Barbados, the easternmost Caribbean Island, has the advantage of being just outside of hurricane range, for the most part. Decidedly British and sophisticated, Barbados is a beautiful island, surrounded by white sandy beaches and azure water. The interior is still filled with acre upon acre of sugar cane, and the cane-growing season is an important part of the local culture.
Decidedly, it is a wonderful juxtaposition of two cultures; the natives and the tourists. While cosmopolitan travelers jet off to Barbados from the UK on the Concorde for a day at the races, the local residents can still be seen toiling over a sugar cane harvest and celebrating the yearly bounty at a festival called
Once a major mercantile center, rivaled only by some U.S. East Coast cities, Barbados is more important these days to the immediate Caribbean region than to the world at large. It is here that major government agencies are located for the region, and abroad. For example, the US Ambassador for the Eastern Caribbean makes his home here, and Caribbean people must go through that office to gain entry to the US. Other countries maintain embassies here as well, such as France, Australia, Venezuela and China.
With good airline services, a wide range of accommodations and many restaurants, Barbados is a comfortable place to visit. It's a relatively flat island, coral rather than volcanic in origin. The tourist services are very well developed. Compared to some other islands, roads are well signed (and paved) and tourist sites abound. With a highly evolved Barbados National Trust, the island has created many spectacular sites and restored many old buildings to their original splendor.
Following with the British tradition, cricket matches and horse races at
At the same time, Barbados is decidedly West Indian, and Bajans, as they call themselves, enjoy West Indian cuisine and entertainment, as does the rest of the Caribbean. With more than 260,000 people living on its 166 square miles, Barbados has a somewhat diverse economy. Tourism, of course is the greatest source of income for the island. Sugar products, mainly rum and molasses, are its major export, along with other agricultural products. There is also some light manufacturing that supports the gross national product. A visit to
The cuisine of Barbados can be gourmet as well as Caribbean in flavor. A national delicacy, the flying fish, is served throughout the island using a variety of recipes. Other indigenous dishes include golden apple relish (made from a local apple-like fruit), cou-cou made from cornmeal and okra, and pepperpot stew.
The South and West Coasts are the areas most developed for tourism. The South Coast features wonderful white sand beaches, lively hotels, and many restaurants and nightspots. It is quite easy to find acceptable and affordable accommodations here. There are also some exquisite places to stay, and a few that are historic landmarks. The South Coast tends to display moderately rough surf in some places, attracting surfers and accomplished windsurfers. The calmer beaches are along the West Coast near the hotels. The East Coast, while boasting a majestic rocky coastline, is not for swimming.
While Barbados' one-time sugar economy has waned, today the island produces fine Sea Island cotton, tropical flowers, and livestock. It also is able to generate about 60 percent of its own oil from oil wells found throughout the island. Duty-free shopping is also a booming business on the island.
A visit to Barbados definitely allows one to step back in time. Its history is evident everywhere. A visit to the
The range of activities here is endless: from fabulous
With a breathtaking location beside the white sandy beaches of Carlisle Bay, Bridgetown is the capital and the only city of Barbados. Boasting one of the most sophisticated ports in the Caribbean with excellent duty-free shopping, this bustling, modern city is also the main tourist hub on the island.
Barbados means bearded. The island got its name because of the mossy plants that hang from the trees. Founded in 1628 by a tiny group of British settlers, Bridgetown is home to approximately 40 percent of the island's population (some 100,000 people). The early settlers, finding an Amerindian wooden bridge across the water, named the area Indian River Bridge.
Bordered by Carlisle Bay, the capital city proved economically important to the early British settlers. From the seventeenth century onwards, trading in sugar and using slaves as their labor force, the town's merchants thrived and grew their fortunes, building grand warehouses along the waterfront. Most of the great buildings of these "golden years," however, were destroyed in a series of fires and hurricanes. Today there is only a handful that predates the last great fire of 1860.
