Barbados dreams are all about lapping tropical waters, swaying palm trees, and postcard-perfect arcs of white sand. The good news is that this Caribbean island lives up to the hype.
Barbados is quintessential escape, a place where the pace of life is slowed to a relaxed crawl, where the sea rolls in softly, and where the local Bajans (Barbadians) are easygoing and quick to smile at visiting strangers.
Barbados is also a celebrity haunt, and its to-die-for beaches (there are maybe 30 of them along the island's 70 miles of coastline) are shared by local fishermen and millionaire jet-setters passing through. Barbados sand is made from ground-up coral, meaning all the beaches are white, with the exception of those that are disarmingly pink.
The island, bathed in sunshine virtually year-round, is an aquatic playground. You can scuba, surf, windsurf, or grab a snorkel and dive in just offshore for an impromptu plunge among the island's friendly, approachable turtles. The sailing, as you would expect, is world-class, the fishing, too. The waters brim with sea creatures hauled ashore daily. The pleasure of reeling in a prime specimen is matched only by the enjoyment you get from pulling up a chair at a seaside restaurant and sampling the day's catch.
While Barbados attracts a high-end crowd, choose your location wisely and you can enjoy all the Caribbean pleasures you can handle on a surprisingly modest budget. There are celeb-standard eateries, posh resorts, and private villas, but there are also cut-price beachside seafood shacks and more bargain digs. And some of the best that this jet-set island has to offer--long walks on the beaches, surfing in the inky-blue sea, and sunset swims, for example--is free.
A highlight on the island's weekly calendar is the legendary Oistins Fish Fry. The event has its origins in the traditional Christian idea that meat shouldn't be eaten on Fridays but fish instead. Oistins, on the island's lively south coast, is an important local fishing community. Every Friday, the beachfront area around Oistins, is set upon by thousands of locals and visitors, expats and cruise ship passengers, all with one agenda in mind--to consume large amounts of fresh fried or barbecued seafood while downing beers and cocktails, listening to Caribbean music, and generally having a good time. Dance shows and other entertainment continue into the early hours.
Barbados has its own Carnaval. Known as Crop Over, the annual event dates to 1688, when it marked the end of the sugarcane harvest. Beginning not at the start of Lent but in June, Crop Over runs until the first Monday in August, when it culminates with a grand finale, the Grand Kadooment. During the national holiday of Kadooment, bands and dancers in costume hit the streets, street stalls offer Bajan food, and fireworks light up the sky. It can be a great time of year to visit if you don't mind the crowds of usually barely clad revelers.
Thanks to its British-colonial history (the British earmarked the island as a center for sugar production), the undisputed number-one sport on the island is cricket. Barbadian cricketers were among the all-conquering West Indies that dominated the sport for the better part of a decade, and cricket holds a special place in the hearts of Bajans. The main cricket oval is the Kensington Oval in capital Bridgetown. While initially inexplicable to those not familiar with the sport, you might find that complex, slow-moving cricket reminds you of baseball once you get a feel for it.