Barbados has experienced several waves of human habitation. The first wave were of the Saladoid-Barrancoid group, farmers, fishermen, and ceramists who arrived by canoe from Venezuela's Orinoco Valley around 350 AD. The Arawak people were the second wave, arriving from South America around 800 AD. Arawak settlements on the island include Stroud Point, Chandler Bay, Saint Luke's Gully, and Mapp's Cave. According to accounts by descendants of the aboriginal Arawak tribes on other local islands, the original name for Barbados was Ichirouganaim. In the 13th century, the Caribs arrived from South America in the third wave, displacing both the Arawak and the Salodoid-Barrancoid. For the next few centuries, they lived in isolation on the island.
The name "Barbados" comes from a Portuguese explorer named Pedro Campos in 1536, who originally called the island Os Barbados ("The Bearded Ones"), after the appearance of the island's fig trees, whose long hanging aerial roots resembled beards. Between Campos's sighting in 1536 and 1550, Spanish conquistadors seized many Caribs on Barbados and used them as slave labor on plantations. The others fled the island, moving elsewhere.
Barbados was formally settled by the British in 1627. After several failed crops of cotton, sugarcane was introduced, and the colony established itself as a profitable plantation economy. Enslaved Africans were the primary source of labour on these plantations until 1834, when they won their freedom through several years of rebellion, supported by increasing pressure from anti-slavery movements in Britain.
The economy remained heavily dependent on sugar, rum and molasses production through most of the 20th century. Though the shackles were removed, much of the repressive labour conditions of slavery remained on the island until the 1930s, when the educated black middle class fought for universal adult suffrage and took the control of the country's local governance away from the British-descended local aristocracy. The country began a process of social and political reforms in the 1940s and 1950s which led to complete independence from the United Kingdom in 1966. In the 1980s, tourism and manufacturing surpassed the sugar industry in economic importance. Barbados has developed into a stable democracy with one of the highest rates of literacy in the Western Hemisphere.
Locals refer to themselves as Bajans and things Barbadian as Bajan.
The island of Barbados has eleven parishes which can be sensibly divided into four regions:
Citizens of the following countries will not need visas to enter Barbados: Albania, Antigua and Barbuda, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominica, Eritrea, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, France, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kiribati, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lesotho, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macau, Republic of Macedonia, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mexico, Federated States of Micronesia, Moldova, Nauru, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Norway, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
If you require a visa, you can obtain one from a Barbadian embassy, high commission or consulate. The form for a visa must include 2 passport size photographs. The visa costs BBD50 for single entry and BBD60 for multiple entry.
If you require a visa to enter Barbados, you might be able to apply for one at a British embassy, high commission or consulate in the country where you legally reside if there is no Barbadian diplomatic post. For example, the British embassies in Al Khobar, Amman, Belgrade, Budapest, Helsinki, Jakarta, Jeddah, Moscow, Pristina, Qatar, Riga, Riyadh, Rome, Sofia, Tallinn, Vienna, Warsaw and Zagreb accept Barbadian visa applications (this list is not exhaustive). British diplomatic posts charge GBP50 to process a Barbadian visa application and an extra GBP70 if the Barbadian authorities require the visa application to be referred to them. The Barbadian authorities can also decide to charge an additional fee if they correspond with you directly.
Sir Grantley Adams International Airport (IATA: BGI) is a large international airport for Barbados's size and boasts dozens of flights arriving in the high season from the UK and Canada, as well as the United States. British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have many flights from the United Kingdom, while American Airlines is the dominant carrier from the United States (Dallas, Miami, and New York). Air Canada and Westjet fly from Canada. The airport is 13km (8 mi) east of Bridgetown. Buses and minibuses run from a stop across the road from the airport up the coast to Bridgetown, Holetown, and Speightstown for BBD2 per person, but a taxi is the most convenient way to get to your hotel on arrival.
Many cruise ships dock in the Bridgetown deep water harbor, just expanded to accommodate even more vessels. The terminal is served by an army of taxis, as well as shuttle "buses" to/from downtown Bridgetown for BBD2 each way per person.
Private moorings are available around the island. Note that stiff penalties prohibit the dropping of anchors on coral reefs.
Visiting private yachts/cruisers should check in either at Bridgetown or Port St Charles. Anchor off in the northern side of Carlisle Bay. Q flag is obligatory. There are entry/exit fees. Access to Bridgetown can be via Dinghy dock in the Careenage. Full from fishing dock
Driving is on the left. The bus system is extensive, cheap and fast if you are headed to somewhere on the main route, but a car (or mini-moke) is the only way to see many of the out-of-the-way sights. Many drivers will hold a bus for you if they see you are from out of town, reflecting the typical welcoming spirit. Buses are run by the Barbados Transport Board (blue) and are quiet. Private operators include the yellow buses, which play very loud music, and private mini-vans (white), which are usually cramped and crowded. The two privately run means of transport are often driven very fast and recklessly. All charge the same fare (BBD2.00). Yellow buses and minivans offer change and even accept US dollars. BTB buses accept Barbados dollars and do not give change.
