Eight ways to experience the best of Barbados

With its characterful towns and rugged natural scenery, Barbados' appeal is far wider than just sun, sand and sea — and a stay at any of the island's luxurious hotels makes for an ideal base.

Famed for its aquamarine waters and year-round sunshine, Barbados is a true tropical island paradise. 

 

Photograph by Getty Images
By Audrey Gillan
Published 16 Jul 2022, 18:00 BST

Beaches and boardwalks, surf and sea life, palms trees, fine-dining restaurants and roadside snack shacks — Barbados has all the delights of the Caribbean. The sea life here is vibrant and abundant, with the surrounding coral reefs forming natural pools that are ideal for snorkelling, scuba diving and kayaking, while on land, rainforests, waterfalls and rugged peaks provide countless walking trails and breathtaking panoramas. Wildlife enthusiasts can spot endemic species of flora and fauna at the island’s plethora of parks, reserves and botanic gardens, while those interested can learn more about the island’s varied history in the colourful capital, Bridgetown, or visit a distillery to learn about the birthplace of rum. If that’s not enough, there’s fresh seafood and Bajan cuisine, swimming pools to splash about in and a fine selection of luxurious hotels across the island.

1. Get lost in the local culture

Bridgetown sees history and culture unfold on almost every corner. This richness was recognised by UNESCO in 2011 when the island’s capital ­— and the nearby historical Garrison area — was awarded World Heritage Site status. Wander around the Careenage marina, where ships would dock and unload their cargo, to take your pick from an abundance of first-class bars and restaurants, or head up the hill to the Savannah, one of Barbados’s most popular recreational areas. It’s also home to the Barbados Turf Club, whose grandstand and surrounds are packed to capacity on Gold Cup day — held annually on the first Saturday of March. You can catch other races here throughout the year.

How to do it: The Courtyard Hotel by Marriott Bridgetown, celebrates the vibrant spirit of Barbados with the Historic Garrison Tour.

One of the many restored Chattel Houses in Holetown, Barbados.

Photograph by Getty Images

2. Learn about the island’s historic chattel houses

These small, wooden houses were the first homes bought by newly freed slaves. Some are truly beautiful, with filigree edging and window frames, and are among the most popular images in local paintings. When they were first built, the houses ­­— which were portable because their owners didn’t own the land they stood on and could therefore be evicted ­— were painted shades of brown; some of those painted in these original colours still remain, although many are in a dilapidated state. Others, however, have been gloriously revamped, making some chattel houses little jewels much sought-after by visitors. Visit the recreated Chattel Shopping Village in Holetown, complete with boutiques, cafes and restaurants.

How to do it: Treasure Beach by Elegant Hotels, offers the Treasure Art Crawl, which takes in a plethora of galleries across the island. It also offers an array of bespoke culinary and cultural recreational activities.

Hunte's Botanical Gardens is home to 10 acres of tropical vegetation, including a variety of birds, flowers and plants such as purple lilies, heliconias and orchids.

Photograph by Getty Images

3. Discover its parks and botanical gardens

Hummingbirds, monkeys, butterflies and colourful flora abound in Barbados — all of which comes together in stunning fashion at Hunte’s Gardens — a former sugar plantation transformed by horticulturist Anthony Hunte. Boasting 10 acres of dense, tropical vegetation, this is a place where wildlife enthusiasts can spot everything from pots of flowering plants to rare, hardy vines and 100-year-old cabbage palms. Mr Hunte, who lives on the property, even guides guests through the garden and its history himself. A short distance away is the Flower Forest Botanical Gardens, a 53-acre paradise, teeming with majestic palms, colourful shrubs and tropical flowers. Bring your camera to capture the surrounding views of the lush countryside and eastern coastline.

How to do it: The House by Elegant Hotels, is under a half-hour drive from both botanical gardens.

Originally from West Africa, the Barbados green monkey has a thick fur which is actually brownish-grey in colour with specks of yellow.

Photograph by Getty Images

4. Meet endemic wildlife

Located in the parish of Saint Peter, across the road from the Farley Hill National Park, is the Barbados Wildlife Reserve. Follow the red-brick paths under a canopy of mahogany trees, to spot a variety of free-roaming animals, feeding and playing in their natural environment. Agoutis, armadillos, brocket deers, pelicans, peacocks, caimans and iguanas are just some of the reserve’s wild residents, but it’s the endemic green monkeys that steal the show. Despite what its name suggests, the animal’s fur is mainly brown and grey — flecks of yellow and olive caught in the sunlight make it seem green. Arrive by 2pm to observe the mothers and their babies being fed, or head over to a walk-through aviary to view parrots, macaws and lovebirds.

