My wife and I visited Barbados November 6-12, 1994. Because of bad flight connections, we were only there 6 nights and 5 days. That's not enough.
To put my comments in perspective, it might be helpful to know our priorities:
(1) Lying on a hammock overlooking the water and reading escape novels like
those from Ludlum, Clancy, etc. A small number of books will suffice because
reading is repeatedly interrupted by naps.
(2) Lounging on the beach and taking leisurely swims in the sea.
(3) Getting a feel for the locals.
(4) Visiting the points of interest of the island.
(5) Snorkeling and fishing (We're not divers).
We never made it to priority 5; there just wasn't enough time.
The locals are friendly, pleasant, and helpful. Everything is expensive in Barbados, but I never got the feeling that the person across from me was smiling just because he was about to empty my wallet. The beaches we visited were nice and sparsely populated. We were warned about the drug dealers carrying brief cases on the beach. We never encountered one, although that may have been because we weren't on the more populated beaches.
We decided we wanted to rent a villa rather than stay in a hotel. The reasons were that we thought we'd get more living space and associated privacy, more sparsely visited beaches, and less regimen in activity schedules. Basically, it worked.
Because we wanted a villa, we used a local travel agent whose name I got off this forum. It was Sue Yellin of YES Travel, P.O. Box 406, Bridgetown, WI, Tel: (809) 425-9338, Fax: (809) 425-8998. She found the place we rented, arranged for transport to and from the airport, the car rental, appeared the morning after our arrival with maps and to answer any questions we might have, and volunteered to make any reservations required for the activities we wanted to entertain. She and Jill Williamson, a lady that fills in for Sue from time to time, did an excellent job.
The place we ended up renting was called James Bay (Lower). It's about 1/2 to 1 mile south of the border between St. Peter and St. James. Actually it was a sort of duplex with upper and lower units, each having a separate entry. Each unit has 2 bedrooms, and a living area including a small kitchen (frig, stove with oven, microwave, 2 sinks, and a washing machine), couch and associated tables, and an adjoining dining area. A decked porch, running the entire width of the building, has a table for dining outside, my treasured hammock, and 5 chairs. The place is separated from the water only by a 50-75 foot back yard with lots of palm trees. There's a gardener who maintains the nice landscaping. Conscripted cooks and cleaners will be happy to know that a maid is part of the package. She comes at about 9:30 and stays for 8 hours, unless you release her early, which we usually did. Given the hours, she won't usually be there to prepare breakfast or dinner, but she will do the breakfast dishes and will prepare dinner which you can heat in the microwave at a time convenient to you.
Only the bedrooms are air conditioned, but this worked out OK. There are two ceiling fans in the living area and the doors, when not open, have louvers which circulate lots of air.
Since only my wife and I were on this trip, I told the travel agent I wanted a one bedroom place on the water. We ended up with a rental of U.S.$700/ week, on the understanding that they would lock the second bedroom door. They didn't lock it, but we didn't use it. (I suspect this is an off season accommodation.) The price included the villa, transfers to and from the airport, and the maid, sans tips.
If you ask, they'll include a breakfast food package which includes bacon, eggs, bread, orange juice and things I don't associate with breakfast (e.g., a six pack of beer, tomatoes, oranges, and apples). This package is above the quoted rental rate.
The beach in front of the place was nice. The sea floor was, unfortunately, a little rocky. A two minute walk to the south eliminated that problem, however. (To the north, both beach and sea floor got even rockier.)
The one problem we had with this place occurred on the evening of day 3 when a couple and their two teenage kids moved into the upper unit. The wife made Jim Madden seem soft spoken, and she seemed to have the talent for striking up an argument with anyone in the vicinity. Will Rogers never met this person. From below, her gait seemed akin to Tyrannosaurus Rex playing hop scotch. You never know whether the neighbors will be great or terrible, but, if you want to eliminate the downside, you might consider a situation where you rent the entire place.
Like most tourists, we rented a mini-moke. That's a low-slung, half- sized jeep without windows or doors and a cloth convertible top. You'll never truly feel safe in it, but you will get used to it. We didn't price a real car, but my guess is that mini-mokes are popular because of their cost. I never saw a local driving a mini-moke. (You can tell by the license plates.) They can't be as unsafe as they seem because, if they were, tourists would be dropping like flies, and the practice would stop. I would, however, have appreciated knowing what I was getting into.
The absence of doors, windows, and a roof makes you feel somewhat exposed. In our vehicle, the seat belts were not adjustable, so I never knew whether it was better to have the seat belt off or on. If it rains, you will get wet. If the ladies are wearing a dress for dinner, they will object. The way you get into this vehicle is to hike one leg and kind of jump in.
The good side is that mini-mokes are pretty miserly on gas consumption. Gas is expensive. (I think I paid about BD$5.00 per gallon.) We drove a fair amount and I think I had over 1/2 a tank left when I turned in the car.
If you arrange it right your vehicle will be delivered to and picked up from where you are staying. Don't try to pick up the car at the airport. I would have seen the dawn of the next morning long before I saw my abode.
Driving is, of course, on the left side, U.K. style. You'll get used to it pretty quickly, but it is good, initially, to have a navigator that reminds you of the ground rules before each turn. Remember that the turn signal and wiper levers are on the opposite side of the steering column that you're used to. My wife commented that turning on the wipers was probably not the most effective way to tell people which direction I was headed.
