Barbados holiday guide: the best beaches, eateries, bars and places to remain

You dont need a pop starrings budget to enjoy the palm trees and sunny Caribbean sea of this popular island. Genie Austin reveals her homelands best beaches, inexpensive feeds, rum stores and typically tropical activities

When I tell people Im from Barbados, I usually get some fluctuation of the same answer. Ooh, paradise, they say, as they conjure up coconut trees, tropical drinks, bright sunshine and foam-crested azure waves.

But on an island where holidays can come at shockingly high prices, this idea of paradise feelings woefully beyond the reach of the average traveller. However, as every Bajan knows, the charms of this tiny coral island between the Caribbean and the Atlantic can be unlocked without transgressing the bank at a luxury hotel or being limited by a package deal.

There are plenty of charming low-cost hotels, cheap-and-cheerful eateries and bars, under-the-radar beaches and free or low-cost fun activities to be enjoyed if you know where to look.

Barbados map

WHAT TO DO

Take a hike

Barbados doesnt have soaring peaks, waterfalls, rivers or tropical rainforests like some of its neighbours. Nevertheless, it is a tropical island, and its vegetation can be lush, wild, and breathtakingly beautiful. Hike Barbados is a local organisation that conducts free hikes through less accessible areas. Its three-hour hikes run throughout the year, with morning strolls starting at 6am, afternoon strolls at 3.30 pm, and moonlight strolls at 5.30 pm.
barbados.org/ hike.htm

Watch the sunshine sunrise at Farley Hill

Old
Old 19 th-century Sugar Plantation House, Farley Hill. Photo: Alamy

At least once during every visit to Barbados, we get up 45 minutes before dawn and drive to Farley Hill national park to watch the sunrise. Farley Hill, a ruined plantation house, is worth a visit on its own merits, but try sitting atop the hill in its grounds overlooking the Atlantic one cool morning, and watch the sky gradually lightens before the sunlight finally stimulates its dramatic appearance. All the while, blackbirds and wood doves lend their acceptance to this accomplishment of nature, as the wind whistlings through the large casuarina trees along the hilltops ridge. Its an unforgettable experience. And although its an isolated place, its quite safe. On our last visit we noticed the park has added an overnight security guard at the entryway.
barbados.org/ fhill.htm

Catch a drive-in movie

I grew up going to open-air, drive-in cinemas, so was surprised to find theyre not the norm everywhere. Theres still one in Barbados, the Globe Drive-In in Vauxhall, and I always go when Im home because its a unique experience. Tickets are 6. If your accommodation will permit it, take blankets and pillows for a picnic under the stars while you watch your flick. Youll be almost entirely among locals, and when the movie reaches a dramatic moment like the satisfying death of a rogue be ready for the chorus of car horns beeping their approval.
globedrivein.mobi

See the Christmas procession

Christmas
Photograph: Alamy

If you have the good fortune to be in Barbados in the festive season, head to Queens Park in the capital, Bridgetown, on Christmas morning, where dressed up people promenade in a ritual going back over 100 years. The park, formerly the grounds of the Commander of the British troops in the West Indies, was acquired by the government in the early 1900 s. In 1907 it commissioned the Royal Barbados Police Band to hold free morning Christmas concerts to establish it as a peoples park. Youll be blown away by the colorful and outlandish outfits, sexy Santa costumes and splendid ballgowns. Strolling around in 30 C heat, rum punch in hand, caught up in the festivity of a tropical Christmas, sums up for me the meaning of peace on Earth and goodwill to all men.

BEST BEACHES

Barbados has some of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean and although in recent years corrosion has taken its toll, there are still many unspoilt gems. The key is to choose a beach based on what you want to do, or not do.

Paradise Beach

Paradise
Photograph: Getty Images

The west coast of Barbados is fringed by the calm Caribbean, so is ideal for relaxing. I have a few favourites here, but Paradise Beach is my top pick. It gets its name from a hotel that was here until the 1980 s. With its close, and efforts to open another hotel stalled for years, its an oasis of peace, interrupted merely by the occasional barge or plane ski. Most visitors have no idea the beach exists you get there by strolling south from neighbouring Batts Rock Beach but its a wonderful place for relaxing, swimming and enjoying the peace.

Paynes Bay

Beach
Photograph: Hans-Peter Merten/ Getty Images

My second-favourite beach on this coast is a great place to try airplane skiing, sailing and waterskiing, and for determining a barge to go swimming with hawksbill and leatherback turtles. There are organised tours from 80, but the many local operators of jet skis and barges will do deals for around half that for a 30 -minute excursion, including snorkelling equipment. Paynes Bay is a short walk from the Sandy Lane Hotel beach, for some discreet spotting of celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Mark Wahlberg, and Naomi Watts.

