Easternmost of the Caribbean islands, Barbados is the “Little England of Eternal Summer.” Meaning “the bearded ones,” its name is said to have been given by a Portuguese discoverer because of the beardlike vines on the fig trees. With nearly 1,600 inhabitants per square mile, Barbados is one of the most densely populated countries in the Caribbean; the friendliness of its people is its foremost charm.
The silver sand beaches on the Caribbean side of the island contrast with the rugged Atlantic coastline. Roads are bordered by fields of cane, royal palms and rolling hills and terraces. Vivid tropical flowers, including fragrant oleander, frangipani, jasmine, cassia, bougainvillea, hibiscus and lady-of-the-night, lie in profusion along neat hedgerows. Scarlet flame trees and coral walls shelter the well-tended lawns of color-washed houses, and windmills of former sugar plantations dot the land, though the Morgan Lewis Sugar Mill is the only one with its arms and wheelhouses still intact.
Bridgetown, the capital, is representative of the island's heritage. Its typically English atmosphere is enhanced by names like Yorkshire and Windsor and by the ritual of afternoon tea, which occurs at “half past four.”
Once inhabited only by Arawak Indians, Barbados was discovered by the Portuguese in the 16th century. The English claimed it in 1625, and 2 years later the first settlers arrived. The island's population increased significantly during the mid-1600s as English immigrants fled the political unrest in their homeland and slaves were brought from Africa to work the sugar crops. The colony thrived early on as a result of the tobacco and cotton trade and became a prosperous sugar producer in the 17th and 18th centuries. During the struggle for European supremacy in the Caribbean, 35 forts were built along 25 miles (40 km) of coastline. The ruins of many are still visible.
Of all the islands in the West Indies, Barbados is one of the only ones to have remained solely in the hands of its original settlers. This fact helps explain the island's stability and the British flavor that has remained constant over the centuries.
Since 1954 Barbados has had a ministerial system of government with a governor general appointed by the Queen of Great Britain on recommendation of the prime minister, who heads the island's government. Barbados became an independent nation on Nov. 30, 1966. A coat of arms bearing the motto “Pride and Industry” speaks for the high literacy rate and prosperous economy; Barbados is one of the most economically stable Caribbean islands, with tourism, sugar production, financial services and light industry forming the basis of the economy.
High-quality English clothing and Scottish and English fabrics are excellent buys in Barbados. Bridgetown tailor shops on Prince Alfred and Tudor streets offer made-to-measure clothing in a variety of materials ranging from sea island cotton to imported tweeds. Baskets, seashell trinkets, pottery, English china and silver, silks and Oriental objects and antiques also are popular purchases. Another leading commodity available at a very low price is Barbados rum, said to be the world's oldest. By shopping in the afternoon you can avoid the morning rush.
Most of the duty-free shopping in Bridgetown is concentrated on Broad Street. Cave Shepherd & Co., Bridgetown's largest department store, features Waterford, Wedgwood, Royal Doulton and Swarovski china and crystal, an extensive selection of cosmetics and fragrances, leather goods, jewelry, electronics, fashions and a liquor department. Harrison's is a department store containing a vast assortment of luxury items including Lladró figurines, designer sweaters, jewelry and watches by Cartier, Fendi and Gucci.
The Colonnade Mall, also on Broad Street, houses several interesting boutiques. Just opposite is Mall 34, with shops displaying high quality merchandise from India and Europe, and the Royal Shop, with a wide selection of watches.
Malls in the Hastings and Worthing area of Christ Church include Lanterns at Hastings, Hastings Plaza, Skyway Plaza and Quayside Centre. Sheraton Mall, said to be the island's largest shopping establishment, is in Christ Church at Sargeants Village, less than 20 minutes from the airport.
Chattel House Village, a shopping area in Holetown, St. James, consists of a medley of actual chattel houses, all colorfully painted. The village contains a variety of boutiques, including a Best of Barbados gift shop. Limegrove Lifestyle Centre offers a mix of designer stores and restaurants.
Barbados is said to have some of the finest antiques in the West Indies. Reputable dealers include Greenwich House Antiques at Greenwich Village, St. James.