There are also more than enough taxis to take you wherever you need to go on the island for reasonable prices. They do not use meters and it is best to negotiate the price before you get in. However, most taxi drivers are honest and you are unlikely to be overcharged. Be sure to ask the management of the hotel or the friendly locals what the going rate is for a cab ride to your destination.
Renting a car is expensive. If you are driving, be aware that the roads on the island are generally quite narrow, with the exception of the ABC highway. It is advisable to be extra cautious as many roads on the island have sharp turns, steep inclines, and are generally quite bumpy, although most are paved.
Many of these "highways" do not have sidewalks, so there can be pedestrians on the street sharing the road. Many bus stops are also on the side of roads where there are no sidewalks. Additionally, beware of impromptu passing lanes as slow drivers are often passed by others behind them when on two lane roads. Road signs can be fairly confusing, so be prepared to get lost: just keep your petrol tank topped up and keep asking the way as people are always eager to help.
At most all of the local car rental agencies, a full collision damage waiver policy is automatically included with the rental, except for any damage incurred to the car tires, a testament to the poor condition of the smaller roads and tendency of foreign drivers to miscalculate driving lanes and hit curbs.
Mopeds and bikes can also be rented to explore sites not easily reached by cars. This not recommended however due to the poor condition of many of the secondary and residential roads. Except for the main highway, all the other roads provide a hazardous journey to the moped or bike rider due to no sidewalks, frequent pot holes, sharp corners and speeding local buses.
Another fun way to get around is to rent a moke available from any number of local car rental agencies.
The official language in Barbados is English. Bajan (occasionally called Barbadian Creole or Barbadian Dialect), is an English-based creole language spoken by locals. Bajan uses a mixture of West African idioms and expressions, such as Igbo, along with British English to produce a unique Barbadian/West Indian vocabulary and speech pattern. There are a few African words interspersed with the dialect. Communication will not be a problem for any English speaker, and Barbados has one of the highest literacy rates in the Western Hemisphere.
The west coast holds numerous deluxe resorts, and it and the interior highlands have several historical sites with picturesque views. Numerous web sites offer details.
World class water sports including surfing at the Soup Bowl on the east coast and various breaks along the west when the swell is up. The south coast has great surf and a spot on the world windsurfing tour at Silver Sands.
Travel inland to various plantation houses which put on meals and exhibitions. Visit the animal flower cave or Barbados wildlife reserve.
The local currency is the Bajan dollar (BBD), but US dollars are accepted in almost all shops and restaurants (you will get your change back in BBD.) The exchange rate is fixed at about 2 Bajan dollars to the US dollar. Keep in mind that exchangers in hotels and banks may take an additional percentage of the exchange (typically 5%).
ATMs are widely available, although many banks ATMs charge up to 5 USD fee to withdraw cash using international cards. The only bank chain that does not seem to charge is the Republic Bank, which advertises its "Blue Machines" which are easy to spot.
Many "duty free" shops cater to visitors: from cruise ships. Bridgetown's main street hosts numerous jewellers, most frequently Colombian Emeralds and Diamonds International. Cave Shepherd department store offers a wide range of mercantile, while Harrison's offers premium gifts, leathers and cosmetics. Other smaller stores offer virtually everything a visitor or resident might need. A small mall at the harbour also offers decent prices and selection (for rum and UK liquors), but goods produced in Barbados may be slightly more expensive there than elsewhere on the island.
Barbados has a well-deserved reputation for producing excellent rum, e.g., Mount Gay. Rum distilleries are usually open for tours, and typically offer samples and product for sale at prices often equal to the best found anywhere else. (See also "Drink" below)
Barbados has a great variety of street vendors. Haggle aggressively. Don't stop until you are at about a third of the original price.
The fine arts flourish in Barbados and many galleries and studios have shows on all year round which change every few weeks.
See also the note about "Weekend Shut Down" at the end of the "Eat" section below.
Stores selling to visitors can honestly claim they offer duty free pricing. They in fact pay duty on imported goods before offering them for sale. But as they sell anything to you as a visitor, they will ask you to sign a form that allows them to get a refund of the duty paid. The government is working on a law that allows vendors to obtain goods that are intended for visitors without paying duty.
In times past, most everything shut down on weekends, and visitors had to plan ahead especially if self-catering. This is no longer the case. Clothing and gift stores open until 4pm or so (Sheraton Mall shops until 9:00pm) on Saturdays; very few are open on Sunday. Many supermarkets island-wide are open on Saturday and Sunday.
