Travel Guide Caribbean Barbados





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The Caribbean's easternmost island, and a tiny one at that, Barbados makes up for its distance and size with an enthusiastic gearing towards tourism that deservedly attracts many visitors. The island's vibrant artistic culture reflects the Bajans' rhythmic approach to life. Perhaps it is this rhythm (undoubtedly carried over from African traditions) which draws so many to the island: a holiday to Barbados is not supposed to just be a relaxing time by the beach; it is meant to reinvigorate and rekindle fires of passion. An exciting night life, ideal opportunities for water sports and beautiful beaches: the Barbados formula is simple, yet successful.



Brief History

The first known inhabitants of Barbados were the Saladoid-Barrancoid people who arrived by canoe from Venezuela's Orinoco Valley around 350 AD. Second were the Arawaks, arriving from South America around 800 AD; they called the place Ichirouganaim meaning "teeth", referring to the island's reefs. In the 13th C the Caribs arrived from South America and displaced the previous populations. For the next few centuries, they lived in isolation here.

In 1536 the Portuguese explorer Pedro Campos called the island "Os Barbados" ("The Bearded Ones") because the long hanging aerial roots of the island's fig trees resembled beards. Later, Spanish conquistadors seized many Caribs on Barbados to use as slaves, and many other Caribs fled from the island. However neither Spain nor Portugal settled here. The first Europeans to do so were the British from 1627 and, unlike other Caribbean islands, Barbados never passed into the control of other nations as the later centuries' wars played out.

Early crops were of cotton, tobacco, ginger and indigo, worked by indentured labourers, mostly English and Irish. Their conditions were harsh but not slavery, and after several years labour (if they survived), they were awarded freedom, money and land - so a colony evolved. But those crops suffered competition as North American production grew. Sugarcane was introduced in 1640 and proved more profitable and reliable, but demanded heavy labour. Enslaved Africans were shipped in to meet this need, many being Igbo from what is now Nigeria. For two centuries Barbados was a slave colony, as the plantations grew and grew and bought out the other settlers. From 1833 there was gradual emancipation, through a combination of rebellions, anti-slavery movements and laws, and changing economics. The island had been utterly wrecked by the hurricane of 1831 so this was a time of re-building, leading to a pleasant harmony of style in the buildings seen today.

Barbados remained heavily dependent on sugar, rum and molasses through most of the 20th C; the labour was still hard, and employment conditions were repressive. By now 90% of the island's people were of African descent, 10% were a British-descended squirearchy that clung onto all the wealth and positions of power, and ethnic Caribs were very few. But from the 1930s an educated black middle class fought for universal adult suffrage and gradually gained power. Unlike many other Caribbean islands, Barbados never received indentured Indian labourers, though a community of Gujarati Muslim merchants would eventually settle on the island, and their descendants today form the majority of Barbados' Muslim community.

Post-war saw social and political reforms, and mass emigration as England drew in Caribbean labour to run its hospitals and transport: London's Hammersmith and Brixton became the new Bimshire. A "wind of change" blew through Britain's colonies, and the first attempt at independence was to form a Federation of the West Indies. This was quarrelsome and short-lived, so it was as a separate nation that Barbados achieved independence from the United Kingdom in 1966. In the 1980s, tourism and manufacturing overtook the sugar industry in economic importance. Barbados has developed into a stable democracy with one of the highest rates of literacy in the Western Hemisphere. It does however have an uncomfortable level of sovereign debt: in 2018 the newly-elected government uncovered shady national accounting, with the true debt being over 1.7 times the country's GDP. Your tourist spend however modest will be appreciated.




Barbados is located at 13°10' north of the equator, and 59°32' west. As the easternmost isle of the Lesser Antilles in the West Indies, Barbados lies 100 kilometres east of the Windward Islands and Caribbean Sea. The closes neighbouring islands include Martinique, and Saint Lucia to the northwest, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to the west, Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela to the southwest, and Guyana to the southeast. Barbados' total land area is 430 km2, and it has a coastline of 97 kilometre length. The physical characteristics of Barbados are its lowlands or gently sloping, terraced plains, separated by rolling hills that generally parallel the coasts. Elevations in the interior range from 180 to 240 metres above sea level. Mount Hillaby is the highest point at 340 metres above sea level.
Most of the small streams are in Scotland District. The rest of the island has few surface streams; nevertheless, rainwater saturates the soil to produce underground channels such as the famous Coles Cave.