Medford Craft World, on White Hall Main Road, specializes in such local handicrafts as pottery, wood carvings, and batik and woven baskets. Shells, metal art, leather, coral and other island-made articles can be found at Pelican Village, on Princess Alice Highway near Deep Water Harbour. Clothing, jewelry and mahogany pieces are among the items crafted by artisans at Heritage Park in St. Philip.
The Best of Barbados Shops, with several locations throughout the island, sell only products made or designed in Barbados. The shops have a wide assortment of local handicrafts and souvenirs including hand-painted tile, kitchen items, local prints, pottery and T-shirts. Earthworks Pottery atop Shop Hill in St. Thomas offers handmade pottery.
Some stores feature in-bond departments, where certain merchandise has been set aside and marked with two prices. The higher price applies to buy-and-take purchases. The second in-bond price, usually considerably lower, once applied only to merchandise purchased in the store and delivered to the airport or pier. However, most in-bond shops now allow tourists with proper ID (passport and travel ticket) to take their duty-free items from the store. Shopping hours for most stores in Barbados are Mon.-Fri. 8-4, Sat. 8-noon. Banks are open Mon.-Thurs. 9-3, Fri. 9-4.
Food and Drink
In addition to fine Continental and curried dishes, Barbados has many island specialties. These include bonavist, small white beans often seasoned with pumpkin and herbs; jug-jug, a molded dish of chopped ham and salt beef or pork combined with green peas; cou-cou, a savory pudding made with cornmeal and okra; and Barbadian black pudding, similar to a sausage stuffed with seasoned grated sweet potatoes.
Other local foods include pepperpot, a spicy stew made with selected meats; and conkies, a steamed concoction of sweet potatoes, cornmeal, pumpkin, coconut, raisins and spices served in a banana leaf. Roast suckling pig and native “flying fish” are favorite specialties. Fresh lobster and seafood are available. The fruits of Barbados are avocados, mangoes, guavas, bananas, breadfruit, golden apples, hog plums, gooseberries, cherries, pears, oranges, limes and grapefruit.
The name “rum” may have originated in Barbados, where a 17th-century observer wrote, “The chief fuddling they make in the Island is Rum Bullion, alias Kill-Devil, and is made of sugarcane distilled, a hot, hellish and terrible liquor.” Today, the island rum is known for its smooth, refined taste.
Most hotels and resorts on Barbados include a 10-percent service charge on the guest's bill to cover gratuities. However, in nightclubs and restaurants, tipping is at the discretion of the guest.
Sports and Amusements
Most major hotels have a beach or are near one, and all types of aquatic gear can be rented. Motorboats (for water skiing) and sailboats are available for hire at beach club resorts. Conditions are excellent for skiing in the tranquil waters off the west coast, while sailing is favorable on both the west and south coasts. In the path of the trade winds, the east coast beaches are considered dangerous for swimming but ideal for surfing, with the Soup Bowl at Bathsheba being the best area for this sport.
Popular west coast beaches include Mullins Beach near Speightstown, which features a good snorkeling reef just offshore as well as shaded areas, shower facilities and an open-air restaurant providing a view of the bay. Paynes Bay, recognizable by the neighboring fish market, is a site where numerous water sports are indulged in. Visitors will enjoy the picturesque bay at Sandy Lane, with public access available on either side of the hotel.
Southeast coast beaches are not known for swimming amenities, but rather for their rugged beauty. Bottom Bay is a delightful cove with a white sand beach surrounded by cliffs and a coconut grove. At Crane Beach, pounding waves crash against the rocky shore while the beach area offers plenty of pink sand. The Crane, reputedly the Caribbean's oldest operating hotel, rests atop a dramatic cliff surrounding the beach; parking is available at the beach or hotel. Foul Bay Beach is accessible by a road that travels downward to a paved parking area. This long stretch of beach, nestled between two cliffs, has a wide expanse of seagrape trees.
Popular beaches on the south coast of Barbados include Accra, where water-sports equipment is available for rental and opportunities are good for body surfing. Silver Sands Beach is frequented by windsurfers due to large waves and abundant winds. Worthing Beach, known by locals as Sandy Beach, is preferred by families because of its shallow lagoon and calm seas.
Conditions for windsurfing are excellent on the south coast, due to constant trade winds and year-round water temperatures of about 78 degrees Fahrenheit.
At the Folkestone Marine Park off Holetown on the St. James coast, snorkelers and divers can follow an underwater trail along a coral reef where fish, sea anemones and sea fans can be seen.
