24 Hours in Barbados

My first international trip in 2022 took my to the recently fully independent Caribbean island nation of Barbados.

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All I really knew about Barbados was that it is the birthplace of Rihanna and that it was a British colony. But I learned that it was a crucial island for sugar production and has a thriving rum industry, not to mention some of the tastiest food in the Caribbean that isn’t just fried conch.

A handful of U.S. carriers operate to Barbados, primarily American, United and JetBlue. It can be reached from London, Manchester, Canada and some other Caribbean islands as well. It is also a cruise stop for many Caribbean itineraries.

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I learned that there are 3 main splits. West, East and North Barbados. The main cities, resort/hotels, shops and restaurants dot the Western side, this is also where Bridgetown, the capital is. The airport is on the South, but closer to the West side. North side has some resorts, and a lot of nature reserves, hiking and plantations. The east is the least developed, but most authentic and laidback. Eastern Barbados, specifically Bathsheba, is famous for its surfing, the waves here are big and currents strong, making it ideal for surfing but not so great for swimming. However, it does offer some stunning scenery and being off-the-beaten path means less crowds in the morning and evenings.

The currency here is the Barbados Dollar, though credit cards are accepted at most restaurants, hotels and shops. USD is also accepted as cash payment, but you’re like to get Barbados dollars in return. Nonetheless, it is wise to go to the ATM or exchange some money on arrival at the airport to have the cash on hand.

Getting Around

Your best option to get around Barbados is to rent a car. If you are staying on the West side or at an all-inclusive resort and dont plan to explore much of the island, you can easily just take a taxi to and from the airport and just sign up for a Viator tour or any local day trips from the resorts. But I would recommend renting a car for maximum flexibility. It is a former British colony so they do drive on the left, and the more off-beaten-path you go, the less lighting there is on the roads and the narrower they get, though most roads here are well paved.

DO NOT rent from Hertz here. We had a terrible experience.

My friend had booked our rental car through Hertz, after clearing customs and immigration, we exited the airport at around 4:30PM, ready to maximize our time and explore. We arrived at the Hertz office and no one was there, none of the other rental car companies could get a hold of Hertz and they all did not have any cars available last minute for just 1 day or at all. We called Hertz HQ and they did not know what was going on either. About 30 minutes later, another rental company person seeing that we were a little desperate, managed to find someone at their company with a car available for 3 days for USD$300, we said sure because still best to have a car, and ultimately based on published cab fares it would be close plus it is a lot harder to get cabs on the Eastern side which is where we stayed. 15 minutes later Ignacio shows up with his car, and this is we signed and paid for the rental car in the parking lot. Thank God because coordinating taxi and transfer throughout our time would have been so impossible.

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Our hero, Ignacio

Day 1

After our nightmare of a rental car situation which delayed our exploration time by about 1.5 hours, we managed to drive 10 minutes from the airport to our first stop for some dinner at the famous Oistin’s Fish Market where there are many Shacks selling fresh Seafood. I recommend Pat’s Place, which saw more locals lining up than the other shacks which attracted more tourists.

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Note: In Barbados Mahi-Mahi is called Dolphin, which apparently is the actual scientific name for Mahi Mahi? So do not freak out if you see Dolphin on the menus!

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I really wanted to try Fried Flying Fish with Cou Cou, the national dish, but it was already sold out for the night. So, we had some delicious Grilled Dolphin (Mahi Mahi)  and spiced grilled Marlin Fish served with Breadfruit Fritter, Rice N Peas and Bajan Macaroni Pie and local beer. It was fresh, delicious, smoky, and refreshing, just what we needed after a long flight from Manchester and the stress of the rental car.

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We then drove about 30 minutes to Bathsheba. We booked a night at the Atlantis Historic Inn (~$300/night). The inn used to be part hotel and part railway station when the Barbados railway came through to the East Coast from 1868-1937. It pays homage to its history and roots in the railway system. It is a nice hotel full of history and character. The service is laid back and definitely on island time, but everyone is nice and means well. The views are spectacular and its a nice location on the East coast.

