Barbados is an island in the Caribbean region, but which lies out in the Atlantic many miles east of the Caribbean Sea. Its nearest neighbours, some 100 miles west, are Saint Vincent and Saint Lucia, part of the arc of the Lesser Antilles that separate Atlantic and Caribbean. Those islands look like and are a partly-submerged chain of mountains. By contrast Barbados has formed from deposits of coral and has a gentler landscape. It's fertile, and is sometimes called "Bimshire" or the "Little Britain" of the Caribbean because of its long and uniquely unbroken history of British colonisation and settlement. It became independent in 1966 and tourism is nowadays its main industry.
|Currency||Barbadian dollar (BBD)|
|Population||284.6 thousand (2013)|
|Electricity||115 volt / 50 hertz (Type A, Type B)|
|Emergencies||911, +1-511 (emergency medical services), +1-211 (police), +1-311 (fire department)|
|edit on Wikidata|
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. 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.
Locals refer to themselves as Bajans and things Barbadian as Bajan.
The island of Barbados has eleven parishes which can conveniently be divided into four regions:
1 The capital 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.
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 embassy website for visa application process & fees. Beware commercial websites that will charge extra for less reliable information.
1 Sir Grantley Adams International Airport (BGI IATA) (8 miles east of Bridgetown). By air is the main way in and out of Barbados, so the airport has good connections to North America, Europe especially Britain and Germany, and the Caribbean region. Many long-haul flights are by package tour operators eg TUI and Virgin Atlantic, but these also offer flight-only tickets. Regional short hops are operated by LIAT and others. Departing, the check-in area is a semi-open-air triangle with a couple of small cafes and free rest-rooms. After check-in, emigration comes before security, as there are no domestic flights. Airside has a large retail mall with cafes but the exchange desk charges 5 B$ minimum fee so it's not the best option for leftover small amounts of B$. Arriving, you may use the duty-free shop before immigration. You have to fill in a landing card for immigration, and you're told to keep the counterfoil for departure, but no-one will ever look at it.
Public buses and minibuses run from a stop just outside the airport. They ply to the south coast hotel strip, Bridgetown, and up the west coast as far as Holetown and Speightstown for B$2 per person, but a taxi is the most convenient way to get to your hotel on arrival. Across the road is a little collection of bars and eating places.
There are no ferries between Barbados and the other Caribbean islands. A ferry to Grenada ran 2011-2016 but was discontinued, and there are no plans to restart.
Many cruise ships dock in Bridgetown deep water harbour - check company itineraries to see if a point-to-point sailing to Barbados is possible. The terminal is served by an army of taxis, as well as shuttle "buses" to/from downtown Bridgetown for B$2 each way per person. There are separate arrangements to enable cruise passengers to transit between ship and airport without going through immigration.
Private moorings are available around the island. It's strictly forbidden to drop anchor on the coral reefs, with stiff penalties.
Driving is on the left. The bus system is extensive, cheap and fast if you are headed to somewhere on the main route, but a car (or mini-moke) is the only way to see many of the out-of-the-way sights. Many drivers will hold a bus for you if they see you are from out of town, reflecting the typical welcoming spirit. Buses are run by the Barbados Transport Board (blue) and are quiet. Private operators include the yellow buses, which play very loud music, and private mini-vans (white), which are usually cramped and crowded. The two privately run means of transport are often driven very fast and recklessly. All charge the same fare (B$2). Yellow buses and minivans offer change and even accept US dollars. BTB buses accept Barbados dollars and do not give change.
There are also more than enough taxis to take you wherever you need to go on the island for reasonable prices. They do not use meters and it is best to negotiate the price before you get in. However, most taxi drivers are honest and you are unlikely to be overcharged. Be sure to ask the management of the hotel or the friendly locals what the going rate is for a cab ride to your destination.
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.
Mopeds and bikes can also be rented to explore sites not easily reached by cars. This is not recommended however due to the poor condition of many of the secondary and residential roads. Except for the main highway, all the other roads provide a hazardous journey to the moped or bike rider due to the lack of sidewalks, frequent pot holes, sharp corners and speeding local buses.
