A Break in Barbados

Your complete guide to one of the Caribbean's favourite holiday islands

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  • Bridgetown, Barbados's capital. Photograph by Eleanor Chandler
  • Parliament Buildings in Bridgetown
  • Thinking of getting married? Plenty visitors take advantage of Barbados's wedding packages
  • Calypso dance at the Plantation Tropical Spectacular dinner show
  • Duty-free (tax free) shopping is widely available to visitors and inbound as well as outbound travellers. Photograph by Eleanor Chandler
  • Colourful cotton fashions are a favourite to buy: this hand-painted outfit is by Simon Foster. Photograph by Eleanor Chandler
  • Barbados is one of the Caribbean's top horse-racing centres. Photograph by Eleanor Chandler
  • Photograph by Eleanor Chandler
  • Barbados is one of the Caribbean's top horse-racing centres. Photograph by Eleanor Chandler
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  • Codrington College, now an Anglican theological college. Photograph by Eleanor Chandler
  • Kadooment, the Carnival-style climax of Barbados's Crop Over festival. Photograph by Eleanor Chandler
  • Barbados mounted police ride through Bridgetown's Independence Arch. Photograph by Eleanor Chandler
  • Barbados's gentle open countryside: St George Valley. Photograph by Eleanor Chandler
  • Barbados's gentle open countryside: St George Valley. Photograph by Eleanor Chandler
  • The Chattel House, one of Barbados's most distinctive traditions. Photograph by Eleanor Chandler
  • Barbados is one of the Caribbean's top surfing spots; the annual Caribbean Cup championship is held at Bathsheba on the east coast. Photograph by Eleanor Chandler
  • Nicholas Abbey: several old the island's plantation houses are open to visitors. Photograph by Eleanor Chandler
  • The south coast. Photograph by Eleanor Chandler
  • St Lucy: Atlantic rollers sweep against Barbados's northern tip. Photograph by Eleanor Chandler
  • Polo at Holders. Photograph by Eleanor Chandler
  • The Jolly Roger prowls the west coast, offering romance beneath the stars or partying in the sun. Photograph by Eleanor Chandler
  • Photograph by Eleanor Chandler

In days gone by, Barbados’s climate was one of the most famous in the world. People came visiting from England and America for rest-cures and recuperation, anxious to implement their doctor’s prescriptions for good Barbados sea-bathing and sea air.

Maybe it’s that same benign atmosphere that makes Barbados such a popular holiday island in modern times. It is a gentle island, with rolling hills and rippling sugar-cane, white beaches and protective reefs, gardens and fishing villages, stately plantation homes and comfortable hotels (some of them very luxurious). And the breeze blows over the island from the warm Atlantic, and keeps you cool in the hot Caribbean sun.

Barbados lies outside the main chain of Caribbean islands, a hundred miles to the east. It’s shaped rather like a pear, the stem pointing upwards and the capital, Bridgetown, down in the south-west corner. It’s a compact 21 miles long by 14 wide, hilly in the north, flatter in the south, with a calm and sheltered west coast and a dramatic and windy east coast. It’s made of coral and limestone, rising to 1,104 feet (336 metres) at Mount Hillaby near the centre.

Much of this is apparent at a glance as your BWIA plane swoops down along the south coast on its final approach to Grantley Adams International Airport in the south-east. There is often a good view of Bridgetown and the south coast suburbs with their hotels and apartments strung out beside gleaming beaches and calm blue sea. Beyond are bright green canefields and gently rolling countryside, which could almost be a slice of rural England translated into the Caribbean.

Alone among the Eastern Caribbean islands, Barbados remained British for the whole of the colonial period, from 1627 when Captain Harry Powell put ashore 80 British settlers in the area that is now Holetown, to the moment of proud independence when the British flag came down in 1966. It has built on its past and its resources, making its natural beauty and its great houses, its gardens and its coasts, into well-organised attractions. Few places in the Caribbean can beat Barbados’s list of sports facilities, sports events, attractive hotels and restaurants, its lists of things to do and see, its well-developed services and communications, or the ease with which you can get out and about or mix with Barbadian people.

