Barbados – The Sand, the Sea and the Sunshine

Everyone associates Barbados with sand, sea and sunshine and how right they are!

We have been blessed with a beautiful tropical climate, our beaches have pristine white sand and the sea is turquoise blue.  The sun rises majestically every day of the year and it sets with just as much aplomb.  There’s nothing quite like a Barbados West Coast sunset to end the day.

Barbados also has a rich green hinterland that comes from the much-needed tropical showers.  Rain is vital to the lush tropical landscape and it generally comes in short bursts.

Our island is small, barely 166 square miles, and the most popular beaches are on the West and South Coasts.  The rugged North and East Coasts are spectacularly beautiful, in stark contrast to the lazy tranquil West Coast.  There are no private beaches in Barbados and it costs nothing to drop your towel on the sand and plunge into that warm inviting surf.  Swimming is safe at the popular beaches but everyone should be cognizant of the prevailing weather conditions and take heed of the red flags that warn of inclement conditions and dangerous currents.

Many of the beaches are protected by reefs close to the shore and this makes it ideal for snorkeling and watersports.  Soft tropical breezes enhance tanning but always be careful and use protection as the sun is hot and make sure to cover up if you are not used to it.

Many of the popular beaches offer loungers and umbrellas at a modest cost, and toilets and refreshments are usually in close proximity.  Most of the remote beaches are lightly populated and while beaches are generally safe, everyone needs to exercise their own due diligence and personal security.

The sun rises just before six almost every morning and sets just after six most days.  In between you have over 12 hours to enjoy the sand, sea and sunshine of our beautiful tropical island.

Barbados – Sightseeing, shopping and activities

Every holiday revolves around sightseeing, shopping and activities but it depends on your individual preference as to where the priority lies.  Quite simply, it is different strokes for different folks in these area but visitors will have plenty to consider.

Barbados is a small island and an island tour with Island Safari will take you everywhere in 5-6 hours including a lunch stop.  Value for money it’s one of the best ways to discover Barbados.  Taxis and buses also offer tours but the jeep safari exceeds them all.  If you prefer the comfort and relaxation of a catamaran cruise then you have the option of the lovely Silver Moon cruises.  They have a daily lunch cruise which includes snorkeling on wrecks, swimming with the turtles, a tasty lunch and plenty of drinks on the house.  They also do a special sundown cruise which takes you down the west coast for a tranquil and romantic sail, enjoying the magnificent sunset. 

Another option is to hire a car and do your own thing!  Reputable car hire companies like Corbin’s Car Hire, Courtesy Car Rental, Drive A Matic, Top Car Rental have a wealth of experience in the business and although the roads are narrow driving is not hazardous or difficult.  You may miss a road here and there but that’s part of the fun of driving in Barbados.  When all else fails just look at the bus signs – ‘Into Bridgetown’ or ‘Out of Bridgetown’.   

Barbados has plenty of sightseeing options and they vary from the historical Garrison area where the museum is located, to old plantation homes like Nicholas Abbey.  Harrison’s Caves is a spectacular underground experience which has recently been renovated and rates as the island’s top attraction and the Legends Cricket Museum close to Kensington Oval which is full of cricket memorabilia and history is a must for all cricket fans.

A visit to the City Centre in Bridgetown can be both sightseeing and a shopping experience.  This old colonial seaport has retained much of its ambience down the years and Broad Street is a bustling all action thoroughfare packed with people , traffic, shops and energy.  Nelson’s statue stands close to Heroes Square and Parliament Buildings at the top of the one-way street and the impressive old Mutual Building sits majestically at the other end.  In between is half a mile of shops and frenzy.  For an island that is characterized by a laidback relaxed lifestyle, Broad Street and Bushy Park (car racing) are the exceptions!

Shopping is a personal thing, but Broad Street offers many options from the big Cave Shepherd all-in department store with it’s excellent designer wear in Broad Street Men’s and Women’s Designer Wear to Diamonds International, Colombian Emeralds and  the Royal Shop for jewellery that is ultra special.  Barbados has an excellent reputation in jewellery for high quality and keen prices.

The City Centre shopping experience also includes Swan street which runs parallel to Broad Street and offers less expensive options in a maze of shops and stores.  It’s just as nice, but there are plenty of bargains on offer and that’s a big attraction to shoppers. 

Away from the City Centre there are some excellent malls where the dynamic is scaled down to zero and shopping is a relaxing past time.  Lime Grove Lifestyle Centre at Holetown is a magnificent new upmarket shopping experience packed with high-end stores and boutiques.  It is a must for serious shoppers and the Polo Ralph Lauren store is as good as it gets, packed with some of  the more exclusive Polo Ralph Lauren labels and catering to men and ladies with lots of choice in clothes, swimwear and accessories. You have to experience this store!