Scuba diving lessons lasting about 2.5 hours are taught at several dive shops; reputable establishments include Underwater Barbados. Scuba gear rentals and dives can be arranged through some hotels.
Numerous shipwrecks in the waters around Barbados provide excellent diving opportunities. A large number of these wrecks are concentrated in Carlisle Bay, including Sea Trek, deliberately sunk in about 40 feet (12 m) of water; The Berwyn, an old tugboat brimming with sea life less than 10 feet (3 m) from the surface; and The Fox, a 120-foot schooner approximately 40 feet (12 m) from the surface that is home to numerous crustaceans. Friar's Craig is a small vessel in the area of coast just east of Aquatic Gap. The Stavronikita, a Greek freighter, was deliberately sunk by the Park and Beaches Commission in Folkestone Underwater Park.
January through June are the best fishing months; dolphin fish, kingfish, snapper, yellowfin tuna, shark and barracuda are plentiful. Fishing boats and guides can be hired for fishing excursions at most hotels or through the Barbados Game Fishing Association. The association also sponsors an annual fishing contest the last week in March, and visitors may enter the international competition.
Though Barbados calls itself the “Land of the Flying Fish,” the national symbol has become scarce in recent years. Schools of the small, leaping fish have migrated south to warmer waters off Trinidad and Tobago, leaving the Bajan fishing fleet without its signature catch.
Check at your hotel's activities desk for information about snorkeling, scuba diving, deep-sea fishing and charter boats. Carlisle Bay is the island's sailing headquarters.
There are tennis courts at many hotels; reservations are recommended. Squash enthusiasts can play at the Barbados Squash Club.
Golfers also can enjoy their sport at several courses on the island. The 18-hole Barbados Golf Club in Christ Church is open to the public; phone (246) 538-4653. Renowned golf course architect Tom Fazio has designed two 18-hole courses at the Sandy Lane Golf Club, and the “Old Nine” also is available for play; phone (246) 444-2000. The championship golf course at Royal Westmoreland in St. James is open to resort guests and visiting golfers staying elsewhere; phone (246) 419-7242.
Horseback riding inland is offered at Ride Barbados at the Cleland Plantation in St. Andrew, (246) 257-9430.
Cricket is the chief spectator sport in Barbados. Visitors can watch matches at the national level at several sports clubs May through December, and at the international level January through March. Kensington Oval in Bridgetown regularly holds matches; phone (246) 537-1600. Soccer is popular January through April. Polo is played July through February at Holder's in St. James.
The Garrison Savannah has a horse-racing track with races held every other Saturday, except during the month of October. The Sandy Lane Barbados Gold Cup, the biggest race in the Caribbean, usually takes place in March; festivities and a parade accompany this exciting event. The Barbados Turf Club's race meetings, held five times a year, are joyous occasions with music, food booths and a general carnival atmosphere; phone (246) 626-3980.
Many discos, nightclubs and restaurants provide after-dinner entertainment. The limbo and calypso, danced to the haunting rhythm of steel bands, entertain spectators and participants alike. For those who would rather look at the stars than dance beneath them, the Barbados Astronomical Society offers a night of stargazing at the Harry Bayley Observatory in nearby Clapham every Friday from 9 to 10:30 (weather permitting); phone (246) 622-2000 to verify status. Although there are no casinos in Barbados, slot machines are permitted; there are arcades in Bridgetown and at some resorts.
Annual events include the Barbados Horticulture Society's Flower and Garden Show, an event in late January showcasing local plants, crafts and pottery. The Holetown Festival in February commemorates the arrival of English settlers in 1627. Activities include a parade of vintage cars, a street fair and arts and crafts.
In late March or early April, the Oistins Fish Festival pays tribute to Barbados' fishing industry; boat races and a fish-boning contest are among the events. Gospelfest Barbados brings top performers to Bridgetown on Whitsuntide weekend at the end of May.
Barbadians eagerly anticipate the nonstop revelry of the Crop-Over Festival, which occurs from early June to early August. The event, an island-wide folk celebration in honor of the completion of the sugar cane harvest, is considered one of the Caribbean's most popular. It features calypso competitions, art shows, food, music, crafts, a costume parade and fireworks on Kadooment Day (a national holiday) and other entertainment. Bajan music, singing, drama, dance and writing are celebrated every year at the National Independence Festival of Creative Arts in November.