Obviously, when those doctors in the old days told their anxious patients to go to Barbados, swim in the sea and breathe the sea air deeply, they knew what they were talking about.

Barbados was inhabited, of course, long before Captain Powell found his way there. The Amerindians who spread through the Caribbean were there long before any European had heard of the island. Christopher Columbus, who discovered almost everything else in the Caribbean, missed Barbados on all four of his voyages, and it was left to the Portuguese explorer Pedro a Campos in 1536 to find out about it. He called it Isla de los Barbados, apparently discerning beards in the vine-tangled fig-trees and banyans that grew along the coast.

But Portugal never claimed the island. That was left to the British, whose long occupation contributed enough to Barbadian ways to earn it the name Little England. Barbados has the third oldest parliament in the Commonwealth (it first met in 1639) and was one of the first Caribbean islands to be developed for sugar(l640).

The modem capital, Bridgetown, is a bustling, traffic-crowded commercial city with its historic centre around Trafalgar Square. A statue of Lord Nelson peers over the ocean of cars and buses; the solemn Public Buildings house the parliament. In the busy inner harbour, the Careenage, boats used to be pulled ashore for repair until the 1960s when the deepwater harbour opened on the edge of town. Close by is the imposing Anglican cathedral of St Michael.

It’s easy to tour Barbados in a day, if you really want to — though at a really leisurely pace it could (and should) take weeks of pleasant ambling. Head up the west coast from Bridgetown, the “platinum coast” lined with luxury hotels and lapped by calm blue water. You pass through Holetown, with its plaque marking the original British landing and its historic church of St James; then Speightstown, once a whaling port, with its lovely old houses and waterfront cannon.

St Lucy, at the island’s northern tip, is wild and beautiful, with crashing surf which has hollowed caves out of the cliffs; one, the Animal Flower Cave, can be visited at low tide. The eastern, Atlantic coast is rugged and windy and beautiful, as a drive along the East Coast Highway will soon show; there’s excellent surfing. You can head back to Bridgetown along the highly developed south coast where many of the hotels and entertainments are concentrated.

Barbados’s many attractions fall into a few basic categories. If the natural environment is your interest, the monkeys at the Barbados Wildlife Reserve mingle with swans and peacocks, cayman and deer, wallabies and racoons; the Flower Forest’s leisurely trail winds through fruit trees and flowering trees. Nearby Welchman Hall Gully is a three-quarter- mile ravine which is packed with imported and local trees and plants; Andromeda Gar- dens, near Bathsheba, has a landscaped collection of plants and shrubs, trees and flowers, from all over the world. Harrison’s Cave plunges you into a haunting subterranean world of halls and caverns and waterfalls.

The fingerprints of the past are everywhere. Barbados has some very fine plantation houses, some dating back to the 1650s, and many are open to the public. They include Sunbury House, Nicholas Abbey, Villa Nova, Francia Plantation House, and Oughterson House with its wildlife park. The island is studded with little parish churches, some also dating back to the 17th century. On the east coast, near the sweeping views of Cherry Tree Hill, is the Morgan Lewis Mill, one of hundreds of sugar mills which once dotted the gently rolling hills, with its machinery and sails still intact.

The Barbados Museum, just outside Bridgetown, occupies the old military prison in the St Ann’s Garrison, the English military base of colonial times. Other fine houses include Sam Lord’s Castle, now a hotel, where Sam supposedly made a fortune by luring ships onto the reef; Codrington College, with its palm-guarded drive, now a theological seminary; and the magnificent ruins of Farley Hill, set in a lovely shaded park.

Sports fans will be lost with choice. Many of the leading hotels have tennis courts; golfers head for the 18-hole course at the elegant Sandy Lane Hotel or the smaller courses at Heywoods Resort or Rockley. Watersports are everywhere, and there are some excellent dive and surf sites. At the Folkestone Underwater Park off the west coast, snorkellers can follow a marked underwater trail around an inshore reef. There is horse-racing on the Garrison Savannah, football, squash, polo and of course cricket, the national passion and a game at which Barbados has long excelled.

