Barbados is one of the more populous and prosperous Caribbean islands. Political, economic and social stability have given it one of the highest standards of living in the developing world. It is a center for financial services and has offshore reserves of oil and natural gas.
In recent years a construction boom has taken hold, with new hotels and housing complexes springing up. The trend accelerated as the island prepared to host some of the key Cricket World Cup matches in 2007. However, a shortage of jobs has prompted many Barbadians - more often known as Bajans - to find work abroad. The money that they send home is an important source of income. Most Barbadians are the descendants of African slaves who were brought to the island from the 17th century to work the sugar cane plantations. Limestone caverns, coral reefs and a warm climate tempered by trade winds are among the island's natural assets. Barbados is relatively flat, with highlands in the interior.
Citizens of the following countries will not need visas to enter Barbados: Albania, Antigua and Barbuda, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominica, Eritrea, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, France, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kiribati, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lesotho, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macau, Republic of Macedonia, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mexico, Federated States of Micronesia, Moldova, Nauru, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Norway, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
If you require a visa, you can obtain one from a Barbadian embassy, high commission or consulate. The form for a visa must include 2 passport size photographs. The visa costs BBD50 for single entry and BBD60 for multiple entries.
If you require a visa to enter Barbados, you might be able to apply for one at a British embassy, high commission or consulate in the country where you legally reside if there is no Barbadian diplomatic post. For example, the British embassies in Al Khobar, Amman, Belgrade, Budapest, Helsinki, Jakarta, Jeddah, Moscow, Pristina, Qatar, Riga, Riyadh, Rome, Sofia, Tallinn, Vienna, Warsaw, and Zagreb accept Barbadian visa applications (this list is not exhaustive). British diplomatic posts charge GBP50 to process a Barbadian visa application and an extra GBP70 if the Barbadian authorities require the visa application to be referred to them. The Barbadian authorities can also decide to charge an additional fee if they correspond with you directly.
Entering Barbados by plane. Sir Grantley Adams International Airport (IATA: BGI) is a large international airport for Barbados's size and boasts dozens of flights arriving in the high season from the UK and Canada, as well as the United States. British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have many flights from the United Kingdom, while American Airlines is the dominant carrier from the United States (Dallas, Miami, and New York). Air Canada and Westjet fly from Canada. The airport is 13km (8 mi) east of Bridgetown. Buses and minibusses run from a stop across the road from the airport up the coast to Bridgetown, Holetown, and Speightstown for BBD2 per person, but a taxi is the most convenient way to get to your hotel on arrival.
Entering Barbados by boat. Many cruise ships dock in the Bridgetown deep-water harbor, just expanded to accommodate even more vessels. The terminal is served by an army of taxis, as well as shuttle "buses" to/from downtown Bridgetown for BBD2 each way per person.
Private moorings are available around the island. Note that stiff penalties prohibit the dropping of anchors on coral reefs.
Visiting private yachts/cruisers should check in either at Bridgetown or Port St Charles. Anchor off on the northern side of Carlisle Bay. Q flag is obligatory. There are entry/exit fees. Access to Bridgetown can be via Dinghy dock in the Careenage. Full from fishing dock
Driving is on the left. The bus system is extensive, cheap and fast if you are headed to somewhere on the main route, but a car (or mini-moke) is the only way to see many of the out-of-the-way sights. Many drivers will hold a bus for you if they see you are from out of town, reflecting the typical welcoming spirit. Buses are run by the Barbados Transport Board (blue) and are quiet. Private operators include the yellow buses, which play very loud music, and private mini-vans (white), which are usually cramped and crowded. The two privately run means of transport are often driven very fast and recklessly. All charge the same fare (BBD2.00). Yellow buses and minivans offer change and even accept US dollars. BTB buses accept Barbados dollars and do not give change.
There are also more than enough taxis to take you wherever you need to go on the island for reasonable prices. They do not use meters and it is best to negotiate the price before you get in. However, most taxi drivers are honest and you are unlikely to be overcharged. Be sure to ask the management of the hotel or the friendly locals what the going rate is for a cab ride to your destination.
