Pictures by Mike Small
Miami beach is our absolute favourite beach in Barbados for swimming and relaxing. We discovered it 2014, when we first stayed on the east coast, and it was recommended by our hosts at the time. We have visited many other beaches on the island and are always willing to try out other people’s favourites but, so far, none has compared with Miami, and we keep coming back here.
Miami Beach enjoys some of the best features of the south, east and west coast beaches, all rolled into one. It has the powder-soft, white sand of the west coast, and the water is warm and shallow, with just enough east coast surf for a bit of fun. It has a long wide beach with an area at the back shaded by Casaurina pines, and it’s south facing position at the bottom of the island, makes it a great place to catch one of Barbados’ legendary sunsets.
Miami beach is popular with locals. During, the cooler hours of the early morning and late afternoon, people come there to exercise: walking, swimming, playing paddle ball, or working out on the fitness equipment. I’ve even seen people boxing, practicing yoga or karate moves and doing shuttle runs.
A man-made promontory divides Miami Beach in two. The cove on the west side is smaller and more sheltered, and as close to a swimming pool as you’re going to get in the area. There are a few picnic tables on the headland, and a small area of sand, but this area is largely used for swimming. The water is calm, warm and shallow. If the waves are too rough on the main beach (which they can be in certain conditions), and you don’t feel brave enough to get out beyond the breakers, a short walk over to the other side will present you with a gentler option for your sea bath. Generally, visitors favour the east side and locals the west.
How to get there
If you are travelling from the west, Miami beach is on the main southern coast road, just after Oistins. You can park in the car park behind the old Barbados Postal Service building, that also serves the Oistins Police Station and Magistrates Court. If you prefer, you can carry on along the main road, past the point where Thornbury Hill Road forks off to the left, and take a right down Enterprise Drive. Turn right when you hit the beach road and you can park anywhere along there.
The facilities on Miami beach are good. There is a lifeguard station on the headland and a shower and toilet block at its end. In the car park there is usually a street vendor selling fishcakes and soft drinks, and another couple near the shower block. In normal times, they would sell beer and fish cutters (the Bajan version of a sandwich), but this has all changed during the Time of Covid. Again, in normal times, on the main beach, a couple of people rent out sunbeds for BD$10 a day, and there is a stall that sells beachwear.
For many years, a highlight of Miami Beach was Mr Delicious, a catering van that sold Bajan snacks and cocktails. Sadly, Mr Delicious closed down a year or two ago, reportedly due to family “issues”. The lonely old van now stands desolate and rusting, in the corner under the trees.
On the beach road, there are a couple of hotels where you could grab a more substantial (and pricier) lunch if required, and at the time of writing, what looks like a new beach bar, is currently under construction at the far end of the road by the shower block.
Thanks to the Barbados National Conservation Commission, who look after the outdoor environment in Barbados, you can even get free Wi-Fi on Miami Beach. However, be aware that the signal can be poor at times.
Generally, Miami beach is fantastic for swimming. But conditions vary, depending on the weather. On a calm day (and most days are like this), the water is calm and crystal clear, but in unsettled conditions the waves can be frighteningly big and create a strong undertow. For us, the waves are part of the fun of bathing on Miami Beach. Timing your entry and exit to coincide with a gap between the “big ones”, is essential to avoid catastrophic wipe-outs. I’m slightly ashamed to admit, that a highly amusing form of beach entertainment, involves watching the display of spectacular, inadvertent acrobatics when various people get taken out by a wave. Our own personal experiences of this, have involved embarrassing disrobing incidents, and the loss of some very expensive sunglasses.
However, some people have been seriously injured, and you do have to be careful. There is a flag system in place. Green means it’s safe to swim, yellow means you should take care, and red means you should stay out of the water. You can also get a sense of the strength of the undertow from the colour of the surf. If the surf is brown, it means it’s churning up the sand and you should take care.
Of course, if it’s too rough to swim on the main beach, you always have the option of moving round the corner.
Miami Beach is close to the fishing port of Oistins, the bustling heart of the southeast corner of the island. There are plenty of places to stay in the area, and a relative abundance of shops, cafes and restaurants. Most accommodation consists of self-catering houses and apartments, but there are a couple of hotels on the beach road. For a while, the only hotel in the area was the boutique, Little Arches, with its roof-top restaurant, Café Luna.
A couple of years ago Accra Beach, one of the island’s most popular south coast hotels, built a sister establishment down at Miami, the Abidah. Honestly, the towering, aquamarine and white, Abidah was a shocking emergence that dwarfs the quaint and elegant Little Arches next door. However, initial fears that the beach would be overrun with sun-greedy, rum-swilling tourists, have so far not been realised. However, The Time of Covid began soon after Abidah opened, and only time will tell what the future holds for the gloriously generous Miami Beach.
There are plenty of places to eat in the area. The most obvious is the Oistins Fish Fry, which comes alive on Friday and Saturday nights, but we also love Surfers Café and, if we fancy a treat, Café Luna. For lunch on the beach, with the absence of Mr Delicious, and the current unavailability of a fish cutter washed down with a cold Banks, we’ve taken to picking up a patty from one of the street vendors by the bus station, or Crumbz Bakery on the corner of Thornbury Hill Road, and bringing down our own cold beers in a cool-box.
