Why Do I Love Caribbean Drives? When I think of the Caribbean, I don’t think about all-inclusive resort, cruises or endless excursions. I imagine having my own set of wheels and exploring at my own pace, stopping just a little longer when I find that special place that surprises me, and moving on right away when I find that place I just don’t care for so much. I’ve covered St. Maarten/St. Martin, Anguilla, Antigua, Trinidad and Saint Lucia by car, so my next logical step was Barbados.
What’s great about driving in Barbados? The roads are in pretty good condition all around, and the island is a little more flat, which reduces the need for intensely curvy roads, which are just not terribly fun for navigating narrow roads (Hello, blind corners!). Barbados and Saint Lucia are about the same size, but Saint Lucia is sort of a nightmare to drive around (open drainage ditches on both sides of narrow roads, insanely potholed roads on the West Coast, blind uphill/downhill curve after blind uphill/downhill curve). You aren’t getting anywhere on Saint Lucia in a hurry, but in Barbados, you can plan on covering a lot of ground.
Logistics – Grantley Adams Airport (0:00)
Like many of the other islands, rentals are not cheap by any means. I opted to rent one from Europcar right at the airport, and as soon as I came out of customs, I was pointed to a young woman named Janelle who was waiting to sit with me and fill out the paperwork on the benches outside. This part was a bit painful, like a lot of other car rental pickups, especially considering I got through Barbados immigration in a matter of 10-15 minutes. A $5-10 nominal fee is charged to prepare a driving permit for the island, which is best to keep in the car at all times. Anyhow, at the end, I received a pretty new-ish small SUV and I was happy, considering my last rental on Saint Lucia was a hunk of junk .
Island lodging are overly expensive, and my trips are therefore never terribly long. Out of the poorly-reviewed places I found on my budget, I landed at the Butterfly Beach Hotel in Maxwell. Coming in from the airport, it is only a 10-15 minute drive west on the main southern road until you reach the main southern beaches. The area is your average down-market beach area with all sorts of tacky eateries and casinos and bars. I found the hotel depressing, just a bunch of cement bricks with some paint the color of Pepto Bismol slapped on. The “beach” consisted of a 1 sq. meter patch because of the high water level, so there was nothing encouraging my to ditch my driving plans and hang out at this depressing, depressing oceanfront spot.
Oistins Fish Fry (0:05)
I arrived on Saturday night from Trinidad, just in enough time to take a drive under 5 minutes back east to Oistins, famous for the “Fish Fry” where locals and tourists alike come to enjoy fresh seafood, good drinks and live music. Parking was tight on Oistins main road, but I followed people into this big parking lot tucked away behind it where there was more than enough space. The Esso Oistins next door has an ATM and a ton of drinks and snacks if you were looking for a pit stop.
The popular places have long, long lines (like Pat’s) on Friday or Saturday but when I went on Sunday, the place was VERY quiet and places like Pat’s had no lines, with local folks taking part in karaoke. Take your pick where the menu looks good and you find a table – most of the spots honestly look exactly the same. I sat down at Chillin & Grilling without really looking around and let me tell you, the Fish Fry spots are not necessarily cheap. The standard fish prep is head on, skin on, bone-in and grilled up, served with sides and tartar sauce. More than the seafood, I think I fell for the macaroni pie harder.
I wanted to treat myself to some fresh lobster when I did find space at Pat’s. Unfortunately, they grilled the thing to oblivion until it was so dry and tasteless it might as well have been some overcooked chicken breast. No seasoning, no fat, and random onions tossed into the lobster. They didn’t clean off the tomalley (AKA “the green stuff”) which was even nastier. Way to ruin a lobster, Pat’s! I’d stick to the fish, although my temptation was led on by some really delicious looking lobsters I saw some of the ladies carrying the night before. (Typical fish – $40BD, Lobster – $80BD). Of course, no lack of drinks and friendly company all around.
Driving Barbados Stop 1: Holetown (0:30)
If I had to pick one annoyance about driving in Barbados, it is the roundabouts. I can’t stand them but I guess I’m just the typical American driver that way.