By their nature activities can be as energetic or as docile as you prefer.  It’s a bit like a West Coast cruise which can be as peaceful as a romantic Silver Moon catamaran cruise or as raucous as a Jolly Roger party.  Or you can go underwater on the popular Atlantis submarines for an unforgettable ‘under the sea’ adventure.  The same could be said for diving and many visitors come to the island specifically to dive the numerous wrecks that have dubbed Barbados ‘the dive capital of the Caribbean’.  The dive experience also includes novices and the highly qualified instructors at Hightide Diving at the Coral Reef Hotel, take great pride in launching the diving careers of many visitors.

Aerial Trek is a much different experience as it involves an amazing trip across jungle terrain using Zip line technology.  Safety precautions are of the highest standard for a unique experience that will never be forgotten. Cane and hike treks are also offered at gulley level for those who prefer a more leisurely pace.

Barbados has always been identified with the Concorde as the rich and famous used this visionary aircraft to come and go to their favourite Caribbean paradise.  It was therefore quite a coup when the island secured one of the old aircraft and turned it into a museum situated close to the airport.  The Concorde Experience is a unique journey back in time and a must do for traveling aficionados.

The same must do should apply to a visit to Earthworks Pottery in St Thomas.  If one product identifies with the island then it has to be Earthworks as it has been carried all over the world as a gift.  See the pottery being made, visit the gift shop, enjoy a relaxing coffee, look at the magnificent view.

Rum production has been at the heart of the Barbados economy for over 300 years and Mount Gay Rum has been at the helm.  Visitors love to trace the origins of rum production, sample the product and take home some of the branded products.  All this can be done at the Mount Gay Visitor’s Centre located on the Spring Garden Highway.

Many visitors enjoy the rich natural beauty of Barbados and marvel at our botanical blessings,  One of the best places to enjoy them is at the Flower Forest Botanical Gardens in the Scotland district in the east of the island.  Fifty acres of wild natural beauty have been conserved and embellished with local tropical plants and others from all over the world.

Activities don’t stop with daylight and Barbados boasts some of the best nightlife in the region.  St Lawrence Gap remains the heartbeat of Barbados after hours, although Harbour Lights has been the most popular nightspot for socialites for over 30 years.  Enjoy their beach dinner parties on Monday and Wednesday nights complete with bajan floorshow and stay for the disco afterwards.  Live Music, Dj’s, party nights and all-in packages are features of Harbour Lights.  During the day, you can rent beach chairs and umbrellas, but lunch, take a shower and just chill!

It’s different strokes for different folks but there is always something for everyone in Barbados.

Barbados – Festivals, Music and Food…

The Caribbean is renowned for its colourful festivals, amazing music and wide variety of food.  Barbados is no exception and festivals of every type are held throughout the year.  The biggest celebration surrounds the sugar industry and highlights the huge contributions sugar production made to the economic and social development of Barbados.  King sugar was for centuries the backbone of the island’s economy and many of the festivals that have remained celebrate the harvesting of sugar.  How ironic that in the modern era when sugar production has given way to tourism the island’s principal bread-winner, that the traditional festivals should still be enshrined in commerce as they attract large numbers of visitors.

The main festival is Crop Over in July/August culminating in the Kadooment Day Parade.  The Carnival, dubbed the sweetest festival, has many features including musical calypso and soca competitions, parties and pageantry.  The costumes in the parade are innovative, proactive and colourful and the party atmosphere electric.

Barbados has a plethora of festivals that cover sport, gospel, fishing, culture, and entertainment.  The Oistins Fish Festival proves so popular that a Friday evening fish-fry on the main street evolved to satisfy the demand for more of the same.  The impetus has never stopped and the Oistins Fish Fry is now one of the island’s biggest tourist attractions.

Music forms a huge part of the Barbados social scene and while Rihanna and Shontelle showcase our talent on the international stage, local music covers a wide range that includes calypso, soca, reggae, steel pan, jazz and modern.  The same could be said for Barbados cuisine, and while European and South American influences are strong, local chefs have their own authentic Caribbean style and indulgences.  Food and wine festivals are popular and Barbadian chefs have enjoyed considerable success in international and regional competitions.  Fish and chicken are more popular than red meat, rice is more popular than potatoes and a variety of local vegetables are unique and healthy.

As always with holiday destinations, the fast-food option is available and high quality, but the culinary experience of the island should not be missed. Barbados has some exceptional restaurants.

Barbados – History, culture and heritage

English Captain John Powell is recognized as the person who first raised the British flag at Holetown in 1625, although the first settlers didn’t arrive until two years later.  Now almost 400 years later, Barbados is a thriving multi-national independent colony with over 280,000 inhabitants.  The British influence has been retained in place names and heritage, but the modern Barbadians have their own identity, culture and allegiance.

The British weren’t the first inhabitants of Barbados as the Arawaks and Caribs found the island in their long canoes many centuries earlier. And like most Caribbean islands the influence of the slave trade from Africa combined with European settlers to produce an African/European/Caribbean mixed culture that continues to evolve in modern times.

