A Caribbean Gem (10 pic)

The Caribbean paradise of Barbados offers fun in the sun, spectacular beaches, tranquil waters, time-lost villages, colorful botanical gardens, proud military forts, abundant wildlife, and warm charming locals.

From the moment our plane landed on the island nation of Barbados to the day we left, it seemed as though many visitors to this popular Caribbean destination return time and again. Locals appeared surprised to learn that we had not previously visited their country. Interestingly, of the twenty-odd families on the bus that delivered us from the airport to our resort, we were the only couple that was visiting Barbados for the first time. I had not noticed this on any of our visits to the other Caribbean islands, and wanted to find out what visitors found so enticing about this small island nation.

For many visitors, Barbados’ balmy tropical climate and its stunning natural beauty are its biggest draws. Located approximately 400 kilometres northeast of Venezuela, Barbados enjoys some 3,000 hours of sunshine a year. Daily highs usually range from 26 to 30ºC, and are tempered by cool trade winds off the Atlantic (though the humidity in September and October can be a bit excessive for some). The rainy season lasts from July to November, though rainfall usually comes in short bursts. Barbados is usually spared from tropical storms and hurricanes during the rainy season because of its far eastern location in the Atlantic. The average time between direct hurricane hits is a lengthy 26 years.

Often referred to as the ‘gem of the Caribbean’, Barbados is lined with soft sandy beaches (all of which are public) and fringed by coral reefs. Its southern and western coasts are favored by tourists because of their tranquil Caribbean waters. Popular aquatic pastimes include snorkeling, scuba diving, body-boarding, kayaking, game fishing, and sailing. The beaches on the Atlantic (northern and eastern) sides are comparatively deserted, with rougher waters which attract the more daring surfing crowd. In addition to pretty villages and its lively capital city of Bridgetown, the interior consists largely of rolling pastures and hilltops with panoramic views.

For those to prefer land-based activities, there’s plenty to see and do on the island. One of our most enjoyable days in Barbados was spent zipping around in a mini-moke (an open-air, beach buggy-type vehicle usually rented by tourists). We explored the island’s small picturesque villages with their quaint chattel houses (modest wooden buildings set on blocks so they could be easily moved from one spot to another), the west coast’s homes of the rich and famous, the interior’s many acres of sugar cane fields, and the many miles of empty beaches on the east coast.

We also visited some of Barbados’ traditionally popular attractions: its plantation houses, colorful botanical gardens, and proud military forts. The sprawling Andromeda Botanical Gardens boasts one of the finest collections of native flowers, shrubs and trees in the Caribbean. One of the garden’s highlights is the giant bearded fig tree (Ficus citrifolia), believed by many to have given Barbados its name.

Another popular must-see, located on the northern coast, is the Barbados Wildlife Reserve . Originally established for the conservation of the country’s native green monkeys, it is now also home to brocket deer, otters, armadillos, caiman alligators, tortoises, a variety of colorful tropical birds, and the curious looking hutia congas (which look like a cross between a bunny and kangaroo). Keep an eye on your camera and bags, as the green monkeys have been known to sneak off with them if left unattended. Also, arrive early to avoid the busloads of schoolchildren that eventually arrive (and cause the animals to scurry away).

For us, the most compelling reason to return to this delightful country is its people, whom we found to be as warm and welcoming as you’ll find anywhere. Barbadians (also colloquially referred to as Bajans) will surprise you with their disarming charm and generosity. Whether on or off the resort, we were always greeted with a big smile and friendly ‘Hello, how are you doing today?’

So if you have yet to visit Barbados, consider making it one of your next vacation stops. While it seems as though the Caribbean islands are all one and the same, there are certain unique qualities to Barbados which set it apart from similar sun-drenched destinations. Once you’ve visited this island paradise and experienced all it has to offer, you will no doubt yearn to return at every opportunity.

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