Renting a car is expensive. If you are driving, be aware that the roads on the island are generally quite narrow, with the exception of the ABC highway. It is advisable to be extra cautious as many roads on the island have sharp turns, steep inclines, and are generally quite bumpy, although most are paved.
Many of these "highways" do not have sidewalks, so there can be pedestrians on the street sharing the road. Many bus stops are also on the side of roads where there are no sidewalks. Additionally, beware of impromptu passing lanes as slow drivers are often passed by others behind them when on two-lane roads. Road signs can be fairly confusing, so be prepared to get lost: just keep your petrol tank topped up and keep asking the way as people are always eager to help.
At most all of the local car rental agencies, a full collision damage waiver policy is automatically included with the rental, except for any damage incurred to the car tires, a testament to the poor condition of the smaller roads and tendency of foreign drivers to miscalculate driving lanes and hit curbs.
Mopeds and bikes can also be rented to explore sites not easily reached by cars. This not recommended however due to the poor condition of many of the secondary and residential roads. Except for the main highway, all the other roads provide a hazardous journey to the moped or bike rider due to no sidewalks, frequent potholes, sharp corners and speeding local buses.
Another fun way to get around is to rent a moke available from any number of local car rental agencies.
The official language in Barbados is English. Bajan (occasionally called Barbadian Creole or Barbadian Dialect), is an English-based creole language spoken by locals. Bajan uses a mixture of West African idioms and expressions, such as Igbo, along with British English to produce a unique Barbadian/West Indian vocabulary and speech pattern. There are a few African words interspersed with the dialect. Communication will not be a problem for any English speaker, and Barbados has one of the highest literacy rates in the Western Hemisphere.
The west coast holds numerous deluxe resorts, and it and the interior highlands have several historical sites with picturesque views. Numerous websites offer details.
- Botanical Garden. In the interior, there is a beautiful Botanical Garden with more fauna information than most similar places across the planet.
- Cricket, Kensington Oval, Bridgetown. Check for if there's a game to experience west indies cricket.
- Mount Gay Rum Distillery Ltd., Spring Garden Highway, Bridgetown, Saint Michael, ☎ "+1. The tour takes about 45 minutes and includes a rum tasting. There is a bar in a veranda. There are more expensive (B$75) lunch tours which include transportation as well as food. B$16 for the basic tour.
- Harrison's Cave, Welchman Hall, St.Thomas. 8:45 am - 3:45 pm. 2nd most popular attraction in Barbados (after Oistins Fish Fry). Underground cave with stalactites, stalagmites, small waterfalls, and pools. Ride by tram through the cave; you can disembark at some points. $30.
What to do
World class water sports including surfing at the Soup Bowl on the east coast and various breaks along the west when the swell is up. The south coast has great surf and a spot on the world windsurfing tour at Silver Sands.
Travel inland to various plantation houses which put on meals and exhibitions. Visit the animal flower cave or Barbados wildlife reserve.
Barbados has amazing conditions for Kitesurfing. The wind blows most of the year but the best months are January to July. Main kite beach is at the south part of the island at Silver Rock.
A catamaran cruise with opportunities to snorkel with sea turtles and snorkel above shipwrecks. The tours usually include transportation to and from the harbor as well as all drinks (alcohol included) and a buffet lunch. Turtle-snorkelling-only cruises are offered as well.
Scuba diving. There are also many diving tour operators for every level of experience to explore coral reefs as well as sunken ships. The waters around Barbados are some of the most transparent in the Caribbean.
Aerial Trek zipline, Jack-In-The-Box Gully, St. Thomas, Barbados. If you love adventure you might enjoy ziplining over a tropical forest & gully. It's a pretty small course with just 8 platforms. Friendly guides put safety first.
Swimming with sea turtles. Several catamarans offer sailing tours that include stops to swim and snorkel with sea turtles. Lots of fun and a somewhat unique experience. Note there is no swimming with dolphins options off Barbados.
Golf. There are several world-class courses.
Cricket. Barbados has several cricket teams, including some playing at international level. A match is an opportunity for the Bajans to gather around the TV and support their team.
