By Panorama de las Américas Editorial Team
Photos: Courtesy of Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc.
The island of Barbados is the summit of the same underwater mountain range that produced Trinidad and Tobago and which fans out in a parallel arc to the Lesser Antilles. It seems to sail alone, preceding its sister islands. Perhaps its relative isolation is what allows it to dazzle those who visit. A frame of green edged in sand lace, it emerges unexpectedly in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, heralding the Caribbean paradise that opens to its west.
First, indigenous Arawaks and Caribs, then Europeans and Africans, and now nationals from all over the world give this island its international flair. You can get a taste in Bridgetown, Barbados’ capital. Start at the Cheapside Market, where the colors of the fruits and the frank and rhythmic sounds of the trade between buyers and sellers will give you a first impression of the friendly and informal lifestyle of the Bajans, as the natives of Barbados call themselves.
The British influence is evident in the Parliament Buildings, built in 1874. After visiting Parliament, cross the Chamberlain Bridge (1872) and pass under the Arch of Independence before taking a photo and buying a souvenir in the adjoining kiosks. The St. Michael Cathedral (founded in 1780 and rebuilt in 1789) and the Nidhe Israel Synagogue (built in 1600) show the island’s history of diversity and tolerance.
Just outside the city, there are other attractions worth seeing. The Garrison area includes much of the historical and cultural legacy of the British colonial period. For example, you can tour the 350-year-old St. Nicholas Abbey, which is one of the oldest distilleries in the Caribbean. The historic Morgan Lewis Alembic, located atop a mountain, is the perfect place to view the island landscape. This is the last windmill that remains out of the many once used in Barbados for milling sugarcane.
Every tourist in Barbados dreams of visiting the pristine beaches. On the coast of the capital is Carlisle Bay, with transparent waters and talcum powder sand that scarcely retains the solar heat, making it ideal for barefoot walks. The beach is perfect for relaxing, swimming, and even diving. Speaking of diving, there are companies that offer expeditions, filled with bustling marine life, to shipwrecks quite near the coast.
These expeditions allow visitors to see remains such as those of the SS Stavronikita, a Greek ship that sank after an explosion in the 70s. Today it houses an impressive submarine community that includes coral colonies, turtles, barracudas, and other living beings. The paradisiacal areas multiply as we move away from Bridgetown. Continuing south brings you to Long Bay, a beach that, although next to the international airport, appears somewhat secluded, making it ideal for groups who want open spaces without the crowds.
There is also the classical Crane Beach, on the island’s southeast coast. Since 1867, the Crane Resort & Residences, one of the oldest tourist retreats in the world, has presided over the wide and gently sloping beach, which has become the mecca of boogie boarding on the island. From here on up, the coast continues to reveal hidden beach refuges of different sizes. In Bathsheba, an endless gallery of white beaches opens up; Cattlewash is interspersed with pools that resemble those favored by the wife of King David, Queen Bathsheba (hence its name). Bathsheba is also home to a bucolic fishing community.
The beaches mentioned above are just a few of the more than sixty that line the island of Barbados. There are also Mullins Beach, where you can ride the waves on jet skis, and Pebbles Beach, known for its aquatic sports, such as paddle boarding, surfing, kite surfing, swimming with turtles, sailing in a Hobie Cat or kayak, spear fishing, or the latest luxury: taking a one or two day trip on a catamaran. But among so many options there is one thing you should not miss: a visit to Animal Flower Cave, considered one of the most impressive natural wonders of the world. The rocky formation opens directly onto the ocean. Tourists can swim in the calm natural pool carved into the cave’s interior while contemplating the immensity of the sea.
Another place full of magic, but inland, in the heart of the island, is Harrison’s Cave. A trace of the volcanic origins of Barbados, it opens through an enormous vein of limestone, featuring pools of crystalline water and stalactites and stalagmites that make it resemble the home of some mythical ancient being. In fact, inland Barbados reveals at least as much beauty as the coasts. That is why it is best to intersperse time on the beach with exciting excursions to parks and natural refuges in the interior of the island.
The Andromeda Botanic Gardens, in Foster Hill, proves this point. Hidden in the parish (as the districts in Barbados are called) of St. Joseph, the Andromeda Gardens were established by Iris Bannochie, a prominent local botanist, who donated them to the government of the island in 1977. The flora, which includes numerous species collected by Ms. Bannochie on her travels around the world, attracts a large winged contingent. The local colony of monkeys makes visiting this place unforgettable.
Other botanical gardens worth visiting include Flower Forrest, in Barbados’ highest, most pristine area. The farm, established in 1985, includes a diverse and colorful range of flora across its more than 54 acres; it is a lost kingdom 656 feet in the air, the highest point in this tapestry of greenery. Ramble and regain your peace along its paths, or rest on the benches and gazebos that open up to spectacular landscapes. But these are not the only gardens worth discovering. Other green areas also offer unique verdant experiences: Hunte, Sugarland, Glenville, Welchman Hall Gully, and Orchid World are just some that might be on your list.
A list that, we predict, will be long, and almost as endless as the experiences you can find on this island, the messenger and green front of the sunny and warm Caribbean. Discover Barbados and forge your own memories of this very special destination. Additional information is available at www.visitbarbarbados.org
Starting July 17, Copa Airlines will fly to Barbados from North, Central, South America and the Caribbean. The Copa Airlines CM 910 flight will leave Panama on Tuesdays and Fridays, departing at 9:30 a.m. and arriving in Bridgetown at 1:00 p.m. The return flight, CM 911, will operate on the same days, departing at 2:00 p.m. and arriving in Panama at 5:00 p.m. Passengers will travel on an Embraer E190 aircraft, with a 94-passenger capacity, including 10 seats in Business Class and 84 in the main cabin. For more information please visit www.copaair.com <http://www.copaair.com>