For entertainment, many of the hotels stage their own shows, and there is a lively musical scene–calypso, jazz and steelband music as well as disco–and a wide choice of nightspots, especially along the south and west coasts, including The Warehouse, Harbour Lights and After Dark. Variety shows are staged over dinner at several places, including the Barbados Museum, Balls Plantation and the Plantation Restaurant. With an estimated 1,600 rum shops, not counting hotel and restaurant bars, there is little excuse for boredom.

Barbados is a great place for lying in the sun and doing nothing. It has miles of fine white beaches, and most of the leading hotels have their own beach access. But when the sun has done its work, put on a hat and explore Bridgetown’s shops, along Broad Street especially; there are also plenty of out-of-town malls, and many hotels have their own shops and boutiques. Rum, fashion items and batik are among items to look for. Pelican Village, between central Bridgetown and the port, is good for art and craft.

There is plenty of opportunity to put to sea. If you like a degree of festivity with your cruising, the mock pirate boat Jolly Roger roams the west coast and allows shipmates to swig rum punch, dance, swing from ropes into the sea or even get themselves married by the captain. There are other lively cruises, including the Bajan Queen. Non-divers can get glorious close-up views of the reefs and the underwater world without even getting wet, in the Atlantis submarine, which makes regular day and night dives.

For sustenance, there is the excellent Bajan rum (both Cockspur and Mount Gay provide distillery tours), and an excellent beer (Banks). The choice when it comes to eating out is bewildering: there are scores of attractive places, some with romantic beachfront or waterside ambience. You will certainly eat Barbados’s speciality, flying fish; but look for other local favourites too before taking refuge in steak and fries.

Barbados goes out of its way to put visitors at ease, and is rewarded by an annual influx that far outnumbers its own 250,000 population. The most festive time of the year is late July; then, the Crop Over festival marks the traditional end of the sugar harvest with a three-week spree which involves an abundance of parties, parades, fairs, concerts, calypso, craft displays and a Carnival-style climax whose verve belies the normally restrained Barbadian manner. In all of this, visitors are warmly encouraged to join.

In fact, joining in is a remarkably easy process in Barbados. Though you can find idyllic exclusive resorts which save you having to think for a second about the world outside, there is a huge range of accommodation. Many visitors stay in small friendly hotels and self-catering apartments, and spend lots of time eating out, exploring and meeting people. Visitors are not insulated from everyday Barbadian life unless they want to be–and that’s fine too. It’s easy to make contacts, easy to meet Barbadians. While plenty of attractions and entertainments are geared for visitors, there are plenty which are genuine Barbadian events, like the Holetown Festival and the Oistins Fish Festival, in which visitors are made welcome.

Like many Caribbean people, Barbadians– Bajans–have a quiet pride in their country which expresses itself in a strong sense of hospitality. The island is special, other people naturally want to visit it, so there is no difficulty opening Bajan arms and homes to visitors. A high percentage of repeat visitors testifies to the sincerity of this welcome.

Barbadians like visitors, wherever they may come from. They will happily supply basic directions to lost explorers, perhaps in terms that baffle the wanderers more, but helpful in spirit. They will happily discuss world affairs, politics, cricket, religion or any of the other topics on which Barbadians have expert knowledge and strong opinions.

The thickly-accented, rapid-fire Bajan English often baffles first-time visitors for a while, but ears soon become attuned to it. English is the official language; there is a 95% literacy rate, and the excellent educational system has served as a great social equaliser. Barbados has a large middle class and a high rate of home ownership. Its social tranquillity and political stability spring from one of the world’s oldest parliamentary systems, which produces regular changes of government in free and fair elections.