"Highway" seems to be a very flexible term in Barbados. In some locations, it describes exactly what you'd expect in the U.S. Other times, it's a narrow 2 land road. For example, from south of Holetown to south of Speightstown, Highway 1 turns into a fairly narrow road with no shoulders. Especially between 3:00 and 6:00 weekdays, there's a lot of pedestrian traffic, including school kids, on the sides of the road. It's best to avoid travel at these times, but, if you can't, slow down, concentrate, and drive safely. Don't drive faster than your comfort level and don't get intimidated by honking horns.
Speed limits in Barbados are 80 km/h on a few major highways, and 60 km/h elsewhere. You'll usually be driving considerably slower. If you get a speeding ticket, please get off the road.
The road system started around a mentality that all roads lead to Bridgetown. That's helpful for a gross navigation guide. All bus stop signs say either "To City" or "Out of City". The problem comes when you want to go east to west across the island. Then you're relegated to secondary roads that truly are narrow and not very well marked. You'll save a lot of time if you stop and ask directions. As I said, the locals are pleasant and friendly, if you act accordingly.
One day, we drove to the east coast via St. Nicholas Abbey and Cherry Tree Hill to Bathsheba and the Adromeda Botanic Gardens. The return was via the Barbados Wildlife Reserve, Grenade Hall Forest Signal Station & Signal Station, and Farley Hill National Park. That's an all day trek.
St. Nicholas Abbey is a plantation house built between 1650 and 1660. It never was truly an abbey, and you wonder why it has 4 fireplaces. It's a little run down, but interesting for the historical aspects.
Probably not more than 250 yards up the road is Cherry Tree Hill, a must see. There's nothing on the hill but a police hut, but the view of Little Scotland (a green, hilly part of the island) and the Atlantic on the east coast should not be missed. I would recommend continuing your drive on the east coast to Bathsheba and the Andromeda Botanic Gardens. The gardens are no great shakes, unless, I guess, your a horticulture buff. However, as long as you're there....
The Grenade Hall Signal Station falls into the same category. This was one of 5 or 6 signal stations built to enhance the government military to react to slave uprisings. The last station was completed a year after they abolished slavery. If walking through rain forests floats your boat, you'll enjoy the Grenade Hall Forest. Technically, it's not a rain forest, but walking through it gives you the same feel. They've done a good job laying this out, even if the environmentalists got a little carried away on their sign propaganda.
The Wildlife Preserve is a mini, walk-through Jurassic Park for monkeys, turtles, birds, and the like, with only perimeter fences--nothing separating humans from the other animals. It's worth a visit.
We skipped Farley Hill National Park only because it was getting late.
On another day, we went to Harrison's Cave and Welchman Hall Gully. They say that the cave is the most popular tourist attraction on the island. They have done a good job developing the cave, but, frankly, as world caves go, they didn't have a lot to work with. On a worldwide basis, this one won the "Taller than Mickey Rooney Award". You can be awfully short and still win this one. The trip is enjoyable, just don't believe the hype you're given before you get there.
Surprisingly, we really enjoyed our leisurely walk through Welchman Hall Gully. I'm no horticulture buff, but if you walk slowly and pay attention to the brochure, I think you'll see some interesting things. At least we enjoyed it. (The path is not circular. Unless you do this one on a tour, you're going to have to walk back to the entry. I wouldn't recommend a tour for this one because you want to do it slowly.)
Finally, we did the Atlantis II submarine diddy. It's pricey, about BD$145/ person, but enjoyable. You have to get to their offices in Bridgetown on your own (no hotel pickup), but the place is fairly easy to find. From Bridgetown, they transport you to a site about a mile offshore where the submarine dives to about 130 feet over coral reefs and a shipwreck. The ship was purposefully sunk to try to create another, artificial reef, but it's still interesting. I'd do it again.
Because we ate some at the villa, there are only 4 restaurants that I can comment on.
The Fathoms, just south of Holetown, was great. You eat on a terrace overlooking the water. Service is good, albeit a little slow by U.S. standards. I had the local rock lobster tail which was to die for. Of course, it was the most expensive entree, at BD$58. My wife had a Dolphin entree which was also good. Entrees seemed to start at about BD$30 and run up to my lobster. Each of us had two glasses of wine a starter (try the octopus), and an entree. The bill was BD$152, sans tip. Over the phone, they'll tell you that shorts are acceptable, but you'll be much more comfortable with slacks and a shirt. You'll see a few jackets and ties.
The Carambola, a mile and a half south of Holetown, is also nice, but a little more expensive. Entrees start at about BD$40 and run to the BD$90 lobster that my wife ordered. (Mine at The Fathoms was better, but her's was still good.) I had Caribbean Shrimp which was great. One drink apiece (terrible), a starter each, and the entrees mentioned cost BD$198, sans tip.
During our tour to the east coast we ate lunch at the Atlantis Hotel. The place is a little run down, but the lunch was interesting in that it gave us an introduction to Bajan food. Fixed menu--your only choices are pan fried flying fish or chicken. It's served with rice and black peas, a spinach loaf, fried banana, pickled banana and rice, and pickled pineapple. Desert is mixed fruit and a coconut pie. More food than you probably want, but interesting. The price is BD$23/person, plus drinks and tip.
Don't go to the Brig in the "shopping mall" in Holetown. It won't make you sick, but even a sandwich there is an unwanted adventure.
Sorry to be lengthy, but I hope this helps someone get a feel of what we experienced in Barbados.