The Barbados Advocate and The NationNews are Bridgetown's daily newspapers. The Nation also produces The Weekend Nation, The Sun on Saturday, The Sunday Sun and Better Health Magazine.
From January through March the Barbados National Trust offers its Open House, allowing the public to visit some of Barbados' most attractive and interesting private homes and gardens. Tours are offered every Wednesday from 1:45-5:00. Admission is $35; free (ages 0-12). A different house is featured each week, with past highlights including Morgan Lewis House, Newlands Manor, Foster Lodge and Gardenia Plantation House; phone the National Trust at (246) 426-2421 for the weekly program.
The National Trust also sponsors guided hikes. These free informative walks range from 6 miles (9.65 km) to 12 miles (19.31 km) and offer insight into Barbados' history, environment and culture. Tours are offered Sundays at 6 a.m., 3:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Reservations must be made a day in advance; phone (246) 436-9033.
Barbados has four lighthouses positioned on strategic areas of coastline. Ragged Point Lighthouse, in St. Philip at the island's eastern tip, is constructed of coral limestone and provides an outstanding view of the east coast and Pico Tenerife. South Point Lighthouse, at the island's southernmost point in Christ Church, is a cast-iron structure made in England and shipped to Barbados in 1851. Other lighthouses are at Harrison Point in St. Lucy and Needham's Point in St. Michael.
You can arrange to tour some of the large sugar factories, such as Portvale and Andrews. The Portvale Sugar Factory near Holetown, is open during the sugar-grinding season from February through May. Visits should be arranged in advance; phone (246) 426-2421. Tours and tastings also are available at Mount Gay Rum Distillery in St. Michael on Spring Garden Highway; phone (246) 227-8864.
Glass-bottom boats afford a fascinating view of sea life among the coral reefs of the west coast; the Folkestone Marine Park and the old shipwrecks in Carlisle Bay are popular attractions. Lunch cruises aboard the Jolly Roger depart from Carlisle House, The Careenage. Music and swimming are featured on four-hour cruises that take passengers along the coast in a replica of a pirate ship. Snorkeling stops are offered on catamaran cruises, which often include a buffet lunch; phone (246) 826-7245.
Cruises to neighboring islands can be arranged through Chantours Caribbean, (246) 432-5591, and St. James Travel and Tours, (246) 432-0774.
Tour operators offering a wide variety of land excursions include Island Safari, (246) 429-5337.
One of the most popular sightseeing drives follows the rugged Atlantic coast past such points of interest as Codrington College, St. John's Church and the pottery works at Chalky Mount. Those touring Barbados will notice numerous chattel houses made of wood, historically built up on rocks so they could be dismantled easily and moved to another location. Rum shops also contribute to the local flavor, serving as village meeting places where locals can exchange news.
The East Coast Road, traversing the rolling hills and greenery of the Scotland district and the rocky east coast, provides spectacular sightseeing opportunities. The road travels past Bathsheba, a haven for surfers and identified by the huge boulders protruding from the water; a small park area provides picnic tables and restroom facilities.
Cattlewash, a scenic stretch of coast punctuated by beach houses, took its name from the cattle that occasionally wander through the area. North of Cattlewash, Barclays Park is a popular spot for picnicking and recreation. The park overlooks a scenic stretch of coast lined with seagrape, hog plum and Casuarina trees. Swimming is not recommended due to the strong undercurrent. Visitors have access to a facility with changing rooms, showers and restrooms. A small restaurant in the 50-acre (20-hectare) park serves good Barbadian food on a seasonal basis.
Barbados' famed “Platinum Coast” along the Caribbean is lined with luxury hotels boasting tranquil beaches of powdery sand. A tour through St. Thomas Parish in the center of the island usually includes the botanical garden at Welchman Hall Gully and Harrison's Cave. St. Thomas and neighboring St. George are the only parishes without any coastal area.
Oistins is a picturesque fishing village in Christ Church Parish at the south end of the island. Several restored historic rum shops are in the area and can be visited. Visitors and locals can partake in freshly-cooked fish at the Oistins Fish Fry.
