Whether you’re thinking of a holiday in Barbados, have one planned, or are looking for inspiration to make the most of your holiday leave, our top 10 tips for a holiday in Barbados are essential reading.
A holiday in Barbados was on our bucket list for years and when we made it happen it was everything we hoped it would be, and more. Growing up, the Caribbean for us was one of those places that was a dream destination but not really somewhere that we thought was actually possible to visit. With travel becoming more and more affordable it is now somewhat difficult to imagine a place that is unreachable. Barbados remains firmly on the list of ‘dream destinations’, but nowadays it is a dream that is easy to make come true.
1. Think about when to go
Barbados evokes images of beautiful blue skies and sunny days. With 3,000 hours of sunshine a year it is easy to understand why.
The tropical island has its share of rain but it is rain that makes itself known in short showers rather than inclement weather for days on end.
Although Barbados has consistent year-round temperatures it has two distinct seasons. The dry season runs from December to May and the hurricane season runs from June to November. Average maximum day time temperatures throughout the year are 27-30°C. Average minimum night time temperatures are 23-26°C. However, the level of rainfall fluctuates and average levels range from 46mm in February to 174mm in October. The driest months tend to be February to May and the wettest months are July to November. However, the average daily hours of sunshine never drops below 7, for the majority of the year it is between 8 and 9.
The most popular times to visit are between December and April and this is reflected in accommodation prices. Be sure to book in advance for these months.
It’s not hard to see why Barbados is a fantastic place for a winter sun holiday.
Storm activity is at its peak in September and October. Notwithstanding its seasons, Barbados’s far-easterly position in the Caribbean means that it is seldom hit by hurricanes. The last time it was directly hit was in 1955. The island is a year-round destination and there is never a bad time to have a holiday in Barbados. Instead, when is a good time for you will depend on what you want from your trip.
2. Think about which part of the island to use as a base
Despite its small size of 166 sq. miles, the island offers a huge amount and where you choose to stay will depend on the type of holiday in Barbados you want. Barbados is divided into 11 parishes but when choosing where to base yourself it is easiest to think of it as being divided into five areas.
- The West Coast, also known as the Platinum Coast, is considered to be the glamourous side of the island and a number of the island’s luxury hotel and villas are sited along this coast.
- The most popular part to stay is the South and its popularity is signified by its heavy development. The capital, Bridgetown, is in the South, as is the airport. The South is also home to destinations such as the Kensington Oval cricket ground, Oistins Fish Fry, and St Lawrence Gap (a strip popular at night-time by dint of its bars, restaurants, and clubs).
- The East Coast has few accommodation options and its Atlantic Ocean coastline is the opposite to the calm waters of the West Coast. However, if you want deserted beaches and seclusion the East Coast is the place for you. Bathsheba Beach and its famous ‘soup bowl’ are found on the East Coast, a popular surfing spot where local and international competitions are held.
- The North is similar to the East in that it is not as built up as the West and the South. However, there are still a wide range of accommodation options and the pace is slower in this part of the island. If you are looking for more of a genuine Bajan experience than a tourist experience you should consider making the north of the island your base.
- Although the majority of people tend to spend their holiday in Barbados on the coast, the rolling interior is worth considering as a base and has many sights, including rum distilleries, gardens, sugar mills, traditional churches. If you want to do something different to the people who visit the island to sun-worship, staying in the interior is definitely an option to contemplate.
3. Explore the various accommodation options
Barbados has more than its fair share of accommodation and there is something to suit all tastes. Whether you want a private villa, an Airbnb, or a hostel, you will find something to suit your budget.
Luxury hotels are aplenty and are perhaps the type of accommodation most associated with Barbados. The most famous may well be Sandy Lane on the West Coast. Its pink beach towels are often in the background of photographs of celebrities holidaying on the beach in Barbados. Where you choose to stay, however, will be influenced by the part of the island you wish to stay in.
If you want to stay on the West Coast but don’t want to pay West Coast prices we highly recommend Beach View, Paynes Bay. A cross between a hotel and self-catering, the apartments and villas of Beach View are across the road from the beach. When the tide is low you can walk along the sand all the way to Holetown! If crossing the road to swim in the sea is too much effort swim in the hotel’s pools instead. Other amenities include the Sugar Apple Café (serving breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks), a hair salon and spa, on-site car hire, a weekly cocktail night at the owner’s house, and a fitness centre.
4. Hire a car
Barbados has an excellent bus network (see below) but hiring a car will allow you to reach more of the island. We hired a car for a couple of days and highly recommend it. Although signposting can be a little erratic, the roads are generally in good condition and it is easy to get around.
Driving is on the left, as in Britain, and the vast majority of cars are right-hand drive. You must be at least 21 years of age to hire a car, with a driving licence and between 2 and 5 years driving experience. Seatbelts are compulsory and children under 5 years of age must use an appropriate car seat (which can be rented from most care hire companies).
Speed is measured in km/h rather than mph and the typical speed limits are as follows: city areas – 40 km/h, rural areas – 60 km/h, major highways – 80 km/h. Whilst there is no Blood Alcohol Concentration limit it goes without saying that driving whilst under the influence of alcohol is one of the most selfish and dangerous things to do. In any event, it is illegal to drive without due care and attention in Barbados. You would therefore be extremely unwise to drink and drive.