There are a few sure ways to mingle with Barbadians. Barbados richly deserves the reputation of having a church for every rum shop–sometimes both stand side by side in mutual tolerance and understanding. With 125 different denominations all holding regular services, and 1,600 rum shops, it is hard to think of a faith which cannot find kindred spirits, or a human being who cannot find congenial conversation and drinking companions, somewhere in Barbados’s 166 square miles.

Failing which, at this time of year, there is cricket. Playing fields are perhaps as numerous as churches and rumshops; it’s no wonder that Barbados has been able to produce some of the finest cricketers in the world, above all Sir Garfield Sobers, hailed as the greatest allrounder of all time.

And if you don’t like cricket, or rum, or churches, or Crop-Over, or glorious beaches, or island life and entertainment–well, the world’s a big place.


Watersports range from scuba diving to parasailing, and are widely available. Barbados is the venue for several major regional and international competitions, including the Barbados International Windsurfing Classic in January and the Barbados International Surfing Championship in November. There is excellent diving, with a wide array of reefs and shallow wrecks; qualified operators cater to seasoned divers as well as beginners and snorkellers. For those who don’t want to get wet, the Atlantis submarine offers visitors a safe and fascinating underwater tour. Charter sailing and deep sea fishing are popular, and the vibrant yachting community hosts an open regatta calendar beginning in December. Day and night coastal cruises are available. The beaches are always abuzz with activity, with shoreline sports including water-skiing, glass bottom boat trips, banana boat rides and much more.


Barbados’s premier festival, Crop Over, celebrates the end of the sugar harvest. Held in the last two weeks of July, it showcases the skills of Barbadian musicians, calypsonians, craftspeople, designers and artists through special events, exhibitions and shows, culminating on the final weekend with the Calypso Monarch competition, Bridgetown Market (a massive street fair), and Grand Kadooment, a day of merrymaking and fun when costumed bands take to the streets carnival-style. The Holetown Festival in February celebrates the landing of the first settlers in Barbados, while Easter is the time of the Oistins Fish Festival, focusing on the life and work of Barbados’ fishing community.


The bottom line Year-round sunshine, long white beaches and a long list of island sights and entertainments are Barbados’s greatest appeal. The average temperature is 26°C, and the island enjoys gentle, cooling tradewinds throughout the year.

Getting there BWIA flies directly to Barbados from Miami, New York, Toronto, London, Frankfurt, Stockholm, Cologne/ Bonn, Munich, Zurich, and several Caribbean islands.

Entry Visitors to Barbados should hold a valid passport and return ticket. Citizens’ arriving directly from the United States or Canada may enter with proof of nationality and photo identification. No vaccinations are required.

Getting married Barbados is a favourite marriage destination. Many hotels can handle wedding arrangements including venue, catering and apparel. Visitors must be resident in Barbados for at least three days before the ceremony.

Media Barbados has two daily newspapers, seven radio stations, one local government television station, and government-run subscriptions to CNN, ESPN, TNT and LIFETIME channels. Many hotels provide satellite television. International papers and magazines are readily available.

Shopping Local souvenir shopping can produce some wonderful treasures. Local art, photography and handicrafts vary from simple to highly professional. Excellent work can be found in mahogany and local red clay pottery. Other local best buys include batik, embroidery, shell work, and rums. There are little galleries and shops throughout the country, but most are in the main shopping areas in Bridgetown and on the south and west coasts.

Health Health standards are high. There is one private and one government-run hospital. A decompression chamber is operated by the Defence Force. The water is very safe and pure; it is naturally filtered through layers of underground coral.

Books Prominent Barbadian writers include novelist George Lamming and poet Edward Brathwaite. Local books and guides are plentiful. There are several full colour photoessay books available, as well as cookbooks and drinks books. The best bet for comprehensive information on the island is Ins and Outs of Barbados or the new pocket version, Ins and Outs in a Nutshell.

Time and money The Barbados dollar is worth 50 US cents; time in Barbados is one hour ahead of EST, four hours behind GMT.