The British heritage is also remembered in military terms.  St Ann’s Fort, Needham’s Point and the Garrison area are living proof of the strong military presence of bygone years that ensured Barbados was never invaded by hostile European enemies.  Many gallant young servicemen and women perished in defence of the island, and the military cemetery close to the Hilton Hotel is a testimony to their valour and courage.  The Dutch, French, Spanish and Portuguese fleets pounded Barbados over many years but the heavy artillery of Needham’s Point stood firm.  Little wonder there are so many cannons spread all over the island, including the impressive National Collection overlooking the racecourse at the Garrison.  The signal Station at Gun Hill in St George is also another relic of British military presence and with the famous white lion sculpture, they are popular tourist attractions.

Barbados has grown as a nation since it became an independent state in 1966, but it has never lost its Britishness.  Many ex-pats own second homes on the island and British tourists form the biggest percentage of overseas visitors every year.  It is a heritage that has stood the test of time, and while Barbadians look towards an independent culture in the modern world, everyone is cognizant of our history and the part played by our predecessors in carving it.

Barbados – Government, Commerce and Business

Barbados prides itself on a stable government as the second oldest democracy in the Western World.  Parliament has two chambers and there are two political parties with similar backgrounds and ideologies.  The Democratic Labour Party has been in power since 2008 and the current Prime Minister is the Right Hon. Frendell Stuart.  Parliament Buildings are situated close to Heroes Square in downtown Bridgetown.

Barbados is an independent state within the Commonwealth of Nations and also takes a leading part in regional governance through CARICOM, albeit each country has independent sovereignty.  Much talk has taken place in the last decade about the advantages of a single Market Economy amongst the small Caribbean countries, but it seems taking this concept to a finish line has proved impossible despite the common intent. 

Visionary and stable government has helped build Barbados as a solid destination for commerce and international business.  Prior to the economic meltdown the island was a popular location for overseas property investment.  Offshore banking and international commerce.  However, the pace of development in these sectors has dramatically reduced in the past three years albeit there are small signs that recovery is taking place.

Tourism is the island’s principal industry with sugar production still a significant contributor to foreign exchange earnings.  The Barbados dollar is fixed at 2 to 1 against the US dollar, so foreign exchange earnings are an important part of fiscal governance.  These are six main banks, mostly branch offices of Canadian banks.  Banking is conservative by nature, and although home ownership has been an important part of lending in the past decade, the level of delinquency is very low compared to more mature markets.  Overseas investors can purchase property in Barbados as long as they are of good standing, and mortgage finance is available in overseas currency.  However, non-nationals wishing to work on the island are subject to immigration control and approval.

The main airport is the modern complex at Grantley Adams International Airport on the South Coast and daily flights come from Europe, America and Canada.  Barbados is also a popular stop for the various Caribbean Cruise Lines which operate through Bridgetown Port and Cruise Terminal.   A second port for mainly domestic use is situated at Port St Charles on the West Coast, just north of Speightstown.

photo courtesy of Barbados Tourism AuthorityBarbados – The People, the Personalities and Rihanna

As a small nation we are very proud of the people who have put us on the map.  They come in all shapes and sizes, in both black and white, and they cover young and old, rich and poor.  Some of our superstars are household names all over the world, but just as important we have lovely people who by their everyday actions make Barbados a lovely place to live or visit.  Yes, we are laidback in the true Caribbean style, but we have men and women of outstanding pedigree who have been exceptional Barbadians.

The Government of Barbados names ten outstanding Barbadians as National Heroes several years  ago and they remain the pinnacle of recognition of outstanding service to their homeland.  They come from a wide section of society and include the great Sir Garfield Sobers, the only living National Hero.  Sir Garry is perhaps the best known of our famous cricketers, and although West Indian cricket has lost some of its glitz in modern times, the sporting world remembers with great affection the exploits of the 3ws Sir Everton Weekes, Sir Frank Worrell and Sir Clyde Walcott.  The cricket world also remembers Sir Conrad Hunte, Malcolm Marshall, Desmond Haynes, Gordon Greenidge and Joel Garner, cricket superstars who made Barbados the most fertile nursery for Cricket talent in the world.

Other sporting personalities who have done Barbados proud include Sir Michael Stoute, arguably the greatest horse trainer of all time, and outstanding athletes Obadele Thompson and Ryan Brathwaite.  But without doubt the biggest personality to hail from Barbados in recent times is international singing phenomenon Rihanna who has taken the music world by storm in the past few years.  Rihanna is the darling of the nation and her ‘LOUD’ concert at the Kensington Oval last August was a sell-out with over 28,000 people present.  A local girl with exceptional talent, she has never forgotten her roots and has pledged her continued support for Barbados in the future.

Rihanna’s success has in some ways overshadowed another of the island’s outstanding young singers – Shontelle. She’s up there with the best in the business and who knows if Amanda Reifer and Cover Drive band and not going to be our next international musical superstars? 

We may  have only 280,000 people but we have produced some amazing talent!