Blue skies, even bluer waters, plenty of sand and surf, safe streets, magnificent food and a nuanced café society—the easternmost island in the southern Caribbean delivers all this and more.
Mixing more than a dash of island whimsy with a the slightly button-down vibe due in part to the island’s British roots, Barbados gives you lots of opportunity—and encouragement—to let your hair down.
Hit the beach. The west and south coasts of Barbados offer one beach after another of finely ground coral sand—take your pick. Then take a Cool Runnings Catamaran cruise, go kayaking or paddle-boarding, or just sit on a lounger and enjoy the million different shades of blue. There are also dozens of dive sites to sink your mask into, with Barbados Blue at Needham’s Point Pebbles Beach being the dive shop of choice—an excellent launching point for shipwrecks in Carlisle Bay.
Eat local. The street food trucks and rum-shop takeout counters are crowded with locals and tourists for good reason: They harbour some of the most delicious home cooking you will ever taste. The Oistins fish fry is a Friday-night highlight, with dozens of market stalls sizzling with goodness. And the lineups at Cuz’s Fish Stand in the Garrison in Bridgetown are so healthy on weekdays, he takes the weekend off. For fine dining, there’s a ton of home-grown talent, notably at Hugo’s in Speightstown, where Chef Avion Caine leans on his childhood food memories to present a tantalizing, local-flavour-infused menu. For a sexy, barefoot-chic culinary experience, head to La Cabane at Batts Rock Beach for the sunset—but stay for the coconut mojitos and fresh grilled fish.
Get inside intel. Spend some quality time with Chef Michael Harrison from Island Market & Food Vibes Tour, who will take you around town to the markets, then out into the countryside to taste-test the best local cuisine at places like the iconic Village Bar and the bucolic Country View Bar & Grill.
Try the rum. Barbados is by all accounts the birthplace of rum. Mega-distiller Mount Gay dates back to 1703, when it was discovered that the molasses they had been discarding after processing the sugar cane fermented quite nicely. Traditional rum “shops,” roadside bars where people gather to watch cricket and play dominos, are scattered throughout Barbados. But you need to venture outside the fray to experience the best of the island’s rum: Make sure Foursquare Rum Distillery and St. Nicholas Abbey Distillery are both on your list. Make sure there is room in your suitcase to take a bottle home.
Catch a wave. The easy-going east side of Barbados is where locals go to relax on the weekend—or surf. A day trip to the rugged Atlantic coastline of Bathsheba will reveal stunning views and a few heritage hints, particularly if you venture into the Atlantis Hotel, which dates back to the 1880s. Make a pit stop on the patio before taking a hike along the old railway tracks to watch the surfers at the Soup Bowl, a world-famous reef break. The east side is also home to the top vegetarian restaurant in town, tucked under the palm trees at ECO Lifestyle Lodge.
Cheer on the ponies. When the beach gets boring, head to the sports pitch. Cricket isn’t the only game in town, either. The popularity of polo in Barbados reaches back to colonial times, the first match being played in 1884. The Polo Club regulates four playing fields, welcoming international teams in a season that runs from January through May. Prince Charles and Prince Harry have both played polo here many times.