Avert your eyes now if a bit of tropical sun is too painful to comprehend at this point of winter! Last week we scooted back out to Barbados for a little escape from January blues. (In case you’re wondering, the villa is in my mum’s side of the family so we’re lucky enough to get free use of it every so often.) I posted a lot about Barbados two years ago when we last went, so I’ll keep it short this time! Mainly because we actually did do less as well – having visited before it was good to not feel pressured into dashing around seeing all there was to offer on the island. We hit a couple of favourite places from last time and a few new things, but also had a lot of down-time just relaxing at the beach or pool.
I totally lied when I said I was done with Barbados posts. Sorry. At least it’s a bit warmer in the UK now, so looking over holiday snaps doesn’t feel so painful. I knocked together the video above from the clips I took on my camera. The speeded-up timelapse sunsets are my favourite part!
I semi-forgot that I took a film camera along too – my trusty Olympus Trip-35 – so just got around to getting the photos developed.
Finally, Blurb offered me a chance to try their custom book printing service again (here’s my first book), so I had a fun evening with their BookSmart software creating a holiday album of my favourite digital snaps.
I went for full-on luxury this time: a large format landscape book with image-wrapped cover. It looks stunning – a true coffee table tome – and the inside pages are so vibrant, they really do colourful Barbados justice.
Their Booksmart software is a great tool to use if you want more control over the layout of your book. It takes a bit of getting used to and can be a little slow and crashy – but bearing in mind it’s dealing with 800mb of images I can forgive that, and it saves automatically so you never lose anything. But it was easy to reorder and add pages and to make sumptuous full-bleed double-page image spreads. You can also create custom collage templates to add several photos per page (or use the premade ones), and add text captions in a large choice of fonts.
I’m super pleased with how my book turned out – it will be living in pride of place on the coffee table next to my Bajan pottery and foraged fossilised rocks. My family all want a copy too, so I think I’ll be ordering a few more smaller format versions. For £15 off your first order, just click here to get started, entering code FRIEND at the checkout.
Blurb gave me a voucher to review their service, and the referral link is an affiliate link
You’ll be pleased to hear that this pretty much is my last holiday post! Sorry if it got a bit dull, but I wanted all the memories for myself in one place as much as anything. One of the biggest highlights of the holiday for me was visiting the wildlife reserve on our last full day. I love animals but don’t like seeing the sad caged specimens in zoos, so was pleased that this was a largely open park where the animals can mingle and come and go as they please.
We’d already spotted a couple of the island’s inhabitant green monkeys here and there, but the reserve is home to tons of them, as well as pretty little deer, maras (a funny like rabbit-donkey creature), peacocks, tortoises and even a couple of baby crocs.
We arrived just before 2pm, which is when the keepers feed the animals a heap of fresh fruit and veg. Watching all the species get together for a feast was magical!
The monkeys played and fought over the apples, hopped over the tortoises to get to the best bits, and scampered off with their loot to sit in the trees. I’ll admit right now – I never used to like monkeys: their weird humanlike features creeped me out, but I totally fell for them after seeing them interacting in the ‘wild’.
The deer chomped away in twos and threes, making funny expressions.
After lunch, the peacock treated us to a show of his amazing tail feathers.
And I made friends with the tortoises
These mini crocs – actually caimans – were suspiciously still and calm: a smug-looking turtle was even basking on the back of one of them.
The wildlife reserve admission also lets you take a wander in the adjacent Grenade Hall Forest, a tropical forest full of medicinal trees. It was a very peaceful place to wander in, and there were plenty of sign posts explaining a little more about some of the plants and what they are tradiionally used for.
We happened across a group of monkeys getting back to work after lunch: they were very studiously tearing the bark off the trees… not quite sure why but it was fascinating to watch. There’s also a signal station nearby that you can climb up for great views, but we were zonked after trampling round the forest on a very hot afternoon, so didn’t make it.
Harrison’s Cave is a limestone cavern in the geographical middle of Barbados, formed as the island itself was made – by tectonic and volcanic action – about 60,000 years ago. It was discovered as early as the 18th century, but only excavated and turned into a tourist attraction in the 1970s. Set in botanical gardens, you take a rickety golf-cart-like carriage into the bowels of the cave for a short tour.
Each area was given a name based on what it resembles. This is the Great Hall, said to resemble a cathedral with the congregation gathered, and the Altar with two ‘figures’.
Given 30,000 years or so, calcium drip deposits will make this a full column.
I’m glad we did go to see it as it’s quite spectacular down there, but I didn’t much like the slightly tacky resort built around it (obviously geared around the coachloads of tourists that I’m sure it sees) yet the museum and tour itself were a bit on the stingy side. It was $35 Barbadian (about £12) for the tram tour that lasted only about 35 minutes and went forward and back again on the same track so you saw all the same areas twice. Anyway, it was still worth seeing for the creepy/awesome factor.
