On Island Time: 8 Reasons Barbados Should Be Your Next Winter Vacay

 

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Recently dubbed the Caribbean Destination of the Year by Caribbean Journal, Barbados is, without a doubt, the next trip you need to book.

Like, yesterday.

Barbados is known for its white, sandy beaches and being the birthplace of Rihanna.

It’s the place where high-profile people such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Simon Cowell, Elton John and many others jet off to for their holidays in the sun.

But don’t let that fool you into thinking this destination is only for the well-to-do.

That’s far from the truth.

Barbados is the perfect getaway for travelers of any age and (most importantly) any budget.

The reasons for visiting go far beyond expensive resorts and pictures taken in front of Rihanna’s home on the west coast of the island.

1. For The Adventure

Despite being considered one of the “flattest” Caribbean islands, Barbados still has tons of adrenaline-spiking activities for the adventure seekers.

You can zip line through the trees, scuba dive through sunken ships, snorkel with turtles or go for a horseback ride across the sand.

You can swim in pools of water inside the Animal Flower Cave, hike the rugged coastline of St. Lucy or face your fears of the dark and claustrophobia in some of the underground caves and tunnels.


2. For The Ease Of Getting Around

For only $2 in Barbados (or $1 in American), you can hop on any public bus or ZR (vans that hold roughly 12 people, but can squish in upwards of 22) and get anywhere you need to go.

If you hire a car, it doesn’t take much longer than an hour to drive from one end of the island to the other.

Not only is getting around easy in Barbados, but it’s fun as well.

You’ll typically find loud reggae or soca music blasting on many of the buses and ZRs.

Many ZR drivers bling out the inside of their vans with lights, decoration and colors.


3. For The Friendly Nature

Bajans are pretty friendly folk, and they’re are always willing to lend you a hand in getting where you need to be.

They love recommending their favorite spots on the island or inviting you in for a heated game of dominoes.

They want you to enjoy your stay and feel welcome on the island, and they might even go out of their way to make that happen.


4. For the Mangos And The Coconuts

My version of paradise is anywhere you can buy milk jugs of fresh coconut water, cheap produce at the local markets and mangos by the dozen, which you’ll likely want to eat all in one day (0r one sitting).

Barbados has coconut vendors scattered all over the place, typically on the side of the road or near popular beaches.

Here, you can purchase a fresh coconut for the road or an entire jug of freshly poured coconut water.


5. For The Music

Nothing shocked me more than the musical talent on the island.

If you know where to go, you can find live music acts every night of the week.

I guarantee you will love them all.

From reggae to jazz, you’ll hear it all.

You’ll be blown away by the voices that come out of the artists.

It’s no wonder Rihanna got famous, but it is a wonder that many more haven’t been scooped up.


6. For The Nightlife

Barbados comes alive when the sun goes down, and it goes down early.

Whether you want a chill evening at one of the beachside bars or cafes, or you’re searching for the party atmosphere of St. Lawrence Gap, the Bajans know how to have a good time.

If you’re really in the party mood, try out your skills on the dance floor and see if you have what it takes to wine at the same level as the locals.

Jet on over to Barbados to take part in the Cropover celebration.

Different events are held throughout the month, all leading up to the main event: Grand Kadooment.

This parade shows off elaborate costumes, music and dancing through the streets.


7. For The Beaches

The beauty of the turquoise waters and white, sandy beaches of Barbados is undeniable.

The west and south coasts of the island are where you will find the calm waters of the Caribbean sea, which are perfect for water activities, swimming and sunbathing on the beach.

In stark contrast, the north and east coasts are where you will experience the natural beauty of the rugged coastline and the crashing waves of the Atlantic.

Some of the best beaches are, at the same time, the most popular.

These are Crane Beach, Accra and Sandy Lane.

But along the way, you can discover some hidden gems with far fewer people taking up your space.


8. For The Island Time

The number one reason for making Barbados a part of your 2016 is getting to experience what life is like on island time.

Barbados and its people will teach you a lesson or two about what’s truly important, what truly brings happiness into your life and what can create a shift in your perspective.

Time slows down, and so do you.

Your days no longer revolve around the strict North American schedule dictated by time and money.

Instead, they revolve around building friendships, talking to someone a little bit longer on the street and being able to dive into the sea at a moment’s notice.

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An Ode to On the Road Friendships

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There you were, sitting in the hostel common room. On the same tour. At the same pub. In the same meditation class. Exploring the same temple. Climbing the same tower. Tossing the same lucky coin into the same fountain. Sitting in the same first-day orientation class on our exchange abroad. You were just another stranger taking in the beauty of new cities and new experiences, eyes wide with wonder and unwavering smiles upon your faces. Some of you were with friends and some of you were also traveling solo, but each of you became significant pieces of my favorite memories.

We met purely by chance, by circumstance; One moment we were strangers and the next we were best friends. We rode a 13 hour bus ride after making the split decision to travel together for a while after knowing you for only a day. We explored three different countries together, suffered through horrible and embarrassing bouts of travelers diarrhea together, signed up for diving courses and hitched rides in the back of trucks. We had barely known each other and yet each of you felt like you had been in my life for years.