Miami beach is very close to the airport. In fact, every flight that arrives in Barbados flies low over the beach on its approach to the runway. You might think that would be an irritating intrusion but, to the contrary, it is yet another point of interest for the Miami beachgoer. Grantly Adams is not Heathrow. There are only a few flights in and out of the airport each day and they are concentrated at the same time. Early to mid-afternoon is generally when most inbound flights arrive. Plane spotting is a popular pastime on Miami Beach, with everyone stopping what they are doing and shielding their eyes to watch the planes pass over. When we are expecting visitors, we have been known to wait for them on the beach until we see their plane arrive, then hop into the car and head over to the airport to pick them up.
The Time of Covid
Miami Beach is a very different place during the Time of Covid. The sunbeds are tied up in blue tarpaulin waiting for better days, their owners reputedly temporarily trying their hand at selling fruit and vegetables instead. The usual street vendors, with their cold beers and fish cutters, have been replaced by newcomers offering limited menus of fishcakes and soft drinks. While it is never crowded, pre-Covid you would have to get there early to nab your favourite shady spot. Now, you pretty much have your pick, whatever time of day you arrive. Fewer planes are coming in, and their arrival stimulates extra interest and discussion about which airline they represent, and where they have come from.
Miami Beach is officially called Enterprise Beach, and indeed, this is what is on the sign as you hit the beach road. However, locals always refer to it as Miami, but everyone I have asked, doesn’t know why. Enterprise is an area to the east of Oistins that is popular with Canadian and American visitors and immigrants (I prefer the term “immigrant” to that of “ex-pat”). It is a bit of a hub for surfers with some of the islands surf schools operating in and around Freights Bay.
Miami Beach didn’t exist until the late 1970’s, after the headland was constructed. Because the currents move from east to west on the south coast, the structure allowed for a build-up of sand on its east side, and so Miami Beach was born. Once the beach began to grow, the trees were planted with the deliberate intention of creating a much-needed area of shade.
Miami Beach is popular with locals and tourists alike, but its location means that it is never overcrowded, or hasn’t yet become so. It seems to be far enough away from the west and south coasts to deter most “all-inclusive” hotel guests from venturing that far. A few guests at Little Arches (and presumably Abidah in the future), have been known to leave the poolside and come down to the beach, standing around awkwardly for the time it takes for a member of the hotel staff to lay out their sun-beds, plump up their plush, navy cushions, and erect their matching parasol.
Miami Beach is especially popular though, with the “returning national” population, and with immigrants from the US, Canada and Europe, who have made Barbados their home. The main attraction for them seems to be the shade, and regulars will unfold their beach chairs under the trees and settle down for a day of reading, relaxing, chatting and people watching, interrupted by the occasional dip.
Bajans tend to frequent the beach in greater numbers at the weekends, setting up the picnic benches under the trees with foil covered, steaming trays of all sorts of deliciousness for family parties and other get-togethers.
Fred is almost an institution on Miami Beach. A warm and friendly, recently widowed, retiree from the USA, who has had a home on the island for 30 years, who visits the beach every day except Sundays, when he lunches with his neighbours. He sits in the shade of the same tree, arriving around 10:00 and leaving promptly at 15:00. You could set your watch by him, and we do. We tend to head home around 16:00 ourselves so, when Fred leaves, we know we have an hour left.
If no-one else is there, Fred reads or makes use of the NCC Wi-Fi to play Words with Friends on his i-pad. But, generally, he acts as a magnet for other regular visitors to the beach and is rarely alone. All manner of people are drawn to him, and he is a focal point for networking and introductions on the sand. Everyone seems to know Fred, and Fred seems to know everyone. People come to the beach specially to talk to him. They’ll park their car on the beach road and pop down for a seat and a chat, before carrying on with their day.
We met Fred a few weeks after we arrived this time. He has subsequently introduced us to other people, facilitating the first buds of an emerging social life on the island and some helpful contacts for future visits. He is a font of knowledge about living on Barbados. Whatever you need, he can tell you where to find it or how to go about getting it, whether it is a ladies hairdresser, good quality beach chairs, a tasty roti, what is covered by your rental insurance, or how to open a bank account.
Fred is a storyteller. Not only does he have an interesting story to tell on almost any topic you can imagine, but he also knows more about the recent history of Barbados than anyone else I have met. But Fred has another quality that is so rare in this day and age. Although he likes to talk himself, he is also a fantastic listener. He has an uncanny ability to urge you to tell him all sorts of things that you wouldn’t normally tell a stranger.
But the thing that fascinates me the most about Fred, is how resourceful he is. Many of his stories involve how he has fixed something or built something from scratch. Like the time when some girls that were staying with him had a flat tyre that was running on the rim, and he was able to make their car sufficiently driveable to get them to a place where they could get a new tyre, by wrapping a rope around the rim. Or the time when he was contacted by the water authorities who suspected he had a leak and he flew down with everything he needed in his luggage to find the source of the leak and repair it. Or the time when the sole of his shoe came away while he was in transit at an airport, and he just happened to have a roll of gaffer tape in his pocket which he used to fix it. When a man on the beach was talking about some issues he was having erecting a steel mesh fence, Fred just dropped into conversation that he has a special tool he could borrow called a “chain grab”, from when he built a fence around his own property to keep the neighbour’s dog out.
Fred is a legend!