August 20, 2010
Empty, utterly undeveloped beaches; small, family-owned hotels; the day’s catch fresh off the grill, smothered in local flavours. These things aren’t normally associated with mass-market Caribbean tourism, but on the small, tear-drop-shaped island of Barbados they’re remarkably easy to find.
“Beating the beach crowds in Barbados is easy: while the west and south coasts are built up, the east and southeast remain remarkably undeveloped and even wild. Try Foul Bay or Long Bay in the southeast for wide stretches of near-empty sand. Alternatively head up the east coast to Bathsheba, a laid-back surfing village with a boulder-strewn shoreline. Use caution when swimming on the east or southeast coasts, though, as the waves and currents can be dangerous.
There are authentic options elsewhere on the island if you know where to look. Just inland from the northeast coast, Farley Hill National Park offers a shady respite from the Caribbean sun. At the island’s northernmost tip, North Point is a dramatic spot where swells crash against dark, jagged cliffs.
The beachside grill-fest in the south coast village of Oistins is not a secret anymore, but it’s still the best (and the cheapest) spot to enjoy freshly-caught swordfish or dolphin fish. Try Uncle George’s for huge, perfectly-grilled portions, or Annie’s for classic Bajan sides such as peas’n’rice or macaroni pie. Aim to visit on a Friday, when the scene is at its busiest.
Alternatively head to Brown Sugar, on Carlisle Bay, for an upscale take on Bajan standards like cou-cou and fried flying fish. Further afield, on the east coast, the Round House Inn also serves higher-end versions of local cuisine – try the flying fish pate, or the Bajan-style coconut pie.
The Waterfront Café, in central Bridgetown, serves up affordable dishes from around the Caribbean and is also a reliable spot for nightly live music. Finally, for a cheap thrill stop in to any Chefette outlet. This hugely popular homegrown fast food chain serves up fried chicken at locations across the island.
If you want luxury without the big chain experience, head to The Crane. The resort has occupied its throne on the cliffs of the south east coast since 1887, and it’s still one of the finest properties on the island.
Further down the price scale, the All Seasons Resort is a comfortable and affordable apartment-style option on the west coast. Back on the south coast, the Rostrevor Hotel, in the St. Lawrence Gap, is a reliable, family-owned cheapie, with rates dipping below US$100 even during high season.
For smaller guesthouses, villas and apartments, check out the Intimate Hotels of Barbados, an association that represents locally owned, independent small-scale properties on every coast.
Dig into one of the island’s obsessions with a visit to the horse races held every second Saturday at the historic Garrison Savannah, just outside Bridgetown. Kensington Oval, north of Bridgetown, is the home of another essential Bajan activity: cricket. If your timing isn’t quite right to catch a match then you can still visit the Legends of Barbados Cricket Museum nearby.
The Barbados National Trust runs a weekly series of free hikes, perfect for visitors who’d like to go beyond the island’s beaches. The local chapter of the Hash House Harriers is another option for active types: this “drinking club with a running problem” organises group walks and runs that are heavy on the socialising.
Speaking of socialising, the Ship Inn, located in the St. Lawrence Gap, is one of the better bets to hear local and regional music such as soca, reggae and dancehall. No matter how much they partied the night before, on Sunday mornings you’ll find most Bajans heading to church in their finest outfits. If you’d like to attend a service, try St. James Parish Church, in Holetown.”