Rum. Rihanna. If those are your only two associations with Barbados, please put in some “Work” (that’s a timely Ri-Ri reference) and discover a much more multifaceted Caribbean island nation. Bonus: With new direct flights from Boston via JetBlue, it’s easier than ever to rekindle international relations with a country whose history is actually somewhat entwined with that of the Hub. Settled by the English in 1627, Barbados was Britain’s first colony in the tropics (it gained independence in 1966), and its capital, Bridgetown, was an important port connected to Boston via the triangle trade. Some Bay State Colonial notables also had connections to the island, from early governors like Henry Winthrop, who once ran a Barbados tobacco plantation, to African-American abolitionist Prince Hall, a Barbadian native who founded the first school for black children in Boston, and the world’s first black Freemasonry lodge.
Today, of course, our relationship with Barbados is mostly defined by our desire to seek out sun and surf. Still, there’s more than one side to this paradise—so here’s what to expect, no matter which way you stay.
The West Coast: The serene Caribbean-facing west coast is where most travelers take their holiday. Why? Here’s where you’ll find the calmer waters, the better beaches for sunbathing and, thus, the luxury resorts—like Port Ferdinand, one of the island’s newest properties. It’s a 16-acre marina compound with 82 residences available to rent for a glamorous getaway that includes access to a tropical spa, a just-opened, accolade-scoring restaurant (13°/59°, which comes from Michelin-starred chef Andrew Turner) and private slips for docking your 90-foot yacht. Darn—left it at your other berth? Arrange for a private charter or group lunch-and-snorkeling tour aboard Seaduced, Warren Yachting’s new tricked-out catamaran that will take you across the tranquil turquoise waters in style. And if it’s romance you seek, this northwest niche of the island is a good pick for relative peace and quiet. Couples will swoon over dinner at the open-air Cliff Restaurant, where urbane style meets jaw-dropping views from a craggy coastline perch, and booze at Mullins Beach Bar, a low-key haunt filled with flip-flops, cheap fruity drinks and lots of live music.
Singles, though, should opt for the still-posh (but more affordable) Ocean Two, a contemporary beachfront resort on the southwest coast. When you’re not lazing by the pool or on the beach of Oistins Bay, you’ll want to spend the warm nights soaking up Caribbean culture at a local fish fry—public pier-side parties featuring food, live music and artisans hawking their wares, which go down at least weekly and, in some seasons, nearly nightly. Here, you’re also closer to the modern nightlife district, St. Lawrence Gap, a milelong strip of dance clubs and rum shacks (aka “bars”) that bump and grind most nights of the week. We suggest scooting over to Hal’s Car Park, an awesomely kitschy karaoke joint that throws up a bar and plastic picnic tables to transform a paved parking lot into a funky watering hole. The comparatively calmer waters on this part of the island are good for practicing some water sports in between navel gazing at the beach. At nearby Carlisle Bay, Barbados Blue will hook you up with snorkeling excursions, while Paddle Barbados handles surfboard, kayak and standup paddleboard (SUP) lessons. (To really challenge your core strength, downward dog on the waves during SUP yoga classes.) And after either excursion, you’ll want to score a sandwich from Cuz’s Fish Shack, a world-famous beachside shanty that looks like an eyesore but serves up ridiculously delicious flying fish sandwiches to long lunch lines.
The East Coast: The Atlantic-facing coast is a completely different animal, rugged and wild. Don’t come here to spend your days swimming; in fact, pay attention to signage because big waves and undercurrents make some of these beaches downright dangerous. But it also makes them beautiful, as in the case of the breathtaking breakers of Bathsheba, a fishing village where tides crash on jagged rocks by white sand beaches. It’s certainly a fine spot for catching some rays or absorbing glorious views from the front porches of rum shacks that dot the landscape. And only slightly inland, an 85-acre tropical rainforest at Joe’s River invites hikers to discover trails dense with gorgeous flora. Both, plus many more awe-inspiring natural sites, can be easily accessed via Island Safari, a fun little outfit that piles you into the back of 4x4s for rollicking rides through some of the island’s most picturesque nooks and crannies. While you could spend your full getaway in the east, perhaps at the beautiful, boutique Atlantis Hotel, most will want to explore the area just for a day trip before heading back to the wicked west. It’s best to get a well-rounded view—even if, eventually, you plan to pick a side.
-Want to give yourself a week off? JetBlue recently launched Saturday direct flights between Boston and Barbados.
-Sure, it’s touristy. But it’s worth paying a visit to the distillery of Mount Gay Rum, which has the distinction of being the world’s oldest existing rum brand.
The Atlantis Hotel atlantishotelbarbados.com
Barbados Blue divebarbadosblue.com
The Cliff Restaurant thecliffbarbados.com
Island Safari islandsafari.bb
Ocean Two oceantwobarbados.com
Paddle Barbados paddlebarbados.com
Port Ferdinand portferdinand.com
Warren Yachting warrenyachtingbarbados.com