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Although Barbados is best known by some as Rihanna’s home country, this Caribbean island is much more. With exotic landscapes, memorable beaches, and rum factories galore, Barbados is a bucket-list add for Caribbean explorers and beach freaks alike.
I worked in yachting for many years, and major sailing races were always sponsored by Mount Gay Barbados Rum. The golden liquor became the “sailor’s rum,” and the distributor even set up a bar at my wedding reception (to a French racing sailor) during the America’s Cup. For me, Barbados and its rum were synonymous with fun, water, and the sailing culture, plus a mixture of elites and degenerates, for which the rum is a celebratory cornerstone.
But, Barbados is much more than a rum-centric beach vacation. The island has a long history as a British colony that involved slavery, worldwide sugar production dominance by 1650, then freedom as a parliamentary democracy with voting rights, and finally full independence from the UK in 1966.
History is still present in daily lives in Barbados, and an island vacation does not have to be without culture and learning. The locals, or in the familiar term, Bajans, are aware of their past in slavery but embrace their heritage and successes as they look to the future of their small nation. Bajans are friendly people who speak English, and the U.S. dollar and the local Barbadian currency are both accepted.
Barbados is a fairly big country with just under 290,000 people and growing — but not crazily. It is also a fairly wealthy country, and one that can be considered a tax haven for the ultra-rich. But, a visit there is like no other Caribbean island. Make it a beach vacation, wildlife discovery, undersea adventure, or a historical exploration — all of this is found in Barbados.
Things To Do In Barbados
Barbados really does have something for everyone, so we have to start somewhere. How about checking out the history and culture before relaxing on the beach and diving into water activities?
Wildlife And Garden Adventures
Above ground, Barbados does not have a zoo, but it has the Barbados Wildlife Refuge, where deer, turtles, monkeys, and more live and play together. Seeing massive turtles crawling with deer standing on their shells is a sight I won’t forget.
Gardens are big in Barbados, and the Andromeda Botanical Garden is a six-acre retreat near the town of Bathsheba where 600 plant varieties are on display. In addition, butterflies flutter between blooms and monkeys swing through the trees. The Barbados Orchid Society is very active, so look for displays and exhibitions from this local group. Other scenic areas are Welchman Hall Gully and around Coddington College, where you’ll have fantastic views over the sea.
History is alive and expansive in Barbados, and its capital city of Bridgetown and its military garrison make up a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Bridgetown was founded in the 1600s and was an early hub for trading, and its major garrison fought off the attempts of France, Spain, and Holland in their attempts to take control of Caribbean riches.
There are plenty of museums and attractions that have preserved the heritage of Barbados so your Caribbean vacation doesn’t have to be without a bit of culture and learning. Check out The The Barbados Museum, George Washington House, St. Nicholas Abbey, and the Sunbury Plantation House House.
After all of this, find out about this sugar hub and its popular offshoot, rum, at several distilleries around the island. Of course, they all have tours with samples at the end. Rum is as much history here as it is food and entertainment.
Mount Gay Rum is considered the oldest in the world, and the Mount Gay Rum Visitor Centre is the place to begin your rum experience. Hear how rum is made and maybe some pirate tales where rum has a storyline.
St. Nicholas Abbey offers a chance to see how rum is made from the sugar plantation to the distilling process. The Great House and gardens are beautiful, too. Foursquare Rum is at the other end of the spectrum and is a highly mechanized rum factory, while West Indies Rum Distillery makes the Malibu and Cockspur brands.
Under The Water
Watersports abound throughout the island, so it’s up to you whether light snorkeling or a full-on dive is best. Between reefs, shipwrecks, and natural undersea life, there is plenty to see for the novice or experienced explorer. The west coast beaches are best for calm, walk-in snorkeling, or work with a tour company to go out to further reefs, both man-made and natural.
Expect to see turtles, manta rays, stingrays, coral, and plenty of colorful tropical fish. One of my favorite memories of snorkeling here is of my four-year-old daughter bobbing in her lifejacket and giant snorkel mask, afraid to put her head under water. Once convinced to look down through the mask, her expression of wonder and shout of “fish!” is one I will not forget. And, from that minute, her love of the water was born, both surfing above and diving below.