The local currency is the Bajan dollar (BBD), but US dollars are accepted in almost all shops and restaurants (you will get your change back in BBD.) The exchange rate is fixed at about 2 Bajan dollars to the US dollar. Keep in mind that exchangers in hotels and banks may take an additional percentage of the exchange (typically 5%).
ATMs are widely available, although many banks ATMs charge up to 5 USD fee to withdraw cash using international cards. The only bank chain that does not seem to charge is the Republic Bank, which advertises its "Blue Machines" which are easy to spot.
Many "duty-free" shops cater to visitors: from cruise ships. Bridgetown's main street hosts numerous jewelers, most frequently Colombian Emeralds and Diamonds International. Cave Shepherd department store offers a wide range of mercantile, while Harrison's offers premium gifts, leathers, and cosmetics. Other smaller stores offer virtually everything a visitor or resident might need. A small mall at the harbor also offers decent prices and selection (for rum and UK liquors), but goods produced in Barbados may be slightly more expensive there than elsewhere on the island.
Stores selling to visitors can honestly claim they offer duty-free pricing. They, in fact, pay duty on imported goods before offering them for sale. But as they sell anything to you as a visitor, they will ask you to sign a form that allows them to get a refund of the duty paid. The government is working on a law that allows vendors to obtain goods that are intended for visitors without paying duty.
Barbados has a well-deserved reputation for producing excellent rum, e.g., Mount Gay. Rum distilleries are usually open for tours, and typically offer samples and product for sale at prices often equal to the best found anywhere else. (See also "Drink" below)
Barbados has a great variety of street vendors. Haggle aggressively. Don't stop until you are at about a third of the original price.
The fine arts flourish in Barbados and many galleries and studios have shows on all year round which change every few weeks.
See also the note about "Weekend Shut Down" at the end of the "Eat" section below.
Flying fish, the icon of the islands is found on coins, bills, and menus. Flying fish is usually served lightly breaded and fried, with a yellow sauce. Be warned that this yellow sauce consists of very hot Scotch Bonnet peppers with onions in a mustard sauce.
Pepperpot, a must, a dish of long tradition and great pride among the Bajans, a pork stew in a spicy dark brown sauce.
Try cutters, a local sandwich made using Salt Bread (not regular sandwich bread). Varieties include flying fish cutters, ham cutters and the popular bread and two (two fishcakes in a salt bread).
Visitors seeking fast food will probably be disappointed; the burger chains of the US failed miserably upon introduction to Barbados (Bajans eat nearly no beef). However, chicken and fish sandwiches are wildly popular, so KFC and the local chain Chefette are ubiquitous. Try the rotis at Chefette.
Bajan cuisine is a strange mix of spicy, flavorful treats along with traditional English fare. So be prepared for meals where fiery stews sit side-by-side with beans on toast.
Every Friday night the place to be is the town of Oistins (on the south coast) for the "fish fry". This is a market where you can buy fresh fish cooked according to local recipes. Locals stay there late and dance until the early hours of the morning. This is now the second most popular tourist attraction on the island, after Harrison's Cave.
There are many fine restaurants on the island with the top two being The Cliff (on the west coast) and Cin Cin by the Sea (also on the west coast). Both are quite expensive, but serve beautiful food and a wonderful dining experience, overlooking the sea. Still, you can find many hidden gems if you look hard enough. For inexpensive local dishes try Cuz's Fish Stand near the Hilton Hotel, Sand Dunes restaurant on the east coast and Lemon Harbor in the St.John countryside.
Fish cakes, BBQ pig tails, fresh coconut, and roasted peanuts are offered by the many street vendors.
Barbados has a well-deserved reputation for producing excellent rum, e.g., Mount Gay. Rum distilleries are usually open for tours, and typically offer samples and product for sale at prices often equal to the best found anywhere else. The legal drinking/purchasing age of alcoholic beverages is 16.
Barbados has some of the purest water in the world that can be drunk straight from the tap. Cruise ship employees are often seen stocking up on their water supplies while docked at the island.
Rum and rum drinks are featured at every bar. Perhaps the most famous domestic brand offered is Mount Gay Rum, which is very delicious. Modest cost tours of the distillery are available on weekdays. They offer samples of all their rums, also sold at attractive prices.
