Barbados, March 2020

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.

Arrival in Barbados with the trusted Samsonite carry on. They are expandable and fit easily in any overhead bin. We’ve logged quite a few miles with these bags. (“affiliate link”)
Part of the Grantley Adams airport terminal.

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.

Harlequin Restaurant.

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.

Pina Coladas at Sharkey’s.
Brazilian Steakhouse in the Gap.
Pronto Restaurant .
Pizza & Roti at Pronto Restaurant.

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.

ZR vans pack in as many as possible

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.

Parliament Buildings
Statue of Admiral Nelson in the old Trafalgar Square which predated the one in London. It’s now called Heroes’ Square.
Restaurants, gift shops & charter boat companies are here on the Waterfront.
Bridgetown Marina & Boardwalk
World Wars I & II memorial.
Fountain in Independence Square
St Michael’s Cathedral
Nidhe Israel Synagogue (1654) one of the oldest in the Americas.
Supreme Court of Barbados.

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).

Baobab tree in Queen’s Park
Swan Street.
Pelican arts & crafts centre conveniently located near the cruise terminal.
Cheapside fish market.
Fresh caught Mahi Mahi or dolphin fish as the locals call it.
Bajan fast food restaurant.

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.

Beach near Needham’s Point.
Ceramic tile mosaic wall on boardwalk.
Boardwalk in Hastings.

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.

Garrison Clock Tower.
Changing of the sentry ceremony.
The Drum Corps
Barbados has the rarest collection of 17th century English iron cannon.
Barbados Museum.
Museum courtyard with the old Garrison barracks.
George Washington House

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.

Sandy Lane Gold Cup race.
Trudy at the races. They’ve been racing here since 1845.
Pizza restaurant in Hastings Christ Church parish.
Mama Mia’s pizza baked in authentic brick oven.

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.

Speightstown from across Queen Street bay.
Fishermans’ Pub Speightstown, St Peter parish was established in 1936.
Fisherman’s Pub on the main drag, Queen Street.
Old style fishing boat.
Small bakery in town, we couldn’t resist the coconut turnovers.
Fruit & vegetable vendor.
Fish market & Esplanade, Queen Street.
Speightstown Esplanade is a meeting place where locals gather to discuss the events of the day.
Walkway behind the Esplanade.
St Peter’s Parish church, originally a wooden structure built in 1629, replaced in 1665, ravaged by hurricane in 1831, rebuilt and consecrated in 1837, then damaged by fire in 1980.
Republic Bank and Arlington Museum.
Speightstown mural.
Queen Street.
This area of Heywoods beach is a sea turtle nesting site.
Port St.Charles Marina.
Heywoods Beach.

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.

Barbados Green monkey.
Grenade Hall signal station.
Peacock in Wildlife Reserve.
Iguana & turtles.

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.

Grove of mahogany trees on the way to Cherry Tree Hill lookout.
Cherry Tree Hill overlooking the Scotland District.
Country road.
Morgan Lewis, last of the sugar mills still with all is internal machinery, now just a tourist attraction.

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.

Bathsheba overlook in St Joseph parish.
Rock formations along the Bathsheba coast.

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.

Truly magnificent trees.
Jack fruit, the world’s largest fruit can weigh upwards of 80 pounds. Needless to say, you should take care when you walk under a tree.
Bearded fig 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.

Cabbage palms line the entrance to Codrington College.
Codrington College, St John parish.
Detail of the arches.
The great lawn.

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.

Ragged Point, St Philip parish.
East Point (Ragged Point) lighthouse.

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.

Earthworks Pottery in St Thomas parish.

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.

North Point, St Lucy parish.
Cliff Dining, North Point.
Window to the sea.
Some video from inside the cave.
One of the pools.
Some of the sea anemones or animal flowers. They close up and retract when touched.

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!!!

East Coast beach.
Beautiful sunset from our last evening.

Curacao Dreams December 2019

Curacao here we come.