The island of Barbados has eleven parishes which can be sensibly divided into four regions:

  • Bridgetown - the eponymous capital city of Barbados and surrounding areas in Saint Michael Parish. The top attractions are the two historic areas: around the Careenage (old harbour) in city centre, and the Garrison Savannah to the south which has the George Washington House. The city also hosts Mount Gay Rum Distilleries, the Kensington Oval cricket ground, and the bases for scuba-diving and other boat-based activities. There's little accommodation here.
  • Western Barbados - North of the city are the parishes of Saint James, Saint Peter and Saint Lucy. This is the west-facing, most sheltered coast, so it's the best for family beach holidays. Holetown and Speightstown are the two main townships, with many tourist hotels and small guesthouses along this strip.
  • Southern Barbados - The parish of Christ Church is a tourist strip of hotels, bars and restaurants, one long traffic jam honking its way through Rockley, Saint Lawrence (the main party zone), Oistins and Silver Sands. This south-facing coast is good both for water-based activities and family bathing. East of the airport is Saint Philip parish: this has fewer hotels, the coast trends north-east and becomes rugged and the seas are stronger.
  • Central Eastern Barbados - The parishes of Saint Andrew, Saint George, Saint John, Saint Joseph and Saint Thomas are the least developed and most scenic part of the island. There are lush botanic gardens such as Andromeda, plantation houses eg Sunbury, and Harrison's Cave in the underlying limestone. The hilly east coast is exposed to the full fury of the Atlantic, with big surf, and is too hazardous for casual beach and water sports.




Sights and Activities

Barbados Wildlife Reserve

The Barbados Wildlife Reserve is a zoo opposite Farley Hill in the central parts of Barbados. There are that lead to a mahogany forest of green monkeys, red-footed turtles and a caiman pond. Other creatures that may be spotted include brocket deer, iguanas and agoutis. The monkeys are most lively during their afternoon feed. You can also also go to a small aviary with macaws and cockatoos, as well as some caged parrots, and uncaged peacocks and pelicans. To add, there is an orchid display and an iguana sanctuary.

Harrison's Cave

Probably the best known attraction on Barbados is the Harrison's Cave. Here, you can travel deep beneath the earth and explore the wonders of nature. You will hear the streams and see the glassy pools. You will be amazed by all the different shapes and sizes of the stalactites and stalagmites. Check the Harrison's Cave website for more information about your options.

Fish Fry

On many islands in the Caribbean Friday is fishday and there is no better place to experience this than on Barbados. Oistins on the southern coast is the place to be on Friday nights for the fish fry. This is a market where you can buy fresh fish cooked according to local recipes. Locals stay there late and dance until the early hours of the morning.

Other sights and activities

  • Botanical gardens are mostly in the hilly, less-developed country of Central Eastern Barbados. The standout is Andromeda Gardens, near Bathsheba. Others include Hunte's Gardens, Flower Forest, and Orchid World.
  • Grand houses from the plantation and colonial eras. Those routinely open for visits include the George Washington House and Wildey House in Bridgetown, and Sunbury Plantation House and Codrington College in Central Eastern Barbados. Several others are only open on special occasions, such as the Open House days in Jan-March. But you really need to time your visit to dodge the coach parties and cruise ship excursions. While that applies to any tourist attraction on Barbados, it's especially true for these houses - they're grand but not palatial, and cramming into a Georgian four-poster bedroom with fifty other amply-fed folk takes the gloss off the experience.
  • Scuba diving here is boat-based, as the main reefs and wrecks are too far out for comfortable shore-diving. (Though intrepid locals do so, and several snorkelling areas are easily reached from shore.) Most dive shacks are in Bridgetown (see listings) but pick up from hotels along the coast between Speightstown and Oistins: it's best to call ahead, as they may be booked out if a cruise ship is in port. One dive shack is in Holetown on the west coast. They all offer basic training, regular qualified diving, specialty courses, and equipment hire. The sea is calmer in the morning, so boats head out around 9 am for two-tank dives, and you're back ashore and settling up by 2 pm. Travel times to sites are short so they can drop off after a single dive.
  • Watch cricket at the Kensington Oval in Bridgetown. West Indies play as a combined team for international matches ("Test matches", lasting up to five days). Barbados also competes as a nation in other competitions in the Caribbean region. First-class matches are sometimes played at other venues around the island, but the big games are always at the Oval.
  • Visit a rum distillery. Three distilleries are in production: Mount Gay in Bridgetown is the best known (M-F Sa Nov-Apr). West Indies Rum Distillery (source of Malibu liqueur) in Bridgetown only offers tours by special arrangement. Four Square in Saint Philip in Southern Barbados offers free self-guided tours M-F.
  • Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary
  • Barbados Museum
  • Tyrol Cot Heritage Village
  • Welchman Hall Gully
  • The Soup Bowl - best surfing spot, on the eastcoast of the island
  • Animal Flower Cave - A sea cave that gets its name from small animals (sea anemone), that look like flowers.