How to do it: Tamarind by Elegant Hotels, arranges a Wildlife Adventure tour that takes you to the Barbados Wildlife Reserve and Farley Hill National Park. 

A distillery worker moving wooden barrels at the Mount Gay rum distillery in St Lucy Parish, Barbados.

Photograph by Getty Images

5. Discover the birthplace of rum

Barbados lays claim to being the place where the first rum was produced. Mount Gay distillery — founded in 1703 — is thought to be the oldest continuously functioning rum distillery in the world. Here, you can learn about its history at the visitor centre. Quaint, brightly hued rum shops are dotted all over the island and have been part of the landscape and culture for over 300 years. It’s great fun to have a ‘lime’ ­— a Bajan word for a good time — by taking in two or three rum shacks, where you can sample the tipple and chat with the convivial owners. Rum is either white or gold and there are four active distilleries worth visiting on the island: Foursquare, Mount Gay, WIRD (West Indies Rum Distillery) and St Nicholas Abbey.

How to do it: Colony Club by Elegant Hotels, is home to the Rum Vault which features 150 rums from around the world. With Rum Ambassadors and a Vault Chef, the Rum has a schedule of weekly events, rum pairings and private dining experiences.

 Tourists can access the subterranean environment of Harrison's Cave on a tramway.

Photograph by Getty Images

6. Explore hidden coves and caves

Located in the central uplands of the island, just over five miles from Bridgetown, Harrison’s Cave is an eco-adventure park and one of the island’s ‘seven wonders’. This limestone cave consists of stalactites — 45ft-long in places — and stalagmites, as well as streams and deep pools of clear water. Visitors can explore the cave system by tram, meaning much of the vulnerable areas are protected. They can then leave the tram and walk alongside a spectacular waterfall, which plunges deep into a pool below.

How to do it: Crystal Cove by Elegant Hotels, offers a guided tram tour of Harrison’s Cave. 

Located in the southwest region of Barbados, Carlisle Bay's marine park is a popular spot on the island for scuba diving.

Photograph by Getty Images

7. Take to the water

Watersports are one of the biggest thrills in Barbados — big game fishing, speedboat rides, jet skis, and surfing are all widely available; the latter is based on the east coast, where surf competitions and festivals take place over eight months of the year. With over 200 shipwrecks dotted around the coast, including various relics such as anchors and cannonballs, Barbados also offers memorable scuba diving and snorkelling experiences. The Carlisle Bay Marine Park is one of the most popular spots; here, swimmers are surrounded by an abundance of marine life such as tropical fish, seahorses, rays, octopuses, turtles and eels, while the six shipwrecks here range in depth from 12ft to 55ft. Exhilarating days on the ocean can be followed by chilled-out sunsets, sipping a cocktail by the beach as the sky turns from a fiery, russet red to black.  

How to do it: Turtle Beach by Elegant Hotels, arranges catamaran cruises to the best sea turtle spots where you can float face-to-beak with hawksbills and leatherbacks.

Held in a restored grand old market hall, the Cheapside Market in Bridgetown sees vendors and farmers sell their clothing, craft, fruit, vegetables, plants, spices, fresh meats and food.

Photograph by Getty Images

8. Sample the local cuisine

Barbados’s national dish is flying fish and cou cou: crisp-fried, spicy fillets served with cornmeal and okra. Macaroni pie is just as treasured; here, macaroni is mixed with cheese, evaporated milk, Bajan spices, hot sauce and then baked until crisp. In Bridgetown, visit the fish market to see the sumptuous produce (marlin, kingfish, mahi mahi, chub) and watch as stall holders prepare flying fish. Afterwards, walk a short distance to the Cheapside Market, taking in a visual feast of fruit and vegetables and inhaling as you pass stalls piled with Bajan spices. On a Friday night, head south to the famous Fish Fry at Oistins Bay Gardens.

How to do it: Crystal Cove by Elegant Hotels, offers buffets and themed nights featuring a variety of Bajan and Caribbean dishes.

Plan your trip


Where to stay

Marriott Bonvoy International offer a wealth of accommodation options in Barbados. For more information, visit marriottbonvoy.com

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