This trip was a coming home for me. I’d been to my wife’s home country of Germany a few times so I was beyond excited to show her around the place I grew up. Lately, our flight days have been pretty long. Our home airport in Austin Texas doesn’t offer a lot of direct international flights so we connected through Miami. On arrival in Barbados, we were temperature checked as we entered the terminal for any sign of fever. This precaution was in response to the Corona virus. We were quite lucky in the timing of our trip because just after returning, all the lock downs started happening in response to the rapidly spreading virus. Getting through this small and quite modern airport was a breeze as they now have a lot of self serve kiosks. Once we cleared Customs and exited the airport, we headed to the taxi dispatch booth. We’ve been to a few countries where the taxi situation seems like a free for all, but here was very well organised. Fares are clearly posted. You can prearrange rides through your hotel but it’s just as easy to get one on your own like we did.
We booked our stay at the Rostrevor Hotel in St Lawrence Gap, a lively area with lots of bars and restaurants and nice beaches nearby. It’s considered a budget hotel as hotels go in Barbados (there are some really expensive ones) Whenever possible, we choose hotels that have a kitchenette which is great for preparing some of your own meals and a great cost savings tool. With the abundance of fresh fish, fruits and vegetables available locally, this was a no brainer. There’s a bar and small restaurant in the hotel and the Harlequin restaurant is right next door. Just steps away there is a convenience store and there are supermarkets in the area. We chose this location because of it’s proximity to the airport. A fifteen minute taxi ride to the hotel cost us about $US 15.00, fares are fixed so no need to haggle. The capital Bridgetown is also close, about twenty minutes, the Hastings area which is even closer offers lots of amenities as well.
St Lawrence Gap in Christ Church parish has a vibrant restaurant and bar scene. After a long travel day, we relaxed with drinks at Sharkey’s Bar just across the street from our hotel.
On day two, we took a trip into the historic city of Bridgetown located in St Michael parish. This capital city has a UNESCO world heritage site designation. We traveled by way of the local transportation. If you don’t want to take taxis everywhere, there are plenty of other options. There are three main types of public transportation, the privately owned white vans ZR licence tags, mini buses, yellow with blue stripe and the government run buses, blue with yellow stripe. The government buses run on a schedule and stop only at bus stops, you need exact change $BDS only. The others stop anywhere and are very convenient. Fare is BDS 3.50 but $US welcome. They usually have conductors on board and can make change.
Bridgetown is a great walking city. Public transport drops you off in the heart of town. We walked around the marina and boardwalk, bought a few souvenirs then visited the Parliament buildings which houses the third oldest parliament in the Americas, Heroes’ Square with it’s World Wars I & II Memorial Cenotaph, Queen’s Park to see the massive baobab tree, Independence Square, St Michael’s Cathedral which dates back to 1665, the Nidhe Israel Synagogue built in 1664.
Our walk around Bridgetown took us into Queen’s Park to see the massive Baobab tree then ventured into Swan Street, a bustling pedestrian only area with lots of shops, eateries and street vendors. This is a place popular with locals and tourists alike. Lots of bargains to be had here. A little ways out of town, we checked out the fish market as the fresh catch was just coming in and did a quick stop at the Pelican Arts & Crafts Centre. All of this walking works up a real hunger so we checked in to Chefette Restaurant, the Bajan fast food chain. Lunch for two is no more than BDS $25.00 Offerings include roasted chicken, burgers, rotis (curried beef, chicken or vegetables in a flour wrap).
After our day in Bridgetown, we took a stroll along the beach, part of the long stretch that is Carlisle Bay. A walk along the Hastings boardwalk did not disappoint. Finally, we headed back to our hotel for some much needed pool time.
To explore more of the island, you can book a tour, arrange for a private driver or just rent a car. We choose the latter. Express Rent A Car was within walking distance of our hotel so we booked through them. We received one free day if we booked four days or more cost was US $80.00 per day, taxes and drivers’ permit included. You drive on the left side here British style but after a few days you get used to it. We hit the road and our first stop was the Historic Garrison Savannah area. There you’ll find the Barbados Museum, George Washington House, (Barbados was the only country the first US president ever visited) The old barracks and clock tower, several cannons and tunnels and of course the horse racing track. We stayed for the ceremonial changing of the sentry which is done every Thursday at noon. It was nice to see the old veterans still carrying on the tradition.