Maxwell -> Holetown, on the West Coast north of Bridgetown, took under 30 minutes. I would not recommend going to Bridgetown during morning rush hour, so my route bypassed that traffic altogether.
Holetown is a very popular beach spot…yes, the stunning aqua blue waters and soft, warm sand are all here via a beach access path between the St. James Parish Church and Limegrove. I did find parking over by Limegrove, a high-end shopping center with the same brands you’d find anywhere else.
It was a Sunday, so while I wouldn’t intrude on the religious services going on, I spent some time sitting outside both the Holetown Methodist Church and St. James Parish Church to listen to the beautiful choir music discreetly.
Driving Barbados Stop 2: Speightstown (0:15)
From Holetown, another 10-15 minutes will leave you in colonial Speightstown. Speightstown’s waterfront is way more developed than Holetown, with some colonial relics like the Arlington House Museum ready for a visit – I had to be honest that looking at the buildings from the outside, none of them seemed to be worth entering. There is a park on the waterfront, and a pier that is locked off for renovations, sadly, but most of all are a bunch of restaurants which looked quite appealing, save for it being too early for lunch.
Parking is a little more challenging in Speightstown. I just slipped into a shopping lot on the main strip by the water (Queen’s Street). The beach doesn’t have quite the same appeal as Holetown, not only due to the sand and water quality, but also just due to how heavily developed the waterfront is.
Driving Barbados Stop 3: Animal Flower Cave (0:20)
To my surprise, reaching my next stop at the northern tip of Barbados was only another 20 minute drive! As you leave Speightstown, the landscape becomes less developed: sugarcane fields, Sunday games of cricket, kids playing soccer – just sort of your idyllic island life scenes.
However, the roads are narrow and there will always be cars, so don’t be tempted to stop on the road. In fact, you’ll be hard pressed to find some of the “scenic pullouts” islands like Saint Maarten or Saint Lucia have in place, even on the coast. In Barbados, it’s a bit more of an effort, which was sad for someone like me who loves photography.
I can’t say I was really *that* tempted to stop for anything between Speightstown and the Animal Flower Cave site. Central Barbados can become a quiet and monotonous drive.
Animal Flower Cave is off of the main road and has it’s own huge parking lot, where you are likely to encounter tons of self-drivers and tour vehicles.
Was it worth it, though? YES. The views of the ocean waters nipping the cliffs are incredible in themselves. Before or after visiting the cave, I’d spend some time just exploring these incredible views.
You don’t need to schedule anything ahead of time. I showed up, paid my $20BD, and was joined with a few Germans visitors down into the caves. It won’t be the most pleasant time navigating the rocks in the cave if you try to come in flip-flops or sandals. Our guide actually took his time, us the different flora and fauna of the cave and different rock formations that look like – as you expect – flowers and animals. Swimming in the cave was not permitted that day.
What I like most about Animal Flower Cave. Before or after your visit, there is a surprisingly good restaurant overlooking the ocean and even small lounge spots. Grab a drink, grab a meal, grab a book – this place is worth a couple of hours at least.
Driving Barbados Stop 4: St. Nicholas Abbey (0:20)
By this point, the easy driving made me a little more ambitious, so why not stop to visit a rum distillery? 20 minutes and I was down off yet another dusty path at St. Nicholas Abbey, a reknowned distillery which is far, far, far less crowded than Mount Gay near Bridgetown and certainly the Animal Flower Cave.
I have done way too many tours of wine-making, brewing and distilling, so I skipped the free tour and took myself around the grounds, which to be honest, were much smaller than I was expecting.
Being brutally honest, I just sort of skipped through St. Nicholas Abbey. Unless you are in the mood to hang in the cafe (which actually looked nice), take the distillery tour (Which honestly looked boring from the group I could see) or do a rum tasting (no thanks!), you won’t need much time here.
Here’s a tip. Drive a few minutes away to the Cherry Tree Hill Reserve viewpoint and yes, you get to enjoy gorgeous views. It was only me a bunch of souvenir vendors. My footwear was definitely not equipped, but I could imagine this being a nice spot to do a hike.
