9 authentic experiences to have in Barbados

1. Eat fresh fish in Oistins

Oistins in the parish of Christ Church comes alive on Friday nights for a fish fry. Held in Bay Gardens near the Fish Market, it’s a big street party for Barbadians and visitors alike and it’s great fun. Excellent flying fish, as well as tuna, swordfish, barracuda, trevally, marlin, mahi mahi and lobster adorn the menus. For carnivores, there is pork chops, ribs and chicken, with coleslaw, crispy green salad, baked macaroni pie and rice and peas. Food is served from around 30 wooden stalls and eaten on communal benches with shots of hot sauce and live music performances.

2. Find out how rum is made

Barbados is considered the birthplace of rum and dates back to the first production of sugar cane. Mount Gay is the oldest, dating back to 1703, making the various varieties of Mount Gay rum the longest continuously produced spirit in the world. There are many other places around the island to visit a rum distillery for factory tours and tastings such as St. Nicholas Abbey and Foursquare. You can also visit a rum shop (a Barbadian version of a bar). These are an integral part of the Bajan culture and are where the community comes to socialize. Sit down with a drink and maybe play dominoes with the other patrons.

3. Take a trip down memory lane

There are a number of historic buildings to visit in Barbados. Built in 1658 and accessed by an impressive mahogany driveway, the Abbey of St. Nicholas is one of three remaining Jacobean homes in the Western Hemisphere, with a Chippendale staircase and cedar-paneled rooms containing antique furnishings. It is the third oldest of its kind in all of the Americas and inside visitors can experience its unique cask rum. Also worth exploring is Gun Hill Station, a hexagonal tower dating from 1816 that was part of a chain of six military signal stations across the island that were used to communicate news and messages using flags and lantern codes. The Historic Bridgetown Garrison Area, meanwhile, was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011 for a number of beautiful old buildings dating back to British colonial times.

4. Dance to the music

Barbados’ biggest festival is Crop Over which takes place the last week of July and the first weekend of August. The main carnival celebrations take place on the first weekend of August known as Grand Kadooment with parades, calypso and soca competitions leading up to this finale. The festival originated in the 1790s to celebrate the end of the cane season. Like other Caribbean celebrations, the event is a riot of colorful costumes and begins with a “jump up” parade with marching bands and ends with a big all-night party with food and fireworks. Other festivals include the Barbados Reggae Festival in April, the Celtic Festival in May and the Jazz Excursion in October.

5. Admire the art

The art produced in Barbados tends to reflect the way of life on the island and there are many art galleries. Run by the National Cultural Foundation, the Queen’s Park Gallery in Bridgetown exhibits paintings, sculptures, prints and other works by emerging and established Barbadian artists. In Speightstown, the Gallery of Caribbean Art sells contemporary art, sculpture and photography from across the Caribbean. For an immersive experience, visit Earthworks Pottery in St. Thomas which produces hand-decorated bowls, jars, jugs and tableware and you can watch the potters at work. Bridgetown’s Pelican Craft Center has 25 shops in replica movable houses and is a great place to shop for gifts.

6. Check out street food

Barbados has many excellent upscale restaurants, but for an authentic experience, look no further than the informal shops that serve flying fish cutters, fish cakes, macaroni pies, fruit cou-cou bread and other traditional Bajan dishes. There’s probably no better place to eat these dishes than on the beach. Cuz’s Fish Stand on Pebbles Beach is best for fried marlin or flying fish in a bun with salad. At Enterprise Beach, Mr Delicious Snack Bar serves delicious treats as well as homemade rum punch and lemonade from an old yellow bus. And Cutters Bajan Deli on Crane Beach will deliver your lunch right to the sand. Wash it all down with refreshing coconut water, sold in the shell of wheelbarrows and stalls.

7. Make a splash

There are many ways to get in the water in Barbados and the popular south and west coasts with their milder ocean offer plenty of options including kayaking, sea turtle watching tours, boogie boards, windsurfing and more. Carlisle Bay Marine Park is a favorite spot for diving and snorkeling with a series of underwater marine trails to see five shipwrecks, an increasing variety of corals and plenty of fish. With dramatic rocks and crashing Atlantic waves, Bathsheba’s wilder east coast is the best place to surf.

8. Explore Coco Hill Forest

A 53-acre private forest and originally established as an organic farming project, Coco Hills in St Joseph is now a wonderful destination for short hikes and picnics. This green oasis includes groves of bamboo, hundreds of royal palms and primordial tree ferns, and grow in the forest coconuts, bananas, mangoes, coffee, cocoa, avocados, pineapples and many herbs and spices like turmeric and ginger. You can either hit the trails on your own or take a 2.5-hour guided tour. You might spot green monkeys in the tree canopy and enjoy stunning views of the east coast.

9. Enjoy the view

Located near Canefield in the central parish of St. Thomas, Highland is the third highest point on the island after Mount Hillaby and Mount Chalky and offers views across verdant countryside towards the east coast and the white caps of the Atlantic beyond. It’s easy to get there by car, and the Highlands Bar offers light snacks and drinks to enjoy on picnic benches while admiring the view. ATV rides descend to the rugged East Coast, while treks begin and end at Highland’s Adventure Center, and a visit is easily combined with nearby Welchman Hall Gully and Harrison’s Cave.

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