Visiting Barbados – How to Get the Most Out of Your Vacation
Barbados is one of the jewels of the Caribbean and has a veritable cornucopia of things to see, do and experience. I am continually amazed at how much better a vacation can be with just a little advance planning and the use of common sense. Here are my suggestions for getting the most out of visiting Barbados.
Don’t stay at an all inclusive while visiting Barbados
To be fair I’d be hard pressed to think of any Caribbean island that I would not make the same recommendation, but the quality and variety of the food in Barbados is so good that foregoing it to eat the usual buffet crap at all inclusive’s seems almost wantonly negligent. Read my post on the best places to eat in Barbados and you’ll see what you will be missing, including the famous Oistins Friday night fish fry.
Decide in advance what type of beach you want in Barbados
Barbados has a wonderful variety of beaches that, depending on where you are staying and what you like to do, can significantly affect the enjoyment of your vacation. Let’s look at the pros and cons of four completely separate beach areas from the calmest to the wildest.
Undoubtedly the clearest and calmest waters are found on the west coast which runs from Bridgetown north to Speightstown and includes the beaches at Holetown, Mullins Bay and Sandy Lane.
These beaches should appeal to those who actually want to spend time in or on the water. You can swim, snorkel, kayak, water ski or sail. They also have great sunsets.
The only real downside is that the beaches are narrow and there’s not much room to lie on the beach.
Moving south of Bridgetown you’ll find the southwest beaches including very popular Maxwell Beach at St. Lawrence Gap. As you can see these beaches are much wider than the beaches north of Bridgetown.
The downside for some will be that there is almost always a pretty good surf breaking on these beaches.
If you like splashing in the waves, body surfing or getting on a boogie board then these beaches are great, but if you have any fear of the water then this might not be the place to choose.
Moving to the very south of Barbados you come to Crane Beach and Bottom Bay where the waves are even bigger. They are beautiful to look at, but your options are limited, and yes that is a lot of seaweed on both of them.
Last up are the incredibly beautiful but equally dangerous beaches of eastern Barbados. Bathsheba might be the best looking beach in Barbados, but that’s all you can really do – look at it, at least the southern part. Riptides and undercurrents are so strong here that even the surfers avoid it.
Further northward the surfer’s do hang out at the Soupbowl, so if that’s your thing then this is where to do it.
You can also find a few places to get in the water here, but they are not exactly conventional.
So, in making your choice of where to stay in Barbados make sure you know the type of beach to expect when you get there.
Hire a private taxi while visiting Barbados
While it’s quite feasible to rent a car in Barbados there are a number of reasons I would recommend hiring a taxi guide instead. Firstly, the rental cars are fairly expensive and the taxi guides less expensive than you would expect. If you have a group of more than four then a taxi is really the only sensible option as the price per person goes down and you get a guide to boot. The reason I say this is that most of the taxi guides have vehicles that can hold up to ten in comfort, while the rental cars seldom hold more than four. Secondly, Barbadian roads, while pretty good, are narrow, the road signage is poor and you need to feel confident driving on the right hand side. Combine these three factors and having someone else who knows the roads do the driving makes sense. Thirdly, the local knowledge of the taxi guide will undoubtedly get you to places you would not find on your own, including some interesting restaurants and bars. If you are in doubt as to who to hire I can highly recommend the Alleyne brothers, who can be found working out of the Bougainvillea Beach Resort.
Visit attractions early before the cruise ship buses get there
There are almost always huge cruise ships tied up in Bridgetown that disgorge hundreds if not thousands of one day visitors that spread out over the island like a plague of attraction starved locusts. Inevitably among them are the loud, the obnoxious and the idiotic that will diminish the non-cruise ship visitor’s appreciation of whatever it is you want to see or experience. Fortunately this exacerbation can be avoided by just getting there early. The buses seldom arrive before 10:00 and the attractions usually open at 9:00. An hour of peace is well worth it, especially at places like the various botanical gardens where the idling of the diesel buses essentially destroys the tranquility and drowns out the sound of the birds and insects.
Take the once weekly guided tour of the Bridgetown Garrison
Bridgetown and its Garrison is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a must visit for anyone with a modicum of interest in colonial history, including why this was the only place outside the United States that George Washington ever visited. The Barbados Garrison Consortium offers once weekly tours that are tremendously informative and gets you into places like the Barbados Defense Authority that are off limits to regular tourists. Here’s a more detailed post on why this tour is a must while visiting Barbados.
Go snorkelling in Carlyle Bay, but not on the Jolly Roger
The Jolly Roger might be the most famous party boat in the Caribbean. Every year thousands of people have their memories wiped clean after over indulging in the incredibly potent rum punch served up on board. Part of an excursion on the Jolly Roger is a visit to Carlyle Bay to snorkel the waters above a series of wrecks that lie just below the surface. These wrecks have become artificial reefs and are teeming with dozens of varieties of tropical fish in every colour of the rainbow as well as sea turtles. It can be a snorkeler’s paradise, but not if you are in the company of dozens of other people all clamouring to do the same thing.
The alternative is simple. The same outfit that runs the Jolly Roger, Black Pearl also offers a two hour snorkeling tour on a boat that only holds six people. The difference is this.
PS – You still get the same rum punch to drink after snorkeling as do those on the Jolly Roger.
Follow these half dozen tips and I guarantee you visiting Barbados will be more enjoyable and memorable.