Pebbles Beach

For a more meditative beach experience head just south of Bridgetown. The water in this sheltered bay is quite still, stimulating it an excellent place for standup paddleboarding( SUP ). Paddle Barbados offers classes at 50 for a 90 -minute group class, and SUP Yoga at 30 for a 75 -minute class.
paddlebarbados.com

WHERE TO EAT

Eating out in Barbados can be very expensive, and food expenses can outstrip those of accommodation. Happily, though, there are plenty of good inexpensive eateries on both sides of the island.

Sand Dunes Bar and Restaurant, Windy Hill

This restaurant on the islands rugged eastern coast is one of my favourites. The food is simple and unpretentious but fresh and full of flavour. The menu changes daily and consists of local favourites such as breadfruit coucou ( mashed with butter and milk ), salt fish with gravy, and a salad or side vegetables. There may also be fried flying fish served with rice and peas, and macaroni pie. A full meal will cost around 12 a head.
Ermy Bourne Highway, Windy Hill, +1 246 422 9427

Animal Flower Cave, North Point

Animal

Aside from the delicious, if somewhat pricy, food rotis from 13, salads from 10 what stimulates this restaurant stand out is its location on the cliffs of North Point, where between December and April humpback whales can be spotted playing in the surf. Beneath the restaurant is the islands merely accessible sea cave, Animal Flower cave, known for its fascinating sea anemones( animal blooms ). Guided visits adult 8, child 4.
+1 246 439 8797,
animalflowercave.com

Orange Street Grocer, Speightstown

Orange

Bajans are not big coffee drinkers, but a handful of places serve really good coffee, and this beautifully designed cafe, with a large terrace overlooking the ocean, is one of them. Its a great place to start the morning or watch the sun go down in the evening. It serves salads, pizza and other illumination fare, but I find these a little pricey, so usually stick with coffee and one of their tasty desserts, which expense around 6.
theorangestreetgrocer.com

Cuzs Fish Shack, near Pebbles Beach

Cuzs

Even if youre not staying on the south coast, pay a visit to this colourful and somewhat ramshackle Barbadian equivalent of a food truck. Cuz first became a favourite among divers and surfers on nearby Pebbles Beach. The cutters the local word for any sandwich built using a bun known as salt bread are filled with fried steakfish, tomato, lettuce, Bajan pepper sauce and a bit of mayo, with optional toppings of cheese or a fried egg. They cost 25 and are delicious with a cold Banks beer or a Plus, an energy beverage made from sugar cane.
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WHERE TO DRINK

Rum shops, everywhere

John
John Moore Bar; one of many rum stores on the island. Photograph: Alamy

Bajans like to boast that Barbados is the birthplace of rum. Records show that the honour might actually belong to Brazil, but Barbados is the unrivalled champ of the rum store scene in the Caribbean they have been part of our scenery for more than 300 years. They come in every shape, colour and sizing, and are much more than merely a bar: theyre a place for friends to meet, beverage, talk politics, tell jokes, and play dominoes. And they are incredibly cheap. In general, a brew costs about 1.50, a rum punch( a deliciously refreshing concoction of rum, lime juice, sugar cane syrup, a splashing of Angostura Bitters and a rub of nutmeg) is 4, and a small bottle of rum is simply 2. The best approach is to simply walk into any shop that catches your fancy they are convivial places where everyone is welcomed.

One Love Bar, Holetown

One

On one of my return visits, I strayed into this bar with my husband Andrew. Id never been there before, but we were tired and needed a breach from the heat. We ordered two bottles of Plus, and were promptly told by one of the patrons, who was already fairly plastered at 3pm, that humen dont drink Plus. He then proceeded to pour Andrew some of his white rum, and there followed a pleasant afternoon of aimless, good-natured chatter and much drinking. One Love Bar is a bit of an anomaly among the expensive restaurants and swanky boutiques of the west coast, and were always alleviated when we return to see it still there going strong.
1st Street, Holetown, on
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Bay Tavern , Martins Bay

Bajans come from all corners to this east coast angling village to lime( hang out) and fire a rum. Thursday afternoons are especially popular, so stop by then as it has a real party atmosphere. It also does lunch and dinner. Local dishes, grilled marlin, rice and peas and fried plantain, say, are delicious at around 10.
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WHERE TO STAY

South Gap Hotel, St Lawrence Gap

South
Photograph: Leslie St John

The south coast of Barbados has a party reputation, so this is the place for those whose notion of a perfect holiday involves frequent nights out. The South Gap is a modern hotel with pond, eatery and bar in St Lawrence Gap, a lively 1.3 km stretching of road in the parish of Christ Church. A studio for two with balcony and mini kitchen costs from 100 B& B.
southgapbarbados.com

Beckys by the Sea, Fitts Village

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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