Island Insiders: Barbados
by Will Hide
Will Hide is an acclaimed travel writer and journalist. During his 12 years as a writer for The Times in London, and a whole host of other well-known publications since then, he has travelled to many a far-flung island. But one of his absolute favourites is Barbados (he’s clocked up over a dozen return trips there so far). So, who better to ask for a guide to the best bits?
Back in 1975 something terrible happened that has had a deep and lasting effect on me: British one-hit wonders Typically Tropical had a smash-hit single “Whoa, we’re going to Barbados”. Its infectiously-catchy jingle has stuck in my head ever since. I’d urge you to put this into YouTube and sing along so I no longer have to suffer alone. And also so that when your plane drops in over the Caribbean and you land with a gentle plop at Grantley Adams international airport outside Bridgetown, you too can be humming “fly away on Coconut Airways, fly me high, Barbados sky…”
The local tourist board likes to say that Barbados – which measures around 33km long and 22km wide, with a population of 285,000 people – is the most British island in the Caribbean. Yes, there’s cricket, a statue of Lord Nelson and parish names such as St George and St John. But on my dozen or so visits over the years I’ve rather spectacularly failed to see an obvious link: from memory, Great Britain is somewhat lacking when it comes to fields of rippling sugar cane, rum distilleries, coconut palm-fringed beaches and turquoise sea as warm as bath water. Soggy old England doesn’t really swing to the beat of Calypso, Reggae and Soca.
There are certain things you have to know about the island of Barbados. For a start, Bajans are extremely friendly and speak English with a lilt that is knee-wobblingly charming. Rum Punch (rum, lime juice, simple syrup, bitters and nutmeg) is not just a drink, more a way of life. (Is it OK to order one at breakfast? Hello…you’re on holiday!) And if you’re offered dolphin to eat, don’t worry, you’re not about to chomp through man’s favourite aquatic friend, it’s just what the locals call mahi mahi or dorado. It’s delicious with “blackened” seasoning.
Rum Punch…is not just a drink, more a way of life
The west of the island, known as the Platinum Coast, is where all the fanciest hotels are located and where the likes of Simon Cowell and international soccer players have their villas. Beaches on this coast, such as Mullins and Alleynes Bay, tend to be long and relatively thin, although the water is millpond calm and suited towards families who want to laze around or snorkel with turtles. It’s also from here that you can take a fun day cruise on a boat such as the Jolly Roger, and with a fully stocked open bar, most Rogers swagger back at the end very jolly indeed. For something more sedate I’d highly recommend a lazy lunch at the Fish Pot north of Holetown.
The south is more “everyman” and popular with Bajans at the weekend. It has more affordable dining options too: the Friday night fish fry at Oistins is deservedly popular with both tourists and islanders.
Further round to the east, holiday-makers tend to thin out, but I would heartily suggest hiring a car or taking a bus to the undeservedly-named Foul Bay (it’s gorgeous), Bottom Bay or Crane Beach. Be warned, the sea here is a lot more powerful and can easily ball you up unless you dive under the breaking waves.
Heading up the Atlantic Coast, the sea gets rougher still and is not recommended for swimming, although on most days you’ll find plenty of surfers here. Bathsheba is a lovely spot for a walk on the beach among the giant boulders then lunch at the Round House. Then perhaps carry on towards the north of the island to a look round the 350-year-old St Nicholas Abbey. All the while singing your favourite cheesy 70s West Indian-themed pop song. Come on now, you know you want to…”whoa, I’m going to Barbados….whoa, back to the palm trees….whoa, I’m going to see my girlfriend…whoa, in the sunny Caribbean sea.”