Why you should start dreaming about Barbados
When it comes to friendly Caribbean islands with good vibes, one nation stands out: Barbados. Thanks to a deep-rooted spiritual upbringing and rules of etiquette passed down through the generations, the Bajan people welcome visitors with a flurry of “good mornings”, “good afternoons” and “good nights.” It might be a small island, but it is packed with personality, which you can get a taste of at its year-round events.
With nonstop flights from New York (JFK), Boston, Miami, Charlotte and Washington, D.C., the Caribbean's easternmost island is pretty effortless to get to. And it's not hard to get around — at just 166 square miles, you can drive the entire island in a few hours (just remember to stay on the left side of the road in this former British colony). It's also pretty simple to find things to do, whether it’s relaxing on the beaches of fine powdery sand along 70 miles of coastline, or feasting upon Bajan culinary creations, or horseback riding through an old sugar plantation.
Read on for all the reasons why you should start dreaming about Barbados.
It's full of flavor
From casual beach spots to fine dining establishments, Barbados offers plenty of places to try the local cuisine. African, Indian and British influences combine to give Bajan food a unique flavor that makes the island a regular on lists touting the best Caribbean culinary capitals. Expect locally caught fish, grass-fed meats, sweet plantains, rice and peas as well as macaroni pie. Eat with the locals and they'll exuberantly tell you the best things on the menu.
The national dish is cou-cou and flying fish. On Friday nights, a must-do activity is heading to the fish fry at Oistins Bay Garden, essentially a marketplace of vendors where you can have your meal grilled or fried in front of you while you sway to calypso music. On Saturdays, try the traditional lunch of souse, a steamed, seasoned sweet potato and pickled pork, often served with breadfruit.
It is only natural that along with all that eating would come some drinking; after all, Barbados is the birthplace of rum. There are more than 1,500 rum shops around the island; at 10 shops per square mile, you're never far from a place where you can grab a drink and a chat with a local. You can book a Barbados rum tour and check out places like Mount Gay Distillery, founded in 1703 and the oldest rum distillery in the world. Sipping a Bajan rum punch at sunset should be on everyone's bucket-list.
Can't-miss event: Tantalize your taste buds at the annual Barbados Food and Rum Festival (Oct. 19-22), which attracts thousands of rum-lovers from around the world.
It will soothe your soul
Dating as far back as 1751, Barbados has been hailed as a healthy destination for its fresh sea breezes and the Bajans go-with-the-flow attitude. (Laughter is, after all, the best medicine.) Hike along an inland trail or down a coastal pathway to get into the Bajan groove, while keeping an eye out for animals like the green monkey or plants such as the desert rose and Pride of Barbados. Then again, simply sifting pink sand through your toes while lying on Crane Beach may be just what the doctor ordered.
In addition to a number of spa hotels with relaxing massages and body wraps, there are also many naturopathic centers for wellness, offering treatments like acupuncture and reflexology. For the easiest relaxation, connect with friendly locals over a game of dominoes or at one of the many rum shops (more on that in a bit).
It lends itself to romance
Leave the screens at home and bring someone special for a romantic getaway amid the lush tropical surroundings and pristine beaches with million-dollar views of the Caribbean Sea. Places like Bottom Bay or Sandy Lane are ready-made for picnic-basket lunches as you listen to the waves and dine under swaying palm trees.
However you and your significant other spend the days and nights, make plans around the sunrises and sunsets — they are spectacular. For an early morning treat, catch a sunrise at Bathsheba on the island's east coast. At day's end, the sunset views are pretty incredible from just about any west- or south-facing beach, but head to parishes like Christ Church or St. James for some of the island's best views.
It's full of history
While touring the island, you're bound to come upon historical landmarks noting Barbados' rich and storied past. The island's location made it a major port for shipping goods and enslaved people 400 years ago for the British Empire, and today historic Bridgetown (the capital) and its Garrison are on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The Barbados Museum & Historical Society provides a chance to learn more about the history of the slave trade.
Visitors can also see places like the neo-gothic Parliament Buildings & Museum, the third oldest parliament in the world or the Nidhe Israel Synagogue & Museum; dating back to 1654, it is one of the oldest consecrated Jewish synagogues in the Western Hemisphere. Head to the Garrison Clock Tower at noon every Thursday (from November-April) to see the changing of the sentry, a military tradition dating back to the 1700s.
Can't-miss event: One of the most colorful and popular festivals in Barbados, the Crop Over Festival can be traced back to the 1780s and honord the end of the sugar cane season. From July 1-Aug. 7, expect dusk-till-dawn parties, arts and crafts markets as well as culinary-driven street fairs. The festival culminates in Grand Kadooment Day, full of masquerade bands dressed in sequins and feathers.
It's full of adventures on land….
Whether your idea of adventure is a rum tour or something more strenuous, Barbados has plenty of options. Go horseback riding on the beach or through an old sugar plantation and its fields of towering sugar cane. Go bike riding on one of the 900 miles of roads through various terrain and scenery. Get off the beaten path with a 4x4 jeep safari tour and journey through forests, gullies and remote bays.
One of Barbados’ most popular attractions is Harrison’s Cave Eco-Adventure Park, which is in the middle of the country, about 5 miles from Holetown. Visitors can take the signature tram tour through the cave (which opened to the public in 1981) or choose one of the more recent attractions like the monkey zipline, gully challenge course or rum-tasting experience.
Those preferring to stop and smell the flowers can walk the 53-acre Flower Forest Botanical Gardens or the 6-acre Andromeda Botanical Gardens. (Bonus points if you spot the bearded fig trees, for which the island got its name back in 1536 when a Portuguese sea captain saw the trees and called the island “Los Barbados” or “The Bearded One.”)
The national sport is cricket, so you are bound to see locals playing it in cricket grounds, on the streets or even on the beach. Polo is another popular all-day sport that runs from January to May. Golfers flock to the islands as well, thanks to the year-round sunshine and mild climate.
Can't-miss event: Head to the Barbados Ninja Throwdown (Sept. 2) and watch kids and adults from around the world compete on obstacles seen on "American Ninja Warrior."
…And by sea
If you prefer getting your feet wet, you're never far from the coast. The Caribbean Sea beaches on the west side of the island are calm and tranquil, ideal conditions for stand-up paddleboarding, water skiing and paragliding; many of the beaches here offer lessons and rental equipment. Diving and snorkelling are also popular activities, as is swimming with sea turtles at places like Folkestone Maine Park.
On the South Coast, the constant trade winds make for excellent kitesurfing and windsurfing. Surfers gravitate to the Atlantic Ocean side, for the larger waves. The "Soup Bowl" in Bathsheba is a surfer's delight and numerous international surfing competitions are held here.
If you prefer relaxing on the water with cocktail in hand, luxury catamaran cruises are also available. These cruises include a handful of passengers and normally have two or three stops where you can jump into the water and swim or snorkel around with the sea life.
Can't-miss event: Dive Fest Barbados (Aug.19-25) features dives all over the island as well as scuba and free-diving demonstrations, beach clean-ups and conservation tips.