Bridgetown is one of the oldest cities in the Caribbean. Its rich history identifies it as the origin of colonial trading activity during the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The controversial statue of Admiral Nelson erected in 1813, some twenty-seven years before the London monument, reflects the importance of Barbados as the "jewel in the crown" of British colonialism during the Imperial Age. The statue has recently been the subject of national controversy and debate as it is thought to link Barbados too closely with its colonial heritage. First Nelson was turned around 180 degrees so that he no longer looked down Broad Street, the main shopping hub. Now there are plans to remove the statue altogether until a suitable home can be found. There is little irony in the fact that it was erected in the heart of the city's major crossroads, Trafalgar Square. Signaling the increasing awareness of Barbadian national heroes and the cultural identity of the island's people, Trafalgar Square was renamed National Heroes Square in 1999.
Compared to other Caribbean islands, violent political struggles and slave rebellions do not occupy a major part of Barbados history. However, Bridgetown became the focus of the Afro-Barbadian struggle for political and economic freedom in the first half of the twentieth century. On the evening of July 26th, 1937, meetings were held and attended by crowds in the Lower Green and Golden Square to protest against the deportation of their "shepherd" Clement Payne, a political activist. After the meetings, the crowds became uncontrollable. They roamed Bridgetown, smashing electric street lamps and the windscreens of motor cars. The police eventually restored order. Independence from the island's planters, however, didn't come until 1949.
The architecture of Bridgetown today is an interesting blend of attractive, balconied colonial buildings, warehouses, modern department stores, brash office blocks and small chattel houses. Compared to other parts of the island, the residential dwellings located in the city are more crudely constructed from timber and corrugated aluminum and generally house the poorer citizens of the island. Though tucked away from the ultra-modern, sophisticated, and tourist-oriented commercial activity of the city, New Orleans, (also known as "De Orleans"), Pondside, and Green Fields are the distressed districts where the poor live. However, starting in the mid-1990s, efforts have been made by the present Owen Arthur administration to develop Bridgetown's residential districts under its Urban Development Commission. Poverty Alleviation programs have also raised the quality of life for the peoples of Bridgeton.
A picturesque center of activity is the Careenage, a berthing area for many sleek yachts and a pebble's throw from the House of Assembly. Established by Governor Henry Hawley, the House of Assembly has stood as a symbol of the island's unbroken tradition of parliamentary government and democratic traditions since 1639.
A number of the island's leading buildings of religious significance are within a five minutes' walk of the Careenage, including St. Michael's Cathedral and the Jewish Synagogue, both still standing on the sites of their mid-seventeenth century original locations. St. Michael's Cathedral has a fine set of inscriptions and a single-hand clock. The first building was consecrated in 1665 but destroyed by a hurricane in 1780. The present cathedral is long and broad with a balcony. It has a fine vaulted ceiling and some tombs (1675) were built into the porch. Completed in 1789, it suffered hurricane damage in 1831. The original synagogue was one of the two earliest in the Western Hemisphere while the present building is an early 19th century structure. Jews fleeing Recife, Brazil built the synagogue in the late 1660s. They learned that Oliver Cromwell had extended freedom of worship for Jews and were granted permission to settle in Barbados. Recently painstakingly restored, it is now used for religious services again and is open to visitors. Today, 16 families support it.
Just north of the city lies Tyrol Cot, an unusual nineteenth century house that was home to two of the island's leading post-war politicians, Sir Grantley Adams and his son Tom Adams. Heritage Village sells arts and crafts, and there's also a chattel-house museum, gardens and a restaurant located on the grounds of the house. One of Barbados's national treasures, the property is managed and maintained by the Barbados National Trust. Southeast of this location is the historic Garrison Savannah, where the British Empire maintained its Caribbean military headquarters from 1780 to 1905. It is an evocative place; the huge grassy savanna, today a racecourse and public park, was once the army's parade ground. The ranks of brightly colored buildings around its edge were all used for military purposes; a couple of them now house the Barbados Museum and the Barbados Gallery of Art, both of which deserve a visit for those who have an interest in the island's history and culture.
