A week in Barbados: Local vibes and fish frys

I used to see the Caribbean as the fat man’s holiday – dominated by all-inclusive packages and doing little else other than being horizontal. Although I did my fair share of sun-worshiping, I discovered there was so much more to these paradise islands than I had previously imagined.
As a Flight Centre consultant, I spent most days creating itineraries for other people. With the launch of their Escapes range, enough was enough – it was time for a holiday – and the turquoise waters of Barbados were proving irresistible.
Flights into Barbados start from about £410 per person, with both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic offering direct services throughout the week to here and many other Caribbean islands.

Touch down

Our taxi driver cruised out of Grantley Adams International round to St Lawrence Gap where we were based for the next seven nights. He was laughing on the phone whilst half engaged in conversation with us, gushing about his grandchildren and the legendary Oistins fish fry which we had to go to on Friday. We pulled up to a modest 3-star called Time Out, right on Dover Beach, unpacked and headed down to the Gap.
The atmosphere was humid and heavy, and with a sudden crack the pressure was lifted and the heavens opened for about 5 minutes, enough to soak the entire restaurant who had been enjoying their fish suppers out on the pavement.
Barbados’ beaches were perfection – and we split our time between Dover Beach and Paynes Bay where my parents were staying just near Holetown on the west coast. Holetown is your more upmarket hang out, and the west coast plays host to the homes of Simon Cowell, Cliff Richard and Rihanna but we soon discovered the south coast is where the fun was at. Barbados of course is known for many a luxurious beach destination but stay in the south and you’ll swap swank for local charm. Young people frequent Harbour Lights beach party in Bridgetown after Oistins on Friday, shacks line the roads serving up flying fish sandwiches – the Bajan answer to a fish finger sandwich – and buses run frequently between every part of the island.

Five Things You Must Do In Barbados

1. Swim with turtles

Most catamaran trips will take you out for a spot of snorkelling, maybe visit a few ship wrecks, some deserted beaches, have some (more) fish and Bajan mac pie onboard – but nothing comes close to meeting these beautiful creatures. They please themselves – lazily cruising up towards the surface of the water to check out the humans and floating on back down again when they’ve had enough. It’s one of those experiences that you think will be ok because books and TV say it will be amazing – like swimming with dolphins – but then when you’re finally doing it, it is for a long time afterwards the best thing you have ever done. I am gutted I have no photos of these lovely creatures, but they deserve without a doubt to be top of my Bajan musts. This is also a good opportunity to take in the colourful Bridgetown before sailing out and getting a few photos of some ridiculous yachts at the harbour.

Bridgetown Harbour, Barbados


2. See Harrison’s Cave

The spectacular formations and caverns of Harrison’s Cave, located in the central uplands of the island, is a fantastic eco-adventure, mainly navigated by tram. We weave through narrow passages past thousands of enormous stalactites and stalagmites resembling many a human body part. Visitors have the chance to join a four hour trek through the cave’s narrowest passages – or you can just stick with the tram if you’re already a sweaty mess.

Harrison’s Cave, Barbados

3. Get down to Oistins Fish Fry

A tourist pilgrimage frequented by locals every Friday and Saturday of the week, this mass fish fry is an absolute must for seafood lovers and offers huge portions of shrimp, lobster, Marlin, swordfish, flying fish and more with the standard mac pie and rice and peas accompaniment. We loved it so much we went on Saturday as well, but it is definitely livelier on Friday, with plenty of vendors to choose from, live music and stalls. Uncle George Fish Net Grill is particularly famous (we ended up there both times) and were really attentive despite having to wait on many other hungry fish enthusiasts. You can easily get a mountain of fish, with two sides and a beer for less than $15 – bargain.


A rather crowded Oistin’s Fish Fry

4. Eat local

We had lunch at the same place every day – and it wasn’t at a hotel, or a fancy restaurant. It was a roadside shack called Daddy’s just opposite our hotel in the Gap. Modest, delicious, cheap and local. I still miss these flying fish sandwiches with hot Bajan sauce…

Local lunching

5. Visit the Nature Reserve (at feeding time)

A small but unique little haven located in the north of the island where visitors stroll around freely amongst deer, tortoises and green monkeys. Feeding time had just started when we arrived and as we walked through the trees we noticed more and more tortoises moving in the same direction. As the trees opened up to a clearing, their reasoning became clear. Deer and literally piles of tortoises were scrambling (the deer somewhat more successfully) over pieces of fruit and sweet potato. I had never before seen these two species sharing a mountain of vegetables before, but it was worth the trip just for this. Only the photos can do it justice. And of course, everyone loves monkeys.

Deer at the nature reserve

6. Get the bus, everywhere

From day one, we went from place to place, one sweaty packed bus to another. The wind through the windows detracted from the heat and the rocket-speed down the narrow winding roads kept our hands tight to the railings. Reggae blasted out from the speakers and the bus conductor collected two dollars from the passengers when they felt like it. My map flapped in the wind as we tricked death one more time on a tight bend, while the locals looked on thinking about their day, probably rolling their eyes at us. But it was something so simple as riding a bus which made us feel so instantly accepted on this little island. We weren’t stared at or treated differently or singled out – it was that immediate feeling of acceptance which put us so at ease and made it equally so hard to leave.
Have you been to Barbados? Tell me about your experience on the island!