Barbados is the easternmost Caribbean island and is surrounded by an ancient coral reef. Its exotic resorts and glorious beaches make it the perfect getaway, where visitors can look forward to year-round sunshine. The destination also has friendly people, a throbbing nightlife and well-developed amenities. Snorkelers, scuba divers and other water-sports enthusiasts will enjoy themselves.
The locals call themselves 'Bajans' and are of West Indian descent. English culture and customs have to a large extent shaped the island. These influences pervade much of Barbados but are most clear in the stone Anglican churches and in the many cricket games played on village greens. The 'Little England' legacy dates back to colonial days, when the sugar industry reigned supreme. Barbados gained independence in 1966. Today, tourism rather than sugar is the local economy's mainstay.
Barbados has a lot to offer visitors regarding beach life and sightseeing. Resorts in St James and St Peter are dream settings from which to appreciate this tropical paradise. More specifically, guests will find luxury, relaxation and a touch of hedonism on the island's renowned west coast.
On the sightseeing front, Harrison's Cave and the Jacobean Mansions are certainly worth visiting. So too is the little fishing village of Bathsheba, which is favoured by surfers and photographers. Graeme Hall Swamp has even more in the way of unusual sights.
All in all, the island is an irresistible option for that perfect, sunny, coastal vacation.
Western Barbados is known as the 'Platinum Coast'. North of the capital, Bridgetown, visitors will find many splendid beach resorts beside the Caribbean shore's warm, clear waters.
Beaches such as Batts Rock, Paynes Bay and Mullins Bay are popular for swimming and sunbathing. Treasure Beach is a splendid hideaway with a reputation for fine Bajan cuisine and luxury accommodation.
All things considered, leisure seekers will relish a trip to this tropical paradise.
Steeped in British colonial history, Bridgetown exudes a distinctly English sensibility, with a laidback West Indian feel. Island lovers visit from around the world to browse the duty-free shops on Broad Street, frolic in the azure waters of Carlisle Bay, and explore the city's museums. History buffs can also enjoy the Barbados Garrison, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, as well as the city's magnificent colonial buildings.
Otherwise, Bridgetown boasts many wild and scenic natural attractions. These include a large variety of wildlife and plant life not far from the city centre. Among other things, outdoor enthusiasts can wander through bright green tropical forests and dive beautiful coral reefs off the town's shores.
Foodies should stop in the Careenage for fresh, Caribbean-style fish and lobster. Shops near the harbour sell staples like Mount Gay Rum. All things considered, visitors will find themselves in the perfect spot to appreciate Barbados.
Located near Bridgetown, the Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary is Barbados' largest expanse of inland water. Its red and white mangrove trees are home to a number of bird species.
Unfortunately, government plans to develop much of the area have forced the park to close most of its grounds to visitors. Only the Sanctuary Cafe and Lakeside Lawn remain open to the public, though on a limited basis.
The British Government established permanent land forces in the Windward and Leeward Islands in the 18th-century, taking Barbados as its headquarters. It built the Barbados Garrison a few years later, making the fort a significant legacy of that era.
Today, this elegant Georgian building is the Garrison Committee's headquarters. The group unearths the numerous old cannons scattered around the island's beaches, cellars and gardens, or buried beneath its fortifications. At present count, history lovers can view around 400 pieces.
Visitors will find the most important pieces in front of the Main Guard House, where they present irresistible photo opportunities. The Garrison complex also features the Barbados Museum. Housed in the old military detention barracks, its collections chronicle the arts, crafts and natural history of Barbados.
Otherwise, the Garrison Historic Area is home to a racetrack that hosts the Barbados Derby, and other prestigious events on the Barbados horseracing calendar.
Barbados has many beautiful tropical gardens. All of them are worth visiting for the tranquillity they inspire.
Travellers who begin their adventure in the island's capital, Bridgetown, should visit the nearby Lazaretto Gardens. Located in the parish of St Michael, they're home to several species of tropical flora and feature a magnificent waterfall.
The Flower Forest lies in the Scotland District of Barbados, farther towards the east coast. Visitors will encounter an awesome variety of plants, including brilliantly coloured flowers such as begonias and heliconias, all set against the jungle's lush greenery.
The Andromeda Botanical Garden is another option. Situated in the parish of St Joseph, it contains several varieties of fern, palm, orchid, hibiscus and bougainvillea, as well as other exotic trees and flowers.
