 70 and 80 without a medical certificate. Dozens of agencies rent cars, jeeps, or minimokes (small, open-sided vehicles). Rates range from about $70 per day for a minimoke to $80 per day for a four-wheel-drive vehicle and $100 or more for a luxury car (or $225 to $400 or more per week) in high season. Most firms also offer discounted three-day or seven-day rates, and some require at least a two-day rental in high season. You’ll need either an international driver’s license or a temporary driving permit, available through the rental agency for Bds$10.
Taxis operate 24 hours a day. They aren’t metered but rates are fixed by the government. Taxis carry up to three passengers, and the fare may be shared. Sample one-way fares from Bridgetown are $22 to Holetown, $30 to Speightstown, $18 to St. Lawrence Gap, and $38 to Bathsheba. Drivers can also be hired for an hourly rate of about $35–$40 for up to three people.
In mid-January, the Barbados Jazz Festival is a weeklong event jammed with performances by international artists, jazz legends, and local talent.
In February the weeklong Holetown Festival is held at the fairgrounds to commemorate the date in 1627 when the first European settlers arrived in Barbados.
In April, Reggae Music Festival performances draw huge crowds to Kensington Oval and Farley Park.
Gospelfest occurs in May and hosts performances by gospel headliners from around the world.
Dating from the 19th century, Crop Over, a monthlong festival similar to Carnival that begins in July and ends on Kadooment Day (a national holiday), marks the end of the sugarcane harvest.
In mid-November, the annual Food, Wine & Rum Festival attracts international chefs, wine experts, and local rum ambassadors who provide demonstrations and tastings at some of the island’s most exciting venues.
Dengue, chikungunya, and zika have all been reported throughout the Caribbean. We recommend that you protect yourself from these mosquito-borne illnesses by keeping your skin covered and/or wearing mosquito repellent. The mosquitoes that transmit these viruses are as active by day as they are by night.
Most people stay either in luxurious enclaves on the fashionable west coast—north of Bridgetown—or on the action-packed south coast with easy access to small, independent restaurants, bars, and nightclubs. A few inns on the remote southeast and east coasts offer ocean views and tranquillity, but those on the east coast don’t have good swimming beaches nearby. Prices in Barbados are sometimes twice as high in season as during the quieter months. Most hotels include no meals in their rates. Some include breakfast, many offer a meal plan, some require you to purchase the meal plan in the high season, and a few offer all-inclusive packages.
Resorts: Great resorts run the gamut—from unpretentious to knock-your-socks-off—in terms of size, intimacy, amenities, and price. Many are well suited to families.
Small Inns: A few small, cozy inns are located in the east and southeast regions of the island.
Villas and Condos: Families and long-term visitors may choose from a wide variety of condos (everything from busy time-share resorts to more sedate vacation complexes). Villas and villa complexes can be luxurious, simple, or something in between.
There’s always something to do in Barbados, and that’s the appeal to most visitors. White-sand beaches await your arrival whether you choose to stay among the classy row of resorts on the west coast or on more affordable south coast.
Exceptional golf courses lure a lot of players to the island, but the private courses—notably Royal Westmoreland and Sandy Lane—aren’t for anyone with a light wallet.
The island’s restaurant scene is impressive; you can choose from street-party barbecue to international cuisine that rivals the finest dining on the planet.
Getting out on the water is the favored activity, whether that’s on a snorkeling day sail, in a mini-sub, on a deep-sea fishing boat, or surfing at Bathsheba Soup Bowl.
Getting to Barbados: Various airlines fly nonstop to Barbados from Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas-Fort Worth, Miami, and New York. Grantley Adams International Airport (BGI) is in Christ Church Parish, about 15 minutes from hotels situated along the south coast, 45 minutes from the west coast, and about 30 minutes from Bridgetown.
Hassle Factor: Low because of many nonstop flights from airports in the United States.
On the Ground: Ground transportation is available immediately outside the customs area. Some resorts arrange ground transfers if you make arrangements in advance. Otherwise, you can take a taxi. Airport taxis aren’t metered, but fares are regulated (about $38–$40 to Speightstown, $30–$35 to west-coast hotels, $16–$22 to south-coast hotels). Be sure, however, to establish the fare before getting into the taxi and confirm whether the price quoted is in U.S. or Barbadian dollars.
Getting Around on the Island: If you are staying in an isolated area, you may want to rent a car, but bus service is good throughout the island and especially between Bridgetown and stops along the west and south coasts. Taxis, of course, are always an option.
The minimum legal drinking age in Barbados is 18.
Electricity in Barbados is 110 volts, just as in the United States. No converters or transformers are needed for U.S. appliances.
A 7.5% government tax is added to all hotel bills, and a 7.5% V.A.T. is imposed on restaurant meals, admissions to attractions, and merchandise sales (other than duty-free items).
Prices are often tax-inclusive; if not, the V.A.T. will be added to your bill. A 10% service charge is often added to restaurant checks; otherwise, tip 10%–15%. Some hotels add a 10% service charge, as well.
The Barbados dollar is pegged to the U.S. dollar at a rate of Bds$1.98 to US$1. U.S. currency is accepted almost everywhere on the island, so many travelers never change their money into local currency—although change will most often be given in local currency. ATMs are widely available but dispense local currency only.
Comprehensive trip insurance is recommended for all vacations purchased through Vacays4U. Comprehensive policies typically cover trip cancellation and interruption, letting you cancel or cut your trip short because of illness, or, in some cases, acts of terrorism. Ask about insurance policies that cover evacuation and medical care. Some also cover you for trip delays because of bad weather or mechanical problems as well as for lost or delayed luggage.
Always read the fine print of your policy to make sure you’re covered for the risks that most concern you. Compare several policies to be sure you’re getting the best price and range of coverage available.
Barbados is busiest in the high season, which extends from December 15 through April 15. Off-season hotel rates can be half of those required during the busy period. During the high season, too, a few hotels may require you to buy a meal plan, which is usually not required in the low season. As noted in the listings, some hotels close in September and October, the slowest months of the off-season, for annual renovations. Some restaurants may close for brief periods within that time frame as well.