It’s a strange and beautiful thing that happens when you make friendships on your travels. You might only spend a week or a few days with someone, but you will never forget them. They are there whenever you think about nearly any moment from any trip: cutting grass for an elephant sanctuary, wild nights on Koh Phi Phi, sleeper buses, dive courses, exploring ruins of Pompeii, spontaneous tattoos, sitting to listen to buskers on the sidewalk, nearly getting run over trying to cross the street in a new country. The list could go on forever and for nearly every single moment, there is a name that coincides.

They’re fleeting friendships, people that you hold fond thoughts for, grateful to have shared a moment with someone just as inspired by the world as you are. But inevitably, there comes a time when you are ready to part ways, off to different countries. Some of you are going home to see your family, some are staying because they’ve fallen in love with a city they had never even dreamed of going, and many of you are continuing on to the next destination.

We all share promises of reunions, of meeting up if you ever visit each others home country, of writing letters; We can’t imagine never seeing each other again. This does happen when the timing is right, when you realize that you are both in the same city again. But mostly, we follow each other through social media. I smile when I see that you’re still continuing your journey around the world even five years later, I feel happy for you when you’ve slowed life down to bring a new life into the world and we silently encourage one another to keep following our dream of travel even though it might seem unconventional to some.

On the road friendships are fleeting and intense, an all or nothing affair. You’re likely to share the most incredible and beautiful moments of your life with these people and you may never see them again. You might even forget a few of them as the years go by until you browse through old photos and see their faces, old travel journals and see their names, emails, and phone numbers scribbled down on bits of paper. These friendships are some of the most pure and unchanged precisely because they’re held by a mere memory of a moment. And despite only spending three days, a week, a month or, if you’re lucky, more, in these friendships, each and every one have become important people in the stories that have made up my life.

Bucket List: Volcano Mud Bath, St. Lucia

Dunking myself in warm, scratchy mud was at the top of my list when I headed to the island of St. Lucia. It might seem counterproductive to take a bath in mud, but the effects on your skin are truly amazing! Soufriere is one of the world’s only “drive-in” volcanoes, meaning exactly that. Instead of hiking up a volcano you can drive your car right up and into the volcano itself, parking the car and going by foot to get up close and personal.

The drive to Soufriere is breathtaking, with the road winding through the mountains and giving you incredible views of the Pitons. As soon as you enter the fishing town of Soufriere, you’re hit with the unmistakable scent of rotten eggs — the tell-tale sign that a sulphur spring is nearby. With our local host guiding the way, we walked up to look over the bubbling pools of volcanic mud, steam rising into the air around us.

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A few years earlier, tourists were allowed to actually walk amongst these active pools but this has been prohibited ever since an employee fell through the hollow ground, burning the majority of his body. Luckily, he survived and can now be found working in one of the many resorts on St. Lucia, safely away from hot volcanic mud.

Seeing the pools of mud bubbling up from the ground was good, but the real treat of our trip up to the volcano was obviously the mud bath. If ever there is a chance to do something weird like rubbing mud all over myself, holding boa constrictors around my neck, or taking a shot of green water from a lake full of asphalt, I’ll do it. Especially if there’s rumors of healing properties or good luck.

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So, it was off with our clothes and into the mud for us! But wait, you don’t just dive right in. First, you scoop fistfuls of mud and rub it all over your body as it seeps out between your fingers. The mud is hot to the touch but cools as you continue to a nice feeling of warmth. It’s an added natural exfoliator thanks to the bits of crushed rocks in there.

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Once you’re nice and covered, take a seat or stand and chat, laughing with strangers at how weird you look — especially those who cover their face — until the mud starts to dry on your skin and turn a lighter shade of grey. Then, despite it already being well over 30 degrees Celsius outside, you go on to lower yourself into muddy water that is about the temperature of hot tea, or around 40-45 degrees Celsius. It’s a little hot as first (as you can see by my reaction!) but you quickly get used to it.

Lounging in the water is really quite nice and super relaxing. Your muscles instantly relax and you suddenly feel a very strong urge to take a nap. As you float in the water, the mud will slowly come off your skin but you’ll want to help it out. Chances are no matter how much you scrub, you’ll discover some dried mud on yourself or caked in your hair a few hours later, even after you’ve rinsed off in the showers available.

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Once you’ve spent enough time playing in the mud, you might want to check out one of the nearby waterfalls! Who doesn’t love a good waterfall, am I right?

Tobago: The Postcard Perfect Island

I’ve got a bit of a long one for you today, so pour yourself a cup of tea or a glass of wine, kick back and dive in.

The first thing I noticed about Tobago was the heat. The sun felt hotter and the air thicker. After the hustle and bustle of Trinidad, coming back to a small and slow-paced island was a breath of fresh air and we melted into it easily. Tobago exudes a relaxed atmosphere of island living; time moved slower, smiles were more common and everyone that passed us by were extremely friendly, always wishing us a great stay.