We returned to the Garrison on Saturday for horse racing with the featured annual Gold Cup high stakes event for thoroughbreds. This is such a big and exciting event, seems like half of the island’s population was there. It’s like one huge tail gating party, there’s no entrance fee to the grounds so you just pull up in your vehicle, find a spot, set up your little picnic or whatever and enjoy. You could sit in the stands for $BDS 50, regular race day is about $10. There are video clips of some of the action including the parade We opted to take the bus there as the traffic leaving was going to be a nightmare and it was. We ended up walking the three miles back to our hotel with a stop at Mama Mia’s where they serve some of the island’s best authentic brick oven pizza. There are video clips of some of the action for you to check out below.
After a good night’s sleep, we hopped in the car and headed down the West Coast for a stop in Speightstown, the second largest town and my old hometown. A stop at the old Fisherman’s Pub is a must. Established in 1936 to cater to fishermen after a long day at sea, this restaurant offers buffet lunch and has a wide variety of authentic Bajan dishes. Lunch for two was under US $30.00. After lunch, PRC Bakery was worth a visit to get some coconut turnovers and sweet bread. After walking the town we ended up on Heywoods Beach for a well earned dip in the surf.
Another beautiful, sunny day. Time to head into the country to check out the Grenade Hall old growth forest with its caves, soaring palms, mahogany and cottonwood trees to name a few. We climbed the old restored signal station which offers spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. This is all part of a wildlife Reserve and one fee (US $15.00 covers both areas. There are troops of monkeys roaming about and you can hand feed them if you like. There’s also a general feeding by staff at 10:00 and 2:00 pm. We came mainly to see the monkeys but there are other animals including parrots, peacocks, deer, mara, iguanas and hundreds of tortoises.
After leaving the wild life reserve, our drive through the country continued with a stop at the Cherry Tree Hill overlook. Here we got a sense of the rugged beauty of the East Coast. We spent about twenty minutes here then continued along a narrow winding road through sugar cane fields past the Morgan Lewis farm. Here you’ll find the only still intact sugar mill on the island. A quick picture and we’re on our way.
Our drive continued along the beautiful and rugged East Coast. I always loved coming here as a kid, the terrain and the surf were so much more interesting. There are fewer hotels and restaurants here but just enough to satisfy. The pounding surf makes it a popular spot for surfers. The beaches are not crowded and you can swim here but keep to the tide pools for safety. We stopped at a few nice overlook spots to take it all in.
Our next stop was Andromeda Gardens. This is the original botanic garden of Barbados. Started out as a private garden but opened to the public in the 70’s While not considered a flower garden, it still has a wide variety of flowers, shrubs, trees and more types of palms than I was aware of. Entrance fee is US $15.00 and tours are self guided. There are places to sit and relax in this six acre wonder so we took our time checking out the various species of flowers and trees.
As our journey continued, we stopped in at the historic Codrington College which dates back to the 1700’s. It’s now an Anglican seminary with University of the West Indies affiliation. We walked the grounds and just marveled at this great Barbadian treasure.
As we continued our trip around the island, we ended up at the easternmost point and the iconic Ragged Point lighthouse built in 1875. Not your typical tourist spot, a bit off the beaten path, but hiking along those majestic cliffs was something special.
Our last full day begins with a trip to the Earthworks Pottery in St Thomas parish. We always wanted to learn more about the process of creating beautiful pieces from start to finish. We walked around the studio, talked to workers who gave some insight into what they were doing and also gave demonstrations. The pieces here are unbelievably beautiful. We ended up purchasing a very nice plate. They can ship larger items if you desire.
After a truly amazing and educational experience at Earthworks, our next attraction for the day was the Animal Flower Cave at the northern end of the island. This naturally formed sea cave is one of the island’s oldest attractions and we were excited to experience it. A quick stop in Speightstown to pick up some coconut turnovers at our favorite little bakery and some fruits from a street vendor for snacking later. Driving through the northern parishes is a bit more relaxed as they are not as heavily populated. On arriving at North Point, we found the scenery at to be very interesting with steep cliffs, blow holes and caves. You can hike along the cliffs or just sit on the various benches that are available. A few minutes before we arrived, a pod of migrating whales had just gone by and we missed it. We came for the cave and to access it you have to make your way down some very steep and narrow steps that were hand carved about a hundred years ago. There are guided tours. It’s relatively large inside and there are some windows to the sea. There’s a pool where you can swim but we opted not to.
There are eleven parishes on my little island and we touched ten of them. There’s so much to see and do here, we barely scratched the surface. Getting around was easy, I guess a little local knowledge helps. We will definitely be back and you should put this destination on your list. This is by no means the cheapest island out there but with some research you can find the right deal to fit your budget. Come for the sea and sand, the history, the traditions but by all means, come!!!