Turners Hall Woods are in the Parish of St Andrew. They're one of the last remnants of the indigenous tropical forest that covered Barbados before the first settlement in 1627. Visitors can view indigenous trees like the Sand Box, Silk Cotton, Cabbage Palm, Trumpet Tree and Macaw Palm.
The Parish of St Thomas has a long gully known as Welchman Hall Gully. It contains some impressive tropical trees and rock formations.
Barbados is a treasure trove of tropical wildlife. Visitors will enjoy encountering the island's colourful species on land and beneath the sea.
Ocean lovers should head north to the Animal Flower Cave. Located in the rugged parish of St Lucy, it's home to vibrant sea-anemones. Some of its pools are deep enough to swim in.
The Folkestone Marine Park is a must for Scuba divers. Situated in St James, its artificial reef was created by deliberately sinking the Greek ship, Stavronikita, in 1976. Snorkelers can admire corals, sponges and marine species in the park's Recreational Zone. The park also has a museum and an aquarium.
The Barbados Wildlife Reserve is mainly a monkey sanctuary. Set in a natural mahogany wood in the parish of St Peter, its Green monkeys are hugely entertaining as they play in their natural environment. Birds, ducks, deer, peacocks, otters, raccoons, turtles and tortoises also roam in the woods.
This huge underground cavern boasts an amazing gallery of deep emerald pools, breath-taking waterfalls, and stalagmites and stalactites. Visitors take electrically operated trams down through an extensive system of caves, ultimately reaching a spectacular waterfall at the bottom level.
Bathsheba is home to a small community of fishing folk. Located on the island's east coast, its rocky terrain makes it a dream setting for photographers. Visitors can look forward to local rum shops, fine restaurants and one of the island's most spectacular beaches, Bath Beach. Locals know it as the 'Soup Bowl' because of its foaming surf. Discerning tourists will enjoy this Caribbean hideaway.
Constructed in the 1650s, Drax Hall in St George and St Nicholas Abbey in St Peter are two of the oldest buildings in Barbados. Both are world-renowned examples of Jacobean architecture, and feature curved Dutch gables and coral-stone finials. Each of them is furnished with antiques.
Drax Hall was one of the earliest and largest sugar plantations in Barbados. James and William Drax established it. The two belonged to a wealthy and influential family, as did many plantation owners who prospered by growing sugarcane.
The Morgan Lewis Mill at St Andrew is another relic of the plantation days. Maintained by the Barbados National Trust, it is one of two restored sugar mills in the Caribbean.
Serious surfers should head to the Soup Bowl. Located on Barbados' east coast, the beach is home to the island's biggest and most powerful waves. Its coral-reef coastline, strong, constant trade winds and year-round swell create the region's most reliable surf conditions. Beginners can rent boards and book lessons.
The Carlisle Bay Marine Park is a superb site for beginner and veteran divers. Its diverse and wonderfully coloured marine population includes rays, reef squids, frog fishes, moray eels, sea horses, barracudas, octopuses and more. Divers can also expect a fine selection of wrecks. Old anchors, cannons and pylons lead from one wreck to the next, roughly marking out the park.
Located on a cliff overlooking the town of Bathsheba, the Andromeda Botanic Gardens make a great day out for the entire family. Kids will have plenty of space to run around and adults will be impressed by an array of flowers that includes orchids, hibiscus and heliconia. The attraction is also renowned for its magnificent palm trees and tremendous bird population.
Barbados' Flower Forest is a wonderful stop for families. Parents can admire beautifully coloured tropical plants and flowers such as roses, hibiscus, begonias and heliconias, or join their children as they venture off to discover more gardens.
Otherwise, the area's topography features gentle hills, which offer amazing vistas of the lush countryside and eastern coastline. Cameras are essential.
Combining a museum and an aquarium, the Folkestone Marine Park features an artificial reef, purposely formed by sinking a ship called the Stavronikita. Divers can expect to see some incredible marine life at the site. Snorkelling equipment is available for hire, though only experienced divers should venture to the Stavronikita because of its depth. Visitors can also enjoy the aquarium, which displays some rare and fantastic marine life.
The weather is mostly fair and sunny in tropical Barbados, with daytime highs averaging between 75°F and 85°F (24°C and 29°C). These hot conditions are tempered by cool, northeast trade winds.
The dry season occurs from January to June and the hurricane season extends from June to October. Hurricanes, however, usually miss Barbados. Instead, the island experiences some spectacular tropical rainstorms. These usually last for short, heavy spells that dry up quickly.
