Awash in balmy breezes, lush wildlife, and steeped in history that includes real pirates of the Caribbean, the island of Barbados has long captivated visitors from far and wide. It was named Los Barbudos or “the bearded ones” by the Spanish after the island’s fig trees which have a bearded appearance with their long vine-like hanging roots. This eastern-most Caribbean island in the Lesser Antilles is quite unique in that it was formed by the merging of the Atlantic crustal and Caribbean plates, rather than volcanic eruptions. It is a coral-limestone island ringed by coral reefs.
Barbados was home to two famous buccaneers—Stede Bonnet and Sam Lord—whose swashbuckling exploits have inspired Hollywood films romanticizing the subject. Stede Bonnet was a retired British army major who befriended the dreaded Blackbeard himself, and raided ships until he was caught and hanged for piracy in 1718, while Sam Lord was a rogue who is said to have lured and plundered unwary ships to their demise on the coral reefs skirting the island by hanging lanterns from coconut trees on his estate. This colorful history lends a roguish dash of romance to the island’s spectacular allure.
Barbados’ year-round temperature remains a warm 75-85 degrees Fahrenheit with refreshing northeasterly trade winds, and boasts white sand beaches, lush tropical wildlife, plenty of water sports, shopping, dining, and sightseeing that includes shipwrecks littering the ocean floor.
Barbados Wildlife Reserve
Barbados Wildlife Reserve has the feel of a primeval wood with a tropical twist. The animals here roam freely in a lush mahogany grove where long vines hang from above and dense vegetation clings with mist. Rustic stone paths meander through moss-draped trees in this shaded piece of paradise that is home to monkeys, brocket deer, agouti, turtles, iguana, caimans, flamingoes, peacocks, and a host of exotic birds. The reserve lies across the road from the Farley Hill National Park in St. Peter.
Farley Hill National Park
Located in St. Peter near the Barbados Wildlife Reserve, this 17-acre property is nestled among mahogany trees, and affords spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean, making a lovely picnic spot. Several times a year Farley Hill holds musical and theatrical events, such as the Barbados Jazz Festival. The romantic ruins of the great 19th-century manor on the property lend an old world grace to the landscape and its stone relics.
Welchman Hall Gully
This tropical rainforest is found right in the heart of the island, and is a sensual delight for hikers and nature lovers. With its light showers and fragrant mists, the moist air of the gully is redolent of the rich soil, dense vegetation and hints of the tangy sea. One gets the feel for what the island might have been like centuries ago when it was first discovered in its wild and uninhabited splendor. A rustic stone path makes for a leisurely hike among exotic trees clinging with moss, where aerial roots and hanging vines stake their claim among flowers bursting in vibrant hues.
Considered one of the natural wonders of the Caribbean, Harrison’s Cave is a popular tourist attraction that makes for an unforgettable visit. Its shimmering pools, cascading waterfalls, calcite crystals and caverns with stalactites and stalagmites stir the imagination with their otherworldly beauty. The sparkling clear water from the island’s underground lakes is naturally purified from the mineral deposits, and is the source of all of Barbados’s drinking water.
St. Nicholas Abbey
St. Nicholas Abbey is a historical landmark on Barbados. It is a plantation house in the form of a gracious Jacobean mansion built in 1658. The plantation and its buildings appear as they did for several centuries, and include the great house, a distillery known for its handcrafted rum, a boiling house and the plantation itself. The residence is open for touring by the public and includes a short historic film that provides a fascinating glimpse of life on the island around 1935. The property is accessed by a road lined with large trees whose outstretched limbs beckon with the romance of a bygone era, transporting one back in time.
Mount Gay Rum Distillery
No trip to the Caribbean is complete without dipping into its rum and pirate history, and a visit to Mount Gay Rum Distillery spikes one’s sightseeing experience with a dash of spicy history and pirate lore. This ranks as the world’s oldest rum distillery dating back to 1703, and conjures images of rum-swilling pirates of yore. Tours include the history of rum, its craftsmanship, and tastings.
Although the island of Barbados and its history are fascinating, the people are what make it most enchanting. Warm and friendly, the locals have an easy-going charm that make one feel instantly welcome. Everything about the island is captivating: its intriguing and variegated history, its colorful Caribbean architecture and its British colonial appeal evident throughout the culture. But at the end of the day, long after the sun has set and the crickets awaken with their nightly chorus, it is a beguiling blend of all these things that thoroughly seduce visitors, leaving one forever smitten by this coral island in the Caribbean Sea.
All photos by Jocelyn Murray
Previously published in www.TotsandTravel.com on October 25, 2013