Visit Curacao, you won’t be disappointed. This small island has a lot to offer. Besides the usual offerings like sand & surf, there’s great shopping, dining both local and international, museums, art galleries, Great houses or Landhuizen as the old plantation houses are called, off shore adventures and so much more. Getting around is so easy, Dutch, English, Spanish and Papiamentu the local dialect are all spoken freely. From what we’ve seen and experienced, the country seems very safe, police and private security were ever present and we felt very comfortable venturing out on the town even in the evenings.

The best time to visit, economically speaking is off peak season, May to November. Hotel rates and airfares are much cheaper but really, any time of the year is fine since there’s hardly a threat of hurricanes, average temperatures are in the mid 80’s F (30 C) and rainfall is minimal.

We spent a week at the newly renovated Marriott Beach Resort, but while everything was shiny and new, you could see they were still working some of the kinks out. The hotel wasn’t very full as it had only been open for a few days. We asked for and got upgraded to an ocean front room. Overall though, it was a pleasant experience.

Room with a view.

On our second day there, we decided to take the 2.5 mile (4 km) walk into Willemstad. If you’d rather not walk, you could take a local bus (Autobus Bedrijf) fare is 2.00 Guilder approx US $1.15 There is a bus station in Otrobanda and also Punda. Taxis (licence plate TX) are another option to get around. Taxis are unmetered and work off a rate sheet based on four persons. Rates can change depending on the amount of luggage you have or if you need service after 11:00 pm. Discuss fare before hand. There are no Ubers here. You can also rent a car, a compact is all you need, all the major rental companies are represented here or you can just hire a driver for the day.

Willemstad has four distinct quarters. Otrobanda is on the west side, cross the Queen Emma bridge to Punda and further east is Pietermaai, to the north across the Queen Wilhelmina or L.B. Smith bridges is Sharloo.

We checked out Rif Fort (built in 1828) now a trendy spot that houses retail shops and restaurants, a beautiful setting where you can see cruise ships in port and next door the Renaissance Hotel Casino and shopping mall.

Rif Fort with nearby cruise terminal & Renassaince Hotel & Mall

We grabbed a quick lunch at the Gondola Italian restaurant, their pasta and pizza are the best.

Gondola Restaurant Pizza & Pasta.

After lunch, we headed over the Queen Emma pontoon bridge, stopping occasionally for photos. This bridge opens periodically to allow ships and other water craft to travel in and out of the inner harbor. We happened to catch a few openings later in the day.

Watch video here.

Queen Emma pontoon bridge
Handelskade (on the waterfront)

We marveled at the beauty and color of the buildings along the Handelskade, great photo op here.

Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge

On the north side of Punda, we paid a visit to the Central Market which has a wide array of goods, fruits, vegetables, clothing shops, souvenirs and the like. Next door is the Old Market (Plasa Bieu) which is now a food court specializing in local cuisine. I really wanted to try the iguana soup but thought better of it, maybe next time.

Central Market.
Inside Plasa Bieu.

We enjoyed some ice cream at the Iguana Cafe which offers al fresco dining on the waterfront. It was a welcome treat after a day of exploring the city’s side streets, shops, art galleries and eateries.

Iguana Cafe on the waterfront.

Some scenes from our self guided city tour.

Art District.
The term”Dushi” is Papiamento and is used as a term of endearment. Depending on the context, it can mean love, sexy, sweetheart, nice, pleasant or tasty.
Lots of outside dining.

As part of our city exploration, we strolled through the historic Pietermaai district, checking out the fully restored 200 plus year old houses that’s now home to boutique hotels, bars, restaurants and nightclubs. Very vibrant night scene here for which we returned in the evening to dine at Ginger’s and drinks later at Cafe Mundo Bizarro enjoying some salsa music.

Restored houses in historic Pietermaai district.
Cafe Mundo Bizarro

Salsa music video here.

Ginger’s is a Cozy Restaurant serving Carib, Asian, Indian fusion cuisine.
Tandoori beef & chicken sate.

So many dining options along the waterfront. We stopped for lunch at the Grillking Steak house. Local, family friendly and reasonably priced eats.

