Barbados conjures images of a high class, high-priced beach destination, a place popular with princes and pop stars. But the Caribbean’s most easterly island isn’t just for the celeb set. The trick to enjoying a less expensive — and more authentic — experience here is simply to follow the locals’ lead. Here are six tips for doing Barbados the Bajan way. Have a tip to share?
Bajans are the Caribbean’s most affluent, educated residents. They may also be the most cricket-crazed. You can see them on their home turf and enjoy cheap entertainment at the same time at Bridgetown’s Kensington Oval, site of the 2007 Cricket World Cup final. Spectators clearly take matches seriously. But they are also an excuse for some serious partying, with spontaneous music and dancing, creating a carnival-like atmosphere. Tickets are priced from $12. If you can’t afford to devote a whole afternoon to watching men thwack a leather ball through a wicket, just keep your eyes open when you’re traveling around the countryside. Inevitably you’ll find a pick-up game being played on a school field or grassy meadow.
Bajans love to talk and walk. You can join them in both by taking one of the free treks offered twice each Sunday by the National Trust. Routes differ, with loops alternating between cliffs, coasts, sugarcane fields and cultural sites. Ditto for the amount of ground traversed. “Stop & Stare” hikes, for example, cover five to six miles while “Grin & Bears” average 13. All, however, promise out-of-the-way sites, informative commentary, and convivial company. Another option is to take a $7.50 guided walk along the Arbib Heritage & Nature Trail. One rigorous route leads to old ruins and remote north-country areas; an easier version wends through Speightstown’s side streets past a colonial church and chattel houses.
Ready for a little relaxation? Try “liming” in a Barbadian rum shop. The first of these tiny, brightly painted bars were licensed over 350 years ago and they remain the place for Bajans to catch up over an 80-proof beverage. Despite low prices, the quality of drinks served is high. Barbados, after all, is the birthplace of rum, and premiere producers like Mount Gay still operate on-island distilleries. Since rum shops are a fixture in every village, all you have to do is pick one, place your order (to sound credible, ask for rum with a side of ice and a coke or water chaser), then “fire one” back. Teetotalers can always order a “cutter” sandwich and linger over a game of dominos.
On the Road
Although it is only 21 miles long and 14 wide, Barbados is laced with winding, sometimes rough, roads. Furthermore left-hand drive is still practiced here. Hence rental cars aren’t necessarily the most practical means of transportation. Buses, whether public or privately-owned, are one alternative, providing comprehensive coverage and allowing you to travel Bajan-style for under a buck each way. For maximum comfort and convenience, consider booking a taxi and taking a personalized tour. An affable, informative driver like Randy Hallett ([email protected]) charges $150 per carload for a full 9-to-5 day of service, $75 for a half day, and there is no extra charge for the terrific insights he provides into island culture.
Barbados is blessed with world-class beaches, and because all of them — even those fronting hoity-toity resorts — are public, you’re free to plop your towel down anywhere. On the West Coast, locals tend to congregate at Paynes Bay (a popular place to snorkel with sea turtles) and Brighton Beach (located near Bridgetown, it’s known for bathtub-calm conditions). On the South Coast, breezy Silver Sands-Silver Rock Beach draws wind- and kite-surfers while Carlisle Bay attracts scuba divers, thanks to a series of shallow, coral-coated shipwrecks. Miami Beach, near Oistins, is perfect for all-purpose fun in the sun.
Where to Stay and Eat
Wealthy tourists gravitate to the western side of the island, aptly nicknamed the Platinum Coast. But Bajans prefer to spend their holidays on the wilder East Coast where cheek-by-jowl resorts give way to deserted beaches backed by lush green hills, punctuated with towering boulders and pounded by Atlantic waves. If you’re on a tight budget, Sea-U Guest House, in Bathsheba, is an ideal choice. Its seven white-washed rooms (all with kitchenettes and ocean views) start at $96 per night. If you’ve got more to spend, try the 24-room New Edgewater Hotel. A good-size suite with two balconies starts at $163.
If you like flying fish, head for the picturesque port of Oistins, on the south coast. Every Friday night the national dish — together with dolphin, tuna, marlin and any other “catch of the day” — is served hot from the grill at dozens of down-home eateries and waterfront stalls. The service isn’t elegant (roughly $7 buys you a high-heaped plastic plate, and if you’re lucky a spot at a picnic table). Moreover, throngs of hungry locals translate into lengthy line-ups. If this isn’t to your liking, you can fill up affordably at the Atlantis Hotel Restaurant. Located further east, it specializes in the ABCs — All Bajan Cuisine.
Check out the Barbados planner from Fodor’s Caribbean 2008
Photo credit: Bathsheba, Barbados. ©Gary Bembridge