In true islander fashion, we spent a lot of our time baking in the sun at Pigeon Point. A $20TT admission fee, Pigeon Point is one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen. I say this a lot, about everything. Every day is the best day ever when I’m traveling and every beach is the most beautiful beach I’ve seen, but this one truly takes the cake. Having given our fee we began the walk towards the main beach, walking through more palm trees than I have ever seen in one place.

Everywhere you look in Tobago you see a landscape that should be on a postcard. Or a painting. The beauty of it all hardly seems real — until you’re brought back to reality when the water hits your toes. The beaches are filled with palm trees and the sand is white and so soft, perfect to settle down on with your beach towel, good company and fresh local fruits.

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Like any beach in the Caribbean, you’ll encounter the men hustling for jet ski rides, banana boats, glass bottom boat trips and excursions to buccoo reef, nylon pool and dolphin watching. If you’re interested, don’t settle for the first offer. Ask around and see where you can get the best price for your experience. When the sun became too hot to stand, we cooled off in the sea, lounging in the shallows.

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Amenities at Pigeon Point close at 5pm, but beach goers are more than welcome to stay as late as they want. If you’re a lover of sunsets be sure to stay until 6pm when the sun begins to slip behind the surface, turning the sky a brilliant shades of peach.

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If you tire of the lazy beach bum life, there are a lot of activities being offered that should definitely not be missed. My only regret is not doing more tours of different parts of the island and not having an underwater camera for this entire Caribbean trip. Rookie mistake. We opted for just one tour, of buccoo reef and the nylon pool. Aboard a glass bottom boat with a roof for sun worshiping, our guides took us out to sea to buccoo reef, an easily accessible 7 square kilometer coral reef that is bursting with color.

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On the glass bottom boat you have the option of admiring the various coral and fish from inside, peering through the glass beneath you, or you can strap on a snorkel and take the plunge — I don’t have to tell you which we chose. The only downside to this tour was that you were limited in where you can snorkel, having to stay within a certain range of the boat. As we think we’re mermaids as soon as our skin hits the water, we found our guides continuously calling us in closer when we strayed too far. Once everyone had seen their fill of the buccoo reef, we hopped aboard and continued on to the nylon pool.

In the middle of the sea is the nylon pool, an unusually shallow area made up of ground white coral where the vibrant water barely reaches past your knees. The ground coral bottom makes for an excellent natural exfoliant and rumour has it that the waters have healing and rejuvenating properties that will bless anyone who swims in it (and keep you ageless!) If you really want to test the myths of the nylon pool, be sure to kiss your loved one…beneath the water! They say that a kiss underwater in the nylon pool will guarantee a marriage that lasts forever. While I can’t guarantee either of these things publicly, go ahead and test it out for yourselves and let me know if you experience any of the magic.

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Sadly the clouds rolled in just as we were having our photo taken.

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And reappeared just before leaving to show us the true brilliance of the colors!

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Monkeying Around

Imagine a place where diverse wildlife are allowed to roam freely, interacting not only with one another but also with the people visiting the reserve. You walk down a brick path lined with mahogany trees and a family of monkeys come jumping out in front of you. Red brocket deer walk past close enough to touch without a care in the world, completely unafraid of your presence. Tortoises saunter slowly down the path and rest in the cool dirt, peacocks show off their beautiful colors, and a giant python sleeps the day away.

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These are just some of the things you will see when you visit the Barbados Wildlife Reserve, an open area where these animals and other animal species are able to live freely without a cage, with the exception of the snakes and exotic birds. Easily one of my favorite activities so far in Barbados, I fell in love with the rambunctious green monkeys and the peaceful tortoises. If you want to really see the monkeys in action, schedule your visit for around 2pm. This is feeding time for all of the animals on the reserve and you’ll get to see the park staff dump a mountain of raw food and watch as all the animals come out to eat and play. Before you step back to let a deer pass by, be sure you don’t run into this little guy that’s right behind you!

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As a traveler that tries to be conscious of ethical, cruelty-free animal tourism options I was pleased with the set up of the wildlife reserve here in Barbados. While there were some things that I think could have been changed (the exotic birds and snakes were kept in small enclosures and the alligators in small ponds), this place is doing pretty well compared to most zoos. The majority of the animals are allowed to roam freely and are well fed, with the monkeys having the freedom to leave the reserve, coming and going as they please, at all times of day.

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With your admission fee, you’re also able to take a short walk up to visit the Grenade Hall signal station and explore the surrounding forest.

While going to the zoos in Canada breaks my heart, this walk-through “zoo” left me feeling refreshed and happy that at least here in Barbados, some places are making an effort to be more humane. Watching all the animals come from around the reserve during feeding time was like watching all of the animals come out of the woods in a fairytale. Getting to be up close and personal with so many little creatures was a magical experience and one that I would recommend to anyone else visiting.