From New York to the Lesser Antilles: What I learned travelling solo in Barbados

Me, in North Barbados

I’m an Australian who’s lived in New York for the last nine months, and two months in I managed to lose my passport and visa. I replaced the passport, but $300 and three arguments you only have with government employees later, I had to replace my visa too. I had to leave the country to replace it. I didn’t want to go all the way back to Australia, and knowing my first real winter – one where the temperature goes minus 15 Celsius – might be tough, I decided to go to the eastern Caribbean island Barbados. It’s also, conveniently, part of the Commonwealth!

Here is what I learned during my time there:

Barbados is not New York City

My phone didn’t work when I got to Barbados. I had no idea if the taxi driver was taking the long way to my hotel, and I couldn’t do my usual post-flight social media and email catch up.

When I arrived at the hotel, the security guard on duty stared at me blankly when I asked for the WiFi password. He tried to call the hotel manager but he wouldn’t answer – to be fair, if someone called me at 1am I probably wouldn’t answer either – and told me he would come to my room if he answered.

I stormed up to my room, stormed back out, and walked to the petrol station up the road to see if they sold SIM cards. They didn’t. I stormed back to the hotel, up the stairs, and when I got to my room I cried. I am a 29-year-old, independent woman, and I cried because I couldn’t check Facebook.

At 2am, I was mid-sob when the security guard came to my door with a slip of paper with the WiFi password on it. Let it be known, I wasn’t waiting for important news. I’m just so spoiled from New York now, that when I can’t have something I throw a tantrum like a small child.

So… What’s Good in Barbados?

South Coast Barbados

I stayed on the South Coast at Dover Beach for my first three nights. There are many restaurants and bars right on the beach, and they let you take drinks out on the sand. You can pay for a beach umbrella and chair to stay out of the direct sunlight while you watch the waves and the sunset.

Dover is right near St Lawrence, the main road with all the bars and nightlife is referred to commonly as ‘The Gap’. From Dover, it’s about a ten minute walk to a strip of bars, where you can watch cover bands, sing karaoke, or dance.

Sunset from Dover Beach #nofilter

A little further south of Dover is Oistins, which is more of a bay than a beach. There’s a fish market with many stalls selling fresh fish, and on weekends they host a street festival on the main road. The best beach in this area is Miami, hidden away from the street and the markets.

There’s a volleyball net set up, and small carts selling beer and rum punch. This is a good idea if you’re someone who can drink responsibly. However, if you’re anything like the two drunk women I saw who needed their friends to come and pull them out of the water, I’d suggest laying off the rum while you swim.

Central Barbados

Bridgetown is the main business centre, and isn’t as scenic as the other spots on the beach. There’s a huge bus interchange in Bridgetown, where you can get connections to anywhere on the island.

West Coast Barbados

Further north is the West Coast. This is where Rihanna lives, in a huge mansion with a big gate protecting it on Sandy Lane Beach. The West Coast has fewer bars than the south, the beaches are less crowded, and there are fewer options for restaurants on the beach. This is where you can really relax. I stayed five minutes away from Alleynes Bay and enjoyed dinner and drinks at Santi Beach Bar and Grill, and Ju Ju’s Beach Bar.

Me, in North Barbados

The other parts of the island, the north and east, are not very popular destinations for tourists to stay in, but this is where you can find great surfing beaches, and the Animal Flower Cave, which was unfortunately closed when I went there.

Food, Drinks and Local Cuisine

There’s a lot of fresh seafood and most places sell flying fish cakes, which are kind of like deep-fried fish meatballs. There’s also a lot of food to appeal to British tourists. Chips, bacon sandwiches, fish and chips… and even “chip butties.”

Banks is the local beer, and I paid as little as $1.50 US for one. Rum punch is another popular drink, made with Mount Gay rum, lime juice, grenadine, pineapple juice, orange juice and a tiny bit of nutmeg. These drinks are best enjoyed at a beach bar like Johnny Cools Bar at Dover Beach, or Santi Beach Bar and Grill at Alleyne’s Bay.

Guava Cheese is also worth a try. It’s a guava-flavoured jelly lolly, covered in sugar. Agapey dark chocolate is made on the island and is also an enjoyable local treat.

But under no circumstances should you eat the Tamarind Balls. Unless you like tamarind, of course, or enjoy coughing and spitting food out after you’ve had it in your mouth for a second.

Flying Fish Tacos at Surfer’s Cafe, Oistins

How to Get Around

There are a lot of reasonable options for car-hire, and I managed to organise exactly none of them. If you’re feeling fancy, you can get taxis everywhere. They’re easy to hail, but if you’re a stickler for metres, then this probably isn’t the best way for you to get around. There’s no metres in any of the taxis, and they just seem to make up the price as they go. There is an App like Uber called ‘BeepCab’, but in my experience this was a lot more expensive than just getting into a taxi from the street and hoping for the best.

Then, there are the buses, and all of them cost $1 US, or $2 Barbados. The big blue buses are official transport, and the yellow buses run to support the blue buses when they’re overcrowded. There’s also locals driving small vans around. This option is great if you have time to spare. But if, like me, you’re on your way to your Visa Appointment and this is a bad idea.

I accidentally hailed an unofficial bus/van, thinking it was a taxi, when I was on my way to the Consulate. I only caught on that it wasn’t a taxi when it stopped to pick up more people. I ended up at a huge bus interchange, with white vans everywhere. The vans were all full of people, music was blaring out of all of them, and their drivers were honking at each other as they tried to get back to the main road. After telling myself everything would be fine a few times, I panicked and walked out of the interchange and hailed a taxi.

People in Barbados

People in Barbados talk to strangers all the time. Yes, I am a female, and yes, I was alone which made me a target for cat-calling. This is something I am used to from New York, but I’m more used to blocking it out. This was considered rude.

A guy I met on the beach the day before followed me to the café I was having breakfast at, and asked me why I hadn’t said hello when he’d called out to me. Another asked me if I was in Barbados to find a new husband.

A tour guide who took me, and three sets of couples aged over 60, around the island told me I should only use the word “beautiful” when I refer to myself, and not when I talk about Barbados. He took me from my hotel at Dover to the next place I stayed at on the West Coast for free (score!), but only after he made me take his number and promise to text him the next day (I didn’t).

It’s worth noting I didn’t feel threatened by this behaviour, it’s all in good fun. When you first meet locals in Barbados, they can come across as quiet, or unfriendly, but this is not the case. They are very relaxed and don’t see the need to ask you how you are, or if you know what you want the second you line up in front of them at a restaurant or bar.

My holiday was a big lesson on how to be patient. Once I adjusted to how relaxed and slow everything was, I really enjoyed myself. I would highly recommend visiting Barbados, even if it’s not for a visa requisite getaway – though I still don’t recommend the Tamarind Balls.

The author visited Barbados at her own expense.