During the economic depression of the 1930s, unemployment escalated, living conditions deteriorated and riots broke out. To counteract the turmoil, the British Colonial Welfare and Development Office was established, to provide sizeable sums of money for Barbados and other Caribbean colonies. To ward off the growing political unrest, the British reluctantly gave black reformers a role in the political process. One of those reformers, Grantley Adams, became the first premier of Barbados a decade later and was eventually knighted by the queen.
Barbados gained self-government in 1961 and full independence in 1966. The head of the government is the Prime Minister. The legislative body is the Parliament. It is made up of the House of Assembly, which is elected by a popular vote system, and the Senate, which is appointed by the government. Barbados is a member of the British Commonwealth, and they recognize the British monarch, represented by the governor-general, as the head of state.
By the 1970s Barbados gained greater popularity and by the early 1990s visitors not only traveled to the island during the traditional ‘high' or winter season, but also during the less trafficked period of July through August, mainly due to the island's extremely well promoted festival, Crop Over. Today, over a million visitors come to Barbados each year, half of which are cruise ship passengers.
With more than 6,000 guestrooms in 150 hotels, guesthouses, and inns, Barbados has a wonderful selection for visitors from all walks of life. Some of the most luxurious resorts in the Caribbean are located here, as well as those that are reasonably priced. Off-season rates are attractive, as well, offering a full array of accommodations with excellent value.
The South and West Coasts are the main tourist destinations, with many hotels lining the beaches. From the capital city of Bridgetown and up and down the coasts, the areas are chock full of hotels and resorts.
One of the more well known properties is Sam Lord's Castle, created out of the "castle" owned by the infamous pirate Samuel Lord. As the story goes, he lured boats onto the shores so that he could loot after they crashed on the rocks. This and other legends will be told to you when you visit the Castle. Tours are open to visitors even if you are not overnighting at the resort. Another world renowned hotel is the Sandy Lane Golf Resort, whose recently refurbished luxury accommodations attract the rich and famous. Cobblers Cove is less well known but also upscale, located in an old plantation house that's surrounded by beautiful tropical gardens facing the West Coast and sea.
On the wild and wooly east end at Bathsheba, you will find dramatic views of waves crashing to the sea against the craggy rocks. The historic Edgewater Inn is located here, where the breezes will cool you and the sounds of the surf will lull you to sleep. Somewhat less pricey but in the same neighborhood is the Atlantis Hotel, which overlooks the bay where the fishermen launch their boats. Here the rates include lunch and dinner.
Another well-known property is the Almond Beach Village, a family resort, which has a golf course, and easy access to the charming village of Speightstown, where there is a house reminiscent of the period architecture found in Charlestown, South Carolina. It shares facilities with the Almond Beach Club & Spa, which is caters to singles, couples and honeymooners. Both of these resorts are all-inclusive.
The luxurious high-end hotel of Glitter Bay in St. James looks like it belongs in Italy and was built by the Cunard shipping family. Like the Almonds, Glitter Bay shares facilities with the equally magnificent property next door, the Royal Pavilion. Both resorts cater to those that want nothing but the best. A stay here entitles you to a round of links at the upscale Royal Westmoreland Golf Club.
Also in this exclusive, sophisticated St. James area on the West Coast is Treasure Beach, a series of one bedroom suites on the water. And there are more in the vicinity as well: the Coral Reef Club, which is comprised of small cottages; and the all-inclusive Mango Bay Hotel and Beach Club.
Other mid to high-end hotels include the Casuarina Beach Club in St. Lawrence Gap, a lively place that jumps at night with restaurants, bars and clubs, and the Bougainvillea Beach Resort, an apartment-style timeshare resort with units that each have their own kitchen.
