Since we moved to the Caribbean six years ago, we’ve made it our mission to explore a few new islands each year, and I’m constantly amazed by the uniqueness of each. While the circumstances that led us to Barbados may not have been our ideal reason for the trip, we were thrilled to finally be making the trek to Barbados to explore the beaches, experience some of the iconic restaurants, and enjoy a brush with nature. To be honest, for the explorers out there, a week isn’t enough time to really delve into all that Barbados has to offer. It’s a big island with a ton to uncover, which makes it a great place for those looking to strike a balance between R&R and island exploration. Below I’m sharing 10 things to do in Barbados for the active lot:
Sip the Local Elixir
1Barbados is the home of rum, and a trip to the island isn’t complete with a visit to one or more of the island’s distilleries. The oldest and most famous is Mount Gay, which has a distillery in St. Lucy and a tasting room with tour offerings in Bridgetown (more on our super special experience there soon). There’s also St. Nicholas Abbey (which isn’t actually an abbey at all), which began crafting rum on site in 2010. The tours are very different and both are worth a visit if time permits!
Go Local at the Fish Fry
2For a local night out that won’t break the bank, head to Oistin’s for their famous fish fry! Friday is the go-to day for tourists and locals alike, but if you prefer a less crowded experience you can pop down during a different night for some local fare without the crowds. We opted for Uncle George’s — the line will let you know where it’s at! — but Chillin and Grillin had its fans as well. You’ll have your choice of a number of stalls (there are many beyond those two) with picnic tables to sit at while you dine. When you’re done, take some time to wander the stalls where local artisans sell their wares, or watch local dancers impress the crowds!
Delve into Nature
3Barbados’ composition is interesting. It’s more like Anguilla in the fact that it’s not volcanic and it’s super flat. Despite that, it felt far more lush to us with palms on the beach, gullies and nature-focused sites that continue to draw in the crowds. For those that want a brush with nature, check out the Animal Flower Cave, far up in the north where the Caribbean and Atlantic meet. You’ll head down into the cave with a guide and be able to explore or take a dip if you choose. Harrison’s Cave, Barbados’ number one attraction, is also worth a visit. A tram tour takes about an hour and will take you through about a mile of cave system where you’ll scope out stalagmites, stalactites plus waterfalls and pools inside. Unlike some other caves we’ve visited the one in Barbados wasn’t cold so don’t worry about bringing layers. You can also check out some of the gullies in Barbados and wander forested areas.
Catamaran Cruise + Swimming with Turtles
4Our time in Barbados was limited so a catamaran cruise is actually on our list for our upcoming visit to the island (scheduled for April or May). There are a number of operators in the region including Silver Moon, Tiami Catamaran Cruises and Elegance Catamaran Cruises, to name a few. Boat trips can take many forms but one of the more iconic experiences in Barbados is the daytime cruise that offers guests an opportunity to swim with sea turtles. Many of our friends said this was a highlight from their trip!
Explore Barbados’ Rugged Atlantic Coast
5…or surf it! Barbados has some lovely, wide stretches of beach along the south and west coast but the east coast, with all of its rugged wonder, is also worth a glimpse. It’s less of a swimming area and more of a surfing area, with a stretch that claims Kelly Slater as a major fan. For those that aren’t surfers, Bathsheba is still stunning and deserving of admiration with its large rugged boulders dotting the sand. If you do surf or are looking to start, check out Barry’s Surf School for more.
Hit the Beach
6This is a given, right? As I mentioned above, Barbados’ composition is not unlike Anguilla’s, which means there are some lovely swathes of beach to enjoy. We stayed at Sugar Bay Barbados along the Southwest coast of the island and loved the long stretches of beach where one seamlessly connects to the next, making it great for long beach walks. The ‘best’ beach is a matter of opinion so you’ll have to do some exploring to see which stretch ranks supreme in your book!
Enjoy Barbados’ Excellent Dining Scene
7I was absolutely wowed by Barbados’ dining scene, and while prices can feel a little steep in some instances, the island offers a fair range of dining experiences from local BBQ (like what you’ll find at Oistin’s Fish Fry) to world-class gastronomic offerings. I loved some of the restaurants with a vegan and wellness slant (like Artsplash Café in Hastings and ECO Lifestyle + Lodge), plus some of the mid-casual vibey options on the water. For fine dining lovers, the island’s also teeming with luxurious dining locales that will wow even the most well-traveled of the bunch. While The Cliff earns rave reviews from diners looking for a special occasion destination, there are many others that tick all of the boxes with great menus in a picture-perfect Caribbean setting.
Shop Duty Free
8Duties in Barbados are generally high but for non-locals looking to shop without those hefty taxes levied, you’ll manage to escape the duty and enjoy some tax-free shopping in Barbados (generally 20 – 40% reduction in rate). Bring your passport and plane ticket proving your departure before you hit the road. Duty free shopping is scattered around the island, from ample opportunities in Bridgetown and shops in Holetown and Speightstown. Note that the Barbadian dollar is used in Barbados which is pegged at 2BBD to 1USD.
Sip a Rum Punch at One of the Island’s Chic Beach Bars
9Residents of Barbados tell us that the chic beach bar scene is a rather new phenomenon but it seems to be alive in full force on the island. Nikki Beach was practically a requirement since we’ve had an ongoing love affair with the St. Barths’ location, though if you can believe it the Nikki Beach in Barbados practically makes St. Barths look like a good value (don’t go in expecting to pinch pennies). We also adored 1.11 East Beach Bar in Speightstown, which had maybe the best rum punch I’ve ever had. To welcome the evening, we opted to watch the sun dip below the horizon at La Cabane, which twinkles magically with tiki torches when the night falls. By day or night, check out Blue Pineapple, which brings a lovely Instagrammable setting with great drinks.
We did a mixology course at Sugar Bay Barbados during our time there and bartender gave us the inside scoop on how to make a proper Bajan rum punch. Head to my Instagram to see the recipe and find out how it differs from the variety we whip up in Anguilla!
Get Your Dose of Caribbean History
10One of my favorite parts of island hopping in the Caribbean is learning about each island’s unique history. There’s the connection to the Carolinas, a link to George Washington, a history as the birthplace of rum, and a storied past that includes everything from the settlements of native Amerindians to British colonial rule and the island’s subsequent independence. One of our comments early on was the palpable diversity on the island. Who is Barbadian? The local population is hugely mixed in terms of demographics and there’s a sizable educated middle class, which was refreshing to see. For those most interested in history, check out this list of Barbados’ historical sites for inspiration.
My piece of advice for explorers? Rent a car, at least for a few days, and hit the road! Public buses (ZR buses/’reggae buses’) are available for getting around and taxis are an option, but the best balance for convenience and cost-effectiveness is likely renting a car for a few days. In high season, expect to dole out around $90 per day for a basic car (US dollars, yes) but we found that to be worth it for the few days we were out and about. Load up your car with a change of clothes, a map, and be prepared to see where the day takes you! For those that don’t have international data plans, consider bringing a SkyRoamWiFi box for wifi connectivity internationally (use code SKYROAMTWE for 10% off of your purchase). Barbados is significantly bigger than Anguilla (not hard to be) so we did find ourselves getting a bit turned around from time to time. Being able to use Google Maps on the go helped hugely with making driving more fun and less stressful. I mean, island escapes are about de-stressing right?
What are your favorite things to do in Barbados? We’ll be back in a couple of months so please leave your recommendations below!