James Cole's guide to what to do in Barbados

James Cole’s favourite place in the world is the Caribbean island of Barbados. He and his family make it a priority to get out to the West Indies as much as they can throughout the year, and it’s easy to see why. 

The Gem of the Caribbean is one of the world’s top cruising destinations, filled with sunshine, natural awe and incredible culture shaped by fascinating history. Each place in Barbados has a story to tell and each meal is a celebration of life; the Bajan people are famously hospitable and their laidback, unruffled approach to life make it the perfect place to spend a holiday.

I sat down with James to talk about the treasure chest of options that Barbados, a natural and cultural wonder of the world, offers tourists.

The north coast for culture

Spectacular scenery, romantic hideaways, rugged beauty, unspoiled landscapes, historical landmarks, peace, solitude and incredible history—the diverse north coast of Barbados is a place of contrasts. A day spent exploring this area is never wasted, and here you’ll find famous colonial architecture such as The Arlington House Museum, which delves into the island’s history, as well as St. Peter’s Parish Church, which was built as far back as 1630!

James’s cultural recommendation for the northern coast is St. Nicholas Abbey, a historic plantation house and rum distillery. Visitors can tour the plantation, learn about the history, enjoy the beautiful gardens, ride the on-site steam train—and of course, sample the rum.

“We love St. Nicholas Abbey. We like to combine a train ride, which takes you to spectacular views of the East Coast, with a guide of the Abbey and of course, rum tasting. A very enjoyable morning or afternoon out”.

The east and west coasts for beaches

The east coast of Barbados is known for its rugged beauty and dramatic scenery forged by the ferocious Atlantic Ocean. Bathsheba is a popular spot. It’s famous for its unique rock formations and strong waves with surfing opportunities so good that they hold an annual surfing competition there at the end of March every year.

“Even if you don’t surf yourself, it’s great to get down to the beach and watch the surfers catch some  waves and see the spectacular scenery!”

Meanwhile, the west coast of Barbados is known as the Platinum Coast due to its glitz, glamour and platinum-white beaches. It’s here that you’ll find high-end resorts, boutique hotels with private beaches and luxury villas. If you’re looking for a classic Caribbean scene of azure waters lapping white sandy beaches, bronzing under an eternal sunshine while sipping something from a coconut, it’s the west coast you’re looking for.

There are several magnificent beaches along this coast. From Brandons, Batts Rock, Fitts Village, Paynes Bay, Sandy Lane and Folkestone Park in St. James to Mullins Bay and Heywoods in St. Peter and more.

“One of the great things about Barbados is that all the beaches are public areas so there is no restriction on where you can go. We often combine a beach visit with a restaurant and have a dip in the sea post-meal. Sea Shed, Fish Pot and Local & Co are great for this”.

An experience over the sea and one under it

Being surrounded by vivacious coral reefs, Barbados is one of the best spots in the Caribbean to snorkel. While there aren’t as many deep-diving snorkel spots around the island, the options for shallow-reef diving are as good as anywhere. If you’re staying in or near Bridgetown, Carlisle Bay off Browne’s Beach is a good option.

A short trip north along the east coast towards Holetown, however, and you’ll find Folkestone Marine Park. There, you’ll find all the necessary infrastructure: equipment rental, a marine life information centre and museum, picnic tables and a protected area for snorkelling. Just a few feet from the beach you’ll find rays, terrapins and turtles and schools of thousands of tropical fish.

James and family on a boat in Barbados

For those seeking an adventure over the sea, speedboat hire is an exhilarating way to explore Barbados's incredible coastline.

“We absolutely love going for a sunset cruise along the west coast, usually with Captain Dwayne, who knows the area so well and will describe the coastal highlights and point out who owns or stays in some of the multi-million pound beach side villas”.

James’s favourite beach club

The Boatyard is a beach club with absolutely everything you need for a good time—whether you’re simply looking to relax as your toes sink into soft white sand or take part in more stirring beach activities. Water-based amenities include ocean trampolines, an extreme free fall ocean slide, a dive platform, a rope swing and a free boat tour out to the nearby shipwrecks (with use of snorkel gear and life vest included). Along the beach you’ll find free WiFi, basketball nets, beach volleyball bag toss, fresh water showers, restrooms and changing areas. You certainly won’t be bored!

Carlisle Bay, Barbados

“The Boatyard is a great way to enjoy one of the best beaches in Barbados, Carlisle Bay. You pay a modest entrance fee but this gives you a credit for drinks and food, a trip on a boat to snorkel and a seafront sun lounger and parasol. Plus there is always a chilled Caribbean vibe to the place, which we really enjoy!”

To quote their official website: “The Boatyard Barbados, where the people are friendly, the ocean is blue, the sand is white, the sun is hot, the music is enticing and the cocktails are flowing… Did someone say paradise?!”

For a spot of shopping

There are two sides to shopping in Barbados. On one hand you can get a real feel for authentic Barbados at one of the many local markets on the island. You’ll find everything from fresh tropical fruit and vegetables kissed by the Caribbean sun to souvenir crafts made by fair Bajan hands; clothes, knick-knacks, fresh meat, fish and everything in between. James’s recommendation is to head to Brighton Market on a Saturday to soak up the lively joshing of the vendors and join the locals on the hunt for a bargain. 

“It’s well worth the trip, but be there early, between 7 and 8 otherwise you will miss out”.

On the other hand, Limegrove Lifestyle Centre in Holetown is a high-end shopping and entertainment complex in Holetown. It features luxury shops such as Burberry, Cartier, HUGO BOSS, Longchamp, Louis Vuitton, M.A.C, Michael Kors, Ralph Lauren and more at duty-free prices. Add to that a cinema and some of the finest eateries on the island, and you’ve got a top day out. More to come on James’s favourite restaurants in another blog post!

“Limegrove features our favourite Pizza and Pasta restaurant Pepenero. It’s very casual dining but the pizzas and pasta are awesome. Heather says the King Prawn Pesto Pasta is the best she has ever had!”

Barbados Wildlife Reserve for wildlife 

A green monkey in the Barbados Wildlife Reserve

This is the animal kingdom of Barbados, where exotic and endemic wildlife such as armadillo, pelicans, caimans, snakes, iguanas, turtles, tortoises, parrots, flamingos, peacocks and even the famous Barbados green monkeys rule supreme. James’s tip is to visit the reserve at 11am or 2pm when you’ll get to witness the monkeys’ feeding time!

“There are literally hundreds of tortoises and dozens of wild monkeys to see at the Wildlife Reserve. It’s worth a trip, especially at feeding time”.

James’s top Barbados tips at a glance

  • Take a tour of St. Nicholas Abbey and Rum Distillery in the north

  • Head to Bathsheba on the Atlantic coast and watch the surfers

  • Mullins Beach is the best beach on the east coast

  • The Boatyard Beach Club is a must-visit

  • Head to a local market to soak up authentic Bajan culture

  • Limegrove Lifestyle Centre for duty-free big brands, top restaurants and entertainment

  • Time your visit to Barbados Wildlife Reserve to see the monkeys being fed, 2pm

Call Panache Cruises on 0161 513 8200 to learn more about Barbados.

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