Small establishments called rum shops can be found all over Barbados. They are where local citizens (95% men) meet to catch up on the local news. Drop in, and you can easily have a conversation with a real Barbadian.
Beer and wine are easy to find as well. Banks beer is Barbados' own beer and very good. Tours of the Banks brewery are also available. While the tour itself is very hot and only moderately interesting an unlimited amount of beer is provided to those waiting for the tour to begin. Try to show up a few hours early and take advantage of a very good deal.
10 Saints is the first craft beer to be brewed in Barbados. This unique lager is aged for 90 days in Mount Gay 'Special Reserve' Rum casks, combining the rum heritage of the island with a refreshing lager to produce a truly 'Bajan' beer. It is available at bars and shops, throughout the island.
Where to sleep
Barbados offers everything from inexpensive guest houses with bed and breakfast from under BBD80 daily for a single in the summer to luxury accommodations at some of the world's best hotels at BBD4,000 in the prime season.
Barbados apartments and apartment hotels offer the comfort of a hotel room combined with the convenience of your own cooking facilities. Most are located on/near the beach and are especially suitable for families.
There is a wide selection of luxury villas and cottages available for rent throughout Barbados. Many of these villas and cottages are located on or near the beach.
Privately owned vacation rentals are often rented at much lower costs than hotel or resort rooms. There is a wide selection of these holiday properties available throughout Barbados and many are located on or near the beach. Vacation properties range from beach houses to condos and apartments.
See regional articles for listings. Generally, more expensive resorts are on the west coast north of Bridgetown, simpler guesthouses are available along the southern coast and only a few housing options available in Bridgetown itself.
Villabound Inc., Summerland House, Barbados, ☎ 2464258664. Villa-bound is a regional Villa Hotel, which brings together villa rental properties throughout the Caribbean under one coherent brand and management system.
Health and safety
Although it is generally a safe place to travel, there is some crime that appears more significant because of its comparative rarity. It's wise for tourists to avoid certain high-risk activities like walking on secluded beaches, day or night, and walking in unfamiliar residential neighborhoods or secluded areas away from main roads.
The most common kinds of crimes against tourists include taxi fraud, robbery, and shortchanging; however, rape and assaults are becoming more common. Most Bajans are by nature-friendly, especially in the earlier part of the tourist season (November and December).
A special area of concern for visitors to Barbados is drugs. The country's strict anti-drug policy is made apparent to visitors coming through Customs. In practice, however, Europeans and Americans in Barbados are offered marijuana or even cocaine frequently. Sellers will often roam the beaches selling aloe vera or other such innocuous goods as a pretense to begin a conversation about "ganja," "smoke" or "bad habits." As a result, many hotels and resorts now ban the use of aloe vera under the pretense that it "stains the towels."
Regardless of one's inclination to use drugs, it is not advisable to accept these offers. Marijuana is considered bad and is not accepted by Bajan police. While Bajan police are not frequently encountered, they prosecute drug crimes easily.
Care should also be taken going into the sea. Many people underestimate just how powerful the currents can be and rip tides have claimed lives over the years. Always look out for warning flags.
Beware of the sun, Barbados is only 13 degrees off of the equator and you can get sunburnt very easily. It is very important to keep your water intake high. Drink plenty of water or bring an umbrella to shade yourself against the sun, which is commonly done in the country.
Dengue is prevalent, therefore it is advisable to put on bug spray, as mosquitoes are often a nuisance to anyone staying outdoors for prolonged periods, day or night, as soon as you are in the countryside. At the beach, as long as there is a breeze, you'll be ok: mosquitoes are poor fliers.
In case you read this article and you found it fascinating, you may proceed and have a small break during December.
Last but not least, every good trip starts with the nice mood and of course the right preparation. Make sure that you have managed to get all your documents, and also get the best accessories and gadgets, in order to make your trip a smart, comfortable but mostly a safe experience!
Visit tripatricks.com for more gadgets and accessories, and participate in the big Sale 20% off in all electronic and pet travel products (in case that you are traveling with your buddy).
Now that you know it all, go and get it!
(Source: wikitravel, BBC news, BBC travel)