The mention of Barbados conjures up images of white beaches, #nofilter sunsets and celebs sunning themselves at Sandy Lane.
But while we’re here for all of the above, Barbados – which also happens to be the birth place of Ri-Ri and rum – has much more to explore.
Top tip: Befriend your taxi driver the moment you land as they’ll become your guide on the island, helping you to discover the best rum cocktails, beach shacks, restaurants and views.
Here’s some of our favourite discoveries:
1. Visit the caves
Harrison’s Cave is situated in the heart of Barbados and is one of the island’s greatest natural wonders. Accessed via a tram, the caves are naturally formed by water erosion through the limestone rock, creating the purest water and stunning formations that were seen for the first time in 1970 when explorers managed to enter the caves, after trying repeatedly to access the interior since they were first discovered in the 1700s.
Peaceful and mesmerising, with undulating white rock waterfalls and giant stalagmites and stalactites, the caves have also been used as a backdrop to wedding ceremonies.
The pure water is also thought to hold the secret to youth on the island – and it is also one of the key ingredients for the island’s own Mount Gay rum. Be warned though if you are afraid of small spaces as these ones are pretty tight.
Harrison’s Cave, local tours rate BDS $50.00
2. Rent a boat
Enjoy the island by renting a boat and watch the sunset. Feeling flash? Rent a luxury catamaran and explore the island with Seaduced, who will take you on a majestic experience including sunset swim.
Alternatively, if your budget won’t stretch that far, you can also enjoy cheaper adventures on sea with companies such as Cool Runnings that are just as fun and have packages including snorkelling with turtles and buffet lunches or sunset dinners, both with unlimited drinks.
Seaduced, luxury Catamaran hire price available upon request.
Cool Runnings, Sunset snorkel dinner cruise from US $85.00 (BDS $170.00) per adult
3. Hit a local rum shop
Rum is synonymous with Barbados and its culture so expect to see rum shops everywhere – there are apparently around 1,800 on the island.
Ju Ju’s, the rum shack on the beach by Holetown, is said to do some of the best rum cocktails on the island. We had a few and can vouch for the fact they are definitely the strongest.
Judy’s watering hole in Saint Thomas’ is fab for a classic rum and coke and delicious local snacks such as fried chicken and macaroni pie.
To hang with the locals or do a bit of celeb spotting head to John Moore rum shop on the west coast. This legendary rum shop is also a very good spot for sunset rum.
All of the rum shops are very reasonable priced – there are no airs and graces at any of these places, just a service with a smile against the beautiful backdrop of the sea with the island’s spirit served to your taste, as a punch or with a mixer.
4. Party with the locals at Oistins on a Friday
Join in the fun local-style at Oistins fish market. The longstanding Barbadian tradition of the fish fry is a great way to get involved. There’s tons of stalls to occupy you as you walk around with a beer or rum punch in hand, enjoying the buzzy atmosphere. Take a seat at shared long tables and order fried fish and chips from the nearest stall.
The locals dancing is a treat to watch, with kids and couples of all ages dancing the night away. This sleepy little fishing village truly transforms on the weekend and it’s one party you don’t want to miss. Oh, and what’s more, it won’t break the bank. A plate of fish and a beer will cost you about BDS$30 – $35 (US$15 – 17.50).
5. Best for wellness
Coco Hill Forest have created a blissful, magical setting amid 53 acres of rainforest on a farm overlooking the East Coast of Barbados. Bamboo groves, hundreds of royal palms and tree ferns, this is the place for a little zen. Try a guided hiking tour exploring the rain forest or have a yoga session.
The farm grows its own coconuts, bananas, coffee, cocoa, pineapples and numerous tropical fruit trees, herbs and spices. Its mission is to create food security through permaculture and organic farming.
Be sure to visit them at the farm, or try a tasty farm-to-table experience at Mamu’s Cafe located at Ocean Spray Beach Apartments in Inch Marlow, Christ Church.
General admission BB$20, Guided tour & hike BB$40
6. Grab a coconut and look out for monkeys
Sandpiper Hotel is one of the most awarded hotels in Barbados and what a treat it is too. Hidden away on a beautiful beach on the west coast in Holetown, this is the place to go monkey spotting and to grab a complimentary coconut which the talented bartenders at Harold’s bar will chop open for you.
We spiked ours with a shot of rum and sat at the bar chatting to our mixologist, wondering if we’d ever see the monkeys everyone keeps talking about.
Cocktails aren’t cheap (though the coconuts are free) but they are worth it for possible monkey spotting and a guaranteed view of the Caribbean sea.
7. Best beaches
No beach in Barbardos is private, by law, but the beaches that run in front of the 5-star hotels don’t always make it particularly easy to get to them. When you’re on the beaches outside 5-star hotels – Sandy Lane is one example – you can swim in the sea or sit on the sand, but the sunbeds and anything above the tide line is private and out of bounds unless you’re a guest.
Whichever beach you want to visit, there should be a small alleyway with a signpost to the beach. Some hotels have more visible access than others.
