There’s something irredeemably exotic – dare I say, totally tropical about Barbados…
Deemed as the trendiest destination in the Caribbean, Barbados, once a Portuguese territorial possession known as Los Barbados, is located in the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea and sits on a wonderful stretch of world-famous beaches with broad white sand and sparkling blue water as far as the eye can see.
A beautiful, tranquil island with 11 parishes, it’s one of the oldest English-speaking countries in the Western Hemisphere and the island’s modern history began with the arrival of a group of British settlers in 1627. Taking advantage of the weather, these settlers planted tobacco, but soon realized planting and exporting sugar was much more profitable and in order to grow the crop on a larger scale imported black slaves from Africa – a move, which had a profound effect on the island’s future by the mid-20th century, most of the island’s population consisted of descendants of the men and woman who arrived on its shores in chains. Barbados’s sugar plantations, as one historian put it, “rested on the shoulders of the African”. Although not all the slaves were mistreated, many lived in squalors conditions whilst their masters lived in luxurious villas, some of which have been turned into tourist attractions such as St. Nicholas Abbey, one of the island’s oldest surviving plantations with its boundaries still intact.
A British colony for more than 300 years, Barbados has a democratic government and has been independent since 1966 which is when Errol Barrow became the first prime minister. Still a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, the island retains strong echoes of the nation that ruled it since the 17th century with a blend of British colloquialisms and Barbadian tradition. Many Bajans worship at the Anglican Church, traffic moves on the left, afternoon tea is a ritual and cricket is the national pastime. Some coastal resorts have names like Hastings and Worthing, whilst inland villages called Highgate and Clapham are reminiscent of areas in London. From the capital Bridgetown, which houses several colonial buildings such as the historic Garrison Savannah, (where the British Empire maintained its Caribbean military headquarters) to the Parliament Building, several facets of the island’s historical plight can be seen dotted around including the Bussa Statue, which is also known as the ‘Emancipation Statue’ and commemorates the abolition of slavery.
With an estimated population of 273,000, the island benefits greatly from tourism. Over a million visitors per year, the vast majority from Europe and the United States are attracted to the island for snorkeling, swimming and sightseeing. There’s world-class diving, wind surfing, fishing, endless hotel and resort options, restaurant choices and activities for the young and young at heart. A chic destination which has attractions and nature experiences, Barbados offer visitors the opportunity to do everything or nothing at all. Just ask Lois Swanson, a regular visitor to Barbados who has been returning to the Idyllic Island for the past 28 years.
“We initially went to Barbados in 1986 and fell in love with the island and the people. We were always treated wonderfully and felt very safe there,” says Swanson, who has visited numerous other Caribbean islands and offers travelers tips from her website www.barbadostips.com “Barbados, in my opinion, is by far the best island. The scenery is so varied and gorgeous,” she continues.
Home to some of the country’s most venerable establishments, there is an astounding collection of 17th century churches, some in still accessible ruinous conditions and others restored to museum quality like St. James Parish Church, which was first built in 1628 by the first British settlers.
A dense pear shaped coral island measuring 166 square miles, most visitors usually head for the southern coast, which houses the lively St Lawrence Gap, but with a rental car from Top Car Rental, accessibility around the island is a mere breeze. The west coast is home to the island’s prime resort area and priciest hotels whilst the east and north coasts, the least visited parts of the island, offer excellent variety of places to explore the rugged and untouched beauty of Barbados.
Although buses and taxis are easily available, driving around Barbados offers unusual prospects for visitors. The most traveled road is Highway 1, which runs the length of the island along its west coast. With steep hills and blind curves, traffic rarely exceeds 30 miles per hour and with road signs few and far apart you may find yourself occasionally stopping to ask for directions, which isn’t a bother for most Bajans you’ll find are very obliging. Every story starts with a smile and people willingly give directions and may even offer to ride part of the way.
“It’s a very friendly country,” agrees Wolfgang Lange, owner of Inchcape Seaside Villas on the Island’s southern coast. “Barbados to me is the friendliest place in the world. They love foreigners and there is hardly any natural aggression and there is no other place in the world that has on such a small island as many beautiful white sand beaches with crystal clear water.”
With the Bajan dollar on par with the U.S. dollar, Barbados can be quite pricey. Despite the nation’s booming tourist industry and the success of many of its commercial ventures, the island is burdened with a trade deficit and imports more than it exports. Sugarcane, however, remains its principal cash crop, which explains why rum is a bargain. Calypso is the music genre of choice although dancehall plays a huge part in Bajan culture and according to the International Crime Victimization Survey; Barbados joins Japan and Northern Ireland as one of countries with the lowest crime rates. With one jail on the island built to house 1,000 inmates, crime on the island is rare, making Barbados a truly magical destination.
From the white sand beaches and crystal blue water to the feeling that life is standing still, life in Barbados is as culturally diverse as it is vibrantly beautiful. The island is strewn with tones of major tourist attractions and the Bajans have such a wonderful sense of humor and polite attitude toward life that it takes the sting out of that “island pace” you should expect. While certain historical aspects may vary from person to person, they all tell the same story of their island in their own unique way for Barbados is really an island that has it all.
