Barbados is a small island country in the south-eastern Caribbean Sea famous for its mega superstar, Rihanna as well as its tranquil, sun-kissed white beaches, blue waters, azure sky, colorful island life, robust rum culture, and friendly Bajan locals. This tropical paradise made news across the world in 2021 when, nearly 400 years since the first English ship arrived at the Caribbean nation, it severed ties with the British monarchy and became a republic.
But, as always, there’s something happening in Barbados. In one place, you might find locals rigged out in flamboyant costumes and with loud Caribbean music, celebrating a national festival. In another, you might see rum connoisseurs reveling, exchanging light-hearted banter. This beautiful and tranquil island nation is fun to explore and is the darling of tourists and vacationists from around the world.
Whether it’s lounging at a beach or sitting around at a bar, there’s fun for everyone. But how about exploring Barbados like a local? There’s no better way to experience Barbados than as a bonafide Bajan. So, if you’re planning a visit to the island nation, here are a few things to do for a splendid experience.
Check out 4 things to do in Barbados to have the best island experience…
#1. Explore any of the 1500 rum shops
You will easily find out that Barbados has a flourishing rum culture. So if you are a rum connoisseur, welcome to the birthplace of rum. Mount Gay, a popular rum brand founded in 1703, reigns supreme; it’s got in store the oldest rum money can buy. In Barbados, rum is not just rum. It is an instigator of tales and gossip, it is a friend of dominoes and some other games, and it holds pride of place in Barbadian and Caribbean culture.
Hang out in any of the island’s 1500 rum shops, your ears cocked for gripping anecdotes. You’ll find merry locals pouring the island’s most celebrated spirit. You will relish the happy air of the place, the banter, the laughter. Make friends with them and join in the games. Are you in love with dominoes? Join in. Arcade games? Try them. Snooker? Win or lose, but have fun. What of karaoke? Grab the mic; it will surprise you how jaunty and sweet reggae is to the soul. The Bajan locals are proud people who love their island life, and you’ll quickly discover that as rum flows.
#2. Savour Bajan cuisine
How can you explore Barbados like a local if you don’t try their dishes? Bajan cuisine is eclectic and cross-cultural, borrowing African, Indian, British, Irish, Portuguese, and Creole ingredients and flavors. Bajan dishes feature fresh vegetables, home-grown spices, and herbs. As an island, Barbados is rich in marine life, lots of which make its way into the country’s culinary assortments. So you won’t be surprised to spot crabs, lobsters, crabs, and sea eggs in Bajan cuisine.
Pig’s tails are also a favorite of the locals. Your exploration of Bajan food won’t be complete if you don’t savor a plate of flying fish served with cou cou, which is made from okra and corn. Barbados boasts many restaurants and street cafes where you can try some of these finger-licking Bajan dishes, a stereo throbbing with boisterous Caribbean music.
#3. Enjoy Barbadian and Caribbean music
Barbadian music has origins from, and deep ties to, the island’s history of slavery and colonialism. But it has a rich, sunny beauty that you’ll be glad to bask in. So sit back and relish the Caribbean island’s musical treats.
If you’re a reggae enthusiast, don’t miss the reggae festival just before spring. You will be happy to hear Tuk music, an indigenous Barbadian genre, and let its lyrics tell you stories of the Bajan people. Calypso is a true Caribbean delight too. And Spouge also; karaoke bars play lots of it.
Head out to a beach. Sit on the sand. Sip a glass of rum or coconut water. Enjoy Tuk or Spouge or Calypso or Steel Pan or Reggae throbbing in the air. You may enjoy Rihanna’s music too – she’s Barbadian after all! Gaze at the setting sun. That’s part of the island experience.
#4. Celebrate Crop Over with the locals
Crop Over, a six-week-long festival, is the chief of Barbados’ festivals. It originated from the island’s periods of slavery and colonialism when slaves marked the end of the crop season, or sugar cane season, with a big celebration that fused African traditions with those of the slave masters. At this party, the most productive male and female are made the Crop King and Crop Queen respectively.
Nowadays, people compete for these titles using elaborate crop-themed costumes. This festival features dusk-till-dawn Bajan parties, arts and crafts, culinary treats, and music. On Grand Kadooment Day, which marks the end of Crop Over, masquerade bands will dance behind music trucks to Spring Garden highway, dressed in brightly colored costumes glittering with jewels sequins, jewelry, or body paint. They will sing and dance, shimmering in the sun, shaking their flamboyant feathers or fabric, clinking the beads on their bodies, filling your heart with bliss.
This is Barbados in all its glory! So, immerse yourself in this. Feast, dance, and have fun. And even when you are long gone from this island, you will feel the island strong in you, like rum in your veins.
Featured image: @reekolynchvisuals via @barbadoscropoverhub/Instagram
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A writer fascinated by humanity and diversity. He is the author of Do Not Say It’s Not Your Country.