The Barbados Dollar (BBD) is fixed to the US Dollar at a rate of BBD 1.98 to $1 and does not fluctuate. Its rate is relative to other currencies fluctuations based on the particular currency's relation to the US Dollar. US Dollars are also widely accepted on the island, and well-known international credit cards are accepted in most stores and restaurants. Banks and ATMs are freely available and cash withdrawals can be made.
English is the official language in Barbados.
Electric current in Barbados is 110 volts, 50Hz.
US nationals require a valid passport but do not require a visa for a stay of up to 6 months.
British nationals require a valid passport, but do not require a visa for a stay of up to 6 months.
Canadian nationals require a valid passport, but no visa for stays up to six months.
Australian nationals require a valid passport, but no visa for stays of up to six months.
South African nationals require a valid passport. No visa is required for stays of up to six months.
Irish nationals require a valid passport, but no visa for stays of up to six months.
US nationals require a valid passport but do not require a visa for a stay of up to 6 months.
New Zealand nationals require a valid passport, but no visa for stays of up to six months.
Tourists don't usually require a visa for stays of up to six months but they do require a return or onward ticket, proof of sufficient funds, and documents for onward travel. Passports must be valid for the period of intended stay. However, it is recommend that passports always be valid for six months after departure from the destination.
There are no mandatory requirements regarding vaccinations for visitors to Barbados. However, a yellow fever vaccination certificate is required from travellers over one year of age coming from infected areas, and Hepatitis A vaccinations are recommended for those aged over two years. There has been an increase in the outbreaks of dengue fever and mosquito repellent is strongly recommended. Medical care is good but very expensive and serious cases are usually transferred overseas (usually to the USA). Health insurance is therefore strongly recommended.
Tipping in Barbados is not necessary if a service charge has already been included in the bill. Otherwise it is generally about 10-15%. Tipping is normal in bars.
As in most places, crime is not unknown in Barbados. Violent crime doesn't usually affect travellers, though, and normal safety precautions should suffice. Travellers should watch out for pickpockets in Bridgetown, and hustlers at the entrance to St Lawrence Gap, as well as around south-coast nightlife venues.
Otherwise, beach-goers sometimes encounter Portuguese man-of-war jellyfish in Bajan waters. Fortunately, they're usually large, slow and easy to spot. Poisonous manchineel trees grow on a few beaches; tropical storms and hurricanes may occur between June and November.
It is an offence to wear camouflage clothing in Barbados as it is reserved for the military. Topless bathing is frowned upon and nudism is illegal.
Bridgetown is generally the centre of business in Barbados. Business protocol is fairly formal, including greetings (use Mr or Ms) and dress, which is smart. Handshaking between both men and women is expected and business cards are handed out on introduction. Punctuality is expected at meetings. Business hours are generally 8am to 5pm Monday to Friday. Banks and post offices close at 3pm.
The international access code for Barbados is +1, in common with the US, Canada, and most of the Caribbean, followed by 246. The outgoing code is 011, followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 01144 for the United Kingdom). No outgoing code is needed to call the US. Mobile phone networks are readily available and internet access is common in tourist areas.
Travellers to Barbados do not have to pay duty on 1 litre of alcohol. Restricted items include most fresh produce and articles such as drugs, pornography and weapons are strictly prohibited. As of 2010, Barbados was legally declared as a no smoking zone. Those found smoking in public areas will be prosecuted and the import of any form of tobacco is restricted.
Barbados Tourism Authority, Bridgetown: +1 246 427 2623 or www.barbados.org
Embassy of Barbados, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 939 9200.
Barbados High Commission, London, United Kingdom: +44 (246) 431 2200.
High Commission of Barbados, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 236 9517.
Consulate of Barbados, Auckland, New Zealand: +64 09 473 5949.
Embassy of the United States of America, Bridgetown: +1 246 227 4000.
British High Commission, Bridgetown: +1 246 430 7800.
Canadian High Commission, Bridgetown: +1 246 629 3550.
South African High Commission, Kingston, Jamaica (also responsible for Barbados): + 1 876 620 4840.
Australian High Commission, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago (also responsible for Barbados): +1 868 822 5450.
Mission of Ireland to the UN, New York, United States (also responsible for Barbados): +1 212 421 6934.
New Zealand High Commission, Ottawa, Canada (also responsible for Barbados): +1 613 238 5991.