A pocket guide to Barbados, this text features lively accounts of every attraction, from the capital of Bridgetown, to the west coast's Caribbean beaches and the rugged Atlantic shore in the east coast. For every resort there are reviews of the best accommodation, restaurants and clubs and bars.
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Tourists pour into Barbados from all over the world, drawn by the delightful climate, the big blue sea and brilliant white sandy beaches. Many of them rarely stray far from their hotels and guesthouses, but those who make an effort find a proud island scattered with an impressive range of historic sites and, away from the mostly gently rolling landscape, dramatic scenery in hidden caves, cliffs and gullies.
Chief among the island's attractions are its old plantation houses - places like St Nicholas Abbey and Francia - superb botanical gardens at Andromeda and the Flower Forest, and the military forts and signal stations at Gun Hill and Grenade Hall. The capital Bridgetown is a lively place to visit, with an excellent national museum and great nightlife in its bars and clubs, some of them located right on the beach. No other town begins to approach the capital in size, but the small and largely untouristed Speightstown - once a thriving and wealthy port - is a good place to wander for a couple of hours then grab a drink on a terrace overlooking the sea. And, of course, there are the beaches, from the often crowded strips such as Accra Beach and Mullins Bay to tiny but superb patches of palm-fringed sand like Bottom Bay in the southeast.
For more than three centuries Barbados was a British colony and, perhaps unsurprisingly, it retains something of a British feel: the place names, the cricket, horse-racing and polo, Anglican parish churches, and even a hilly district known as Scotland. But the Britishness is often exaggerated, for this is a distinctly West Indian country, covered by a patchwork of sugarcane fields and dotted with tiny rum shops, where calypso is the music of choice, flying fish the favoured food, and cultural influences as likely to emanate from Africa as from Europe.
The people of Barbados, known as Bajans, take great pride in their tiny island of 430 square kilometres and 250,000 people. Literacy is as high as you'll find in any European nation, and Bajans have a deserved reputation for being well-informed and articulate. In writers like George Lamming and calypsonians like the Mighty Gabby the island has produced some of the finest artists in the English-speaking West Indies, while around the world its cricket players - including the great Sir Gary Sobers - have for decades had an influence way out of proportion to the size of their home country.
Tourism of course plays a major part in the country's economy and, in a mature and flourishing democracy, it is obvious that the revenues have been put to good use. The infrastructure is first-rate, with excellent roads, schools and public transport, and there is no sign of the poverty that continues to bedevil some Caribbean islands. Critics of development argue that the island has sold its soul for tourism but, in many ways, Barbados has been a model of how to cope with the new role of tourist mecca suddenly thrust upon many West Indian islands since the 1960s. Development has mostly been pretty discreet, many of the facilities are Bajan-owned, there are no private beaches and no sign of the American fast-food franchises that blight other islands in the region.
Admittedly, there are areas on both the south and west coasts where tourism is utterly dominant and Bajans massively outnumbered by European and American visitors. But, if you want to, it's easy to get away from it. Jump in a bus or a rental car and see the rest of the island: the sugar-growing central parishes, the thinly populated and little-explored north, and the ruggedly beautiful east coast, where you can hike for miles along the beach with only seabirds and the occasional surfer in sight.
When to go
For many visitors, Barbados's tropical climate is its leading attraction - hot and sunny year-round. The weather is at its best during the high season period from mid-December to mid-April, with rainfall low and the heat tempered by cooling trade winds. Things can get noticeably hotter during the summer and, particularly in September and October, the humidity can become oppressive. September is also the most threatening month of the annual hurricane season, which runs officially from June 1 to October 31, though it's worth bearing in mind that, on average, the big blows only hit about once a decade. As you'd expect, prices and crowds are at their peak during high season, when the main attractions and beaches can get pretty packed. Outside this period everywhere is a little quieter, flight and accommodation prices come down (often dramatically) and you'll find more scope for negotiation on other items.Review:
The Rough Guide is indispensable. -- Essentials, 1 April 2000
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