The West Coast is the choice for the archetypal Caribbean beach experience, with white sand and turquoise waters, particularly at the ‘luxury’ end, around Sandy Lane and Holetown. We especially enjoyed Paynes Bay – known to be one of the best swimming spots in Barbados. Paddle boarding and kayaking is negotiable and depending on where you are staying some may even be included. We were staying at Tamarind Hotel which included a 30 minute paddle boarding or kayaking session as part of the package.
South and South West Coast is where the locals go for sunbathing so if you are looking for authenticity this is the side to hit. Here they have Carlisle Bay, a public beach with white sand on the island, tonnes of sunbeds for hire, people selling cold beers straight to your sunbed plus lots to do in the water, from jet skis to paddle boarding and more.
Go to Copacabana at Carlisle Bay for service on the beach for sundowners and then head to Lobster Alive for long lunch or dinner – you can pick your own lobster from the pool ready to go into the pot.
The East Coast faces the Atlantic and is a surfers paradise, though it is not safe for swimmers as the water is too rough. However, the rugged beaches are beautiful to visit and take photos. Bathsheba Beach in particular has some spectacular rock formations that make for great pics.
8. Pick your own lobster supper
Lobster Alive on Carlisle beach is a brilliant find. You can pick your lobster from a tank (look away if you’re squeamish). It has a laidback atmosphere and serves great white wine and fresh, meaty, lobster (unlike the unsatisfying, muddy-tasting lobsters we often get back home). A medium lobster (around 750gm in weight) will set you back BDS$150 and is par-boiled in seawater and served grilled with garlic butter with rice or spicy chips.
9. Dining on the Island
Cobbler’s Cove for gorgeous lunch – this 5-star boutique hotel set in a beautiful 1940s country house has stunning gardens running down to the beach and is decorated in a very photogenic pink and white theme. Camelot restaurant is the perfect spot for a very relaxed lunch or evening meal and cocktail, if you can tear yourself away from the beach – snorkelling around the rocks will reveal plenty of tropical fish – or taking photos of the gorgeous interiors.
Primo is a new-ish place in the South-West of the island, right on the edge of the bay at St Lawrence Gap. A younger crowd, open-plan restaurant arranged across multiple levels and hugging the coastline. Come for anything from a quick snack to full dining.
The Fish Pot at Little Good Harbour is a must – great sea food, right on the beach, candle lit. Posh but relaxed. The place to eat fresh fish and drink white wine with your toes in the sand. Be sure to book as it’s tough to get a table last minute.
Another newish one is La Cabane on the West Coast just before Bridgetown – a great hippy vibe addition and great on a Sunday. Expect barbecue and spit roast pigs.
Tapas on the South Coast on the boardwalk is great for casual dining – expect to find anything from casual cocktails to fine dining. Also, try bread-fruit, it’s a staple food for Barbadians and tastes nothing like bread so don’t let the name fool you. It does however grow on trees like a fruit. One of the most authentic way of enjoying this is by roasting it on an open fire, and breaking open the charred outside to reveal delicious yellowish inside that is best paired with butter.
10. The restaurants with the best views
To be honest, quite a lot of places in Barbados offer great views – that’s one of the perks of the Island. So, these are a few that are either new to the island or so classic it’s not to be missed. In high season, it can be hard to find a table in the most popular restaurants – so book ahead, choose a new restaurant, or go for less popular times.
You might be able to get lunch at The Cliff beach club, probably the most famous restaurant on Barbados, if dinner is all booked out, for instance.
Hugo’s in Speightstown is a recently opened restaurant and bar that serves delicious food on the sea front to enjoy while sipping on pina coladas or rum punches. Appetisers start at BDS$38 for a chopped salad and mains from around BDS$90 for meaty options.
Cin Cin by the sea is another newbie to try. We recommend a selection of small bites (around $30 a pop and some champagne $195 for the bottle) to enjoy the view.
The Cliff is so famous you might want to check it out. It bears witness to nine proposals a week on average, so if you are looking to ‘impress’ this is the restaurant with the reputation – but it’s reflected in the price. Oh – and they have sharks swimming around the restaurant, so if you get a good spot you’ll see quite a few of them.
11. World’s first Rum distillery
Finally, you can’t go to Barbados without drinking some rum. Mount Gay is the rum of the island and is embedded into the Barbadian culture – you see it everywhere. The distillery here is said to be the world’s first – they have paperwork dating back to 1703 – and they have been making rum ever since.
It is worth a trip to see where it all started and to put all the rum punches you’ll likely be drinking into context.
The tour at the Mount Gay distillery is useful in teaching the process and history of the brand. We loved visiting the sugar cane fields and hearing about the monkeys stealing this precious treat.
If you have an interest in learning about spirits you’ll enjoy learning about the passion and commitment that goes into making Caribbean rum.
In fact, Mount Gay Visitors Center offers an array of experiences, from a signature rum tasting for $20, a cocktail-making workshop for $70 or an all-out traditional Bajan lunch with local specialties and unlimited rum punches, including the signature rum tasting, at $75.