Last updated: February 2022 Originally Posted: February 14, 2019
Barbados is the most easterly island in the Caribbean and populated by about 280,000 people. The island is formed by limestone rocks and measures about 430 square kilometers. Barbados is just north of the equator and far away enough from the hurricane belt that it usually gets spared from them. While less known than other Caribbean destinations, Barbados might be worth a visit. In this post, we talk about the pros and cons about Barbados to help you decide if it’s an island you will enjoy visiting.
We visited Barbados in February 2022 after they relaxed some of their more extreme COVID-19 measures. To enter Barbados, fully vaccinated visitors needed to submit a negative PCR test and complete a form online. Barbados was very specific to which type of test they accepted and unfortunately, the cheaper NAAT tests were not accepted and it was a challenge to find a PCR test with a quick turnaround time in Vancouver that was relatively affordable; we paid $259 each (usually $299) for a PCR Nasopharyngeal swab with guaranteed results in 16 hours. It was also very confusing to complete the forms required by Barbados in BIM Safe App an the website was often not working. We are still unsure as to what the “hamburger menu” is and that could explain why we received an email on arrival saying that we need to quarantine for 5 days!!! Thankfully that was cleared up when we showed a printed copy of our proof of vaccination as we waited in line for 45 minutes with hundreds of other arriving passengers in a small and poorly ventilated space. Here is a link to the official Barbados COVID-19 travel protocols: https://www.visitbarbados.org/covid-19-travel-guidelines-2022 . We enjoyed visiting Barbados very much but found their protocols and organization to be challenging compared to other places, like Costa Rica or Greece.
Here are the things we like about Barbados:
1) Beaches: Barbados Beaches may not make the top beaches list often but they’re those idyllic white sand and aqua water beaches that everyone dreams about. Compared to other destinations, Barbados beaches are plentiful and easy to access, which means they’re never too crowded. Parking regulations are easy-going so you can easily park somewhere and access many beaches.
Tip: Bring your own snorkel set and visit Carlisle Bay for some great snorkeling where you will see fish and even sea turtles sometimes.
2) Weather: Sunny days and bright blue skies are generally the norm here outside of hurricane and rainy season. We’ve never had a vacation here ruined due to bad weather and appreciate the consistent weather here. On our last visit last week, it was sunny and +30 Celsius every day.
Tip: Wear a rash guard if you plan to swim a lot as the sun is very hot here and sunscreen will not keep you from getting sunburned. Pack an Elaine hat too for maximum protection!
3) Infrastructure: You can drink the tap water and not be as cautious about what you eat as other tropical destinations. As the island is made up of coral limestone, the water is high quality due to natural filtration. You can also rent a car and drive fairly easily on Barbados; just be aware that the driver’s seat is on the right, you drive on the left hand side of the road and need to be mindful of narrow roads, potholes, goats and cows, and intense roundabouts.
Tip: If you rent a car, buy the additional insurance due to the conditions of the roads and how people drive. Here are some unwritten rules of the road when you’re driving: if someone flashes their lights it means they are letting you go; if someone’s hand is outside the window on the driver’s side they are letting a pedestrian cross; if someone honks once it is because they are passing and if they honk twice it means thank you.
4) Language: English is the spoken language so no need to stress out and learn a new language. Most people speak conventional English but don’t be surprised if you hear the Bajan dialect which is made up of sayings and a slightly different pronunciation of certain letters. Before visiting, you may want to brush up on Bajan to be pompasettin to the locals!
5) Development: Things don’t change that much here so development is limited to protect the environment. Compared to other places like Mexico or Bali, there aren’t massive new hotel projects going up everywhere. Sadly though, many failed projects do remain on prime beach front land. Limited development also means less room inventory which keeps prices high enough and the island from being overrun.
6) Safety: You still need to exercise precautions but Barbados is pretty safe overall in the sense that you can leave your resort or stay in a vacation rental and explore on your own. People will try to sell you drugs in some spots but they’re not too pushy. Violent crime is present but not very common. Locals are also pretty friendly, even after you bust them for trying to scam you, i.e. a man approached us to charge us $10USD to park in a free lot and we called him out on it and he just laughed and walked away. It is also safe, cheap and easy to take the public transit (reggae busses, minivans or government busses) to get around. We do feel it is safe to bring children here for a family vacation and see many people who do.
Tip: If you are visiting the Animal Flower Cave, local people will try to sell you art and souvenirs, if you hand them $1-$2 they will leave you alone and you won’t have to buy anything if you’re not interested.
