Last time I was in Barbados, I came across Jeremy Clarkson, shooting the breeze with his crew over rum and cokes on a break from filming for his The Grand Tour show.
The little Caribbean island is just that kind of place. Its ritzy hotels such as Sandy Lane (where rooms cost more than £1,000 a night) and glam restaurants such as The Cliff (three-course meals £125 a head) attract TV stars, Premier League footballers and their wives in droves. A guide to the island’s most affordable delights
But don’t let this put you off. There is so much more to the island than its status as a celebrity haven, and you don’t need a footballer’s salary to have a fantastic time. I’ve visited eight times. Here is my pick of affordable things to do, and places to go, eat and stay.
Every morning, turtles congregate off the west coast beach of Paynes Bay. The creatures are tame, so as you snorkel they flit around you
A raucous carnival takes place in the summer, culminating with the Grand Kadooment Parade (this year on August 7), when revellers dressed in feathered headdresses and bikinis strut their stuff through the streets of the island’s capital, Bridgetown.
If it’s a Friday evening, follow what seems like half the island down to the fishing town of Oistins for its weekly ‘fish fry’. With a healthy mix of tourists and locals, the atmosphere is convivial, the calypso music deafening, and the food cheap. A platter of swordfish, mahi mahi or tuna will set you back a tenner.
A day at the races
For 170 years, horse racing has been staged at Barbados’ Garrison Savannah; the track runs around the edge of what was the parade ground in British colonial times. Meetings have a casual, tropical air, with egrets on the grass, locals downing bottles of beer and kids sucking on snow cones. See barbadosturfclub.org for dates.
Commune with turtles
Every morning, turtles congregate off the west coast beach of Paynes Bay. The creatures are tame, so as you snorkel they flit around you. Most visitors swim with the turtles en masse on a catamaran cruise, but it’s cheaper to get a local to take you out on a boat from the beach. You’re looking at £80 for your family for an hour – a snip for one of the most thrilling things you can do on Barbados.
There is so much more to Barbados than its status as a celebrity haven, and you don’t need a footballer’s salary to have a fantastic time
Bajans have green fingers – and the island has been selected to host the World Flower Show this summer. Several gorgeous gardens are open to the public. My favourite is Hunte’s Gardens, a paradise set in a sink hole, with soaring palms, rare heliconias, statues lurking in lush vegetation and classical music wafting through the air. huntesgardensbarbados.com; £12.
Go native for the day at Miami Beach (also called Enterprise) on the outskirts of Oistins. It’s a gorgeous strip of sand with a protected cove one end where locals wallow in the water chatting. Fishcakes and flying fish cutters (the Barbados term for sandwiches) are provided by Mr Delicious Snack Bar, a truck set up behind the beach.
A raucous carnival takes place in the summer, culminating with the Grand Kadooment Parade (pictured)
To sample classic Bajan cuisine, set aside time for a blow-out lunch at Brown Sugar, an elegant restaurant occupying the foliage-drenched patios of an old home near Bridgetown. Must-try dishes include the pepperpot stew, macaroni pie and rum-soaked bread pudding. See brownsugarbarbados.net; buffet £24, or £28 on Sundays.
Getting there, where to stay British Airways (ba.com) flies direct from Gatwick 12 times a week.
Keenly priced packages combining flights with stays at 40 hotels across the island are available through British Airways Holidays. For families, Beach View (from £840pp room-only) is a small complex of large and well-equipped apartments with a fabulous pool that’s just a stroll from Paynes Bay beach.
An affordable adults-only option is Sugar Cane Club Hotel & Spa (from £1,132pp all-inclusive) in lovely grounds a short shuttle-bus ride from Speightstown on the north-west coast.
On the south coast, the attractive Bougainvillea Beach Resort (from £992pp room-only), is an all-suite property set one end of a long stretch of sand.
To get around cheaply, stick to the buses – rides cost about 80p. For more information, see visitbarbados.org.