Events and Festivals

Holetown Festival

The Holetown Festival celebrates the arrival of the first settlers in Barbados in 1627. The festival itself dates back to 1977 and showcases the island’s culture and history. It now includes a street fair, sporting events, music performances, and much more. The festival takes place in the town of Holetown, on the west coast of the island, for eight days in February.

Oistins Fish Festival

This popular event takes place in the town of Oistins, in the southern part of the island. Having started in 1977, this street fair celebrates the signing of the Charter of Barbados and honors fisherman. Visitors will be able sample a huge range of local delicacies, as well as enjoy music and dance performances. The highlight is the fish boning competition, to see who can de-bone fish the fastest and there are also crab and boat race. This festival is also a good place to pick up local arts and crafts. The Oistins Fish Festival takes place in March or April, during Easter week.

Crop Over Festival

This island-wide celebration is probably the biggest and most-loved on Barbados. The origins date back to the 1780s, when sugar cane harvest was celebrated. The highlight is the carnival and spectacular Kadooment Parade. The festival runs from the end of June until early August and includes many smaller events throughout that time period.

Barbados Food & Wine and Rum Festival

For four days in November, celebrity chefs and food and beverage experts from all over the world descend on Barbados to celebrate the best of Caribbean cuisine. There are tastings, BBQs, cook-offs, dinner cruises, distillery tours, and much more. Visitors will be able to sample the best rum on Barbados and learn about the history of Caribbean spices and seasonings at this fun foodie event.

Barbados Independence Surf Festival

The most important surfing competition on the island attracts world-class surfers from all over the world. Competing in two title events during the festival, the November Pro and Caribbean Junior Championships challenge the greats to ride the waves. Visitors can also experience surf demonstrations, a bikini contest, live music, and food on offer. The Barbados Independence Surf Festival takes place for three days in November.

Run Barbados

Run Barbados is the premier running event in the Caribbean. It takes place in December every year and consists of a 3K, 5K, 10K, half-marathon and full marathon. This event was first held in 1983 and has grown in popularity every year, with more and more runners signing up every year so register early if you plan to run. The best part about Run Barbados is the jump in the ocean after crossing the finish line!




Barbados has a hot and humid tropical climate with average daytime temperatures between 28 °C and 30 °C and average nights around 23 °C. Most rain falls between June and October with a change of hurricanes from August onwards. Therefore, the drier (and slightly cooler) December to April period is the best time to visit weatherwise. Unfortunately prices rise sharply during this period and the months of November and May still have good weather. So budgetwise these latter months may be a good option as well.



Getting there


The Sir Grantley Adams International Airport (BGI) is located in Christ Church, Barbados and serves as a gateway to many Caribbean islands and places further away in North America and Europe. Leeward Islands Air Transport (LIAT) has a second hub here (after Antigua) with flights throughout the Caribbean between Barbados and the Dominican Republic. The island is served well by many airlines from Canada and the United States and especially from the United Kingdom with at least 5 or 6 airlines flying there directly from London, Manchester and Birmingham. Direct flights include those from Frankfurt and Milan as well.

By Boat

There has been talk about new high speed ferries from Barbados to islands like Saint Lucia, Grenada and Saint Vincent, but up until now they stay rumours. From October 2009, BEDY Ocean Lines, should had started operating a ferry for residents only, connecting Barbados with Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent. The start of the schedule is however delayed. As of May 2011, there is no ferry service from Barbados to any of the neighbouuring islands (and not likely to be anytime soon).



Getting Around

By Plane

As the island is small enough to get around by land, there are no flights, except the odd helicopter transfer.

By Car

Driving is on the left and you need to be 21 years old. There are no big international chains, but rather local companies only. There are enough of them though at the airport, bigger hotels and in Bridgetown so shop around. You need to buy a temporary driving permit as well, accompanied with your own (inter)national driver's licence and a few dollars.

Renting a car is expensive. If you are driving, be aware that the roads on the island are generally quite narrow, with the exception of the ABC highway, which also has several long sections towards the west coast that is under large scale construction to expand the road to accommodate additional lanes. It is advisable to be extra cautious as many roads on the island have sharp turns, steep inclines, and are generally quite bumpy, although most are paved.

