Barbados is in the spotlight after its reigning queen, Rihanna, performed at Super Bowl LVII and announced her second pregnancy.
Then the superstar/billionaire entrepreneur and her partner A$AP Rocky and their son popped up on the cover of British Vogue.
Before the halftime show, she talked to Michael Strahan, who expressed his affection for the island nation.
“You know the scariest part? Knowing that Barbados is watching,” Rih said of the Super Bowl performance. “People are hard to impress, but they love their own. And they’re going to represent and I’m going to represent them right back.”
While Rihanna is to Barbados what Prince was to Minneapolis, there are other reasons aside from her influence to visit the East Caribbean country. One is the weather which is temperate year-round (except during hurricane season). While I was there, days were comfortable and sunny and evenings were mild. The heat never felt oppressive.
Perhaps the greatest thing about Barbados, aside from its friendly people, is that it’s not overbuilt. There are no huge corporate resorts on the island, which gives it an intimate vibe. You can curate your own experience with a private villa rental or an Airbnb stay, where prices range from reasonable to luxurious. The Bahamian dollar is $2 to one American, so things are pretty affordable.
Barbados is also the world’s newest republic as of 2021 and is ruled by a female prime minister, Mia Mottley. You will still see a lot of Brits – at the all-inclusive Crystal Cove hotel where we stayed (a Marriot Bonvoy property) – we were the only Black guests.
What’s notable about Bajans (aside from their physical attributes as the men and women on the island are gorgeous) is that they’re not as overtly solicitous as people can be when they work in tourism. And I mean that as a compliment. They’re proud people who live in a Black country where they feel every bit as equal as you, and that’s gratifying to see.
We’ve met Rihanna, right? She personifies that energy.
In various encounters, people were complimentary and seemed happy to see Black travelers. On our catamaran ride, the staff passed the vibe check by partying with us. I don’t mean in any inappropriate way, just that they read the room (or the boat’s passengers) correctly. As one of the crew said, “We felt comfortable enough to be ourselves.”
And that’s what Barbados feels like. A comfortable place to be yourself. The one downfall is that the nation is the easternmost island in the West Indies and it takes a minute to get there. Unfortunately, only U.S. 5 airports – Boston, Washington (IAD) New York (JFK) Miami, and Charlotte, offer direct flights to the island. Another important note: leave your camouflage apparel, no matter how cute, at home. It’s illegal to wear it anywhere in Barbados.
1. Rent a boat and crew
You’ll be all about that catamaran life in Barbados. It’s some of the most fun I’ve ever had. You and a few friends can rent a boat from which you can use their people or bring your own. We enjoyed the talents of Chef Creig Greenidge and Phillip Casanova, said to be the island’s top mixologist. You can kayak, swim and snorkel on the open sea and party on the boat to whatever level you’re comfortable with. You can play your music via the boat’s Bluetooth or the crew can, which we opted for, and they served up a mix of semi-raunchy Caribbean tunes. Our favorite, “Mind My Business (Happy Papi Riddim)” by Patrice Roberts set the tone. The staff of Seaduced will keep you safe and show you a good time and what’s better than that? Seaduced, Charters for 2 -20 start at $1740 USD.
2. Visit/surf Bathsheba Beach
Bathsheba was a Biblical queen who liked to bathe in milk, our tour guide from Island Safari Barbados tells us. The surfer-friendly beach is made for those who want to catch the big waves. The ‘safari’ takes you through scenic neighborhoods where people are they’re ordinary lives, something I always appreciate in a new place. Once you get to Bathsheba, it feels like a scenic bazaar where you can eat, drink, be merry, pick up souvenirs, and either watch or partake in surfing. The Soup Bowl is among the most famed surfing locations in the world, so you’ll want to have some experience. You can also get local surfing lessons that may have you hanging ten in no time, if not at Bathsheba then someplace suited to your skill and fitness level. Bathsheba Beach, Dread of Dead Surf School and Shop, lessons start at $75.
3. Eat at The Cliff and Champers
Barbados has plenty of restaurants to choose from but two stellar examples are both (as you may have guessed) seaside. The Cliff, on the island’s west coast, has been around since 1995 and is a stunningly gorgeous place to eat and sample one of the 1500 wines on its extensive list. It earned its stellar reviews for a reason – great ambiance, excellent fresh food, attentive service, and glamourous hostesses that welcome you in flowing designer gowns. At Champers in Bridgetown, also impressively gorgeous, the food is impeccable and the service is equally attentive. It’s owned by Chiryl Newman, a Bajan native who pivoted from travel agent to restauranteur. It’s hard to choose between the two, so go to both. Expect to pay what you would for dinner at a quality U.S. steakhouse and consider that menus are in Barbadian dollars which are roughly half US.
4. Experience a submarine
I’ll be honest, my comfort zone doesn’t extend to heights and depths, so the Atlantis Submarine experience was one I watched. I took the boat out to the sub but balked at the unsteady crossing from boat to sub (despite the help of the crew) and the idea of being submerged for almost an hour. Despite my trepidation, Atlantis GM Roseanne Myers says in 36 years of operation the attraction has had zero incidents. She says they take every safety measure including constant radio contact with the boat that stays above water, the boat that brings you out there, and the shore. And Atlantis is platinum certified by Green Globe. Those braver than me enjoyed lunch on the sub, (which you can request or bring in your own chef) and being able to watch multiple sea creatures swim peacefully by. Atlantis Submarines Barbados $59 USD and up
5. Tour the Mt. Gay Rum distillery
Mt. Gay is the oldest rum distillery in the world, founded in 1703. If you book a tour, you’ll not just enjoy their enviably comfortable greeting room, you’ll get one of the most delicious drinks on the island and a tour by one of the informative tour guides who will show you how rum is created. (It involves time, precision, chemistry, and lots of wood barrels.) The best rums also need the services of a master blender which Mt. Gay has in Trudiann Branker, a Howard University graduate who is one of the few Black women in the global spirits industry. If you want to experience her blends, look for the XO master blend. Mt. Gay doesn’t, unfortunately, offer them on the property but maybe if enough people suggest it….Varied tours, including a tasting and pairing, a nighttime event, and a master class are available. Mt. Gay Rum, Mt. Gay Estate, St. Michael Barbados, tours/experiences start at $25USD
6. Go to Oistins Friday night fish fry
Friday nights everywhere send people out looking for a good time and in Barbados, there’s an easy place to find it. Oistin’s is the most popular place on the island on Friday nights. Pro tips: Get there early so you can find a seat and before the red snapper or flying fish runs out. Pull up, ask for a Banks and the snapper, spend less than $20 US, grab a seat, and enjoy the music and the positive vibes. If you’re coming from the U.S. it will take a minute before you let your guard down, because unfortunately, in America the same kind of gathering might be a target for gun violence. In Barbados, that’s unlikely as just this year, the country enacted tough gun laws. Oistins Fish Market,
7. Head to Rihanna Drive
No visit to Barbados is complete without heading to Rihanna Drive, the actual street Rihanna grew up on. In her Super Bowl ad, you’ll see that yes, the street is adjacent to a large cemetery which is where you’ll find the Rihanna Drive sign so make sure to snap a pic not just of the house, but the sign, too. That Rihanna made her way from the (albeit peaceful and sunny) streets of St. Michael to become a billionaire in the States is the ultimate immigrant success story. You can see where it all began just under 35 years ago. Rihanna Drive, Highway 1 and Westbury New Road, renamed Rihanna Drive.
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