5. Use the buses
The buses in Barbados have to be experienced! The Government buses are predominantly blue with a yellow stripe along the side and operate an exact fare system. The yellow minibuses are privately run, as are the ZR Maxi Taxis which are smaller minibuses in white with a marron stripe. Being on a crowded bus jostling with the locals whilst reggae music blares out of the speakers is all part of the experience. The buses are cheap, BD$2 per trip, and run from 5am until 11pm. Bus stops are easily recognisable and are generally marked with ‘To City’ or ‘Out of City’ to indicate whether they are going towards or away from Bridgetown. The transport network is extensive. Full details and a route planner can be found on the Transport Board’s website.
6. Experience the beaches
What would a holiday in Barbados be without the beaches? Its coral base means that Barbados is blessed with white sand and sapphire and turquoise seas. All beaches in Barbados are public, even those in front of the luxury hotels. As the photos below demonstrate, sea conditions can vary dramatically depending on where you are on the island.
The narrow but pretty beaches on the West Coast enjoy conditions which are generally calm and ideal for swimming and snorkelling.
In contrast, those in the north and the east have ferocious currents and undertows. Swimming is definitely not advised and there are not any lifeguards on duty in these parts.
The conditions in Bathsheba in the east, however, are ideal for surfing.
The South Coast beaches are very popular and there are a number of wide, long beaches with good facilities. Whilst conditions can be good for swimming, there are places with strong currents and the conditions in the South make the area popular for water sports.
For ideas on how to use your annual leave to get even more time off for work for experiences like this read How To Maximise Your Annual Leave.
7. Visit Harrison’s Cave
Towards the middle of the island in the parish of St Thomas is Harrison’s Cave, one of the Barbados’s biggest attractions and definitely worth a visit. The cave was unexplored until the 1970s, although historical records date back to around 1796. With everything a good cave formation should have (streams, pools, stalactites and stalagmites) the caves opened to the public in 1981. Tours take place on a tram and last for an hour. There are, however more adventurous tours available – the type involving helmets and scrabbling on hands and knees.
8. Enjoy watching a movie in the open air
Cinemas are great on cold, wet, windy days, especially in winter. Cinemas are less great on beautiful, balmy sunny days. So what do you do if you’re in Barbados and you want to watch the latest releases? You go to the Globe Drive-In. Especially if you want to experience Barbados like a local. It’s a great experience no matter what film is showing. Grab a picnic (ours includes popcorn, always!), grab some blankets, and enjoy watching a film underneath the Bajan starry sky.
9. Experience a fish fry
A Friday night in Barbados goes hand in hand with a fish fry. These events are institutions in Barbados – when locals and tourists flock to eat fantastic fresh grilled fish prepared by street vendors, to drink rum, and to party.
The most well-known fish fry is undoubtedly Oistins and it is likely that you will want to experience a Friday night here during your holiday in Barbados. Oistins is an active fishing town on the South Coast and fish fry night is an opportunity to enjoy local food, local music, and local rum!
Aside from Oistins, other fish fries can be found around Barbados. If you want to avoid the tourists then seeking out one of these is a must. For example, there is Moontown in the north and Martin’s Bay in the east. Our favourite is in the west at Braddy’s Bar in Six Men’s Bay.
We used a ZR Maxi Taxi to get there and the locals in the minibus (and there were many!) loved the fact that this fish fry was our destination. When we arrived we felt a little conspicuous because it was abundantly clear that we were tourists. However, nobody seemed to mind us gatecrashing and the locals carried on with their conversations and games of dominos.
The food was incredible and clearly it would have been ridiculous to drink anything other than rum and coke. We ordered said rum and coke and received a bottleof rum and a bottleof coke. But of course, it’s Barbados!
10. Visit a rum distillery
Anyone who has ever seen a Pirates of the Caribbean film knows that the Caribbean is synonymous with rum and Barbados lives up to the reputation. The distilleries of many famous rum brands are found in Barbados, for example, Mount Gay, Foursquare, and the West Indies Rum Distillery which is home to Malibu and Cockspur.
A visit to a rum distillery is something you mustdo when on holiday in Barbados. Not only is it an absorbing way to learn about an important part of the history of the island, tours include an opportunity to absorb rum (which is a definite bonus in our book!). Learning about how the different distilleries produce rum is very interesting – from the traditional methods used to produce Malibu and Cockspur, to the hi-tech computerised methods used to produce Foursquare.
Our favourite distillery to visit is the one at St. Nicholas Abbey, located in the northern parish of St. Peter. The Abbey itself was built in the 1650s and is one of only three Jacobean mansions in the Western Hemisphere.
Tours include visiting the house and gardens, as well as the distillery, a complimentary drink and, of course, rum tasting. Rum is produced following traditional methods and St. Nicholas Abbey prides itself on shunning mass production in favour of distillation processes which have made Barbadian rum famous.
And there you have it. Barbados is such an incredible island and there is so much more to see and do than what is set out here. However, we hope that these ten tips will give you a good starting point for your holiday in Barbados. To read more about when to visit the island and the events that take place throughout the year click here.