Another fun way to get around is to rent a moke (open top car/buggy) available from any number of local car rental agencies.
The official language in Barbados is English, but the pronunciation may be high, fast and hard to follow. When speaking with each other, locals may slide between English and Bajan, which is a creole language based on English, Irish and West African Igbo vocabulary and expressions. Look baffled and they'll slow down for you, if they judge it helpful for you to understand. A good start is always to say "good morning", "good evening" etc, even to strangers on the sidewalk.
- If you're a member of a heritage organisation at home, such as the National Trust or RHS in Britain, bring your membership card, you'll get a discount at many Barbados heritage sites.
- 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.
- The green flash, if you're very lucky. This is sometimes seen in the tropics in the last split-second of sunset, when just as the sun vanishes the sky above it is momentarily a brilliant green. Conditions have to be just right: you need a hot calm day, with a clear view out to the sea horizon. Even then, most evenings all you'll get is a false flash, when staring towards the sunset leaves a green after-image on your vision. You'll begin to doubt it exists, but keep watching for it every clear sunset. Once seen, never forgotten.
- Surfing at Soup Bowl on the east coast and various breaks along the west when the swell is up. The south coast has great surf and the world windsurfing tour visits Silver Sands.
- Scuba diving 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.
- Other water sports include stand-up paddling and snorkelling with turtles.
- Nightclubbing eg at Harbour Lights or along the Saint Lawrence Gap strip.
- Catamaran Cruises, ☎ , fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. daily. A catamaran cruise with opportunities to snorkel with sea turtles and snorkel above shipwrecks. The tour includes transportation to and from the harbour, all drinks (alcohol included) and a buffet lunch. A cheaper version of the tour is offered that skips the buffet lunch. Turtle-snorkelling-only cruises are offered as well. B$150 per adult, credit cards accepted with 4% charge.
- Atlantis Submarine Tours, ☎ . Dive down nearly 50m below sea level in a real submarine. For people who dare not dive, this is a convenient way to get close to marine life, corals and sunken ships. Morning tours are recommended since later tours may be canceled due to rough surface conditions. Minibuses from the centre also pass nearby but leave only from the northern (market) bus terminal, thus a cab might make more sense. US$180/couple.
- Watch cricket at the Kensington Oval in Bridgetown. West Indies play as a combined team for international matches ("Test matches", lasting up to five days). Barbados also competes as a nation in other competitions in the Caribbean region. First-class matches are sometimes played at other venues around the island, but the big games are always at the Oval.
- Visit a rum distillery. Three distilleries are in production: Mount Gay in Bridgetown is the best known (M-F Sa Nov-Apr). West Indies Rum Distillery (source of Malibu liqueur) in Bridgetown only offers tours by special arrangement. Four Square in Saint Philip in Southern Barbados offers free self-guided tours M-F.
Exchange rates for Bajan dollars
As of January 2019:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
The local currency is the Bajan dollar, officially denoted as "Bds$" (ISO code: BBD) but usually just as B$ on local signage (and hence in these pages). US dollars are accepted in almost all shops and restaurants. The exchange rate is fixed at 2 Bajan dollars to the US dollar, but hotel exchanges may scalp you for an extra 5% or so.
Just as anywhere else, your prime considerations are "Do I actually want this stuff?" and "What feels like a fair price?" Anything else is secondary.
Bridgetown's main street hosts numerous jewellers, e.g., Colombian Emeralds and Diamonds International. Cave Shepherd department store offers a wide range of mercantile, while Harrison's offers premium gifts, leathers and cosmetics. There are large supermarkets on the edge of Bridgetown. Smaller stores offer virtually everything a visitor or resident might need. The mall at the harbour has a good selection but is pricier than elsewhere.
Barbados has a well-deserved reputation for its rum. Two distilleries are open for tours, and purchases there will be at the best price.
Barbados has a great variety of street vendors. Haggle vigorously. Don't stop until you are at about a third of the original price.
