Barbados is known for many things, and if you ask a local, they’ll likely tell you that some of the things Barbados is most famous for are Rihanna, its National Dish Cou Cou and Flying Fish, and Crop Over. All three are among the significant things the island of Barbados is most known for, but there are many others, like the fact that the island is considered the birthplace of rum, and was one known as “Los Barbados.” More on that later…
In any case, ahead of a Bajan holiday, it makes sense to learn all you can, so that while touring, you have a better understanding of why things are the way they are. As one of the best holiday picks in the Caribbean, be sure to take in some beach action while there, and all the other activities that can help you live the best Caribbean life, if only for a few days!
In this article on the Sandals Blog:
15 things Barbados is known for
Eight authentic souvenirs to bring home with you
Bonus: Ten interesting facts about Barbados
Barbados has it all and then some...
What would the Caribbean be without its gorgeous beaches? A little less mesmerising, but still pure paradise! Fortunately, you won’t have to experience beach-less vibes in Barbados. In fact, the island is known for having some of the most diverse beaches in the Caribbean, where you can relax and lounge at your leisure, snorkel with turtles, or take in some water sports action. Try beaches on the west and south coasts for calm conditions, and beaches on the east coast if you fancy riding some waves. More on that in the following section!
Insider tip: Love to have unlimited cocktails on the beach? Sandals offers two all-inclusive resorts in Barbados, Sandals Royal Barbados and Sandals Barbados both located right on the beachfront, where you can have first-dibs on some of the best beachside spots. Guests of one Sandals resort, can make use of the amenities and restaurants of both resorts!
The Caribbean is becoming increasingly popular with the surfing crowd, and islands like Barbados are at the forefront. The south and east coasts of the island are where you can find the biggest waves, and often, even surfing competitions. November to June is the best time to ride the waves, and the south coast is often the preference for surfers who want quick access to restaurants and entertainment as well. Near the town of Oistins, Freights Bay is a sheltered bay on the south coast that surfers enjoy because of its offshore winds. Branden near Bridgetown is also a good spot, ideal for surfers of all skill levels. The Soup Bowl, Bathsheba on the east coast has earned its fame, as has Surfing South Point, on the south coast. Batts Rock and Tropicana on the west coast, and Maycocks on the north west are also worth a spin. If you go to these beaches to watch and not to surf, it’s a good idea to bring along a picnic basket to enjoy with good company.
If ever there was an island that can claim being the place where rum originated, it’s Barbados. Mount Gay Distilleries in particular, has been churning out rum since 1703 in Barbados. The distillery produces the oldest rum in the world. Across the island, there are over 1,500 rum shops, and more distilleries, including Foursquare Distilleries and St Nicholas Abbey; a plantation house, museum and rum distillery. Whether or not you already have a favourite rum mix, chances are you’ll find a better one in Barbados.
Barbados was once British, and the island became independent in 1966; this happened after first being occupied by the British in 1627. Ahead of its independence, the island was a British colony until internal autonomy was gained in 1961. Still today, even though the island is independent, Barbados has close ties to the British Monarch, which is represented by the Governor General. The Queen remains the head of state of Barbados.
Believe it or not, Rihanna has very humble beginnings on the island of Barbados. She’s come a long way since then, now being a famous singer, song writer, designer, actress, and the face behind the trending brand Fenty Beauty, one of the most popular makeup brands in the world. Rihanna frequently travels back to the island for the famous Crop Over carnival celebration, and she promotes her island whenever given the opportunity. “Riri”, as she is known by her fans, was honoured with the title “Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary” for Barbados in September 2018.
The Caribbean’s pirate history is intriguing, and it isn’t all just a fictional story created for the purposes of putting together a best-selling movie. Pirates did at one point dominate the seas in this region, terrorizing ships in the area. Two notorious pirates of Barbados were Sam Lord and Stede Bonnet. As far as pirates went, Sam Lord was among the more innovative, as he took his plundering ways to the shores. Lord would hang up lanterns in coconut trees to confuse vessels into thinking they were headed to the capital city. Many would wreck their ships on the reefs, and the wheels would be in motion for Lord’s deviant plans.
Stede Bonnet on the other hand, was a gentleman of a pirate, and a retired British army major. He turned to the ‘dark’ side in 1717, and even went as far as purchasing his own pirate ship. His ship was known as “Revenge”, and he sailed it off the New England Coast. Along the way he captured and burned many ships, and later returned to the Caribbean. He befriended the legendary pirate, Blackberry, who at one point took over the reins of his ship, which were later returned. Eventually, Bonnet was captured, and put to death by way of hanging, in 1718.
Flying fish is a popular catch in Barbados, hence the references to the island and flying fish, and the reason this species of fish is featured in the island’s national dish, cou cou and flying fish. Cou cou and flying fish is made by steaming the fish with local spices and other seasoning, and serving it up along with cou cou, which is made with cornmeal and okra. There are many other popular dishes that you can try while in Barbados, which you can learn more about in our Barbadian food blog!
