By Lise Giguère (email@example.com)
Published in the Fall 2006 Issue of Canadian World Traveller
Photos: Barbados Tourism Authority (www.barbados.org)
Cherished for its paradise-like climate, Barbados invites you to lie in the sun, inhale tropical fragrances and allow yourself to be caressed by the calm, clear waters of the Caribbean Sea.
Barbados owes its name to the early European navigators who had noticed that the roots of fig trees found on the island resembled the hairs of a man’s beard, “los barbados” in Spanish. It’s as simple as that!
Barbados is the only island of the Caribbean to have been under constant British control during its colonial era. It obtained independence in 1966, but has preserved more than a tad of British influence. Its members of Parliament even wear white-powered wigs! Then there’s the statue of Nelson, the Trafalgar Square Public Garden, driving on the left and formal-dress occasions. English is the official language and you can enjoy the delights of a traditional English “Tea time” each and every afternoon.
A Sweet History
The heart of the country has always beaten to the rhythm of sugarcane. Many residents are the direct descendants of the African slaves who were brought to Barbados to work on the white-owned plantations. Yet today, from mid-July to the end of August, the locals celebrate the end of the sugarcane harvest and pay homage to their ancestors. Everyone on Barbados is jubilant throughout these annual festivities.
Although the time of the harvest celebration is not to be missed, Barbados nightlife is just as hopping throughout the year. The locals have many other special annual occasions, which they celebrate decked out in lavish carnival costumes.
As they make their way through fireworks-illuminated streets, dancing to Calypso music, it is impossible for anyone to resist! You just have to join the parade and jive to its pulsating rhythms!
Island of Contrasts
Barbados is a relatively flat island, but at its centre, it rises to a mountainous region resembling a bowler hat. Due to its tropical climate, it basks in more than 3,000 hours of sunshine per year. The temperature only varies between 21°C and 26°C and there’s just one rainy season, between June and October.
Surrounded by coral reefs, it benefits from its enviable geographical location. The alluring, turquoise water of its Caribbean Sea coast seduces anyone who swims in it. It’s quite gentle there, compared to the forceful waves of its Atlantic Ocean coast, where surfing enthusiasts from the four corners of the world come to compete in annual international competitions.
The 180 square kilometres of beautiful beaches vary in colour (from the purest white to the softest pink) and texture (sandy, pebble-strewn or rocky).
On the eastern coast of the Island, the natural landscape is still relatively untouched and mostly consists of steep cliffs. The sea there is quite rough and ruled by powerful waves. However, there are still some pleasant small beaches tucked away among the rock formations.
In contrast, the western coast is where you find the Island’s long stretches of sandy beaches; small inlets sheltered by rocks; luxurious hotels; and impressive villas set in the middle of lush tropical gardens.
The point on the southern coast, where the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean meet, is a delight for windsurfers. There are a wide variety of resorts on this coast. The northern coast, much like the eastern one, displays its natural beauty through its caves; steep slopes and cliffs; and rocky arches formed by the constant action of the waves.
Between Earth and Sea
Ultramodern in its infrastructure, Barbados is divided into eleven “Parishes” that are nevertheless rich in fascinating historical treasures. Museums, grand estates built by sugarcane barons and the famous Corsair’s Castle reveal their storied pasts.
A visit to a rum distillery (a must!) will demonstrate the traditional methods of making, refining and ageing this “liquid gold”. Of course, you must honour the rum masters by having a taste! Then you can select some bottles of fine domestically aged rum to go! After all, isn’t Barbados the birthplace of rum?
In Bridgetown, or “Little England” as it is known, you should take the time to stroll around a bit (Take note that cricket is to ‘Bajans’ what hockey is to Canadians). Built at the time when the colony was first established, Bridgetown was where the rum distilleries restocked ships during their stopovers.
This harbour capital takes pride in its fine examples of 18th-century colonial architecture. Bridgetown is also the nerve centre of business and a paradise for shoppers. With its boutiques and large stores, the place swarms with life during the day. Unfortunately, in the evening only a few of its many restaurants remain open.
You will find the greatest choice of excursions for sightseeing around the Island in Bridgetown. Will your choice be riding a horse; cycling up a mountain; driving a scooter, electric vehicle or “moke” (a jeep without roof); or will you be touring the Island by car or boat? In every case, it’s better to leave early in the morning when the sun is not as severe as it is later on in the day.
One of our tours took us to Batsheba, which is nicknamed the “Soup Bowl”. While there, you can bask on the virgin beaches that line its steep shoreline or head for Crane Beach, which is said to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
You can climb Cherry Tree Hill for its spectacular views or stroll along the edges of the broad ravines under spice and fruit trees. As for guided tours, you can take a professionally guided donkey tour that includes a picnic – a unique adventure!
To enjoy the Island’s luxurious vegetation and to admire its spectacular tropical flora, there are two parks to visit: Andromeda Gardens and Flower Forest.
The Green Monkey
And what about the famous Barbadian green monkey? Where can you spot this small banana thief in action? In the Barbados Wildlife Reserve you are almost sure to encounter and photograph at least one of them.
After hours in the sun, what could be better than a dive into the turquoise water of the Caribbean, or a little water-skiing, sailing or windsurfing? Or better yet, go underwater! With its coral-covered flat ocean floor, Barbados is one of the best destinations for scuba diving. Divers from around the world come here to explore the wrecks resting on the seabed off its coasts.
For those reluctant to try this sport, the Atlantis sightseeing submarine plunges nearly 45 meters under the sea. Meanwhile, the Jolly Roger, a replica of the Corsair, offers fun-filled cruises and can carry up to 300 passengers at a time.
An Isle For All Budgets
It is true that the cost of living in Barbados is quite high. And if its landscape is characterized by contrasts, the same applies to wealth and poverty on the island.
Most local residents rely on only one wage to care for a family of five or six. They live in what are called “Chattels”, multi-coloured cottages, where the plantation slaves were once housed. In contrast, the second homes of the international jet set are breathtakingly luxurious and are only used a few months a year.
Of course, Barbados offers a wide choice of luxurious resorts, but you can also find more modest lodgings offering good value for the asking price. There are accommodations that echo the past; boarding houses that revive age-old traditions; independent cottages or villas that offer the services of cooks and maids; and Intimate hotels (20 to 60 rooms) that ensure personalized service, where the staff takes the effort to remember your name.
Is it any wonder that Barbados is a destination that inspires more that one return visit? The local tourism industry has even created the “25 Club” for those who have visited the Island 25 times or more!
What else could say it better?
For More Info
Barbados Tourism Authority
Tel: 416-214 9880