Barbados Travel Guide
- Vibrant local culture is a charming combination of Calypso and British colonial traits
- Calm, secluded beaches
- Fun nightlife
- Clear blue waters, stunning reefs, and shipwrecks make it a snorkeling and scuba diving hot spot
- Hilly inland terrain provides lush scenery and great hiking
- Friendly locals are helpful and welcoming to tourists
- One of the most economically developed islands in the Caribbean (literacy rates are 98%)
- Within the hurricane belt, but storms seems to avoid the island
- Potentially risky destination for LGBT travelers
- Recent increase in crime: Best to avoid secluded beaches, even during the day
- Beaches have powerful rip currents (especially on the east coast)
- Narrow, windy roads are crowded: Even highways can be crowded with pedestrians
- Mosquitoes are a serious nuisance at night
What It's Like
At first glance, it might be easy to view the white and pink sand beaches and breathtaking coral reefs of Barbados as a clichéd Caribbean island experience, but there's more to it than that. The island has developed quickly from an impoverished sugar-based economy to a democracy with one of the highest literacy rates in the Western Hemisphere. Despite these impressive changes, the friendly locals (known as Bajans) maintain a noticeable amount of British customs from their colonial past, such as afternoon tea time and driving on the left. The local cuisine is even a hybrid: expect to see flying fish on every menu --it's so culturally important it's even on the local currency -- and spicy Caribbean stews served next to bland English fare like potatoes.
Barbados stands out from other Caribbean islands with the diverse set of visitors it attracts, ranging from budget travelers to luxury vacationers. The calm luxurious beaches of the west coast attract the majority of tourists, especially near the lively St. Lawrence Gap area. The windswept east coast attracts a fair share as well, with surfer-friendly shores facing the Atlantic (in fact, there are so many hills and sharp cliffs that it's sometimes referred to as Scotland).
There is an extensive bus system in place for getting around Barbados, but a car or taxi is required to reach any of the lesser known attractions. Unfortunately, driving conditions on the island can be pretty miserable: Roads are narrow, pedestrians can clog highways, construction is widespread and never-ending, and inclines are steep (to say nothing of expensive car rental rates).
LGBT travelers should know that Barbados law technically prohibits homosexuality. The law is rarely enforced, but in August 2017, Oyster received report from an LGBT reader detailing his and his husband's experience with discrimination from staff members of a Paynes Bay hotel, on the west coast. Such attitudes can make the island a potentially risky destination for LGBT travelers.
Where to Stay
Bridgetown: Located near the southwestern corner of the island, capital city is sophisticated, with high-end shopping, dining, and decent nightlife. Most guests choose to stay below downtown near the southern lip of Carlisle Bay, which puts you on the beach, near golf courses and a short drive away from the bustling nightlife of Southern Barbados.
Western Barbados: The west coast of the island is popular thanks to its calm beaches, beautiful coral reefs and luxury hotels. Golfers and shoppers looking to hit stores in Bridgetown should stick close to Paynes Bay, while couples or families less concerned with nightlife should head farther north towards Heywoods Beach.
Eastern and Central Barbados: The east coast is windy with choppier beaches, but it's home to popular sites such as the Andromeda Botanical Gardens and world-famous golf. Bathsheba is a popular destination due to its concentration of resorts.
Southern Barbados: The southern coast of the island is arguably the most happening. The northern side of Oistin Bay is a popular destination, since party-goers tend to congregate along St. Lawrence Gap's lively bars and restaurants.