Crop Over is an epic Caribbean carnival celebration, and its beginnings have something to do with the last sugar cane harvest of the season. This dates to the colonial-era, but today it is Barbados’ biggest party, with lots of celebrities flying to the island to be part of the event. Activities for Crop Over start as early as June and span until the first Monday in August. The explosive finale of the Crop Over event is known as The Grand Kadooment (Kadooment Day). In addition to, day and night parties, around this time you’ll find craft markets underway, a children’s parade and more. Even if you don’t put on a costume, to jump with a Crop Over band, through the streets of Bridgetown, on Kadooment Day, you’ll be in for an action-packed holiday if you travel to Barbados during this time.
Sir Garfield St. Auburn Sobers was born in 1936 in St. Michael, Barbados. He is known as one of the world’s greatest living cricket legends. An all-rounder on the field, Sobers played on the West Indies cricket team from the time he was 16. Among his notable achievements is setting a world record in 1958 by scoring 365 runs, without being struck out. That record was finally broken in 1994, but still today Sobers remains a National Hero in Barbados.
Bajans, as they are known, are full of character, and most are extremely patriotic. While you may want to call them Barbadian, most will quickly correct and inform you that they are in fact, “Bajan”. Though both terms are correct, the world “Bajan” somehow seems better able to encapsulate the personality of the vivacious people of this island. While in Barbados, you’ll also hear plenty of people referring to the island by its nickname, “Bim”!
Chattel Houses are small, movable wooden houses, which are closely tied to the island’s heritage. Their origin goes back to the plantation days, when movable houses would be purchased, that could be moved from one property to another. Chattel houses are popular with homeowners who may not necessarily own the land on which they live. These houses are normally constructed on blocks, which makes them easier to move, whenever necessary. Years later, these types of houses continue to be a prominent feature in some parts of Barbados, in more elaborate and unique designs.
Monkeys are a rare find for most of the smaller islands of the Caribbean, but not so in Barbados. The Green Monkey is a common sight on the island, and sometimes even pops up in people’s gardens. Locals believe that Green Monkey came from Senegal and the Gambia in West Africa 350 years ago. Over time, the monkeys developed different characteristics, as compared to those from West Africa. You have the greatest chance of encountering a Green Monkey in Barbados if you visit places like St. John, St. Joseph, St. Andrew or St. Thomas. These monkeys are mischievous and playful, so don’t be surprised if you spot one taking a stroll in your all-inclusive resort!
Barbados isn’t known to be a mountainous island, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get amazing views from some vantage points. Mount Hillaby in St. Andrew for example, the highest point on the island, is 1,115 feet above sea level. The views from the top are outstanding, including photo worthy perspectives of the Scotland District.
Garrison Savannah has a British air about it, and rightly so – it has been rooted firmly in the Barbadian landscape since the colonial era, 1845 to be precise. History suggests that troops were once stationed in the area where Garrison Savannah can be found in Bridgetown, hence the name. In late February and early March, Garrison Savannah plays host to the Barbados Gold Cup, a thoroughbred horse race which has been on the events calendar since 1982. Other than that, if you’re interested in horse racing excitement, you’re best going during any of the three seasons; January-April, May-September, or November-December. It isn’t usually expensive to watch horse races, with tickets for some events as low as 10 Barbadian Dollars.
Mongeese are often compared to weasels, or stoats. You may see these little critters scurrying across the road, especially if you’re travelling on a road surrounded by greenery in the Barbados countryside. They are small, furry animals, which are usually brown/grey in colour, and they were introduced to Barbados from India for a very specific reason: to kill rats. At the time, the increasing rat population was affecting the sugar cane industry, but this plan backfired with the realization that rats are nocturnal, while Mongoose are not. Either way, there’s still quite a few mongeese on the island.
If you’re considering purchasing Bajan seasoning to take home, try some of the most popular island varieties, like the Delish Bajan Seasoning jars. This seasoning brand is all you’ll need to spice up any dish ahead of cooking, and a helpful hint is leaving the spices on overnight for maximum flavour. Put some in your suitcase so you can recreate your favourite Bajan meals in the comfort of your home.
Mount Gay Rum is one of the items you don’t want to return home without, once your trip is over. It is one of the most famous rums of the island, and has international appeal, particularly considering the reputation of the Mount Gay Distilleries, where it is produced. Mount Gay, and the local rum known as Cockspur, are two island favourites, but Mount Gay wins out this time around because of their super informative and fun distillery tours!
Tamarind balls are super popular in many Caribbean islands, and in Barbados you can try this sugar coated sweet and sour treat which packs tremendous nutritional benefit. Tamarind is known to lower cholesterol, aid digestion, and promote heart health, and it is also a good source of vitamin B and calcium. Since Bajans are known to live longer than many other nationalities, it’s not a bad idea while there to learn their secrets to healthy living, and allow these to permeate your holiday, and your life.
Unwind and live in the moment—and have plenty of tea while you’re at it. At teatime, swap the conventional sugar for some local cane sugar, which is a healthier alternative. You can also learn about the history of sugar cane on the island while you’re at it. Keep in mind that sugar cane conversations in Barbados often lead in roundabout way to Crop Over, which is tied to the festival’s origins.
