You’ve heard about this place in the Caribbean, you’ve probably watched some cricket from there, and you’ve got the cash together, so you’re off, or seriously considering it this year.
So I am going to give you an overview from the bloke’s perspective.
Now the thing about Barbados is that everyone *raves* about the West Coast with its posh restaurants, gentle waves (sheltered from the big seas on the Atlantic side, it’s generally much quieter). And the twenty-somethings like “The Gap” where there are happy hours galore, the beaches are still nice, with a bit more in the wave department.
The thing is…where do you fit in? It sort of depends on who’s coming with you. If it’s just the two of you, then you can pretty much go anywhere…tailor it to your budget, try not to do all-inclusive (sterile places, and you’ve come 4000 miles – see the place you’re visiting!) but you can go anywhere. Some of the nicer places are small – the art studios in Holetown for instance.
Before we start, there are a couple of rules you should get used to.
1) Beer is your drink now. It just is. If you really can’t drink beer, drink rum. Don’t drink anything else alcoholic. Wine is fiendishly expensive and all imported. Support the local
2) You like cricket. You don’t have to pretend to be an expert (say “I’m learning the game” rather than “I don’t know much about it”) but if you know a better way to spend an hour or two talking to complete strangers and having a great time with a beer in the sun, please tell me – I don’t know one.
With little kids, there are nice hotels in Holetown (again they can a bit pricey as it’s West coast but you can find some good deals) and the range of apartments is improving. I would probably avoid St Lawrence Gap and Bridgetown with little ones as there are quite a few bars and they can be quite boisterous.
Generally, though, Barbados is a safe family-friendly location, but keep an eye on little ones with fair skin.
Do nothing. Just hang out and play on the beaches but beware the sun- it is FIERCE, particularly around midday.
Go and see the turtles. It sounds naff, but you’ll surprise yourself and the kids with these beautiful graceful animals. See the end of this post for the best boat to be on ;-).
Go to Rockley and seek out Chilly Moo’s in the little shopping centre. Good ice cream, and that’s tough in this climate.
Go and see the monkeys at the Barbados Wildlife Reserve but don’t get too close – they are wild animals after all. You’ll also see them on some of the golf courses if you play, and at the gulch by Harrison’s Cave.
Harrison’s Cave is worth the money- no spoilers but it’s a nice tour and will take your breath away.
You’ll see signs to Earthworks pretty much all over the island. It’s worth seeking out for a nice genuine souvenir, and to reward yourself after your shopping expedition (or if you don’t buy anything) head up to the cafe for a snack, a drink and some of the best views in Barbados. I would suggest you don’t ship any purchases back as HMRC can get a bit silly with import duties, and the Earthworks ladies can pack anything so it will survive almost any punishment until you get home.
Talking of views, one of best places to head for is St Nicholas Abbey (we’ll get inside one day, I’m sure) and follow the road towards Bathsheba. You’ll come through some trees and crest Cherry Tree Hill to see perhaps the best view of Barbados’ East Coast. There’s a little layby after many many people have stopped here over the years, and a little stall to sell trinkets. The view’s worth it, and it’s a good little stall.
The Flower Cave is a bit tricky to find but has several things to recommend it. 1) ice cream 2) great scenery 3) crafts. Don’t miss “The View” behind the craft shops.
Check out this site for some other interesting attractions: Barbados
Do the submarine if your budget allows. It’s pricey and you need to book as it fills up, but the experience is better than you think it’ll be. Hard-to-please teenagers come back smiling. It’s quite ‘sociable’ (not roomy) in there but the views are fabulous – like SCUBA without all the gear/mess/equalizing your ears etc. (<cough> I included it in my post on what to do on a rainy day in Barbados. Ed)
Find Gibbe’s beach for the unspoilt of Barbados. Still quiet and partly cut-off, it’s home to some lovely beachside villas and peace and quiet. No bars, no-one trying to politely sell you anything, so take everything you might need with you.
Go to the Cliff for cocktails. It’s spectacular. But the food is pricey and I’m not sure it justifies the price tag. If you go to eat and love it, let me know – I’m happy to have my mind changed 🙂
Go to Tides if your budget stretches (take the family if your budget is really big) but be prepared for the bill. It’s not as stuffy as the dress code suggests, and the food is excellent. (and when booking restaurants do ask for a “rail side table” so you are on the edge. They wont guarantee it but you can at least ask).
Find the surfer’s bar near Silver Point . This place is just delightful, hidden away and usually deserted when we go. It has the sound of waves crashing (rather than lapping) and if the timing is right, the bar is open and the music playing. If you are lucky you’ll see turtles ranging up and down just offshore, feeding in the shallows.
