Are you one of the many people who have visited Barbados for a holiday and, in the usual way, booked your trip through a travel agent and spent a couple of weeks in an all-inclusive, beach-front resort hotel?
We’ve been regular visitors to Barbados for over a decade now and it saddens me when I hear people say they have been to the island, but have rarely ventured beyond the confines of their hotel. Barbados is a country with a rich and interesting history and culture. There is much more to experience there, than simply lying on the beach all day. The local people are hugely proud of their beautiful island and are warm and welcoming to visitors who make the effort to explore its charms.
If you’re thinking of visiting Barbados and want to see more than the view from your sun-bed, taste some real Bajan food and drink, meet Bajan people and have a totally authentic Caribbean experience, why not think about travelling independently? It’s easy, fun and safe and, better still, can be less expensive than the typical all-inclusive package.
British Airways and Virgin fly direct to Barbados every day from Gatwick, and Virgin now operate flights from Heathrow on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Expect to pay between £500 and £600 per person for a return flight, but sometimes more in peak periods. It is possible to pay less with some of the budget airlines if you are prepared to make a couple of stops. However, by the time you have paid extra for your seat, your bags and food and entertainment for the eight hour journey, these apparent savings are often diminished.
When to Visit
People often ask what time of year is the best to visit Barbados? Personally, I’d be happy to visit Barbados at any time of year. The temperatures are constant, in the high twenties all year round. Being a tropical island, rain showers are common all year but rarely troublesome enough to drive you indoors. The official wet season is between June and December and the dry season during our winter, between January and May, which is the peak tourist season. However, prices can be high and the island busy during the dry season, and it’s sometimes worth risking the odd shower or two to get a better deal.
The Crop-Over Festival begins in July and reaches its peak in August, and this is when the island is at its busiest and prices at their highest. This is the period that we tend to avoid but, if you like that sort of thing and don’t mind the crowds, Crop-Over is a vibrant and colourful spectacle that revellers travel from all over the world to take part in.
There are a multitude of villas and apartments available to rent all over the island. We prefer to use websites that allow you to book private properties directly through the owner, avoiding the additional fees and charges that come with booking through a travel company or agent. A good place to start is www.homeaway.com. We have been using them for years, have stayed in some beautiful properties and have never been disappointed.
Where to Stay
So, where on the island should you stay? There are three distinctly different areas to choose from.
The luxurious and expensive west coast is where most people head on their first visit. It’s easy to see why. Calm turquoise seas, white sandy beaches and a plethora of luxury hotels and high-end shops and restaurants, combine to make a popular playground for the rich and famous. The downside is that it can be crowded, and drinks and food are a bit pricey compared to other areas.
The south coast is the other main tourist area but is less expensive than the west. The capital, Bridgetown, is situated on the south coast and the area is considerably more built up and crowded than other parts of the island. It has its merits though, including a good choice of shops, bars and restaurants. If you are going to Barbados for the nightlife, the south coast is the place for you.
We have fallen in love with the wild and rugged beauty of the Atlantic east coast. The north east is remote and impractical for shopping, eating out and getting around the island, but the south east corner is ideally located for the airport and the main road network. Rental accommodation is plentiful and reasonably priced. A three-bedroomed villa with a private pool can cost between £2000 and £3000 for two weeks, depending on the time of year and the location.
Without a doubt, to see the best of Barbados you’ll need to hire a car. This can be expensive, usually around £500 per week, so we prefer to shop around and book in advance online, often opting for one of the smaller, family run businesses like MAH Cars who provide more flexibility and a personal service. You can pick up your car at the airport but most companies will deliver to your accommodation when convenient, avoiding that stressful jet-lagged journey from the airport on unfamiliar roads.
The joy of a self-catering holiday for us is the opportunity to make the most of the local produce. One of the first things we do after we arrive is take a trip down to the fish market at Oistins. You can buy a whole Mahi Mahi (known as Dolphin in Barbados), Tuna, Shark or Swordfish, depending on what the catch brought in that day, and get the fish monger to fillet it and cut it into steaks for you, for about £20. Pick up some home-grown vegetables at one of the roadside stalls and pop into the local supermarket for some Bajan staples and a bottle of Mount Gay rum and you will eat and drink like locals.
If you fancy a break from cooking and, let’s face it, washing up, there is no shortage of places to eat out. But please, try some of the local eateries that serve traditional Bajan food and are much better value that some of the international restaurants. Some of our favourite places include:
• Oistins Fish Fry – next to the fish market, several open-air food stalls serve freshly grilled fish, rice n’peas, coleslaw and macaroni pie. On Friday and Saturdays the entertainment here goes on until the wee hours. (average £10 p.p.)
• Fishermans Pub – situated in Speightstown up on the north west coast, this little seafront establishment serves delicious Bajan food day and night in a “rustic” environment. (average £10 p.p.)
• Atlantis Hotel – for a special treat why not try their Sunday traditional West Indian buffet in an elegant setting with stunning views over the wild Atlantic. (average £30 p.p.)
The west coast is famous for its white sandy beaches but there are beautiful beaches all over Barbados. We love these two in particular:
• Miami Beach – on the south east corner near Oistins and, while frequented by the locals, never crowded – this is our absolute favourite. It has everything – soft sand, calm seas, shady trees, and a food van that serves rum punch and flying fish sandwiches.
• Foul Bay – an absolutely stunning east coast paradise. Usually deserted and unsuitable for swimming due to the rough seas, this is wonderful place for a walk or simply basking in the sun taking in the power and beauty of the ocean.
Things to See and Do
Apart from beaches, the list of other things to do in Barbados is endless. Here are just a few suggestions:
• Races – have a day out at the Bridgetown Races on selected Saturdays
• Drive In –enjoy two movies for £5 at the outdoor cinema near Christchurch
• Seaside walks – all beaches are public access in Barbados. Walk the south coast Boardwalk or the west coast beaches from Paynes Bay to Holetown. Pop into the sea to cool off, or stop for an ice cold beer whenever the mood takes you.
• Catamaran Trip – no trip to Barbados is complete without a catamaran trip. Morning or afternoon excursions include unlimited rum punch, a Bajan buffet and swimming with turtles. One of the best is http://www.coolrunningsbarbados.com
So why not give it go? Experience the real Barbados! Have an authentic experience, save money and support the islands’ economy at the same time. Go independent on your next trip to this wonderful island!