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Welcome Rum Punch at the Atlantis Historic Inn in Bathsheba in the Eastern Coast.

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After a warm welcome, a glass of local rum, neat and a much needed shower we were both so exhausted we just went straight to bed.

Day 2

Early the next morning we got up and did a nice sunrise walk along the beach and coast which is right in front of the hotel.

The East Coast is less developed and less visited but its famous for this Surf Spot called the Soup Bowl. Its also popular for hiking and wellness and historically its where the British colonists came to vacation/ heal since the WestCoast was too moist/marshland. East Coast had the winds and cool temperatures.

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Following a breakfast, not included, at the hotel, we were checked-out and ready to do some exploring.

About a beautiful half hour drive from the hotel along the coast and more rugged hilly landscapes of Barbados, though the island is relatively flat, we arrived at St.Nicholas Abbey and Steam Railway. A historic plantation and estate. Nowadays a live rum distillery with a steam railway tour.

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We arrived just in time for the first train tour of the day. This was super neat for any history and transportation buff/nerd. The tour is operated by a 108 year old repurposed Dutch steam (coal and wood) locomotive, that used to operate in Java, Indonesia! It even hoots and choo choos away!

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The train ride is accompanied by a live audio narrative historic tour of the St. Nicolas Abbey and Distillery (the train and rail tracks are new, not part of the historic property)

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We learned that railways were introduced to not only transport people from West Coast harbors to the East Coast, but also to help transport the Sugar Cane and Sugar which at the time was more valuable than Gold and places like St. Nicholas distilled Rum from the early days

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3 people could help the conductor physically turn the table!

Following the really fun and neat train tour we arrived at the Jacobean Mansion and Distillery for a tour of the house and facilities.

The historic mill

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Rum distillery

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In the Jacobean Mansion, we learned that Benedict Cumberbatch’s ancestors used to own the plantation for a few years, and there is a portrait of one of his great great ? grandfathers hanging in the house.

The Gentleman’s chair. An amazing all in one chair, can recline, armrest extends, has build in book reader, a side book reader, a adjustable light, you get in by opening up the armrest and lock yourself in. It is also moveable on wheels.

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Chandelier made entirely out of seashells. Lots of original seashell art.

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Estate barrel aged rum tasting. Sadly could not taste the reserve/ 20+ year aged ones.

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Crapper Toilet, kind of fun and cool they utilize these in the guest toilets as well!

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After our 2.5 hour tour and tasting, which we had to duck out of earlier (its usually about 3-3.5 hours), we drove 30 minutes back down and along the coast back to Bathsheba to the Historic Roundhouse Hotel for lunch. Reservations highly recommended. The hotel is named for the…well round house, it has only 4 rooms, and is very laidback, relaxing and a true Bajan atmosphere. Run by very friendly family who are proud of Barbados, its history and The Roundhouse’s legacy. The hotel also hosts yoga retreats, wellness retreats, music concerts and more.

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Started off with Tamarind and Sorrel Rum Punch

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Breadfruit Fritters

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Whole baked Brie with Walnut, this was just amazing

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Bajan Fish Cakes

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National Barbados Dish: Flying Fish and Cou Cou (Breadfruit puree) with plantain and pickled veggies. Delicious. Wonderful flavors and textures and went nicely with their homemade hot sauce.

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Fried trio of Flying Fish

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Bajan Macaroni Pie

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At around 1:30PM it was time for us to drive back to the airport for our late afternoon departure back to the U.S.

Conclusion

While it was a whirlwind tour of Barbados, we still managed to sample some delicious local dishes, fresh seafood and lots of rum. The St. Nicholas Abbey and Steam Train is definitely a must visit. We learned a lot about the island’s history and legacy and got to ride a historic steam train, albeit on new tracks, but it was still a worthwhile and fun experience. One thing we missed as they are not open on weekends is the Four Square Rum Distillery tasting room and tour, and they are only a short 5-10 minute drive from the airport. Four Square was the best tasting rum we tried on the trip.

Cheers!

TheGastronomicTravel

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