Many of these "highways" do not have sidewalks, so there can be pedestrians on the street sharing the road. Many bus stops are also on the side of roads where there are no sidewalks. Additionally, beware of impromptu passing lanes as slow drivers are often passed by others behind them when on two lane roads. Road signs can be fairly confusing (they often indicate the nearest two towns/villages in opposite order - I.e. furthest listed first), so be prepared to get lost: just ask the way as people are always eager to help.

At most all of the local car rental agencies, a full collision damage waiver policy is automatically included with the rental, except for any damage incurred to the car tires, a testament to the poor condition of the smaller roads and tendency of foreign drivers to miscalculate driving lanes and hit curbs.

By Bus

Unlike many other Caribbean islands, Barbados has a well maintained reliable and cheap bus system. Basically you'll have a choice of government-operated public buses, which have the most extensive routes. These cover most of the island and there are flat rates for all journeys. Routes are fixed. And there are privately operated minibus systems and route taxis. Both can be flagged down almost anywhere and drop you off anywhere you like as well. Minibuses are a bit faster than regular buses. Taxis have fixed prices but arrange the price before you leave. Sometimes you can arrange a tour with the driver for a price per hour.

By Boat

No regular services, just tours to go out snorkelling, diving or fishing.



Red Tape

Most visitors do not need a visa for tourist or business visits. That includes citizens of the countries below (listed by the Barbados government in 2009 and believed to be unchanged in 2019) but they are likely to need a visa to work or study so those visitors must make further enquiries of the embassy or consulate.

Citizens of the following countries do not need visas to enter Barbados:

  • North America & Caribbean: Canada, USA, Mexico, Antigua & Barbuda, Bahamas, Belize, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Panama, Saint Kitts & Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent & the Grenadines, and Trinidad & Tobago.
  • European Union countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland and United Kingdom.
  • Other European countries: Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, North Macedonia, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine.
  • Other countries: Australia, Bangladesh, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei, Chile, China, Colombia, Eritrea, Eswatini, Fiji, Gambia, Ghana, Hong Kong, Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kiribati, Kyrgyzstan, Lesotho, Macau, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mauritius, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Samoa, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Tonga, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Uganda, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.




See also Money Matters

Barbados has it's own currency, the Barbados Dollar, which comes in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 25 cents, $1 (coins) and $2, $5, $10, $20, $50, $100 (banknotes). Since July 5, 1975, the Barbados dollar has been pegged to the US dollar at US$1 = Bds$2. The US$ is widely expected on the island, but use small denominations. Your change will be given back to you in Barbados currency (by law).




Bellairs Research Institute is a teaching and research facility operated by Montreal's McGill University focusing on marine biology and environmental studies.




The official language on Barbados is English. The written English will be "the Queens English" which means words are spelled (spelt) as they would be in England, not in the USA. So for example favour instead of favor, tyre instead of tire etc.
Bajan is an officially recognised regional language. The Bajan dialect can be heard around the island and while not commonly used in business or politics, you will often hear good Bajan sayings spoken in dialect when someone is riled up and speaking. The dialect is much like the Gullah Dialect spoken on the coast of South Carolina (considering that many people from Barbados went to South Carolina in the early days of the United States, this basically means that the Gullah Dialect comes from the Bajan Dialect).




Bajan cuisine is a strange mix of spicy, flavorful treats along with traditional English fayre. So be prepared for meals where fiery stews sit side-by-side with beans on toast.

  • Flying fish, the icon of the islands is found on coins, bills, and menus. Flying fish is usually served lightly breaded and fried, with a yellow sauce. Be warned that this yellow sauce consists of very hot Scotch Bonnet peppers with onions in a mustard sauce.
  • Coo-Coo and Flying Fish - is often considered to be the national dish. Coo-coo (or Cou-cou) is a polenta-like cornmeal and okra porridge, coo-coo pairs perfectly with flying fish, which is either steamed with lime juice, spices, and vegetables or fried and served with a spicy sauce. The Flying Fish restaurant overlooking St. Lawrence Bay claims to be the Barbadian national dish’s home.
  • Pepperpot, a must, a dish of long tradition and great pride among the Bajans, a pork stew in a spicy dark brown sauce.
  • Try cutters, a local sandwich made using Salt Bread (not regular sandwich bread). Varieties include flying fish cutters, ham cutters and the popular bread and two.

Visitors seeking fast food will probably be disappointed; the burger chains of the US failed miserably upon introduction to Barbados (Bajans eat nearly no beef). However, chicken and fish sandwiches are wildly popular, so KFC and Chefette are ubiquitous.




