On the south-east edge of the Caribbean lies one of the region’s most well-known islands and a crown jewel: Barbados. The Portuguese were the first to lay foot here in 1536, but it was the British, nearly a century later, that claimed it as their own. The lush paradise is now a sovereign nation, but its history of relative stability and wealth under colonial rule has seen Barbados become one of the most developed islands in the Caribbean chain. While British traditions live on in cricket and language (English), Barbados has a very unique style and warm, chilled-out vibe that are all its own.
Azure seas, white-sand beaches, world-class waves, palm trees, limestone cliffs, rugged hinterland, colonial architecture, reggae, reggae and more reggae. For island lovers, there is no shortage of reasons to visit, which explains why Barbados attracts more than half a million visitors a year.
While extravagant, multi-million dollar resorts and private residences line the west coast, much of the island remains laid-back and low-key, meaning there’s something for everyone. For local flavour (this includes the island’s moreish food), stick to the south and east coasts, where clichés come to life and ragamuffins and Rastas with dreads falling down backs and twirled upon heads walk with long, graceful gaits, then stop to smoke, watch the waves and ponder life.
Barbadian food is much like their accent – a mélange of disparate influences that’s both offbeat and melodious. It’s also rich, despite many dishes centering on local seafood, with spices, deep-frying and dairy put to work. Such heavy food and generous portions seem at odds with the tropical landscape, but one macaroni bake served alongside creamy slaw, sweet potato mash and grilled marlin at a rambunctious, music-fueled Friday night Fish Fry at Oistins, and all wonders go out the door.
The national dish of Barbados could very well be the flying fish sandwich – locals get extremely excited about their take on a fillet o’ fish with crumbed flying fish, tomato, lettuce, mayo and hot sauce on a soft bread roll. It’s very good. Cou-cou, polenta with okra, is another classic; as is souse, pickled pork. The Indian population’s contribution is Barbadian-style roti, spice-laden meat and potato curry wrapped in flatbread. For dessert, try a boozy Bajan bread pudding with local rum.
What to take home?
Creole and Cajun cuisines are on the rise. Grab a novelty tea towel from the local art and craft markets replete with Bajan recipes and illustrations to recreate the island’s flavourful dishes back home. Or, head to one of a number of farmers’ markets (Brighton and Holders) and pick up artisan goodies, including Bajan hot sauce and chutney. Don’t forget a bottle of rum, another Barbadian specialty; they’re available just about everywhere.
How to get there?
On arrival, the modern international airport at Bridgetown looks too big for such a small island, yet, it’s just right, with visitors arriving on countless flights from the US, Europe and the Caribbean throughout the day, including Miami, London and Martinique. Most US flights connect to other major ports, including Los Angeles, Houston and New York. Don’t be put off by the throngs; once you leave the airport, Barbados somehow manages to feel tourist-free.
Lonely Planet Barbados is a trusted guidebook covers everything from history to customs, accommodation and activities. Its food listings are also up to date and very good. An oldie but a goodie.