In Christ Church on the beach is the comfortable Butterfly Beach Hotel, which was recently expanded with small suites with kitchenettes. Nearby is the Colony Club Hotel, which is an open-air property, Club Rockley Golf Course with its own golf course, and Coconut Court, offering apartment-like rooms. Others in this same neighborhood are the Worthing Court, opposite the beach and convenient to shopping, and further east, Silver Sands, which is also the home of the Club Mistral windsurfing club.
The choice of dining options in Barbados is practically endless. From fine dining to fast foods, the slew of restaurants is one of the most varied in the Caribbean. Here you can find seafood restaurants, steak houses, world-wide ethnic specialties, contemporary continental cuisine, lively bistros, and eateries specializing in Caribbean foods.
A melting pot of flavors, there are Italian and French restaurants, and some specifically Bajan places that serve planter's lunches, as well as snapper, mahi-mahi, and Arawak pepperpot soup. But they also have their fair share of Japanese and Mediterranean options and unique breakfast venues, places for tea, and other beach bars for fun and snacks. And, keeping up with the times, there is a selection of vegetarian restaurants.
Dining out in Barbados is an event and in high season, it is a good idea to make reservations in advance, or at least inquire to see if they are necessary. Many of the restaurants are quaint, intimate places and seating can be limited. Taxi service is available island-wide during dinner hours, so those who are worried about finding their way home can easily arrange for this type of transport. Some restaurants list prices in US currency, others in Barbados dollars. To convert to US, divide the Bajan dollars roughly in half. Also, it is often the custom to present the bill to diners only when they ask for it.
Many of the restaurants here have been touted by the likes of Gourmet Magazine and Bon Appetite, and chefs have received star after star in their ratings. In other words, dieting in Barbados is usually not an option.
Beginning in Speightstown on the West Coast is Mango's—by the Sea, a delightful restaurant right on the water serving grilled lobsters and steaks with delicious homemade desserts. The historic Cobblers Cove Hotel has a exciting restaurant featuring award-winning chefs and features special buffets and live music on some nights. In St. James, The Lone Star provides seafront dining and also features a caviar and cigar lounge.
There are numerous other fine restaurants in the St. James area, among them the Coral Reef Club, the Sandpiper, the Club House Restaurant at Royal Westmoreland, and the Ile de France. In nearby Holetown, there's Sakura Restaurant, serving Japanese cuisine, and Olive's Bar & Bistro, which is located in an old Bajan building. There's also the Townhouse Restaurant and Bar, Angry Annie's for drinks and/or dinner, and Ragamuffins, located in an old wooden chattel house. Another notable spot in the area is La Terra, which has a seaside restaurant and nightclub.
In Bridgetown, there are several excellent places, including The Waterfront Café, which serves flying fish and other local dishes in addition to providing jazz music, and the South Deck at Carlisle Bay, where the yachting set hang out.
Along the South Coast, and particularly in lively St. Lawrence Gap, there are dozens of places to eat. Josef's is owned by the man of the same name who has left his Austrian heritage to create a menu that highlights popular Caribbean delicacies. David's Place in St. Lawrence Gap focuses on plenty of fresh fish. Eat amid the twinkling lights strung along the waterfront at Pisces or at Bellini's Trattoria, where you can see the moonlight glisten on the sea. There's also The Garden Restaurant at the Southern Palms Beach Club, which has many West Indian dishes.
The St. James Parish has a bounty of restaurants, including the sister restaurants Fathoms and Carambola, located across the bay from each other. Carambola is the more elegant of the two, combining Caribbean, Asian and French cuisines. Fathoms specializes in local seafood. Alternatively, dine at The Cliff, which is appropriately perched above the oceanfront. The Restaurant at Sandy Lane is located at the well-known Sandy Lane Golf Course, with its renowned Sunday buffet. There's evening entertainment as well as good food at Treasure Beach in Paynes Bay.
Located in a grand plantation home is the Bagatelle Great House in St. Thomas, where the Caribbean Art Gallery is housed, and the food is well recommended. Il Tempio Italian Restaurant & Beach Bar has been touted by Pavarotti himself, and is excellent for a romantic dinner.