Where To Go
A trip to Barbados will not be complete without Glory Tours. A locally owned and operated tour company established in 2001 by Sarah Taylor whose ancestry can be traced back to the early settlers on the island, it offers a stress free, informative experience with professionally guided tours of Barbados’s historic landmarks.
“Our goal is to put a smile on your face and to keep you smiling as we share the beauty, culture and history of Barbados. I truly love what I do. I love my Island and I love sharing it with people from all over the world,” says Taylor who provides more tour options and comprehensive packages than any other tour company on the island.
With Glory Tours, trips can be personalized to stop at anyone or more of the island’s landmarks and locations. Whether it’s “monkey feeding” at the islands Wildlife Reserve, or exploring the historic caves, Glory Tours will tailor your travel experience to suit your every whim. Most of her tours include a lunch stop at Sand Dunes on the island’s east coast, a local eatery where you will be treated to an authentic Bajan meal, which includes famous dishes such Cou-cou and flying fish. www.glorytours.org
Where To Stay
Travelers eager to explore new destinations without wringing out their wallets should check out Inchcape Seaside Villa on Barbados’s south coast.
A tourist’s paradise, they have an eclectic selection of beautifully designed ocean front villas and apartments which offer sweeping views of tropical white sand beaches. Situated on the picturesque beach of Silver Sands, famous for kite and windsurfing, it attracts surfers from all over the world who flock there for its trade winds and warm waters. Owners Rosi and Wolfgang Lange were the first people to ever sail at Silver Sands and can offer a wealth of knowledge to first time surfers.
“We were the first people windsurfing in Barbados and we lived on this beach for many years and organized the first windsurfing competition in Barbados on this beach,” says Wolfgang. “This is one of the best windsurfing reefs in the world. It is also ideal for kite surfing for we have medium strong winds perfect.”
An enchanting establishment, which offers tranquility and seclusion, Inchcape has a unique architectural style and has won universal praise from the critics and the instant loyalty of satisfied guests.
“We are a very small property,” continues Rosi. “We look at the property as a private estate that is run like a boutique hotel.”
For more information check out: www.inchcape.net
If it’s a party scene and action you seek, then the Yellow Bird Hotel located in the bustling St. Lawrence Gap is a must. With impeccable service, sumptuous cuisine from their onsite restaurant The Flying Fish, it’s easy to see why it a bargain for your buck.
With airy studio apartments which offer views of crystal clear waters of the Caribbean sea, the hotel boasts a prime location for exciting nightlife and entertainment, fine dining and enjoyable water sports and activities,
There’s also complimentary wireless internet (and rum punch) provided to ensure that you feel right at home.
For more information check out: www.yellowbirdbarbados.com
Ten must-dos in Barbados
1. A visit to Barbados wouldn’t be the same without a taste of rum. The Mount Gay Rum Visitor’s Center near the capital of Bridgetown features educational tours and tastings. Rum is believed to be the oldest distilled spirit in the world and Barbados is considered its birthplace.
2. Barbados has lots of expensive restaurants, but for cheap authentic Bajan cuisine, make sure you check out the weekly fish fry in Oistins, an open air event centered around the Fishing community.
3. The Spa at Sandy Lane, one of islands priciest hotels offers a luxurious full-service spa set in a Romanesque atmosphere. Set in a world class premier luxury hotel where celebrity guests include Simon Cowell and Tiger Woods who was hitched at the hotel in 2004.
4. Sail along Barbados’ crystal clear waters or swim with the turtles on Tiami Catamaran Sailing Cruises.
5. Visitors will be amazed by Harrison’s Cave, a unique and spectacular cave which is one of our island’s most famous attractions accessible by tram.
6. For a classic beach, that’s a favorite of many visitors, visit Crane Beach which offers pink sands and beautiful waters and was named by “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” as one of the best beached in the world.
7. Make sure you don’t miss out on these quintessential island experiences such as The Cliff Restaurant. Perched above the lapping waves of the Caribbean Sea, it was voted as one of the 50 best restaurants in the world by Europe’s industry magazine.
8. The northern part of Barbados is beautiful, scenic and charming and the Animal Flower Caves at North Point is a must see. Featuring impressive cliffs and connected caves which are large enough to house hundreds of people, it’s a historic as well as a scenic sight. Several openings in the cave offer a beautiful yet dangerous view of the Atlantic Ocean and there is a natural pool inside the cavern. There’s also a bar and restaurant outside the cave offering snacks and souvenirs for sale.
9. The Bajan Roots & Rhythms held at The Plantation Theatre is a must. A dinner and cabaret style stage show, it’s a worthy and entertaining introduction to Bajan culture www.plantationtheatre.com.
10. Whether you’re down for a long weekend or a week, jump in a car from Top Car Rentals (www.barbadoscarrentals.com), one of the oldest and cost effective rental car companies on the island and take a drive to Bathsheba on the East Coast, which offers miles of untouched beach along the islands most rugged and hilly coast.