John Barrington-Carver is our Head Of Corporate Communications. A long-time fan of Barbados, he is sharing his tried-and-travelled tips here:
Barbados has one of the best infrastructures in the Caribbean and provides great sporting and relaxation opportunities, catering for those who just want to chill or those who want to watch or partake in sporting activities on land or water.
If you are flexible with your dates you should note that accommodation prices depend on the “Season”. High season is from 16 December until 15 April. The Christmas week can also cost a premium on top of High Season rates so it pays to check and shop around. Booking with one of the airline’s holiday sites or with one of the major tour companies is probably the simplest way to book a holiday in Barbados especially for a first trip to the island.
However, if you can be flexible and are prepared to consider alternative accommodation like self-catering apartments or Bed & Breakfast, you can save money which can then be splashed out on eating out and/or car hire. At peak holiday times the more popular restaurants and car hire companies need booking well in advance.
The people of Barbados are welcoming and polite. Beach vendors will respect you saying “No thanks,” but will appreciate an exchange of pleasantries. Politeness extends to the roads as well.
The west coast faces the Caribbean and is called the “Platinum Coast” where the most expensive hotels and property are located as well as the restaurants aspiring to international reputations. The south coast also has great silver sand beaches and is where most of the popular hotels and accommodation are located along with a huge variety of restaurants and bars. The east coast is rugged and faces the Atlantic so is windy and has much rougher seas than the other coasts. It’s well worth a visit though – maybe combining a tour to Codrington College and St Nicolas Abbey, claimed to be the oldest brick built house in the Western Hemisphere.
Currency and cards
The Bajan (Barbados) Dollar is based on the US dollar; currently 2 Bajan to the US dollar and 3 Bajan to the British pound. The US dollar is widely accepted in cash and the pound to a lesser degree.
Visa and MasterCard are the main cards accepted in hotels, restaurants and shops as well as ATMs on the island. Most of the banks have signs at the ATMs telling you which cards are accepted.
Amex cards are accepted by the larger hotels and tourist-type shopping outlets and car-hire companies, but smaller businesses will tell you they cannot afford the whopping 7 per cent fee we were told Amex charge.
Airport to accommodation – If you are on a package holiday your operator will normally provide transport to/from your hotel and the airport. However, I have, in the past, waited the best part of an hour for stragglers clearing customs and baggage. After eight hours in the plane and early starts to catch it you may want to consider going to the Taxi Marshall near the arrivals exit who will book you a cab and tell you the correct cost for you hotel. If you do this, please tell your hotel rep at the airport that you do not need the transfer.
Local buses – Government buses are blue, privately-owned buses are yellow, many of which have aerofoils on the rear roof. As this implies, the drivers like to drive fast so if you are of a nervous disposition take the Blue bus. Both will cost you B$2 per trip, the adrenaline comes free on the yellow bus.
Route taxis, called “ZRs” (pronounced “Zed-Rs” and identified by the ZR number plate), travel to most points on the island. These small mini- buses can, at times, be crowded as passengers are generally never turned away, regardless of the number.
Car hire – best arranged well before your trip either via your tour company or the internet. It’s worth shopping around for the best rates. You will be required to show your current driving licence and will have to pay B$10 for a local licence. Personally I avoid the jeep-type vehicles. They have drop-head roofs but no side panels and it does tend to rain in Barbados at times. A yellow bus coming the other way (or overtaking you) in the rain will result in an impromptu soaking especially for the passengers!
Food and Drink
Wine is expensive! Local beer is great and a favourite is Banks beer, a lager beer of 4.7 per cent alcohol. Depending on where you buy its costs vary between B$4.5 and B$10! The local rum is Mount Gay (pronounced “Mungy” or “Mungay”) which predictably carries much less duty than imported spirits.
There are supermarkets in most of the main centres like Bridgetown, Holetown, Speightstown, Warrens and the St Lawrence Gap area. Food prices are comparable to the UK. Roadside stalls sell fruits and veg, but prices are not displayed so you need to know what the supermarkets charge to ensure you are getting a local and not a tourist price.
Restaurants – you are spoilt for eating out choices. Your hotel will have a book with most of the island’s eateries described in it and if you talk with fellow guests or your hotel concierge they will know the latest places to go for a drink or meal. Be warned though, prices are often more expensive than the UK, especially if you drink wine. Think £70-£100 for two at west coast “destination restaurants” although there are many reasonable places to eat and drink especially on the south coast. Chinese takeaways are a bargain – more than two people could comfortably eat for less than £30.
(All images by John Barrington-Carver)