Roxan Kinas


After the sun goes down and the beaches clear, the nightclubs and entertainment districts spring to life with exciting musical rhythms. Nightlife in Barbados is highly varied. There are surprisingly good local bands on the hotel and nightclub circuit, playing everything from dub to country and western. At a slower pace, several cultural and cabaret dinner shows offer colourful, exciting performances with good local cuisine. Many hotels host floor shows and nightly dinner and dancing. Plays, dance presentations, concerts and special performances by regional and international artists are staged regularly. For the real night hawks, while some clubs close around midnight, others are just opening; Baxter’s Road, “the street that never sleeps”, provides music and local food all night long.

Roxan Kinas


Barbados’ duty-free (tax-free) shopping underwent several changes last year, giving visitors even better buys and a wider selection. With inbound duty-free shopping, arriving visitors can buy low-priced liquor and tobacco at the duty free shop next to immigration. Bridgetown and outlying shopping districts now offer a greatly expanded selection of tax-free items, many of which can be purchased over the counter upon presentation of passport and return ticket. The duty-free shopping facilities in the airport departure hall are now world-class standard, with nine elegant shops offering a large selection of top international names in crystal, china, leather goods, time pieces and jewellery, as well as liquor, tobacco, perfume and toiletries. Bernies of Barbados, the island’s first in-bond duty-free warehouse, was launched last year: visitors can purchase liquor and tobacco at discount tax-free prices from outlets on the west and south coasts or through many hotel reception desks and ground tour representatives.


Barbados is coming into its own on the fashion scene, as the recent visit of CNN’s Style Editor Elsa Klensch confirms. Young, creative designers are drawing their inspiration from the rich Caribbean environment; cool, vibrant colours in flowing tie-dye, batik, hand-painting and African prints predominate. A strong street and sportswear industry produces a wide selection of handsome, durable apparel, while small boutiques and major shopping centres across the island stock T-shirts, beach wear and souvenir clothing of high quality at moderate prices.

Roxan Kinas


Barbados and flying fish are almost synonymous: highly seasoned and fried, or steamed in a butter sauce, it is a feature of every good Barbadian restaurant. Other popular local dishes are rice and stew, salt fish cakes, cou cou and salt fish, roast pork, pumpkin fritters, pickled breadfruit, macaroni cheese pie, pepperpot, and pudding and souse. Exotic desserts made with guavas or mangoes, lemon meringue and coconut pies, and rum trifles and bread puddings are favourites. Rum is, of course, the national drink: either on the rocks, with a mixer, or in a cocktail. Good French, German and Californian wines are available. On the non-alcoholic side, try coconut water, either on its own or as a mixer, or fruit juices made from passion fruit, Barbados cherry and guava.

The restaurant scene in Barbados is extremely diverse; cuisine ranges from fast food to world-class gourmet meals.There are good ethnic restaurants, including Chinese, French, Italian and Indian. Settings range from small bistros and wine bars to romantic cafes, dramatic cliffside terraces and elegant dining rooms. Reservations are advisable, especially during the high season.

Céline Barnard


Horse-racing and cricket are national pastimes in Barbados. The Cockspur Gold Cup Race, held in early March, is one of the premier horse-racing events of the region. Top runners from the French and English-speaking islands take part in this nine-furlong invitational; there is a festive atmosphere, with pre-race activities and a spectacular show. On the cricket front, the 1993 West Indies vs. Pakistan test series will be played in the Caribbean beginning in mid-March, with the second test match in Barbados (April 23- 28). Other major cricket events include the regional Geddes Grant Tournament and the Red Stripe Cup, both running from January to March. In addition, Barbados is hosting its first ever International Masters Cricket Tournament in April: top former professional cricketers from around the world will be taking part.

Roxan Kinas


The Barbados Museum provides an excellent insight into Barbados’s rich Afro-European heritage. Art exhibitions by local and visiting artists are held there, and at the Barbados Art’s Council’s Gallery t Queen’s Park House. There is a permanent exhibition of local and regional art and craft at the Verandah Art Gallery overlooking Trafalgar Square.