Driving Barbados Stop 5: Bathsheba (0:20)
I am a man of routine, and need my morning and afternoon coffee, so it was time to go find that afternoon dose. Another 20 minutes led to Bathsheba, another pretty and VERY QUIET coastal town. The 20-minute drive is actually one of the most beautiful sectors with winding, curvy roads, but as I said above, this isn’t an island with many pullouts, so I had to keep driving and driving unless I wanted to tick off the driver behind me.
Parking is plentiful in Bathsheba. Nothing but a handful of independent tourists and locals hanging out in Dina’s Bar and Seaside Bar. Drinking and driving didn’t seem like a great idea on an unfamiliar island, so I opted for coffee at Dina’s, which was instant (yuck!) but I guess I could make do. It was time for some journaling and watching some of the kids play soccer in the oceanfront park.
There isn’t really much to do in Bathsheba. It’s more of a stopping point to relax, or really escape from mass tourism on the island.
And I was off.
Driving Barbados Stop 6: Hastings (0:35)
It was time to start winding down my day, so back on the monotonous road through central Barbados down to the Richard Haynes Boardwalk in Hastings. I was closer to my digs in Maxwell, so I finally wanted t get my feet into the sand, but it was just stones, stones, stones. Not a nice beach at all, and even the boardwalk was not really worth a visit. My advice: skip it unless you are really bored.
I wrapped up my day back at the disgusting Butterfly Beach Resort, plying myself with happy hour specials of rum combined with cheap sugar syrups to keep myself from noticing how bad the place was.
Driving Barbados Stop 7: Bridgetown (0:20 or 1:00)
I booked a cataraman trip with El Tigre and decided to drive myself into Bridgetown on a weekday morning during rush hour. Smartly, I gave myself WAY more than the 20 minutes Google Maps advised me it would take. Rush hour traffic is pretty awful, so from Maxwell or the Southern beaches to Bridgetown could easily be an hour.
I have no photos of Bridgetown. The city itself is probably the least interesting part of Barbados unless you like traffic, and good luck finding parking anywhere. I took a spin around after my cataraman trip and gave up trying to stop anywhere.
El Tigre does a wonderfully run cataraman trip that runs along the Western coast between Bridgetown and Holetown, stopping at a sugar ship wreck and seeing many wonderful fish and a few sea turtles. The sea turtle spotting can be quite chaotic with the crowds, and I’m not 100% sure how I feel about feeding fish/turtles for the purpose of bringing them closer during snorkeling trips.
Driving Barbados Stop 8: Silver Sands & Long Beach (0:30-0:40)
I was famished after the cataraman ride, and I decided to stop at a recommended Roti place, We Roti, in Maxwell. After having some really good Roti in Trinidad, We Roti was only ok, but it was cheap and filling and FAST, so I could move on.
Looking for some places to hang before heading back to Grantley Adams, I had two picks, Silver Sands and Long Beach.
Silver Sands has public access and parking at the recreational park next to the beach. It was very quiet with some nice sand, and a nice Bajan gentemen offered me an array of drugs, and was probing on my orientation to probably figure out if we should offer me prostitutes. He finally suggested me buying him a drink at the local bar, which I politely declined.
Long Beach is extremely similar to Silver Sands, with slightly further access to walk onto the beach. Both are not heavily developed.
Barbados En Fin
In conclusion, Barbados, like many of the other small Caribbean islands, is a great place to rent a car and explore, but like other Caribbean islands, value for money is a non-existent concept thanks to the cruise ships and all-inclusive resorts that have destroyed the islands. It makes it hard for those of us who want to explore on our own – the tourism industry in general on these islands is not designed for independent travelers at all.
Compared to Saint Lucia, Barbados is less overpriced, but definitely not as cheap as Saint Maarten/St. Martin. I would say it’s on the lines of Antigua & Barbuda. Driving was extremely easy around the island, save for the traffic around Bridgetown, and the small size of the island makes it easy to see a lot without managing winding and curvy roads all the way.