We came across this local gem on our walk into town.
Waterfort Arches restaurants & bars nestled amongst the walls that protected the canal, built in 1828

We took some time out to visit Kura Hulanda Museum ($10.00 admission) to learn about the slave trade in the Caribbean and the Americas. Great collection of artifacts on display. If this experience doesn’t move you, you simply cannot be moved.

Museum chronicling the slave trade in the Caribbean and the Americas
Replica of a slave ship hold.
Monument to the abolition of slavery.

The oldest synagogue in continuous use in the Western Hemisphere dating back to 1651, Mikve Israel-Emanuel can be found in Punda. The interior has a sand floor symbolizing the desert through which the Israelites made their journey to freedom. To book a tour, email info@snoa.com

Oldest synagogue in the western hemisphere, has a sand floor to simulate the desert

We were there during the Holiday season so everything was festive and bright. The town really comes alive in the evening, the lights, music, it seems on every corner, food vendors, outdoor cafes packed, everyone having a great time.

It’s time to get out of the city for a bit so we rented a car and set out to explore. We rented from Hertz (available at the hotel) for one day US$49.95 base price for an economy compact. Driving is easy here ( you drive on the right side) Once out of the city, traffic is very light. We wanted to experience a bit of the rugged north shore with it’s desert like landscape and also the beaches.

Out of Willemstad on the main highway Weg Naar Westpunt, we turned onto Weg Naar St Willibrordus. About two miles down the road, just pull over to see flocks of flamingos, best viewing time is early to mid morning, this is a free attraction.

We stopped in to the Landhuis Jan Kok, one of the many slave plantation houses on the island. It now showcases the work of late local artist Nena Sanchez. There’s also a gallery in the Willemstad art district.

Landhuis Jan Kok.

Heading back on Weg Naar Westpunt we made a quick stop in Barber at the Hofi Pastor nature area to check out the very impressive 800 yr old Kapoc tree with it’s massive roots and gnarly limbs. There are a few short hiking trails here. The $3.00 entrance fee is more of a donation than anything else, few amenities here but it’s all about the tree.

800 yr old Kapoc tree.

On the road to Shete Boka National park, the wild north side with it’s caves, blowholes and inlet. It feels worlds apart from Willemstad, there’s a peacefulness about the area. We paid US $10.00 entrance fee plus $2.00 for a map. You could explore either on foot or venture farther out by car, we chose the latter. To some the entrance fee might seem like a lot but the money helps to provide security in the more remote regions of the park. Security is taken seriously here so there was no sense of uneasiness as we went a bit off the beaten path. We entered one of the sea caves where I shot this video. A bit eerie and cool at the same time. Check it out.

Park entrance, $10.00 entrance fee $2.00 for map. Security presence in more remote parking areas.
Desert like landscape on the north side.
Natural Bridge.
One of the many blowholes. Check out the short video below.

There are no seven mile beaches here. Most, especially on the north west side can be described as inlets carved out of cliffs but they are a good size nonetheless. We visited Playa Porto Mari where wild but friendly pigs are known to roam about. It’s a beautiful white sand beach a bit off the beaten path, popular with tourists and locals. There are some amenities, snack bar and restaurant, toilets, changing rooms and chair rentals. Great for snorkeling and diving. Dive shop on site.

Playa Porto Mari where wild pigs visit the beach occasionally, we did see one as we were leaving.

Our anniversary dinner at Namora’s Restaurant. Located within walking distance of the Marriott, it’s fine dining at it’s best. All the courses were prepared and presently exquisitely. Dinner for two is easily US $200.00 plus but it’s not somewhere you go very often. Something to bear in mind, most nicer restaurants add a service charge anywhere from 10 to 20% some of which goes in a tip pool for your servers so beware of that when you tip. It’s not allowed to be taken off your credit card so it’s added directly to your bill.

Time to say goodbye. We really enjoyed our time here and recommend you add this destination to your list. Danki Curacao, te aworo.