Catching a lime to calypso beats, clad in carnival colours and fuelled by Banks beer; Barbados is the epitome of island life.
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Things to do in Barbados
According to Trip Advisor, the second most popular attraction in Barbados is one which flies under the radar, a hidden gem in every sense of the word. Hunte’s Garden is on the island’s windswept east coast, just a half hour drive from Bridgetown, but this oasis in the heart of the Barbadian rainforest feels more like the Garden of Eden. Green-fingered horticulturist Anthony Hunte created the tropical garden in a giant sinkhole over the course of two years. Many years later, he still tends to his plants, albeit with a little help from his assistant. After exploring the gardens, join Mr Hunte himself for fresh lemonade on the veranda of his home overlooking the blooming crater. Whilst you’re on the east coast, combine your visit to Hunte’s Garden with a stop off at nearby Harrison’s Cave or a couple of hours monkeying around with the green monkeys at Welchman Hall Gully.
The island’s beautiful west coast is dubbed the ‘Platinum Coast’ for a reason. Its ultra-luxury resorts are interspersed with the multi-million-pound homes of celebrity sunseekers, many of whom head to Limegrove when they’re bored of the beach and determined to splash some serious cash. Barbados’ ultimate shopping destination is a 20-minute drive from port and you’ll find the boutiques of designers such as Gucci, Burberry, Hugo Boss, Cartier and Breitling waiting to give your credit card a work out. It probably isn’t the place for picking up those last few holiday essentials, but if you are feeling flush, this is the place to spend it like Beckham. When you’re all shopped out, a courtyard bar and rooftop restaurant serving Asian-fusion food awaits.
Any Caribbean alumni will smile knowingly at the mention of The Boatyard. If your idea of a perfect day in paradise involves white sand, cold drinks and an hour or two spent scoping out the local marine life, this is your spot. The Boatyard is a $5 taxi ride from the cruise port and access to the Carlisle Beach location will set you back around $50 or $25 for children under 6. The attraction is great value for money with your entry fee including a beach chair and umbrella, rope swings and trampolines in the water, clean shower facilities and a voucher for food and drink, plus a free boat ride to snorkel with turtles at a reef just off the coast. There’s also free Wi-Fi and a complimentary transfer back to the ship at the end of the day. You can easily spend a whole day here, listening out for the free shots siren if you came to party or venturing to the top end of the beach where the sands are serene.
Finally, we come to the Oistins Fish Fry. Caribbean connoisseurs know there is no better place to be on a Friday night. The sand beneath your feet, the smell of jerk chicken cooking on the barbecue, the lazy reggae beats and that very first sip of an ice-cold Banks beer are all experiences that await at the most eclectic party in the Caribbean. Local youngsters catch a lime on picnic benches, elders embroil themselves in Domino warfare, licking the pepper sauce from their fingers between turns. Plates are piled high, not just with seafood as the Oistins Fish Fry name suggests, but with sticky barbecue ribs, lamb stew and macaroni pie too. The fish is the main event of course, from red snapper and marlin to dolphin. Don’t worry, Flipper is safe for now; dolphin is merely the Bajan name for the mahi-mahi fish. Arrive hungry and aim to be there ahead of opening, in time to enjoy the 6pm sunset with a beer in hand whilst the barbecues are fired up.
The Cliff is a Bajan institution and whilst it isn’t cheap by any stretch of the imagination, the eye-watering prices are well justified by the experience. With a clifftop position above a secluded cove, the uber romantic torch-lit location is hard to beat if you’re looking for somewhere to celebrate a special occasion. Book a table by the railings and you’ll be close enough to hear the waves lap the sand and see the fish swimming in the seas below. Reservations are a must.
Lesser known but equally as impressive in culinary terms is The Lone Star, a former 1950s petrol station that retains its retro character as it serves up cuisine considered to be some of the best on the island. The Lone Star has become the place to see and be seen, with A-listers heading here for a taste of home during their extended sojourns and legendary restaurant critic, Michael Winner, once describing it as ‘The Ivy of the Caribbean’. The restaurant is right on the beach and a rum sour on the boardwalk sets the tone, before you tuck into European fare with added Caribbean flair. We quite like the sound of the Yellowfin tuna tartare, followed by the English classic, roasted rack and braised shoulder of lamb.
For quintessential Bajan cuisine, Brown Sugar is the place to be. Pepperpot stew, flying fish and the island’s signature cou-cou is all on the menu at the restaurant’s famed Planter’s Buffet Lunch, not to mention the coconut cream pie and Bajan bread puddings for dessert. The local favourite is just outside of Bridgetown, making it a great option for satisfying your post-flight hunger pangs before you head over to nearby George Washington House, an 18th century former plantation and one of the island’s most popular attractions.
Also within walking distance of Bridgetown Cruise Terminal is the Waterfront Café. This lively spot has a great location overlooking the boat-lined Careenage and its Cajun spiced shrimp, jerk chicken wings and flying fish cutter – the Bajan equivalent of a sandwich – are almost as good as the people watching. Live steelpan and jazz music takes things up a notch every Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening.
Even if you’ve never heard the term, you’re already more familiar with the concept of ‘catching a lime’ than you might think. When the views are this good, the sun is beating down and you have left all thoughts of schedules and deadlines at home, the only thing left to do is catch a lime at the nearest beach bar.
Legend has it that the piña coladas at Tiki Bar just off the Richard Haynes Boardwalk are the best on the island, a bold claim considering Barbados has over 1000 rum shacks on its sundried soil. Even if the Tiki Bar’s famous rum concoction doesn’t whet your whistle, one of the other 67 house cocktails on offer will. The sunsets are pretty special here too.
With a motto like ‘toes in the sand, rum punch in hand’ we knew from the off that Harbour Lights was our kind of place. The open-air beach club on Carlisle Beach has long been a favourite with cruisers, thanks to its proximity to Bridgetown. The Harbour Lights Beach Extravaganza Dinner Show is unapologetically brash, its live local bands, acrobats, fire eaters and limbo dancers recreating the island’s famed carnival year-round. The show starts at 7pm each Monday and Wednesday, with tickets costing $87.50 including a barbecue dinner, free-flowing drinks, entertainment and transfers to and from your hotel or ship.
If your evening plans involve the Oistins Fish Fry, they should also factor in a visit to the nearby Café Luna. The Mediterranean style restaurant and bar is located at the Little Arches Hotel, just a ten-minute walk from Oistins, and its koi carp ponds and botanical plants provide the picture-perfect backdrop for a passionfruit piña colada or two as the sun sets. It’s a sophisticated start to a raucous evening at the fish fry.
Finally, you can’t come to the home of rum without sampling a tot or two in the place it all began. St Nicholas Abbey and the Mount Gay Rum Factory are the island’s two remaining functioning distilleries and both are worthy of a visit.