We spent a fun Friday night in Barbados down at the coastal town of Oistins for its famous Fish Fry night market. It’s undeniably a big tourist draw – we could follow the hoards of white/burnt shoulders to find it – but there were plenty of locals down as well, and it felt like a genuine Bajan experience with the music, dancing and plenty of food a’frying…
After perusing all the stalls – each has its own seating area with informal waiter service – we sat at Mo’s Place and ordered beers, grilled fish and a big plate of veggie noms for me.
Everyone thoroughly enjoyed their food and, for an island where restaurants can get crazy expensive, it was a total bargain at around $40 Bajan per person – under £15 each including all the beers.
We sat for a bit afterwards and watched little kids and older breakdancers do their thing on the stage to some disco classics. The fish fry is there every evening but Friday is the busy party night, so get there early to grab a table.
I think everyone’s highlight of our holiday was the day when we went out on a catamaran for a day of sailing and snorkelling. After a lot of researching all the different operators we went for Good Times cruises and I think we made the right choice. The crew were delightful, the large boat comfortably fitted a small group of sixteen on board, and we had a fantastic five hours at sea.
We got picked up from the beach right outside our villa bright and early in the morning.
And quickly settled into the best spot on the front of the boat, while the crew supplied beers and rum punches and pointed out which celebs owned all the beachfront properties we cruised past.
We beat the crowds from the other catamaran tours by going to see the turtles first.
One of the crew, Lester, is nicknamed the ‘turtle whisperer’ because he has a knack for finding the turtles and bringing them up to the surface so everyone could get pictures and meet them. They were huge, calm, beautiful creatures and it was amazing to swim alongside them.
After the turtles we headed south along the coast to the marine reserve, a protected area containing a coral reef and a shipwreck which is home to thousands of tropical fish. Since I don’t have an underwater camera there’s no pictures of this bit, but I don’t think they could possibly do the experience justice: it was like swimming through a hi-def underwater TV documentary, with dozens of exotically coloured fish streaming past us in every direction. You were literally swimming alongside the fish but you couldn’t touch them – they always wriggled just out of reach and never even brushed us as they flipped past! I was a bit nervous of snorkelling as I’m not a very strong swimmer, but found I got hold of the mask quickly and was able to relax and enjoy it easily. A fantastic experience that I won’t forget.
After the reef tour, we got back onto the boat and the crew cooked up a delicious lunch: macaroni pie, salads, coleslaw, and chicken and fish for the meat eaters. It was honestly one of my favourite meals of the trip, and washed down with more rum punch.
Then the sails were hoisted and we enjoyed a slow cruise back along the coast to our starting point, pausing for a little dip and swim to the beach on the way.
There’s a lot of competition for snorkelling cruises on Barbados, but I think Good Times was definitely the top choice. We felt pretty smug when seeing the much bigger catamarans on the water rammed with up to 85 people and barely any space to themselves, whereas we had loads and the chance to learn a lot from the crew as we went. It was $90 (US) per person for the five hour trip including the lovely lunch, truly unlimited drinks, and all the snorkelling kit. An absolute must if you’re visiting, I think.
A fun day out in Barbados was visiting Saint Nicholas Abbey, a working rum distillery and sugar plantation, set next to a grandly restored plantation house. It’s set in a pretty flower and herb garden and looks onto a tropical forest.
Cool machinery and vintage doodads were dotted around everywhere
Out back the sugar cane fields were being harvested. Sadly we didn’t visit on a day where the threshing machinery was actually in use.
Shiny machines where the magic happens!
Finally, you get to have a taste – delicious stuff, but around £80 quid a bottle – ouch! We’ll stick to the bargainous duty-free Mount Gay from the airport for now.
Sorry for the delay between posts – I had an epic iPhoto-related disaster at the weekend. All I can say is never upgrade to iPhoto 11, unless you’d like all your photos completely erased without warning. Lightroom all the way from now on. Anyway…
One of the big bonuses of having this holiday with my family is that we had a built-in taxi service, in the form of my dad and his hire car (my dad LOVES to drive, so don’t feel too sorry for him). We could easily explore much more of the island this way, and I’m pleased we did as each coastline, and the inland, have very different landscapes and characteristics.
Where we stayed on the west coast is the main tourist hub, because the Caribbean sea is much calmer than the wild open Atlantic on the north and east sides. The ocean on ‘our’ side was deliciously clear, warm and calm with picture-perfect white sand and palm trees — although high tide picked up during our last few days, bringing fierce undercurrents and completely hiding the beach. Luckily we got plenty of swimming (and our snorkelling trip – more on that later) in before then! Some of the beaches got a bit crowded, but you could always wander down a few hundred metres and find somewhere new practically deserted.
Back to chilly old London! Barbados more than surpassed my expectations: we had such a brilliant time exploring, relaxing, and generally seeing what the sunny island had to offer. For an absolute non-beach-holiday-goer I might just be converted. Here are a few initial highlights, and I have a ton more posts coming up with some of the other things we got up to (caves! food! turtles! monkeys!).
Consuming plenty of rum punches
Horsing around on the beach before dinner
Enjoying the beautiful island flowers
Chilling in our lovely villa
Being overly amused by LOLcoconuts
Eating delicious local food
Watching some truly epic sunsets – you can literally watch it dip below the sea horizon in real time.