Duty-free pricing is available for luxury items such as watches and jewellery, cosmetics, clothing, tobacco, alcohol and electronic gadgets. The shop may call itself duty-free but it's the individual item that you need to check: the price tag should state DF and the amount in US$ or B$. If it states LP, that's "local price" with duty paid. (Of course they may have a cute definition of the local price, to make out you're getting a bargain.) The duty is specifically the import tax that the vendors paid on that item, that they recoup when the goods leave the country. So there's no duty-free reduction for things like food that are home-produced or that don't incur import tax. You need your passport and departure schedule in writing; for most items you take the goods away and drop off a counterfoil at the port of exit. For alcohol you pick up the goods at the port of exit, though surely you wouldn't have been tempted to drink it while still in Barbados.
Almost everything used to shut down on weekends, and visitors had to plan ahead especially if self-catering. This is no longer the case. Clothing and gift stores open until 4PM or so (Sheraton Mall shops until 9PM) on Saturdays; very few are open on Sunday. Many supermarkets island-wide are open on Saturday and Sunday.
On bank holidays (such as Christmas, New Year's Day, Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday), most if not all stores and banks and business houses will be closed. But stores attached to gas stations will have limited availability of basic items, and shops at the deep water harbour will be open if cruise ships are visiting. There are a few small family run groceries across the island that will open on bank holidays (or have a side door open) to serve their community.
Do flying fish fly?
They glide. They use powerful sideways strokes of their tail fin to gain speed, then break surface and use aerodynamically-shaped pectoral fins to maximise lift, plus updrafts from the waves. They have to fall back to sea again so it's not sustainable flight. Nevertheless their record stands at 45 sec aloft, 400 m covered and 6 m altitude, well beyond the Wright Brothers' first true flights of 1903.
What to eat? Bajan cuisine is an odd mix of spicy, flavorful treats along with traditional English fayre. So be prepared for meals where fiery stews accompany beans on toast.
- Flying fish, the icon of the islands, appear on coins, bills, and menus. The fish are usually lightly breaded and fried, with a yellow sauce. (This sauce consists of very hot Scotch Bonnet peppers with onions in a mustard sauce.) Or the fish is steamed with lime juice, spices, and vegetables. It's often served over coo-coo, a polenta-like cornmeal and okra porridge.
- Pepperpot is a pork stew in a spicy dark brown sauce.
- Cutters are sandwiches made from Salt Bread (crusty outside, fluffy inside, but not salty; go figure). Popular fillings are flying fish, ham or cheese; "Bread and two" is a cutter with two fish cakes.
Where to eat? See each region's "Sleep" as well as "Eat" listings, as many hotels have good restaurants open to non-residents, both a la carte and buffet-style.
- Street vendors offer snacks like fish cakes, BBQ pig tails, fresh coconut, and roasted peanuts.
- Every Friday night on the south coast the place to be is Oistins for the fish fry. This is a town market where you buy fresh fish cooked to local recipes. Bajans dance and party there until the early hours.
- For fast food, Chefette are a chain virtually unknown outside Barbados, but found all over the island. They've largely kept out the western chains, though KFC and Subway have a presence.
Rum and rum-based drinks are featured at every bar. For tours of a rum distillery, see Bridgetown#Do for Mount Gay (the brand leader) and Southern Barbados#Do for the less-known Four Square. The third distillery, which produces Malibu, is not open for visits.
Small rum shops can be found all everywhere. Here local men (and rather few women) foregather to shoot the breeze and put the world to rights.
10 Saints is the first craft beer to be brewed in Barbados. This is a lager aged for 90 days in Mount Gay "Special Reserve" rum casks, for a unique finish. It's widely available throughout the island.
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 or 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.
See regional articles for listings. Generally, south coast hotels are midrange to expensive, the west coast north of Bridgetown is expensive up to Speightstown, then there are simpler guesthouses further north. There's little in Bridgetown.
Check your visa eligibility when making enquiries of these institutes: the standard visa-free tourist rules don't apply to extended stays for study or work.
- Bellairs Research Institute is a teaching and research facility operated by Montreal's McGill University focusing on marine biology and environmental studies.
