Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Busy in Barbados, With Time to Spare for the Beach!

For a tiny island, there is great deal of things to see and do in Barbados. With its fascinating plantation history, beautiful tropical gardens, world-class beaches, equally world-class food, and great natural attractions, there's something here for every visitor. The island, whilst being heavily touristed, has a very tangible culture which coexists harmoniously with tourists. The island makes a great, safe and fascinating holiday destination, attracting a generally affluent and child-friendly type of tourism.

Yellow Bird Hotel & St Lawrence Gap








Our experience on this island of absolute paradise was made all the more perfect by our choice of hotel. As well as being right in front of the loveliest little beach, the Yellow Bird Hotel at St Lawrence Gap is immaculate, stylish, friendly, and in a convenient location. The hotel was within a few steps of some of the best restaurants around, and what a lot of choice there was (see below). 

The beach outside the Yellow Bird Hotel was so quiet, it was usually just us using it. It is a protected little bay with shallow, clear turquoise waters which was perfect for the bubba, and a few colourful little boats floating on the reef. 



Although there were no shady trees or parasols, there were some shaded seating areas set back a little on the path. There are larger beaches either side of the little beach within 5 minutes' walking distance, with parasols and beach bars, so the choice available to us was perfect (Dover Beach and Worthing Beach). The hotel's pool and garden were great. I loved watching the humming birds dart between the different coloured hibiscus flowers, and reading my book on the comfy sun-loungers. 


Dover Beach


The staff at the hotel were so helpful and so warm towards our little girl, who took at least 6 days to muster up a sincere wave-hello in the mornings! They booked us taxis, recommended attractions, and looked up bus timetables for us. The room was cleaned perfectly every day.  

The Yellow Bird Hotel is a boutique hotel with a personal but really professional touch. For a holiday focused on relaxation it couldn't be more perfect.  




St Lawrence Gap is an area just East of Bridgetown, along the coast. It is full of some of the most amazing restaurants and bars, enjoyed by both locals and tourists. At the South end of the gap right beside the Yellow Bird Hotel and little beach, are two extremely popular and high-quality restaurants; Castaway, and Cafe Sol. Castaway is an elegant restaurant directly overlooking the bay, with a varied menu including stone-baked pizza as well as a Bajan and seafood emphasis, while Cafe Sol is a colourful and lively Mexican-themed restaurant with great cocktails, and tasty tapas, as well as regular food with a Mexican twist. There are many other restaurants and bars - too many to mention here, but one more notable place is Primos, at the other end of the little bay, directly overlooking the sea. Go to Primos for haute-cuisine and fine dining, and impeccable service.

Eating out prices are reasonable for the quality, but be prepared to pay the prices you would pay in London, or other large cities. Having said that, the great local beer 'Banks,' and other food and drink from the island itself, is very inexpensive. Seafood for example comes at a great price for the quality, freshness, and choice available.


Getting Out and About



Oistins Fish Fry





My absolute favourite Bajan experience was Oistins Fish Fry. At Oistins, along the beach, local catches of the day are sold and fried/barbecued right there in the evening. Just pick a stand, find a bench and make your selection! We went midweek, when it was quiet and mainly locals eating, and Friday night when it was busy and tourists and locals alike were crowding the walkways and benches, eating, drinking and merrymaking.The atmosphere is great. We met a group of Canadian lads and ate with them, sharing our various Bajan holiday experiences.


Bajan Gardens





A great way to spend the day away from the beach, and experience the beauty of the tropics, is to visit the many beautiful gardens of Barbados. My personal favourite were Hunte's gardens - situated in a sink-hole, with compact bursts of colourful plants, tall palms, and split-level areas with pretty garden furniture dotted around, and elegant classical music playing. Steps and winding paths lead visitors past huge, exotic plants and lushious gleaming leaves, and hummingbirds collect nectar from oversized hibiscus flowers. I had one of these jewel-like birds stop and hover at a flower directly in front of me; the challenge being the difficulty of restraining myself from spoiling the whole thing by reaching for my camera.




The Andromeda gardens and Flower Forest are further towards the North Coast, and also provide great opportunities to enjoy the tropical birds and plants, whilst being more spread out with more walking involved. The native bearded fig tree with its many hanging creepers, and the many varieties of tall, swaying palms add drama and height to the colourful arrays of floral shrubs and bushes further down.


Harrison's Cave


Being an island formed from limestone and coral, Barbados is ridged and rutted with gullys and caves, and Harrison's Cave is a stunning way to experience this. Impressive stalagmites and stalactites which are thousands of years old, glisten and drip in the cool, humid air. The exciting tram ride took us past underground ponds and rivers, and stopped at various points to allow people to leave the tram and look around int he vast open caverns. The commentary is fun and informative at the same time - very entertaining for adults and children alike. My little monkey was sat on my lap for the tram ride, and despite being a particularly fidgety 18-month old, she really enjoyed it, and sat reasonably still for most of the time.


Sunbury Plantation House


The plantations are a central part of Bajan history, and have shaped the island of Barbados both physically and culturally. From the renowned 'Crop Over' festival - which still plays a massive part in Bajan culture today - to the African slavery heritage, the plantation life played a key role in Bajan culture and history.

Our tour at Sunbury Plantation House was a great enthusiastic and knowledgable experience. We were taken around the historic house which is setup exactly as it would have been in the 1600s. The focus of the tour was the history of the house and its owners, and the lifestyles they lead, as opposed to any particular focus on the slavery itself, despite some interesting facts and anecdotes. The Bajans seem to respect and admire the history of the plantations, and the British influences, rather than dwelling on the terrible events of slavery.

As we visited on a Sunday we were able to enjoy the buffet lunch provided there, serving a great choice of traditional Bajan cuisine and other dishes. Annoyingly, I developed a fever and headache halfway through my visit so Richard took great pleasure in finishing my food as well as his. I was gutted not to be able to finish my spiced chicken and plantain!

Leaving the plantation house was an experience, in that we totally underestimated the unreliability of the Bajan buses! After waiting for around an hour for a bus that apparently every 20 minutes, a very kind local took pity on us and gave us a lift, with a brief stop at his beautiful house to swap into his wife's car as she was going that way, on her way to church where she is the minister! And this was no ordinary man either, he happened to be the Barbadian ambassador to Canada. It was a very comfy ride in his car compared to the bus!

The Bajan hospitality was no longer a famed ideal after meeting this lovely couple, we saw for ourselves how kind and trusting the people of this beautiful island are.  


Bridgetown



The capital city is a colourful and historic place, bustling with atmosphere - especially Swan Street, with its blaring music and colourful shops spilling reams of brightly coloured fabric, clothing, food and jewellery. After a bit of snooping around the shops and drinking fresh coconut juice straight out of the fruit itself (sold on the street), we enjoyed the independence square and fountain, and harbour,  and headed back to the gritty bus station to catch the little white 'reggae' mini bus back to St Lawrence Gap and cool down in the sea after a sweaty and bumpy ride back! 


Getting Around, Costs & Health


With a baby and a pram we found it difficult to walk too far, as the paths were intermittent, with traffic roaring past. However the frequent minibus service on the island was really useful and we were able to get to most popular destinations along the coast with these.  They are privately owned and run by young men, enjoying their loud and infectious reggae/calypso music - old ladies, tourists and working people bobbing about together in the back. They accepted the pram and just bundled us all in, as the pram folded easily.  

Main bus routes exist but taxis and car hire are the ways to get to places like Huntes gardens and Harrison's cave.