For many visitors, Barbados is one of those special places that keeps them coming back year after year. With spectacular white sand beaches and sparkling turquoise surf, a vibrant local culture and bustling city vibe, this island is unlike any other in the Caribbean. From rum shacks to fish markets, lush, tropical mountains and wild, deserted coastline, this small island is a destination that’s pretty hard to beat.
Here is a list of Bajan essentials that will keep you in-the-know.
— By Amie Watson
— Photography: Kenneth Theysen
In Barbados, people are very social and love any occasion or excuse to get together, hang out with friends and family, and have a good time. ‘Having a lime’ basically means getting together to hang out and have a drink. There’s always ‘a lime’ at somebody’s house or at the beach, and people meet up at the rum shops to eat and have a drink and ‘have a lime’. So if someone asks if you’d like to ‘have a lime’, now you know it’s not because they want to give you a green citrus fruit!
A fundamental part of Bajan culture, rum is the drink of choice for many islanders. Rum shops can be found almost everywhere you go. This isn’t the clear white liquid you mix with Coke however (although you certainly can). Drinking the rum here is more like savouring a good scotch: straight up, with some ice on the side. Deep, flavourful, caramel coloured and complex, if you weren’t a rum fan when you arrived, you will be before you leave. If you want to learn even more about rum, visit the Mount Gay Rum distillery just outside of Bridgetown. And never, never say ‘no’ to rum punch, an island specialty!
OISTIN’S FISH FRY
Every Friday night, locals and tourists alike head to Oistin’s, a fishing village on the South Coast, for their informal weekly celebration of food, music and drinks. With lots of food vendors to choose from, just look for the ones that have the biggest crowds and take your pick of what was caught fresh that day. Top off your grilled or fried fish with a local Banks beer, and life doesn’t get much better than that.
For seasoned surfers, there’s no better place to be than Bathsheba, a rugged part of the East Coast. Unspoiled surf for miles, this is truly a big wave paradise. Not only a surfer’s happy place, Bathsheba is also where many locals go to get away from the tourists and daily bustle on the rest of the island. In fact, many Bajans take vacations or weekend-long trips to this coast to soak up the incredible landscapes, admire the famous rock formations along the beach, and picnic in Bathsheba Park. There are also plenty of rum shops, guesthouses and restaurants, if you feel like stopping for a snack or a drink.
CROP OVER FESTIVAL (CARNIVAL)
This festival that occurs during the summer – on the first Monday in August – is one of Barbados’ most popular and colourful events. It can be traced back to the 1780s, when Barbados was the world leader in sugar production; there was always a huge party after the harvest, when the season ended and the crop was over. Today, this island-wide event celebrates many aspects of Barbadian culture during the day-long carnival. From the opening gala to the crowning of a festival king and queen, a huge carnival-like show with members of the Kadooment bands displaying their elaborate costumes, and the final Grand Kadooment carnival parade, there’s plenty of music, food, and drink. If there’s one thing for certain, Barbados definitely knows how to have a good time.
Kadooment is a Bajan term which means ‘a big occasion filled with fun and merriment’, like the Carnival/Crop Over Festival. A Kadooment band is a costumed band of people who all wear the same designer and themed costumes as they make their way through the streets of the island, during the Grand Kadooment parade of the Crop Over Festival. The creation of these Kadooment costumes for the bands is a real art form, and the use of colour, materials, design, and originality are judged during the Crop Over festivities.
BEACHES COAST TO COAST
It’s not on every island that you find beaches for every type of traveller, but Barbados has all the bases covered. All along the posh West Coast, the water is clear, shallow and calm. Protected from the wind, these shores are ideal for families with small children and those who like their water on the tranquil side. On the South Coast, the water is a bit wilder and wavy, perfect for diving and jumping around, or for those who are just learning how to surf. On the East Coast of Barbados, where the Atlantic Ocean is rougher, the currents are stronger, and the wind comes right off the sea, it’s not an ideal place to swim if you don’t know the area, and if you’re going to surf you should talk to the locals. The Bathsheba pools, on the other hand, are shallow pools only a few feet deep and very close to the shore. Carved out of the inshore coral, you can sit in them to cool off while the surf splashes in, like a small, natural whirlpool.
THE FLOWER FOREST
A breathtaking botanical garden east of Holetown, near Carrington Sugar Hill, the Flower Forest has been around since 1985 and is now run by David Spieler of Earthworks Pottery. There’s over 50 acres reserved for green-only, botanical ventures, and 7 acres of garden with winding paths and incredible landscapes for visitors to admire. With panoramic views of Chalky Mount and the East Coast, this scenic, peaceful garden, surrounded by flowers all year round, is definitely a quiet little piece of Barbados worth checking out.