Daily nonstop flights from New York and Miami touch down at Barbados' Grantley Adams International Airport. Interisland flights connect Barbados with Trinidad, Grenada, St. Vincent, St. Lucia, Martinique, Jamaica and the islands to the north. Barbados also is a port of call for many cruise ships.
The roads from Bridgetown to the popular districts are good, and the Adams-Barrow-Cummins (ABC) Highway from the airport to Highway 2A at Warrens enables traffic to bypass Bridgetown, reducing travel time by about 50 percent. You can rent cars, minimokes (resembling small jeeps), scooters, bicycles, chauffeur-driven cars and limousines. You must present a valid U.S. driver's license to obtain a Barbados permit.
Driving is on the left side of the road. Speed limits are 35 mph (60 km/h) in most areas of the island, with the exception being 25 mph (40 km/h) in town and 50 mph (80 km/h) on the Spring Garden and ABC highways. No car may be driven in Barbados without third-party insurance coverage. Slow-moving vehicles should travel on the left side of all double-lane highways.
Frequent bus service connects the parishes with Bridgetown. Transport Board buses, painted blue and trimmed in yellow, depart every half-hour from the two main terminals in Bridgetown: The Princess Alice Highway terminal provides transportation to destinations in the north part of the island and along the west coast, while the Fairchild Street terminal is for southbound travelers. There also is a Transport Board terminal in the north in Speightstown.
Privately owned minibuses, yellow with blue trim, travel shorter distances and therefore have faster turnaround times. The main minibus terminals are in Bridgetown at Probyn Street, River Road and Cheapside. Even when at a designated stop, you must wave at the minibuses to get the driver to come to a halt. Buses run daily 6 a.m.-midnight; fare is $2 U.S. and exact change is required for the Transport Board buses.
Taxis are readily available in the National Heroes' Square area of Bridgetown; a taxi stand is next to a fountain adorned with dolphins. Check the fixed rates before taking a cab.
Area430 sq km (166 sq mi.).
Highest Point332 m (1,089 ft.), Mount Hillaby.
Lowest PointSea level, Atlantic Ocean.
Time Zone(s)Atlantic Standard.
GovernmentIndependent. Member of the British Commonwealth of Nations.
CurrencyBarbados dollar. $1 U.S. = 2 Barbados dollars. U.S. bills and travelers checks are accepted by most hotels.
Electricity115 volts, 50 cycles AC.
MINIMUM AGE FOR DRIVERS21-25, depending on the rental car agency. Local license ($5 U.S.) required, valid for 60 days; drive on left.
Seat Belt/Child Restraint LawsSeat belts are required for all passengers.
HolidaysJan. 1; Errol Barrow Day, Jan. 21; Good Friday; Easter; Easter Monday; National Heroes Day, Apr. 28, Labour Day, May 1; Whit Monday, May or June (8th Mon. after Easter); Emancipation Day, Aug. 1; Kadooment Day, Aug. (1st Mon.); Independence Day, Nov. 30; Christmas, Dec. 25; Boxing Day, Dec. 26.
TaxesA 15 percent room tax and 10 percent service charge are added to most hotel bills. A 17.5 percent VAT (value-added tax) is charged for food and beverages. A $70 airport passenger service charge and security fee is usually included in the airline ticket price.
ImmigrationA valid passport and a return or onward ticket are required. No visa required for U.S. citizens for stays up to 6 months or for Canadian citizens for stays up to 3 months. The U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security requires all U.S. citizens returning from the Caribbean to present a valid passport.
PHONING THE ISLANDSTo call Barbados from the U.S. or Canada, dial 1 + 246 + the 7-digit local number.
Further Information Barbados Tourism Marketing, Inc.—United States 820 Second Ave., 5th Floor New York, NY 10017. Phone:(212)551-4350
Barbados Tourism Marketing, Inc.—Canada 110 Sheppard Ave. E. Suite 205 North York, ON M2N 6Y8. Phone:(416)214-9880
Barbados Tourism Marketing, Inc. Warrens Office Complex First Floor Warrens, BARBADOS . Phone:(246)535-3700
AAA’s in-person hotel evaluations are unscheduled to ensure the inspector has an experience similar to that of members. To pass inspection, all hotels must meet the same rigorous standards for cleanliness, comfort and hospitality. These hotels receive a AAA Diamond designation that tells members what type of experience to expect.