Lore has it that Barbados got its name from the Bearded Fig Tree, spotted in 1536 by Portuguese sea captain Pedro a Campos, who called the island that held them “Os Barbados,” or “The Bearded.” If he’d been prescient as to the future of the Caribbean spot, he’d have named it for its ability to serve as the perfect island paradise.
Bostonians have long been onto this. In fact, we’ve made Barbados a vacation destination for centuries.
Early trading across the Atlantic focused on three major ports: Boston, London and Bridgetown, Barbados, which led Brahmin Boston families to discover it as a holiday escape.
Because then — and now — a visit to Barbados is special. There, instead of fenced-off all-inclusive resorts with private beaches lined with visitors, you find wonderful spots to stay along roads and beaches populated by locals and visitors alike. Resort beaches are local beaches, and vice versa. Roads and hamlets are easy to access, meaning you can dive right into Barbados life without a worry — or a tour guide.
Getting to Barbados from Greater Boston is a snap, thanks to JetBlue direct flights (there’s even a JetBlue Mint flight, to start and end your trip just right). Once there, your accommodation choices are plentiful. Choose a classic brand such as Marriott or Hilton. Tuck into a seaside resort with local ownership. Go big with a full resort with spa and amenities or choose a quaint seaside hotel. This fall, a new Sandals resort debuts there.
While it will be easy to settle into your accommodations and soak in the perfect weather, make a point of getting out and around the lovely island. Barbados is easily drivable, and its well-paved roads are also well marked.
When it comes to beaches, the island has plenty, each with its own vibe. On the south side of the island, you find gentle surf and a more mellow beach experience. The calm waters there are perfect for relaxing swims, and the many shallow-water reefs offer amazing snorkeling opportunities. It’s not unusual to see lots of kite-boarding and windsurfing as well.
For a vibrant atmosphere, head to Dover Beach in St. Lawrence Gap. Popular and busy in a fun way, this long stretch of sandy beach backs up to hotels and restaurants. For the view of a lifetime, head to Miami Beach (also known as Enterprise Beach) and look out on the water and the world from its breathtaking cliff.
For a more rugged shore experience, head to the east side, where the island faces the Atlantic Ocean. A magnet for surfers, here you’ll find a choppier, beautiful ocean, lots of surfing (even occasional contests) and small surfing communities to explore.
There are must-dos for a Barbados adventure. Topping the list: Oistins Fish Fry. Oistins is a fishing community on the south coast. And while the Fish Fry is up and running all week, offering fresh-from-the-sea tuna, swordfish, marlin, mahi-mahi, flying fish, lobster and more (as well as chicken if you are not a fish lover), it’s the weekend that the place is a must-visit. That’s because Oistins Fish Fry is a cultural phenomenon.
On Fridays, the place is packed with a mix of locals and visitors. Tables are simple and comfortable. Along them you’ll find folks playing dominoes and families gathering to celebrate birthdays or to just hang out.
There are arts and crafts for sale, and DJ’s pumping out all kinds of dance music. Sometimes a live band plays as well, but no matter the music source, people dance and dance all night. Learn more at visitbarbados.org/things-to-do/experiences.
Another must-do is Harrison’s Cave. Located in the central uplands of the island, this crystallized limestone cave offers flowing streams, high columns and deep, clear pools of water. Guests can book tours through the 1A-mile-long cave and learn about how it was formed and discovered. The grounds are lush and worth exploring as well. Learn more at harrisonscave.com.
There’s plenty of history to explore as well, such as the sugar cane industry that shaped life on the island for years. A visit to the Morgan Lewis Windmill, the island’s only still intact sugar mill, teaches you all about that history. And in Bridgetown, you can visit the Parliament buildings, constructed in the late 1800s.
And of course, you can learn about the Boston connection. One famed Bostonian is Lady Gilbert Carter. Born Gertrude Codman Parker into one of Boston’s Brahmin families, she came to live in Barbados in the early 20th century after she married the British governor. An early feminist, she fought for Barbadian women to be given the right to vote. She had studied aspects of architecture and landscape design in Italy, and designed Queen’s Park and Llaro Court, where she and her husband are buried today. A great spot in Barbados to learn more about Boston history is St. Michael’s Cathedral.
Then there is the rum. A visit to Mount Gay Rum Distilleries not only teaches you about the art of rum distilling, but gives you a taste or two. At the smaller St. Nicholas Abbey, you can get an intimate look at rum life. The abbey’s plantation house, built by Col. Benjamin Berringer in 1658, is one of only three genuine Jacobean mansions in the Western Hemisphere.
Easily drivable, always welcoming and a perfect spot to visit and immerse yourself in true island life, Barbados has all that for you and more. Learn more at visitbarbados.org.