The East Coast’s Cabo.
Why you should go:
Friendly welcoming vibe of the Bajan people, lush tropical environment, and consistent surf. Barbados is a short jump for East Coast surfers.
Barbados is a small (166-square-mile) island at the southeastern tip of the Lesser Antilles island chain that includes such islands as Antigua, St. Croix, and Martinique. It’s bordered on its west side by the Caribbean Sea and on its east side by a 3,000-mile, unimpeded stretch of the Atlantic Ocean. Located halfway between the Equator and the Tropic Of Cancer, Barbados’ weather is tropical, and like most tropical climates, it varies little from season to season. It’s average high temperature in January is 83 degrees, while in July it’s 86. The island also boasts 3,000 hours of sunshine per year (in case you don’t have a calculator handy, that’s a lot). Barbados’ population (locals are called “Bajans”) is a bit under 250,000 and spread across the island, which is dotted with little towns, centuries-old churches, and sugar-cane fields, and crisscrossed by sometimes dangerous, unsigned roads.
As a surf destination, you’ll find a variety of conditions on Barbados—depending on the time of year, the surf can be anywhere from two to fifteen feet. The east coast, which faces Africa thousands of miles away, is the most surfed part of the island and the home of the world-famous right-hand reef break named Soup Bowl, but the rest of the island gets surf, too. Besides surfing, some of the island draws are fishing, going to the horse races, checking out a polo match, taking a booze cruise on one of the sailboats docked in Bridgetown, exploring the rain forest, and scuba diving. Even getting lost while driving around can actually turn out to be quite a good experience.
When to go:
The east coast gets the most consistent surf between the months of August and November, when big north swells march into Soup Bowl. Another east-coast spot, Parlor, can handle twelve-to-fifteen-foot surf, and is a good choice when Soup Bowl gets too big to make. January until March, excellent swells reach the south coast and give traveling surfers a few alternatives to the east coast. Mid July through early August the island celebrates Crop-Over, a three-week sugar-cane harvest festival, and during this time the place goes crazy with parties, parades, and general mayhem.
Where to stay:
Bathsheba (where Soup Bowl is located) is the main surf town on the east coast and has a few hotels to choose from. The Edgewater Inn, and the Round House Inn (246-433-9678) are both good places to stay, although they can be a little pricey for the average surfer ($80 per night and higher). If you’re traveling with a small group, you might want to try The Bajan Surf Bungalow (bajansurfbungalow.com), which offers three- and four-bedroom houses that usually work out to about $40 per night per person. There are also many cottages to rent in Bathsheba that are reasonably priced and will save you money on your stay. Check out barbadosguide.com for some great info on the island.
Where to eat:
Bathsheba’s hotels all have good restaurants that offer Bajan cuisine and great views of the coast. All over the island are small bars that sell flying fish cutters and cheese cutters (sandwiches served on round, salted bread) that are cheap and tasty. On the south shore, The Ship Inn is a great place to get your swerve on, and the Boat Yard and Harbor Lights are other popular night spots. These outdoor hot spots on the water offer a fantastic fresh-air environment, and the drinks usually flow until 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning.
*Cruise around the island on one of thhe 60-foot catamarans docked in Bridgetown harbor
*Eat flying fish at a local restaurant
*Plenty of sunscreen
Look out for:
Be careful driving in Barbados—it’s a former British colony, and many visitors aren’t accustomed to driving on the opposite side of the road. You’ll find yourself on streets that are half the size of the smallest roads in the States, with few signs but many cows, people, mongooses, and goats. Like anywhere in the world, keep a close eye on your goods—some people may want to borrow them permanently. And never tug on a Rasta’s dreads.
This isn’t Costa or Indo, it can be a little pricey if you’re going out to eat every night. Getting some munchies and drinks from the store is a good way to save on lunches and snacks. From Miami, a ticket to Barbados can run from $250 to $500. It isn’t the cheapest place to go, but it’s worth every penny. Rental cars are expensive—easily $80 a day for a tiny little Moke. There is a bus system, so car rental isn’t a complete necessity, but if you want to have the best time, get a car for at least a few days.
Even though it seems like a vacation paradise full of people sporting posh British accents, Barbados is a Third World country and should be traveled in respectfully. The people are welcoming because their income depends largely on travelers like you, so give them respect and smile a lot, and you may find you have some new lifelong friends.
—Sean Slater and Joel Patterson