Barbados offers everything from inexpensive guest houses with bed and breakfast from under US $40 daily for a single in the summer to luxury accommodations at some of the world's best hotels at $1,600 in the prime season.

Barbados apartments and apartment hotels offer the comfort of a hotel room combined with the convenience of your own cooking facilities. Most are located on/near the beach and are especially suitable for families.

There is a wide selection of luxury villas and cottages available for rent throughout Barbados. Many of these villas and cottages are located on or near the beach.

Privately owned vacation rentals are often rented at much lower costs than hotel or resort rooms. There is a wide selection of these holiday properties available throughout Barbados and many are located on or near the beach. Vacation properties range from beach houses to condos and apartments.

Generally, more expensive resorts are on the west coast north of Bridgetown, simpler guesthouses are available along the southern coast and only a few housing options available in Bridgetown itself.




Barbados has some of the purest water in the world that can be drunk straight from the tap. Cruise ship employees are often seen stocking up on their water supplies while docked at the island.

Rum and rum drinks are featured at every bar. Perhaps the most famous domestic brand offered is Mount Gay Rum, which is very delicious. Modest cost tours of the distillery are available on weekdays. They offer samples of all their rums, also sold at attractive prices.

Small establishments called rum shops can be found all over Barbados. They are where local citizens (95% men) meet to catch up on the local news. Drop in, and you can easily have a conversation with a real Barbadian.

Beer and wine is easy to find as well. Banks beer is Barbados' own beer and very good. Tours of the Banks brewery are also available. While the tour itself is very hot and only moderately interesting an unlimited amount of beer is provided to those waiting for the tour to begin. Try to show up a few hours early and take advantage of a very good deal.there are also tours of the three rum refineries which are informative.

10 Saints is the first craft beer to be brewed in Barbados. This unique lager is aged for 90 days in Mount Gay 'Special Reserve' Rum casks, combining the rum heritage of the island with a refreshing lager to produce a truly 'Bajan' beer. It is available at bars and shops, throughout the island.




See also Travel Health

There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Barbados. There is one exception though. You need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering Barbados) where that disease is widely prevalent.

It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Barbados. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and vaccination against hepatitis B and typhoid are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.

Dengue sometimes occurs as well. There is no vaccination, so buy mosquito repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Also wear long sleeves if possible.

Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.




See also Travel Safety

Although it is generally a safe place to travel, there has been a steep incline of crime. It is wise for tourists to avoid certain high-risk activities like walking on secluded beaches, day or night, and walking in unfamiliar residential neighborhoods or secluded areas away from main roads. Tourists, particularly women, should always stay in groups.

The most common kinds of crimes against tourists include taxi fraud, robbery, and shortchanging; however, rape and assaults are becoming more common. Most Bajans are by nature friendly, especially in the earlier part of the tourist season (November and December).

A special area of concern for visitors to Barbados is drugs. The country's strict antidrug policy is made apparent to visitors coming through Customs. In practice, however, Europeans and Americans in Barbados are offered marijuana or even cocaine frequently. Sellers will often roam the beaches selling aloe vera or other such innocuous goods as a pretense to begin a conversation about "ganja," "smoke" or "bad habits." As a result, many hotels and resorts now ban the use of aloe vera under the pretense that it "stains the towels."

Regardless of one's inclination to use drugs, it is not advisable to accept these offers. Marijuana is considered bad and is not accepted by Bajan police. While Bajan police are not frequently encountered, they prosecute drug crimes easily.

Care should also be taken going into the sea. Many people underestimate just how powerful the currents can be and rip tides have claimed lives over the years. Always look out for warning flags.Also a good rule of thumb is to bathe where you see people that is a good indicator of the safety. Do not go out deep (beyond your ability to touch the sea bed) unless you are a strong swimmer.The west coast has calmer waters than the south coast of christ church which gets progressively rougher as you go east of oistins.

Homosexual acts between consenting adults are punishable by life imprisonment in Barbados.

Camouflage clothing is forbidden for non-military personnel in Barbados.



Keep Connected


There are several small internet cafes located around the island as well as connections offered by the larger resort hotels.


See also International Telephone Calls

The country calling code to Barbados is: 1-246
To make an international call from Barbados, the code is: 011


Quick Facts

Barbados flag

Map of Barbados


Parliamentary Democracy
Christianity (Protestant, Catholic)
Calling Code
Local name


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This is version 40. Last edited at 13:03 on May 21, 20 by Steffi Kay. 42 articles link to this page.

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