Several small boutiques have successfully combined art, clothes and objets d’art, including Origins at Bridge House (art), Mango J am Gallery at Pavilion Court (paintings and sculpture), The Wents and Friends in Hastings (colourful designs and pottery), and Artworx Gallery at Quayside Centre (Caribbean art and handicraft).

Other leading craft outlets include Potters House Gallery in St. Thomas, the nearby Earthworks Pottery, Fairfield Great House Gallery, Medfords Craft Village, Wild Feathers (Long Bay), Daphne’s Sea Shell Studio at Congo Road, and The Shell Gallery at Carlton House. There are craft markets in St. Lawrence Gap, at Heywoods Resort, and at Temple Yard in Bridgetown. Pelican Village is an interesting cluster of little galleries, studios and shops selling handcrafted items.


Despite its small size, Barbados is packed with exciting places to see, from mysterious underground caves to colourful tropical gardens. The island is rich in history, and still has lovely 17th century churches in use, along with rambling plantation houses. Several Great Houses, complete with period furniture and decor, are open to the public. Tours of sugar and rum factories give a good idea of how the island made its living in days gone by. Nature lovers will enjoy trips to Welchman Hall Gully, the Flower Forest or Andromeda Tropical Gardens, considered one of the finest in the hemisphere. The Barbados Wildlife Reserve is a sanctuary for the island’s green monkeys and other animals, while the Barbados Zoo Park has a fine collection of rare birds and trees. Harrison’s Cave, with its mysterious stalactites and stalagmites, is a natural cave formation open for regular tours. For those who prefer exploring on foot, there is an island walking programme which runs twice on Sundays, offering first-hand exploration of the island’s terrain as well as some vigorous exercise.



Holetown Festival 14-21 Street fairs, concerts, a music festival, road racing and a queen show commemorate the landing of the first settlers in Barbados in 1627

Annual Flower Show Exotic flowers and plants are displayed at Balls Plantation, Christ Church, with plenty of family entertainment

Caribbean cricket Barbados plays Guyana (19-22, one-day match 17)


Cockspur Gold Cup 6

Top class horses from Barbados, Martinique and Trinidad and Tobago race around the historic Garrison Savannah track in the 12th running of one of the Caribbean’s top sports events

Caribbean cricket

Barbados plays Trinidad and Tobago (5-8, one-day match 3)


Oistins Fish Festival 10,12

The signing of the Charter of Barbados and the island’s long fishing tradition are celebrated in this south coast town with boat races, fishing contests, road racing and entertainment

West Indies v. Pakistan 23-28

International test cricket comes to Barbados as the West Indies take on Pakistan in the second test match at Kensington Oval

International Masters Cricket Tournament 17- May 1

Top cricketers from around the world gather in Barbados for this special contest


Texaco Games 5-7

The 7th year of this major athletics meeting


Sir Garfield Sobers International Schools Cricket Tournament

Local, Caribbean and international participants gather in Barbados for the seventh staging of this festival, named after the most famous of Barbados’s cricketing superstars

Crop-Over Festival 10- August 2

Marking the end of the traditional sugar harvest, this Carnival-like festival is the high point of the annual cultural calendar, with a wide range of fairs, concerts, parades and other activities climaxing on Kadooment Day (August 2), a national holiday Caribbean Basketball Championship 16-24


Banks Barbados International Hockey Festival


National Independence Festival of Creative Arts This month-long festival covers music, dance, singing, writing and drama, and involves Barbadians of all ages; it ends with a gala presentation

Caribbean Cup: International Surfing Championships 5-7

Top surfers from around the world tackle the waves at Bathsheba, one of the Caribbean’s top surfing breaks

Fred Rumsey Pro Am Festival Tournament


Run Barbados Road Race Series 4,5

International runners take part in a 10K race around Bridgetown and a marathon along the island’s south and west coasts

Barbados United Insurance Open Golf Tournament 10- 12

Mount Gay Regatta 27-31