Most visitors to Barbados are lured by the island’s aquamarine seas and pale gold sands – not surprising considering this speck of land is home to some of the best beaches in the region. If you’re into sailing, snorkelling, fishing, diving, surfing or simply swimming and sunbathing, you’ll be in clover.
But Barbados – all 166 square miles of it – offers far more than what lies around its periphery. To really get a feel for the island, you need to turn away from the beach and head inland…
Island Adventure Safari
Barbados’ interior packs a scenic, historical and cultural punch that belies its diminutive size. On an Island Safari adventure, you’ll take to the road in a specially designed 10-seat open-sided vehicle driven by a knowledgeable local guide, and head to the rugged and less-developed northern and eastern parts of the island, some of which are inaccessible to hire cars and tour buses. You’ll also come away with a deeper understanding of Barbados’ past and a real insight into present-day Barbadian life and culture.
The day begins gently, stopping off at a couple of viewpoints including Gun Hill Signal Station and its famous white lion carved from a single piece of coral stone, from where the whole island is visible. But before long you’ll be veering off-road through swaying fields of sugar cane, bouncing furiously over rocks and potholes on the hilly, rough-hewn track.
Where the fields have already been razed, there’s a long perspective of the surrounding landscape, but mostly you’ll be surrounded by grasses easily ten feet tall. Back on the road, trailers carry the just-cut crop to Andrew’s Sugar Plant. The mighty factory is the largest remaining in operation on the island, and the sweet scent of fresh-cut cane fills the air.
In the main, Barbados is a flattish island, but it feels very different as you make a snaking descent into the east coast surfing village of Bathsheba. Home of the “Soup Bowl” – the biggest, frothiest wave around and a legendary spot in surfing circles – Bathsheba faces the Atlantic and feels stuck-in-time; a world away from the island’s swish west coast.
The waves here pick up speed over 3,000 uninterrupted miles and pound the shoreline relentlessly. It’s not safe to swim, though it’s fine to take a soak in the shallow inshore pools just a few feet from the shoreline. Ask a local to tell you exactly where they are, or just be content with lazing around on the grass and watching the surfers do their thing. There are plenty of picnic tables along the beachside.
Bathsheba village is effectively just one long beach road, dotted with the odd bar, rum shop, guesthouse and craft shop. It’s as laid-back as it gets around here, so if you’re looking to get under the skin of an entirely different Barbados, this is where you’ll find it. If you’re neither a surfer nor a tidal pool-paddler, there are plenty of walks and pretty little churches to explore, but it’s fair to say the locals have honed the act of doing nothing to a fine art. Listening to the sound of the waves with a glass of Mount Gay Extra Old is about as energetic as it gets.
Up on the slopes behind Bathsheba is an area of dense tropical rainforest and woodland known as Joe’s River Forest, brimming with mahogany trees, cabbage palms, bearded fig trees and citrifolia. Once off-road, you’ll take a tire-rutted track through a cooling canopy of giant branches and fronds. Look out for green monkeys and hummingbirds, and listen to the natural soundtrack: the distant rush of Joe’s River flowing towards the rivermouth and a cacophony of warbling birds and whistling frogs. This is now the last remaining patch of rainforest in Barbados, but when the early settlers first arrived they were faced with this kind of terrain across the whole island.
Out into bright sunlight, the dusty sun-baked roads lead to the northernmost of Barbados’ 11 parishes, St. Lucy. This is the most rugged, remote and least-visited part of the island. Dry tracks over grassland lead to high, scrubby cliffs with expansive views towards local’s favourite picnic spot Cove Bay and down the empty beaches of the east coast. Rows of palm trees bent into a permanent arc by the fierce Atlantic winds shelter small flocks of Barbadian black-bellied sheep, an indigenous domestic breed often mistaken for goats. They grow short coarse hair rather than wool, and are well able to tolerate the tropical heat and humidity.
Up on St. Lucy’s northeastern tip is Little Bay, an otherworldly spot where the pounding surf has eroded the rocks into a series of caves, tunnels and arches. Walk along the vegetation-free clifftops for great views of high-spouting blowholes, or make your way down to the beach itself. Intrepid locals come to swim in the naturally-formed tidal pools, despite the large waves and constant sea spray.
This land-based jeep adventure can be booked with Island Safari Barbados at a cost of US$97 for adults and US$64 for children (5 – 12 years; children 4 and under not admitted). The tour lasts five and a half hours, including drinks and snacks, round-trip transportation from your hotel, and a full traditional island-style lunch buffet at a local resort or plantation house.
Header shot © Barbados Tourism Authority.