So who it would appeal to?
At the risk of sounding like a cop-out: everyone! We went in July so naturally the hotel was dominated by British families on their school holidays, but the beautiful landscape, sunshine, and infectious Bajan culture also (unsurprisingly) attracts honeymooners and groups of twenty-something friends looking for their own Caribbean idyll. The island itself is small but perfectly formed - it takes just 1 ½ hours to drive around - and has a relatively small population of just 280,000 - making it the perfect retreat from the hectic pace of city life.
Where is good to stay?
We stayed at the aptly-named Seabreeze hotel, a glorious all-inclusive hotel complete with its own private beach (natch) with the perfect white sand you’d expect. I’m not ashamed to say I let out a squeal of delight when I entered my room – the bed is the biggest I’ve ever slept in, and the large en-suite and private balcony overlooking the beach made it quite the haven. The highlight of the day was breakfast: maple bacon, pancakes, fresh fruit, yogurt and eggs cooked whichever way you fancy – it sets you up for the day nicely. Activity-wise, if you have kids the hotel’s beach entertainers will keep them happy with organised games of cricket and even egg and spoon races (#retro). If you want a break from the clear sea and abundance of water activities (kayaking, yachting, jetskis), Seabreeze also has 2 pools (one ‘adults only’), outdoor hot tubs and a spa to sooth your weary bones.
When should I go?
As you’d expect from a Caribbean island, the weather is blissful most of the year – warm and sunny with a refreshing sea breeze. The driest months are January to June – we visited at the end of July when it was just heading into ‘rainy’ season. However it’s not the tedious, gloomy rain we’re subjected to for most of the year in England – it’s a torrential downpour that doesn’t outstay its welcome and clears the air (our eternally optimistic taxi driver called it ‘liquid sun’!)
What is there to do when I’m bored of lounging?
As it turned out – lots! Tempting as it is to lounge all day enjoying a fruit punch whilst reading a trashy book, Barbados has some truly fascinating things to see and do.
Five things I recommend...
1. A day at sea on the Jammin’ catamaran was the highlight of my trip. It’s an early start (8am) but when you find yourself snorkelling in aquamarine water and coming face to face with a beautiful green turtle and all manner of technicolour fish it’s definitely worth it! Enjoy a fresh lunch of jerk chicken, salad and rice before shooting down the boat’s slide into the water to be catered for by the on-board ‘floating’ barman!
2. A visit to Harrison’s Cave is a must. A tram drives you 150ft underground into the most spectacular cave I’ve ever seen (warning: not for the claustrophobic!) The exquisitely formed stalagmites, stalactites and natural lakes have to be seen to be believed.
3. A trip to the Barbados Historic Garrison provides a fascinating insight into the island’s history and its time under British rule. It was officially crowned as a UNESCO world heritage site in 2011 in recognition of its global significance. The trip even includes a tour around the house George Washington stayed in before he became the first president of the United Stated. I guarantee you will leave feeling smug and educated!
4. I highly recommend the jeep safari. Be prepared for a VERY bumpy ride! The safari takes you on a tour of tropical paradise which reads like a Nutribullet recipe: banana plants, sugar cane, plantain, guava, lime, star fruit and pomegranate plantations. Enjoy panoramic views of the beautiful island from Edge Cliff, Little Bay and Bathsheba (and don’t miss the fresh coconut which is sold by the beach). The tour through Barbados’ exhilarating landscape also takes you past Rihanna’s aunt’s house (seriously!) – expect a cheery wave!
5. Pay a visit to the Mount Gay rum distillery to see where the magic happens (the site produces 10,000 bottles a day) and enjoy a tasting session with a true rum connoisseur. Barbados is famous for its history of rum production (during the 17th/18th centuries the island was the world’s largest producer of the tasty stuff) and I can assure you its reputation is well deserved!
Where’s the party at?
Our visit coincided with the annual Crop Over festival; a 6-week celebration to mark the end of the sugar cane season. Think Notting Hill Carnival x 1,000! On Friday night we joined in the Foreday Morning celebrations with the Jambalasse band, which basically involved being covered in paint (take old clothes!) and ‘jumping’ (dancing) through the Bridgetown streets from 10pm until 6am to ‘soca’ music pumping from the trucks. (When it comes to dancing, Bajans are in a league of their own. Forget the self-conscious toe-tapping of us Brits and prepare for your dance repertoire to be rapidly expanded to include whining, wukking up, chipping and (of course) the dance Rihanna introduced to the world when Miley Cyrus was merely Hannah Montana: twerking).
The festival culminates in Grand Kadooment Day when the bands parade through the National Stadium, resplendent in their amazingly colourful, feathered and jewelled costumes. No doubt you saw the photos of Rihanna (with Lewis Hamilton by her side) looking amazing in a Hunger Games-themed outfit of black and green feathers, waving to her adoring fans. I also lost all dignity when I spotted mega-supermodel Jourdan Dunn looking amazing (obvs) and was rewarded by her blowing a kiss back.
What’s good to eat and drink?
One word: rum. You will soon throw your strict weekday ‘only-drink-after-6pm’ rule out the window. Because in Barbados, rum punch is THE delicious drink at any time of day. 8am on the catamaran trip? Sure! (The fruit content counts as breakfast, right?) No visit to Barbados is complete without dinner at Oistins Fish Fry. Budge up next to the locals on the benches and enjoy the freshest fish you’ll ever taste straight from the grill. (I highly recommend the Mahi Mahi with mac ‘n’ cheese).
The Bajan people. Kind hearted, warm, optimistic, smiling; everywhere we went the service was outstanding – they truly make you feel so welcome and trust me, you’ll never want to leave!
Flights: Virgin Atlantic flies once a day to Barbados from London Gatwick, and once a week from Manchester. Economy fares start from £457 including tax. For more information call 0844 2092770 or visit http://www.virgin-atlantic.com.
Accommodation: Sea Breeze All Inclusive Hotel (www.sea-breeze.com). Rooms cost from $326 US (£208) per night based on two sharing a standard room on an all inclusive basis.
Barbados tourism board: www.visitbarbados.org
Jammin Catamaran (www.jammincats.com): Costs $175 BBD (£55) and includes all food and drinks onboard and shipwreck and turtle snorkelling.
Island Safari (www.islandsafari.bb): Costs $92.50 US (£59) including lunch and drinks
Barbados Historic Garrison (barbadosgarrison.org/): Morning tour costs $48 US (£30)
Harrison’s Cave (www.harrisonscave.com)
Mount Gay Rum tour (www.mountgayrum.com): Signature tour costs US$10 (£6.40) includes rum punch on arrival and tasting session
Crop Over festival celebrations:
Foreday Morning jambalasse.com from $220 BBD (£70) which includes all drinks and t-shirt
Grand Kadooment Day - Free to watch from the grand stadium
Band Houses – Zulu International (the band Rihanna jumped with) zuluinternational.com