Welcome to Barbados
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Welcome to Barbados
Known on surrounding islands as Little England, Barbados maintains the most British identity of any island in the Caribbean. This, no doubt, is thanks to 340 years of British rule. The influence is evident in every facet of life on the island, and Bajans (rhymes with "Cajun" like the British say the last two syllables of "Barbadian") won't apologize for their love of cricket or afternoon tea. At the same time, Barbados doesn't feel as restricted as all that. As a general rule, Bajans are warm and welcoming, and the growing popularity of Barbados as a tourist destination is a testament to that fact.
Barbados lies in the western Atlantic, 100 miles east of its nearest neighbor. Although it's not in the Caribbean Sea, it is definitely a Caribbean nation. Having achieved political independence from the UK, it is a thriving democratic state and member of the Commonwealth of Nations. Parliament convenes in Bridgetown, the nation's political and economic capital on the island's southwest coast. About a third of all Bajans live and make their livings in or around the city, in St. Michael Parish. Most of the hotels and polished machinery of the tourism industry lie along the west coast in the parishes of St. James and St. Peter (together referred to as the Gold Coast or the Platinum Coast, depending upon who's talking), the comfortably swank and fabulously expensive area on the coast north of Speightstown, or the lively and generally more affordable southern coast of Christ Church Parish.
The island's landscape is famously beautiful, with its soft sand beaches set against idyllic hills or perilous cliffs and surrounding pristine coves. A tour of the island reveals vast plantation estates and quaint, isolated villages. The island's eastern edge, where the sea is less inviting as it breaks against the rugged coast, invites visitors to appreciate the island's natural beauty with natural attractions and stunning vistas of its majestic bounty.
Beaches in Barbados
All Bajan beaches are open to the public, and all sport soft sand, sizzling sun and cooling trade winds. Among American visitors, the best-loved are those on the southern and western shores, where the water is calm and luxury hotels have sprung up to accommodate them. The following list is a summary of some of the best and most convenient.
Brighton Beach - Immediately north of Bridgetown, Brighton Beach has unusually calm surf and is popular with locals looking to cool off on hot days.
Carlisle Bay - On the western shore, just south of Bridgetown, Carlisle Bay is a wide crescent-shaped beach and one of the island's best, but it is often crowded on weekends. It is convenient to Bay Street, where beachgoers will find umbrellas, chairs and water sports equipment for rent.
Holetown - For a quiet beach on the western shore, Holetown has some of the best options in the area, set away from noisy tourist junctions but right outside the door of the closest hotels.
Eastern shore (Atlantic Ocean) - On the island's southeastern shore, Crane Beach is another beautiful pink-sand crescent. Guarded by steep cliffs on land and a barrier reef offshore, it's one of the safest beaches on the island's eastern side. More importantly, there's also a full-time lifeguard on the sand. The gentle waves here are bodysurfing. The beach is accessible through The Crane resort, whose changing rooms may be used by the public for a small fee.
Speightstown - The beaches of Speightstown are stretches of powdery white sand. The water is calm enough for safe swimming and snorkeling, and has easy access to a main road and an assortment of food and drinks. Umbrellas and chairs are available for rental.
Hastings (South Coast) - Favored by younger visitors, the broad, white beaches of the south coast are adorned with towering palms. The reef-protected waters off of Christ Church are superbly clear and calm--ideal for swimming and snorkeling. However, as the southern shore continues east and gradually north towards the island's Atlantic coast, the waters become increasingly treacherous.
Dining in Barbados
In addition to great beaches, clubs, and hotels, Barbados has a truly fine selection of restaurants. These are scattered all around the island, including the grounds of its resorts, so guests from at hotel can enjoy an excellent meal without a hassle.
International cuisine is easy to find in Barbados, and much of it is quite good, but unique dining experiences rely on more than sampling each new chef's ability to prepare escargot. Besides, if snails are what the doctor ordered, there are bigger mollusks on the menu. It's a Caribbean native called conch, and spicy conch fritters are a good place to start. Other common ingredients are dorado (a.k.a. mahimahi) and flying fish, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, onions and other local veggies.
Restaurant prices are widely varied on Barbados, but it's become common for restaurants to post their prices (as well as specials like the catch of the day) outside to protect diners from potential wallet shock. If a sit-down dinner is still too much hassle, there are plenty of cafés and street vendors to pick up something satisfying. A picnic on the beach is always nice, too.
Nightlife in Barbados
Barbados is full of life, and that doesn't change at night. Much of the action is right at the resorts, where nightclubs and bars host live bands or DJs. Some lively resorts with beachfront bars often host beach-barbecue style dance parties. Bajans dance to and play all kinds of music--reggae, soca, Bajan calypso, jazz, and limbo, to name a few--and they'll keep playing and dancing all night long. The busiest late-night businesses don't usually close before 3am.
The best independent clubs and bars are in Bridgetown (St. Michael) and on the south coast, mostly in the St. Lawrence Gap area of Christ Church. In Bridgetown, Baxter Street and Bay Street present the most options, with some ambitious "caf" (Bajan for pub) and club crawlers dedicating whole nights, along with their time, cash and sobriety, to exploring their entire lengths. The beach is close, too, but swimming in the water should be avoided if anything stronger than water has been imbibed. The hottest spots on the south coast are on Main Street. There's a fun and happening drinks and dancing scene here, and a Caribbean cabaret dinner theater.
Many locals frequent the same establishments as tourists. Everyone is there to have a good time; more often than not, the result is an even more open, more casual and more fun atmosphere. Dress codes are lenient. On the busiest nights, such as Saturdays, the busiest bars collect cover charges at the door.
Shopping in Barbados
Barbados's most popular shopping area is Bridgetown's Broad Street, where two malls are comprised of about 60 shops. These offer everything from handcrafted local wares to duty-free goods. At the nearby cruise-ship terminal's shopping arcade, cruise passengers get a similar selection from 30 shops at a slightly more convenient location. Shopping "villages" in Holetown (St. James), Rockley and St. Lawrence Gap (Christ Church) provide another option without the familiar mall atmosphere.
The best selection of Barbados's well-known pottery is in the shops and studios north of Bathsheba in St. Joseph on the eastern coast. Barbados is also known for an abundance of jewelry crafted from black coral, which is available in varying quality at many retailers, but artisans generally sell their best work from specialty shops. To enhance to their appeal, these or any items produced on Barbados are always duty-free.
Prices on other duty-free items may be as much as 40% lower than in the United States or Canada, but some are just the same or even higher. Shoppers should know the prices at home before splurging on Barbados. The best deals are usually on cameras, jewelry, crystal, china, perfumes, and liquor (especially those made on Barbados). British exports, garments in particular, generally are also a safe purchase.