Barbados may be known as a celebrity hideout, with sky-high prices at five-star properties and private villas paired with a happening Zagat-rated restaurant scene. If you have cash to splash, there’s plenty to keep you happy on this vibrant Caribbean island. But, fortunately, it’s not only for the upscale traveler. Here are a few recommendations for things to do if you want to taste the local flavor and experience the island Bajan-style.
For starters, instead of staying on the pricier west coast, choose the rugged and less developed east coast of Barbados. Here, the charming fishing village of Bathsheba is a surfers’ mecca and home to the cozy Sea-U Guest House Hotel – the place to stay if you’re on a budget and seeking a less mainstream escape.
For entertainment, the Oistins Fish Market on a Friday night is a must, regardless of the fact it’s become a pretty touristy affair. It gets packed with locals and visitors who roam endless stalls selling Bajan treats such as fried flying fish, cou-cou (a cornmeal and okra dish) and macaroni cheese. A great place to grab a bottle of cold Banks beer and wander around, listening to live music and checking out old couples dance to ballroom tunes.
Visiting rum shops in Barbados is not to be missed. There are over 1600 of these picturesque shacks on the island – great spots to mingle with the local crowd, taste some rum and play a game of dominoes. On my recent trip, I ended up at Merten’s rum shop in the village of Half Moon Fort on a Friday night, listening to John, a fisherman born and raised in the area who has stories to weave that can easily last till sunrise. Across the road is St Elmo’s grocery and adjacent to it a karaoke bar, where the singing was some of the most earnest I had ever heard. If you’re hungry, there’s also a fish shack next door where Bajans like to grab a quick bite.
Many of Barbados’ restaurants require reservations and some even a dress code. If you want something low-key, head to Fisherman’s Pub in Speightstown, the island’s second largest town that in reality feels more like an oversized village. At this simple spot alongside the jetty, you’ll get lovely water views and cheap Bajan fare such as pepperpot (a spicy meat stew) and jug-jug (a mix of corn and green peas) as well as West Indian staples like chicken curry, rice & beans and plantains.
After you’ve done the eating and drinking, take one of the free hikes around the island, organized by the Barbados National Trust. These three-hour jaunts (morning and afternoon available) will take you through cane fields, tropical gullies, and rarely visited communities. Donations are welcome and go toward the work of the National Trust and Treading Lightly (an environmental education and conservation project).