- Barbados Hospitality Institute operates The Hotel Pommarine near Rockley Beach, Southern Barbados.
- Barbados Community College
- The University of the West Indies - Cave Hill Campus
Barbados remains much safer than many other Caribbean islands, but there has been an increase in crime here. Be wary of secluded beaches and non-tourist residential districts away from main roads. Solo tourists, especially women, are most at risk. The commonest crimes against tourists include taxi fraud, robbery, and shortchanging; rape and assaults are becoming more common.
Drugs are strictly illegal, sternly prosecuted, and vigorously marketed: marijuana and cocaine being the main stuff on sale. Sellers roam the beaches peddling aloe vera and other innocuous goods as a pretext to strike up a conversation about "ganja", "smoke" or "bad habits". As a result, many hotels and resorts ban the use of aloe vera, claiming that it "stains the towels".
Homosexual acts between consenting adults are punishable by life imprisonment in Barbados, but western package operators seek all customers including LGBT. So there's a degree of ambiguity and "look the other way" by local hotel management, and attitudes out in the street and bars may be less than friendly.
Camouflage clothing is forbidden for non-military personnel in Barbados, even kiddy outfits or anglers' floppy hats that couldn't possibly be mistaken for army camo.
Your biggest risks are road safety, safety in the sea, and alcohol especially when combined with those.
Beware of the sun, Barbados is only 13 degrees north of the equator and you can burn very easily, even if it's cloudy and the sea breeze is keeping you cool. Seek the shade (eg use a umbrella), wear a wide-brimmed hat and long clothing, and slap on high-factor sun-block: you're aiming for the zinc-nosed cricketer look.
Mosquitoes are more of a nuisance than a danger: it's very rare for them to carry serious tropical nasties such as malaria, but the bites are infuriating. The mozzies are especially busy after sundown, so spray on a repellent before heading out for al fresco dining.
Barbados water is pure and safe to drink, as it's naturally filtered by the island limestone. You'll see limestone drip-buckets in all the old plantation houses, pre-dating the mains supply.
Despite, or maybe because of, the tropical climate, Bajans tend to dress conservatively when not on the beach. A bikini will not be appreciated in town and certainly not in church.
Bajans are particularly sensitive to manners and saying "Good morning" to people, even strangers, goes a long way to earning their respect.
When meeting a Bajan, try not to discuss politics or racial issues. Talk is also important because Barbadians speak fairly fast when speaking in Creole (or Bajan, as it is called).
The use of the "N" word is a no-no, but when talking to friends words such a "B" (which is short for "bro") and "dawg" are used to describe or refer to a friend. These words should not be used unless you know the person well.
Most Bajans are fun-loving and love to go out and have fun, as is noted by the large number of young people found in the clubs and on the Southern Coast of the island. Try not to stare at people without good cause. If you happen to bump into someone in a club, you should immediately apologise to the person.
Bajans are very protective of family, and insults to a person's family are taken very seriously. This also relates to their views on issues such as homosexuality. -most Bajans do not agree with the practice.
Using your mobile in Barbados will hit you with international charges. You can buy a local SIM card at the airport, cruise ship terminal, or any tourist strip.
Mobile 4G/Wi-Fi is good in Bridgetown, on the south and west coasts, and along the main highways, so that Bajan motorists can yap to each other about how it should be made illegal while driving. There is patchy coverage out in central and eastern parts, so either use the hotel or cafe connection, or put the damn thing away and have a holiday instead.
It means flying, as there are no ferry services. Barbados' closest neighbours, all with frequent flights of 30-50 min duration from BGI, couldn't be more different from each other:
- Saint Lucia is very mountainous, one hell of a place to try to run a plantation, but brilliant for scenery and smelly volcanic springs.
- Saint Vincent is also mountainous and scenic, yet barely developed for tourism, so very much away-from-it-all.
- Grenada is good all-round for amenities and attractions, a sound first choice for a Caribbean holiday. Its smaller island of Carriacou has good diving but little else.
The chain of islands continues north through Martinique, Dominica and Guadeloupe. To the south are Trinidad & Tobago, and mainland Venezuela.