Add some spice to your Bajan holiday, or maybe just your food, by getting familiar with the local pepper sauces. Islanders love pepper sauce on just about everything, and it’s not a bad idea if you can handle spice—a bit of pepper sauce really has a way of adding that ‘zing’ to an ordinary meal. Try the Aunt May brand which you can get at most supermarkets in Barbados and beyond, and don’t be afraid to experiment with the many other options.
Most Caribbean islands have their own distinct beer, tooted most by locals, and Banks beer is that of Barbados. You won’t have a hard time finding a cold bottle of Banks while on the island, as it is available at most bars and supermarkets. Many restaurants also have Banks beer on offer, and it goes well with a tasty Bajan style lunch!
There are quite a few places in Barbados where you can go to shop for art, jewellery, and other souvenirs. One of these is the Oistins Fish Fry held every Friday, which normally features among the food, drinks, and excitement, paintings, sculptures, jewellery, and more ‘made in Barbados’ items.
Coconut bread is a Caribbean favourite, but Barbados is one of the islands where the recipe for this treat is most perfected. You may hear Bajans referring to some versions of coconut bread as sweet bread, and the best way to have it is with a steaming hot cup of your favourite tea. You can find coconut bread at some local restaurants, and in most supermarkets.
Who knew beards and fig trees could be inspirational? This was the case for Barbados once upon a time, when a Portuguese sea captain known as Pedro A. Campos pondered over the island’s numerous bearded fig trees, and decided the island needed a name which emphasised how much of a prominent feature those fig trees were. And so, Barbados, before it was known as Barbados, was called “Los Barbados”, which means “bearded one”.
As delicious and popular as it is today, grapefruit was once known as the forbidden fruit. As Barbadian legend would have it, it was discovered in Welchman Hall Gully in the 18th century. Its existence is said to have something to do with a cross-pollination that occurred naturally, between Shaddock and Sweet Orange. In Barbados you can have local grapefruit juice with any meal that you choose, or you can savour some fresh grapefruit juice in a tasty island cocktail.
The Barbados Concorde Experience is one of the most promoted tours on the island, and you don’t have to go very far to see what this tour is all about. In fact, this experience unfolds right at the Grantley Adams International Airport and involves touring a hangar-museum. The main attraction here is a supersonic passenger airliner, known as a Concorde, which is one of 18 still in existence in the world. The one at the hangar-museum is a British Airways aircraft G-BOAE (Alpha Echo). You can walk the red carpet into the Concorde and learn all about what made it different from other airliners, during its heyday.
The name Cattlewash beach was derived from cattle wading in the sea at this very location. These days you won’t find any cattle around though. In the past, people would travel from all over the world to Barbados to experience healing rituals on this beach, a process that was said to cure many ailments. This went on for several years, and whether there is any truth to these claims, a dip in the waters of Cattlewash beach in the Bajan sunshine is sure to leave you feeling refreshed. Beware of strong currents though, swimming into the open waters is not recommended at Cattlewash beach.
The area was originally named Jamestown after King James I, of England. Holetown is in the parish of Saint James, and while there you can spend some time exploring the Holetown Beach. Holetown also hosts its own festival every February.
Right after the devastating fire, the House of Assembly through an Act ordered the stoppage of construction projects using wood to complete buildings. Since that fire, the city has been rebuilt and developed in such a way, that you likely won’t be able to tell that it once burnt to the ground.
The name “Indian Bridge” referred to the bridge constructed in Barbados, by the Indians. Its name switched up some more over the years, changing to “Town of St. Michael”, and then finally, Bridgetown. The name Bridgetown came after a new bridge was constructed, somewhere around 1654.
Captain John Powell sailed to Barbados on the first English ship to the island, which had gone off course. He and Captain William Deane, known as the first and second Governors of the island, were both arrested during their terms as governor. As history tells it, both returned to England in irons.
No one wanted the be “Barbado’ed” back in the day, as the term referred to the deportation to Barbados as a punishment. People considered enemies of the crown were sent off to Barbados to serve as the first slaves on the island. These white slaves were known as indentured servants. This kind of deportation was common between the years 1640 and 1650.
Whether or not you’re a history buff, it can be an enjoyable experience to walk through some of the older areas of Barbados, which feature olden architecture, like that of the Parliament Buildings on Broad Street, Bridgetown. Established in 1639, the Barbados Parliament is the third oldest Parliament in the Commonwealth.
Whether you’re looking to have a holiday where you can immerse yourself fully in the history and culture of the island, a never-ending outdoorsy adventure, or an exciting time where all you need to think about is what you’ll have for your next cocktail, you’ll find all that and more in Barbados. With the experiences to be gained during your holiday, you’ll certainly leave the island with enriched insight on this part of the world, which continues to be one of the most highly rated holiday destinations. Book one of Sandals all-inclusive resorts in Barbados, and you’ll be guaranteed a good time!