Most Americans who jet off to Barbados choose the west coast or south shore of the island as their base. The pristine coastline, proximity to Bridgetown—the nation’s capital and an epicenter for dining, nightlife, and shopping, not to mention the short drive to Grantley Adams International Airport—are undeniable draws for tourists. But few travelers opt to explore the less-developed east coast on the Atlantic side. It’s what I consider to be the jewel of Barbados.
With rugged beaches and soaring ocean waves along with the warm and welcoming Bajan culture, the eastern slice of the island is a peaceful respite, lacking all-inclusive packages and tourist traps. Mingling with Barbadians (or Bajans)—known to be some of the friendliest folks in the Caribbean—was a wonderful surprise for me and the highlight of my time in Barbados.
To the Beach
On the west side of the island, the terrain is marked by sugary pink sand and warm turquoise waters, the quintessence of the Caribbean. On the east side, you’ll encounter a wild landscape and nature at its finest. Hugging the Atlantic Ocean, this craggy coast is less developed, embodying the epitome of untamed, irresistible countryside.
Though different from its cousin across the island, the beaches here are also stunning. The surf is rough, however, and with the strong currents and undertow, it’s not ideal for swimming. Wading in calm, shallow waters along the shoreline is a safe and relaxing alternative.
One beach not to miss is Bathsheba, a world-famous surfing destination. “The Soup Bowl,” as it’s called, has been labeled one of the top surfing locales on the planet. But surfers aren’t the only reason to hang out on this gorgeous beach. Bathsheba holds giant rock formations—take note of the “mushroom rock”—that broke away from ancient coral reef. These huge sculpture-like boulders rest on an otherwise quiet stretch of palm tree-lined sand. Meanwhile, large, frothy waves swell and break as they lap toward the shoreline.
In St. Joseph, Cattlewash Beach is one place where Barbadians retreat when they need a little R&R. Join them, as you sink your toes in the warm sand and enjoy a dip in the natural pools among the rocks.
Located in the country’s Scotland District (so-named due to the rocky cliffs swooping down to flat blankets of white sand), Walkers Beach is another favorite among locals. Set in Belleplaine in the St. Andrew parish, this beach is an excellent spot for a stroll, sunbath, or hunt for seashells. Meanwhile, Morgan Lewis Beach is four-plus miles north of here and terrific for horseback riding and fishing. It’s also a skip from the Morgan Lewis Windmill, the only remaining sugar windmill in the Caribbean.
Take a trip to the jungle as you tour the Barbados Wildlife Reserve, deemed the “animal kingdom of Barbados.” Roam freely with brocket deer, armadillos, pelicans, peacocks, iguanas, and the uniquely Bajan green monkeys in this four-acre forest set in the parish of St. Peter. Schedule your visit around the 2 p.m. hour to observe the green monkeys at feeding time.
On the northern end of the island, St. Lucy is home to the rocky cliffs of North Point—a breathtaking overlook where the Caribbean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean—and Animal Flower Cave underneath the cliffs.
If you’re feeling adventurous, follow a Bajan guide and trek down the slippery steps into this dark, mysterious coral cave. Observe unusual formations, sea anemones, and rock pools in the only sea cave in the country. Then take a relaxing swim in the rock pool inside the last cave chamber (be sure to bring a bathing suit and towel).
After exploring the cave, catch the awe-inspiring vistas of endless ocean, with its majestic, foamy waves crashing against the rocks.
Food and drink are at the heart of Bajan culture. While most restaurants and bars sit along the touristic west coast, there’s a handful of places to note on this side of the island. Some of the coast’s best happen to be in hotels.
Expect Barbadian specialties such as flying fish (a native fish that accounts for about 60 percent of the seafood on the island) and cou-cou (similar to polenta and made with okra), as well as Banks Beer (the local brew) and some of the world’s finest rum.
A perfect spot for lunch, Sand Dunes Restaurant and Bar is a roadside cafe in Belleplaine. Grab an ice-cold bottle of Banks and a plate of grilled chicken with rice and peas, but don’t skip the macaroni pie. Then kick back and relax the Bajan way.
At Animal Flower Cave’s namesake restaurant, chow on breadfruit tacos, poutine, and blackbelly lamb stew while soaking up the magnificent views.
Another excellent lunch place is Round House in Bathsheba. Savor the market salad topped with flying fish, or a beer-braised pulled pork sandwich, and watch the surfers ride the Soup Bowl’s waves from this old inn, which also offers accommodations.
To stay local, head to De Garage Bar & Grill in Tent Bay. Start with a rum punch at this super casual (and affordable) family-owned eatery serving freshly caught marlin and coconut cake. Stay and mix with the regulars after your meal.
For fine dining on the east coast, look no further than Atlantis Restaurant in The Atlantis Historic Inn, a lovely hotel outfitted in West Indian decor. Feast on Cajun flash-fried sea cat (local octopus), red Thai curry, and blackened, grilled flying fish, and listen to the tide glide toward the shore.
While Round House and The Atlantis Historic Inn provide more traditional accommodations, the Santosha in Belleplaine offers self-catered apartments. Order groceries for a well-stocked fridge before you arrive at your spacious flat. Chill out by the pool or gaze at the sweeping views of the Atlantic from your balcony.
What to Know About Barbados
Barbados reopened to tourists on July 12. Travelers from the United States and other high-risk countries must fill out a health form, take a COVID-19 test within 72 hours of departure, and present negative results upon arrival at the airport. Quarantine upon arrival is required, followed by a second COVID-19 test after four days. With a negative test result, everyone is free to move about the island. Visit Barbados has the most up-to-date information: VisitBarbados.org/covid-19-travel-guidelines-2020
Barbados is small. Divided into 11 parishes or provinces, the island is 21 miles long and 14 miles wide. To explore the east coast, you’ll need to rent a car (try a moke, an open-air jeep-like vehicle) or hire a driver. It’s easy to cover much of this side of the country, if not all of Barbados, in several days.
If you’re driving yourself and get lost (signage is not the best), ask the locals for directions. They’ll happily oblige. Much of the country isn’t well-lit at night, so navigating may be a challenge. It’s best to hire a taxi after dark.
Featuring a solid infrastructure, stable economy, good health care facilities, and fast and reliable internet connection, the nation is welcoming applications for the Barbados 12-month Welcome Stamp Visa, a remote live-work program. Find out more about the one-year visa at BarbadosWelcomeStamp.bb/
Tracy Kaler is a travel writer based in New York. She’s written for The Telegraph, Barron’s Penta, amNewYork, and other publications. When she’s not glued to her laptop, she’s wandering the city she loves or off discovering another part of the planet.