Now that we’re well and truly into winter here in the UK and my travel has finished for 2016, I’m already reminiscing about some of my favourite destinations I travelled to this year. Right up there was Barbados – I was lucky enough to end up on this beautiful Caribbean island twice this year (once in April and then in October). Unfortunately, both times I was only there very briefly for about 3 nights, but Barbados still managed to utterly captivate me and I’m desperate to book an actual holiday there at some point (soon). Although I can’t pretend to be an expert on Barbados by any means, I did get chance to have a little look around and experience a slice of unique Bajan culture, so here’s my guide to travelling to the beautiful island!
Barbados is one of the more populous Caribbean islands with a population of 275,000 and is located in the south-east Caribbean, just outside of the hurricane belt. It’s part of the Commonwealth, so Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state, although there has been talk of this changing with Barbados celebrating it’s 50th anniversary of independence from the British Empire this year. On a lighter note, Barbados is also where Rihanna hails from and pictures of her greet you at the airport.
How to get there: Direct flight from London Gatwick with British Airways or from London Gatwick or Manchester with Virgin Atlantic. Flight time is around 8 hours 45 minutes.
Currency: Barbadian dollars, but most of the time you can pay in US dollars. It’s about 2 Barbadian dollars to 1 US dollar, so US dollar prices are always calculated by halving the Barbadian dollar price. Just be aware that taxis/smaller vendors may not have change in US dollars.
Culture: Generally I would say Bajans are relaxed but also very helpful if you ever need any help or advice! Just don’t expect it to be done as quickly as you might expect. They’re used to having a lot of tourists on the island so generally you can wear what you want; most of the time you’ll probably be hanging out on the beach in your swimwear. I get quite self-conscious and cover up with a kaftan most of the time but I’ve seen lots of women who certainly have no problem flaunting it on the beach!
Getting around: Barbados really is tiny and taxis are plentiful. Taxis are really great to get because I’ve typically found the drivers very cheerful, informative and happy to give you advice on local restaurants and activities to do on the island. It’s also a good idea to rent a car if you want to go further afield than your hotel; no need to fear if you’re from the UK as they also drive on the left so it’s a piece of cake!
Other: I’ve found Barbados to be an extremely safe travel destination, although obviously try to be just as sensible as you would be at home. The atmosphere is very relaxed and locals are extremely friendly and helpful, so don’t be afraid to ask for advice to get a more authentic Bajan experience! Don’t worry too much about hurricane season (June-November), although this does coincide with the rainy season so the weather won’t be as good as it might be at other times of the year (although prices should be lower). One thing to note is be aware of mosquitoes – I get very badly bitten personally and was absolutely fine in the spring when it was drier, but got eaten alive when I went out in the evening this October. They do have Zika, Chikungunya and Dengue Fever in their mosquitoes, so be aware of this and take necessary precautions to avoid being bitten when you’re out and about.
Both times I’ve visited Barbados, I’ve stayed in the Hilton at Needham’s Point. It’s about as close to a business hotel that you can get on the island, although it does still have a private beach, several pools, various restaurants/shops and lots of great activities that you can do if you’re on holiday there. It’s a 4-star hotel and is also fairly close to the airport (about 15 minutes drive). The rooms are large and clean, although for some reason on my second stay they wouldn’t let me check in until 4pm, which seemed late. You have a choice of Bay View or Sea View rooms. The first time I stayed, I was in a Bay View room, which was beautiful. The second time, I deliberately booked the cheaper Bay View rate but was upgraded to Sea View, which is fine but not as interesting a view for me. The prices the Hilton charge are reasonable in terms of hotel prices on the island, which are generally fairly expensive, but it does of course vary hugely depending on the time of year you visit. Barbados accommodation does seem to cater more for the luxury budget, but you can get some cheaper deals by using alternative accommodation options, such as AirBnB.
As I didn’t have time to get away from my hotel and properly explore, I only got to a limited number of places for food. However, there are still some good things I can recommend; if you’re staying at the Hilton, anywhere nearby or are going to Needham’s Point to do watersports/visit the beaches, you should definitely pay a visit to Cuz’s Fish Shack – literally a shack by the beach between the Hilton and the Radisson but serves the best fish sandwiches ever, in true Bajan style. They cost around 8BBD or 4USD per sandwich, and contains fresh fish, cheese if you want, some lettuce and then can be topped off with some local Bajan hot sauce. Take these away and enjoy on the beach for lunch.
Another restaurant I went to both times (mainly because it was so close to the hotel) that serves authentic Bajan cuisine is called Brown Sugar. This is worth a visit wherever you’re staying on the island – it has a lovely atmosphere with lots of tropical plants around and has a great selection of fresh fish served in different ways, from curries to battered. I’d recommend the coconut beer shrimp and flying fish.
Although I didn’t go here myself, I also had numerous recommendations to go to Oistin’s Fish Fry on a Friday. It gets mixed reviews on Trip Advisor, but it’s definitely something I’ll try and do if I’m ever in Barbados again on a Friday!
Obviously, it goes without saying that the highlight of Barbados is its numerous white, sandy beaches. A lot of the hotels seem to be located either literally on beaches or close by, and will often have private beach access for guests.
Another set of activities that go hand in hand with the beautiful coastline are an abundance of watersports that are available all around the island. Hotels will usually have their own provider and you can often get hold of basic equipment like snorkels and flippers free of charge. As I was staying at the Hilton, I went through a company they use called Barbados Blue (right next to the hotel) to do the turtle and shipwreck snorkelling in the afternoon, which cost 80 BBD/40 USD and included all equipment. This was an amazing experience as I’ve never done anything like it before – they kit you out in flotation vests and snorkels, then they take you out away from the shoreline in a boat to the shipwrecks and turtle hotspots. The boat takes you to several spots throughout the afternoon where you can get into the sea and have a swim around. The tour guide was great – very informative and entertaining telling stories about the shipwrecks you see, as well as giving us information on the turtles they have in the area. They bring food to attract the turtles and you can end up surrounded by them; it was amazing being able to stroke their shells as they swam past you too. I’d highly recommend this for anyone visiting the island, especially those who want an underwater experience without having to do full scuba diving.
What are your favourite Barbados activities? Let me know in the comments below!