7) Tourist Attractions: There are numerous tourist attractions like the Harrison Caves, Animal Flower Cave, sporting events (cricket, polo, horse racing), Rihanna’s House, rum distillery tastings and tours, catamaran cruises, snorkel tours, a wildlife reserve, botanical gardens, a plantation tour, Brighton Farmer’s Market and downtown Bridgetown to keep you busy if the beach is not your things.
Tip: If you are planning on visiting a rum distillery, we recommend skipping Mt Gay and visiting Foursquare Rum Distillery due to the quality of the rum, the unique setting on an old plantation, and they do not charge for the tour.
No place is perfect though, so here are things we don’t like as much.
1) Airport: The airport can’t absorb all the passengers who arrive within a 3 hour time frame so plan to spend 1+ hours going through customs/immigration. The same can be said when you return to the airport to catch your flight back home; be prepared to wait 1+ hour to each your gate. Flights are outdoor and there are not jet bridges; stairs or a ramp are used which can be challenging for those with limited mobility. Be mindful that Saturdays are the busiest day. We are unsure how this will be now that we are in COVID times but we do consider the lack of clarity and information about the requirements for visitors to be a major con at this time.
Tip: If you can, fly on the JetBlue red-eye flight from JFK to arrive in the morning and avoid the long lineups.
Tip: Each traveler needs to fill out the immigration form and do not lose the bottom part.
2) Budget: You can travel to Barbados on a budget but it’s not as easy as other places due to lack of all-inclusive accommodations and the fact that the local currency, Barbadian Dollar (Bds$) is pegged to the US$. This makes it a lot more expensive for food, accommodations and car rental than other places. There are definitely deals to be had but they’re not as easy to come by. Have a look at our dining guide to avoid spending hundreds of dollars on your meals.
Tip: If you have Hilton points, we recommend using them at the Hilton Barbados. The Hilton Barbados is a 9 story high-rise hotel on a nice stretch of beach and conveniently located to bars, restaurants, and other beaches. If you stay here, you don’t need to rent a car as long as you are comfortable taking a bus or minivan bus.
3) Infrastructure: Infrastructure is better here than other places in the Caribbean but it’s not perfect, I.e recycling, sewage, and potholed roads. There was also an incident with sewage on the beach that prompted travel advisories from the governments in the UK, USD, Germany and Canada.
4) Service: Generally, people are friendly but things run at a different pace here, it’s very slow and don’t expect a lot. In some cases, people aren’t rude but they’re not nice either, i.e. I went back to the grocery store the following day to purchase the item and noticed it was out of stock and asked a store employee if they had anymore and her response was “If you don’t see it, we don’t have it”. Things are supposed to be open and they are not so you just have to go with the flow.
5) Food Scene: Barbados is knows at the culinary capital of the Caribbean and while it is possible to find good food there, we wouldn’t call it a foodie destination. We often find you pay a lot for what you get with varying degrees of quality and consistency, i.e. you can visit the same place 2 days in a row and be charged a different price for the exact same meal that was better the first day. We stick to our favorites, Cuz’s for fish cutters, Chefette for rotis, and Sahara for Middle Eastern food. If there is one thing that has improved in Barbados, it’s the availability of wine at various price points as it used to be very expensive. Now, you can get a decent bottle of rose for about $20USD. A bottle of Veuve Clicquot is usually $75USD as an FYI.
Tip: Make sure to have Barbados Dollars to pay in cash as not all places accept credit card and if they do, often the machine doesn’t work.
6) Tourist Attractions: While there are tourist attractions for those who aren’t into the beach, it’s not a place with lots of hikes or where you can road cycle easily like other destinations. If you don’t rent a car, it will be more difficult to get around depending where you are staying.
7) Beaches: Most beaches in Barbados are fine but some do experience Sargassum seaweed so be mindful of where you choose to stay. Avoid these areas: Crane Beach, Enterprise Beach, Miami Beach and Welches Beach. Stick to beaches north of Dover Beach and especially the West Coast of Barbados.
Of all the Caribbean islands we’ve visited, Barbados is our favorite and we’ve been really lucky to visit the island almost yearly since 2012. To be honest, I wasn’t that impressed the first time I visited but over time, Barbados has grown on me and I’ve learned to appreciate it due to the nice weather, the stunning beaches, and the culture. It is always nice to visit the local people we’ve met every year to enjoy the food they make. If all-inclusive isn’t your thing, then Barbados would be a good choice for you as you can explore freely.
Have you been to Barbados? If so, do you agree or disagree with these perspectives? What is the most important factor for you when you’re looking for a tropical vacation? Are there any other questions we can answer about Barbados?
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