The eastern Caribbean island of Barbados is known for turquoise blue waters, tropical beaches, lots of sunshine, good food, and friendly people. While most visitors who to come to Barbados spend their time in all-inclusive resorts, the best way to experience the island is by indulging in its Caribbean roots. Here are a few ways you can discover what authentic Bajan culture is all about…
Eat Fish Fry on Friday
The southern coastal village of Oistins is the location for a culinary sensation taking that takes place every Friday night. This is where locals gather to enjoy delicacies like granny’s fishcakes, fried flying fish, grilled sweet potatoes, fried plantains, Calypso rice, and pumpkin and ginger soup, while listening to the rhythms of calypso and reggae performed by local artists. Expect a casual beachfront atmosphere with flip-flops and picnic tables, and prepare to dance until late into the night.
Wander Around the Historic Capital
The capital and largest city of Barbados is Bridgetown, also known as “The City” or “The Town.” Established by English settlers in 1628, it’s not only a major West Indies tourist destination and cruise ship port, but also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Spend a day walking around the historic buildings including the famous Mount Gay visitor center (Mount Gay being the famous rum from Barbados), Kensington Oval (a famous cricket ground) and its visitor center, St. Mary’s Church, Parliament buildings, Garrison Savannah, and the Prime Minister’s office. Bridgetown is also a good place to do some duty-free shopping as well as catching daily tours to neighboring beaches and snorkeling sites.
Party at Heritage Nights
Some of the local resorts offer heritage nights on-site so that guests can experience the local culture without having to go far. They are usually Caribbean cabaret shows with dancers wearing carnival costumes and performing fire eating and limbo dancing, with accompaniment by local bands.
Dance to the Local Music Scene
You cannot come to the island and not enjoy the music, which includes a distinctive blend of African and British elements. Songs and dances are based on tuk bands, which are traditional Barbadian ensembles that incorporate African drumming and costumes with traditional English folk and military tunes. You can also listen to live steel pan, Caribbean jazz, calypso, and reggae, or even enjoy the latest electronic music played by DJs.
Play Cricket and Road Tennis
Barbados is a very sporty island. The national sport of Barbados is road tennis, which involves hitting a skinned tennis ball with wooden paddles, usually played on streets or in courts — it’s more or less like ping pong, but without the table! Cricket is another sport that’s followed religiously. The Barbados Cricket Association has been around since 1933, and you can often find local teams practicing at Kensington Oval or 3Ws Oval…and they don’t mind if you stop to take pictures or cheer them on!
Barbados is the birthplace of rum, and you’ll see how strongly it’s embedded in the local culture as there’s a rum shop at practically every corner of the island. “Liming” is Bajan slang for relaxing and the locals are often found liming while playing games and socializing at these rum shops. With a glass of rum in your hand, you can play slam dominoes like a true Bajan, while snacking on corn beef and biscuits, cheese cutters (sandwiches made using salt bread), and samosas.
Bite into Bajan Cuisine
Cuz’s Fish Stand, Sand Dunes Restaurant, and Lemon Harbor are good places to taste the local cuisine. The national dish of Barbados is cou-cou, which is like polenta or grits with okra, while pepper pot (pork stew) is also another Bajan favorite. Also, make sure to season your fried fish or fresh catch with hot sauce made of Caribbean scotch bonnet peppers. If you enjoy dabbling in a bit of cooking using local ingredients, take a pastry class with award-winning dessert chef, Ezra Beckles, at Turtle Beach. He uses unusual local ingredients for baking such as noni flour for a chocolate cake and cactus for cookies in his baking.
Got any other tips on how to get that authentic Bajan experience in Barbados? Share them with us in the comments.