Golf (skip this if it’s not your game) take more water out with you than you can imagine. Play early and play ‘ready golf”. This is not a climate to spend five minutes considering your shot. Your round will take 4 hours and that’s a long time in the sun. Wear suncream. Yes, you.
If cricket is your thing, pretty much most Saturdays and Wednesdays when it’s not tipping down, there will be a cricket game on somewhere – ask the groundsman the day before and he’ll know if they’re home or away. There’ll be beer and people are happy to talk if you’re enjoying the game.
If cricket’s not your thing, then maybe beer? The Banks brewery is a good ‘educational excursion’ and if you’re there while the bottling plant is going at full tilt, quite an impressive sight. And there are some nice cricket memorabilia (do you sense a theme) in the media room of the museum, just before you’re invited to sample a glass or two of Barbados’ best-known beer.
Other beers are available, but…why would you? I certainly don’t see a reason to drink imported beer when Barbados has a water supply to rival any in the world in terms of purity (Ed: have you just made that up?). Okay so I just made up that statistic :p but the water supply goes through many layers of coral before it reaches the aquifer (Ed: stop trying to show off – I’m sure that’s not the right word anyway!) and then ends up in the reservoirs.
And (not that you have to agree with it) my view is that if you go somewhere, support the local
Now, if you want to combine beer and cricket, here’s a little tip. Find Marshall’s Bar on Holder’s Hill. It is still run by Malcolm Marshall’s brother (yes, THE Malcolm Marshall), has been frequented from time to time by Sir Garfield Sobers and other Bajan cricket greats, but don’t think you can tell the bar owner anything about cricket that he doesn’t already know-you’re probably wasting your time… Just go and drink the atmosphere in, read the stuff on the walls and make sure you buy a beer or two. No barman likes non-drinking customers.
Food (not posh)
Oystins (see below).
Fish-fry at Six Men’s Bay. This is like a mini-Oystin’s and, tucked away at the North of the West Coast, it’s great. It’s not shiny, but the food is fresh, tasty and really good.
Chris’ Rib Shack on Friday. This you need to book as it only seats about 20 and they only do two or three things, one of which is ribs (chicken and something else – I only had the ribs).
Getting around on Barbados
Talk to people. Bajans are friendly people and while they may be getting slightly fed up of rich Europeans who just drive about in their air-conditioned cars, if you talk to people you will be surprised (in my experience) how quickly they open up and offer information that you won’t find in any guide-book, like which fish shack at Oystin’s serves the best food. Ok they all do, but follow the local tips and you’ll feel better for it.
If you stop at the side of the road in a hire car, it’s more likely than not that someone will pull up and give directions. The maps have a bad reputation, but in fact they’re just VERY accurate. Each turn in the road is marked, which can make them tricky to read.
Oystin’s fish-fry is a must-see, but it has a changing character as time moves on so pick your time. In the afternoon it’s not even awake, and you can sit in the bar facing the sea as the old fishermen play cards and slam dominoes, drinking cocktails of vodka and rum, and wait for the tourists to arrive slowly. This is a lovely time to go as it’s very Bajan, nothing is really happening and people are just catching up with friends.
Early evening through to 7 or 8 it’s mad busy with the shacks doing a roaring trade, macaroni cheese and tuna being sold at an astonishing rate and smiling “I’m-not-burnt-I-just-caught-the-sun” faces everywhere.
From 9 it gets a bit quieter, the food shacks start to wind down – you can eat until much later if you want, but the choice shrinks as everything’s fresh – and the music winds up. There is dancing (not quite Len Goodman, but more ballroom than disco) and it can get a bit sweaty. You’ll want to have put the kids to bed by 10, but if you have a sitter, you could creep back and enjoy the nightlife.
Barbados is pretty egalitarian and if you go out in the evening, you can find yourself drinking with the Prime Minister (one occasion, many years ago, and she hardly drank at all) or with an equally nice chap, who’d spent time “in the big house” as we learnt later. He also drank very little, but I think that was probably caution on his part – he told us alcohol didn’t agree with him. Or that he tended to disagree with people after a few drinks.
Whatever you do on Barbados, make sure you take your time – this is not a place to try and ‘do’, this is a place to ‘be’. Enjoy the sunsets, talk to people, slow down.
And the one man you must find if you are over there is Marvin. Marvin Sobers. That’s him in the top pic. On Barbados West coast, everyone knows Marvin and you need to too. Seek him out on Facebook before you go and go out on his boat. All the tours are similar now so….you choose between the tours based on the captain. So you choose Marvin. Job done.
You will not meet a nicer man on the island. And Barbados has a lot of nice people.
If you ignore everything else, do this one thing. Not for me, for you. 🙂