Ah....Barbados with its white sand palm-fringed beaches and warm crystal-clear water....but there is so much more to this Caribbean island than the picture-postcard tropical beaches. For starters, Barbados is the perfect destination for those seeking soft adventures, day-tripping and discovering one-of-kind natural attractions, all wrapped up in a preserved history that stretches back almost 400 years.
Barbados is a small island - just 21 miles long by 14 miles wide, the most easternmost Caribbean island. Islanders say that the Spanish were the first Europeans here in late 1400s, but didn't stay. The Portuguese arrived on the deserted island in 1563, left some wild boars (for future shipwrecks survivors) but also didn't stay. The English sailed here in 1625 and stayed, claiming the island for England. By the mid-1700s, there were 40,000 settlers on Barbados. Hard to imagine that at one time on this 166 square mile of coral (rose from the sea eons ago) there were 1000 sugar plantations, with slaves outnumbering whites by 5 to 1.
Our Barbados adventures began with a luxurious catamaran cruise around the west and south sides of the island with Tiami Catamarans. But this wasn't just a sit-and-watch-the-waves-go-by sail; we snorkeled over two shipwrecks and swam with green sea turtles (the crew reminded us, "these are wild creatures of the sea...please don't touch them"). It had been 10 years since I had gone snorkeling but thanks to the crew - who gave refresher lessons and stayed with us in the water making sure everyone was safe and having a good time - it didn't take me long to get back into it again.
Later we cruised and munched down a hot lunch buffet (the flying fish was delicious) before going for one more swim, this time to a nearby beach about 100 feet away. A catamaran cruise while in Barbados is a definite "must-do" for all ages (a bonus is the onboard free rum punches).
Next day we piled into a 4 x 4 Land Rover to explore Barbados with the Island Safari Tour. Our professional tour guide-driver knew just about everything about the island from the best lookouts, bars and restaurants to the geology, beaches and island's wild green monkeys that were brought here years ago by the British as "pet gifts" to each other.
Safaris and lions seem to go together, even in Barbados, where we started out by visiting the Lion of Gun Hill, an oversized 10-foot white lion carved out of limestone rock in 1868 by a British soldier, Captain Henry Wilkinson, to symbolize the power of Great Britain. After we all took pictures of each other sitting on the lion's back, we were ready to discover cool sites and Bajan back country. We sipped rum punch at Edge Cliff, gazing out at the Atlantic Ocean 140 feet below. Crossed a gully on a "molasses bridge" made of molasses, egg whites and egg shells. Watched surfers at Bathsheba on rugged east coast (world's best surfing here). Bumped along on a dirt track through Joe's River Forest with its zebra tree, sago, termites nest, bearded tree, prickly palms. Stopped at Little Bay on northeast coast, with its interesting pools, unique blowholes and powerful ocean waves. Passed through villages and by colourful road-size murals. Slid by the Sleeping Giant of Barbados...and more. It was a great all-day adventure.
Who knew that Barbados could lay claim to one of the world's best natural wonders - the Harrison's Cave? Government-owned, the cavern is a stunning crystallized limestone with a massive stream cave system at least 2.3 kilometres long. A transportation network of electric-powered trams with an onboard tour guide take visitors deep underground through pitch-black dark tunnels. As you pass certain sections, special lighting comes on to spotlight the formations of stalactites, stalagmites, streams, underground lakes and waterfalls. Along the way, the carts stop for close-up looks and photo opportunities, plus one walk about. It is an amazing magical fantasy-like landscape.
I asked Arnott Williams, a cavern tram driver for over 20 years - what 'cave rooms' people liked the best. Without hesitation, Arnott replied, "I'd say the two favourite rooms are the Great Hall and the Crystal Room." My choices as well.
While in Barbados, we stayed at the Hilton Hotel situated on historic Needham's Point (where every room had a balcony with an ocean beach view) and enjoyed fabulous meals at world-class restaurants like Mango's By The Sea, The Crane's renowned Zen restaurant, and Wisper on the Bay plus the local fare at traditional Bajan rum shops (over 1200 on island).
Elle Andra-Warner is an award-winning journalist/photographer and a best-selling author, based in Thunder Bay. She is a member of TMAC, PWAC and TWUC.
Transportation, visas, health, maps and temperature
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Google interactive map: http://maps.google.com/
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/