Pro Tip: Choose your beach and watersport well and don’t be afraid of protecting yourself and children. Wear life vests and stay in sight of others. Proceed cautiously but with curiosity.
Best Beaches In Barbados
Beaches are everywhere, and they are diverse. Some are best for sunbathing and others for exploring wildlife. Carlisle Bay serves both purposes with long stretches of sand, a port that accommodates boats, and plenty of undersea life for snorkeling and scuba diving.
Miami Beach (in Barbados) is a mix of lovely and lively. There are plenty of watersports and challenging swimming on the eastern end while the western end is calm for kids and just hanging out.
Brandons Beach is close to the cruise harbor and is popular with day visitors who enjoy dining directly on the water at the beachfront restaurant. Browne’s Beach is a very long beach also popular with cruisers. One end is lively and fun while the other is calm and a relaxing escape.
Rockley Beach has a must-walk boardwalk at one end and lively waves on the other for boogie boarding and surfing. Cranes Beach is a natural choice because of its wide, sandy, and pink beaches as well as sunbathing and even cliff diving. A perfect way to spend the day watching.
Bathsheba Beach is actually a little town on the east side of the island. It’s a little rugged and good for surfers and a stroll in the protected pools.
Pro Tip: Many beaches have the equivalent of food trucks for great local snacks, lunch, and island drinks. Affordable, too!
Best Restaurants In Barbados
There is no shortage of dining options in Barbados. With West Indies flair and spices like curry and coriander, as well as the never-ending supply of fresh seafood, including local favorite flying fish, here I highlight a few fine dining and classic restaurants as well as some local favorites.
Clifftop classic restaurants with staggering views will be a bit pricier, and you’ll have to plan on making a reservation for these stunners: The Cliff, Cin Cin, and The Animal Flower Cave Restaurant. There are also the Tides Barbados and Champers, local and tourist favorites.
On the other end of the spectrum are food trucks and beach shacks that allow visitors to grab local specialties at reasonable prices. Check out Bombas, Bo’s Place, JuJus, Chicken George and Yankee Joe’s Beach Bar, and Cuz’s Fish Shack.
Bars and rum shacks are local favorites where you can find a selection of rums as well as tropical and creatively mixed rum concoctions. What better way to watch a sunset than at one of the famous rum hangouts like the Tiki Bar, Crystal Waters Bar, or Harbour Lights?
Pro Tip: Be adventurous and stop at shacks along the road, ask where locals eat, and definitely try things you have never eaten before, like flying fish!
Editor’s Note: For more dining inspiration, consider Eating Local In Barbados: The Best Restaurants To Try.
Best Resorts In Barbados
Like restaurants, there are dozens of options when it comes to accommodation. Beachfront luxury, all-inclusive properties, and vacation rentals are widely available, and it is simply a matter of family size, budget, and what your Barbados intentions may be — honeymoon, wedding party, family trip, or friends outing.
I like properties with history as well as luxury, so I will point out a few choices with historic origins. I have also arrived in Barbados by cruise ship, which is always another option, possibly finding one with a two-day port stop for a longer immersion into island life and adventure.
The Atlantis Barbados (not to be confused with the huge Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas) is in the town of St. Joseph in the fishing village of Tent Bay. Rugged, remote, and romantic, this boutique hotel is close to world-class surfing at the Soup Bowl, but it’s just as easy to grab a rocking chair and pass the day.
Cobblers Cove is quiet, private luxury in the village of Speightstown, St. Peter. Only 40 rooms with spacious verandas and a notable restaurant called The Camelot mean you never have to leave. Honeymoon, anyone?
The Crane Resort markets itself with “When you get here, you’ll know,” and, with five restaurants, views to die for, beaches for miles, and upscale amenities, you may never want to leave after “getting here.”
The undisputed gem in the crown of Barbados accommodations is Sandy Lane Hotel, which has hosted dozens of celebrities and luminaries over the years. Three golf courses, rated some of the best in the world, as well as a spa known as the premier wellness destination in the Caribbean complement your private villa, exquisite dining, and unbeatable service from Barbadians who really know hospitality.