Bank holidays (such as Christmas, New Year's Day, Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday) will find most if not all stores and banks and business houses closed. But stores attached to gas stations will have limited availability of basic items, and shops at the deep water harbor will be open if cruise ships are visiting. There are a few small family run groceries across the island that will open on bank holidays (or have a side door open) to serve their community.
The legal drinking/purchasing age of alcoholic beverages is 16.
Barbados has some of the purest water in the world that can be drunk straight from the tap. Cruise ship employees are often seen stocking up on their water supplies while docked at the island.
Rum and rum drinks are featured at every bar. Perhaps the most famous domestic brand offered is Mount Gay Rum, which is very delicious. Modest cost tours of the distillery  are available on weekdays. They offer samples of all their rums, also sold at attractive prices.Small establishments called rum shops can be found all over Barbados. They are where local citizens (95% men) meet to catch up on the local news. Drop in, and you can easily have a conversation with a real Barbadian.
Beer and wine is easy to find as well. Banks beer is Barbados' own beer and very good. Tours of the Banks brewery are also available. While the tour itself is very hot and only moderately interesting an unlimited amount of beer is provided to those waiting for the tour to begin. Try to show up a few hours early and take advantage of a very good deal. Local bars around the island charge BBD10 for four 250-ml bottles of Banks or Deputy. The bar just before security at the airport is surprisingly reasonable at BBD4 for Deputy or BBD6 for Banks.
10 Saints is the first craft beer to be brewed in Barbados. This unique lager is aged for 90 days in Mount Gay 'Special Reserve' Rum casks, combining the rum heritage of the island with a refreshing lager to produce a truly 'Bajan' beer. It is available at bars and shops, throughout the island.
Barbados offers everything from inexpensive guest houses with bed and breakfast from under BBD80 daily for a single in the summer to luxury accommodations at some of the world's best hotels at BBD4,000 in the prime season.
Barbados apartments and apartment hotels offer the comfort of a hotel room combined with the convenience of your own cooking facilities. Most are located on/near the beach and are especially suitable for families.
There is a wide selection of luxury villas and cottages available for rent throughout Barbados. Many of these villas and cottages are located on or near the beach.
Privately owned vacation rentals are often rented at much lower costs than hotel or resort rooms. There is a wide selection of these holiday properties available throughout Barbados and many are located on or near the beach. Vacation properties range from beach houses to condos and apartments.
See regional articles for listings. Generally, more expensive resorts are on the west coast north of Bridgetown, simpler guesthouses are available along the southern coast and only a few housing options available in Bridgetown itself.
Although it is generally a safe place to travel, there is some crime that appears more significant because of its comparative rarity. It's wise for tourists to avoid certain high-risk activities like walking on secluded beaches, day or night, and walking in unfamiliar residential neighbourhoods or secluded areas away from main roads.
The most common kinds of crimes against tourists include taxi fraud, robbery, and shortchanging; however, rape and assaults are becoming more common. Most Bajans are by nature friendly, especially in the earlier part of the tourist season (November and December).
A special area of concern for visitors to Barbados is drugs. The country's strict antidrug policy is made apparent to visitors coming through Customs. In practice, however, Europeans and Americans in Barbados are offered marijuana or even cocaine frequently. Sellers will often roam the beaches selling aloe vera or other such innocuous goods as a pretense to begin a conversation about "ganja," "smoke" or "bad habits." As a result, many hotels and resorts now ban the use of aloe vera under the pretense that it "stains the towels."
Regardless of one's inclination to use drugs, it is not advisable to accept these offers. Marijuana is considered bad and is not accepted by Bajan police. While Bajan police are not frequently encountered, they prosecute drug crimes easily.
Care should also be taken going into the sea. Many people underestimate just how powerful the currents can be and rip tides have claimed lives over the years. Always look out for warning flags.
Beware of the sun, Barbados is only 13 degrees off of the equator and you can get sun burnt very easily. It is very important to keep your water intake high. Drink plenty of water or bring an umbrella to shade yourself against the sun, which is commonly done in the country.
Dengue is prevalent, therefore it is advisable to put on bug spray, as mosquitoes are often a nuisance to anyone staying outdoors for prolonged periods, day or night, as soon as you are in the country side. At the beach, as long as there is a breeze, you'll be ok: mosquitoes are poor fliers.
Despite, or maybe because of, the tropical climate, Bajans tend to dress conservatively when not on the beach. A bikini will not be appreciated in town and certainly not in church.
Bajans are particularly sensitive to manners and saying, "Good morning" to people, even strangers, goes a long way to earning their respect.
When meeting a Bajan, try not to discuss politics or racial issues. Talk is also important because Barbadians speak fairly fast when speaking in Creole (or Bajan, as it is called).
The use of the "N" word is a no, but when talking to friends words such a "B" (which is short for "bro") and "dawg" are used to describe or refer to a friend. Initially these words should not be used unless you know the person well.
Most Bajans are fun-loving and love to go out and have fun, as is noted by the large number of young people found in the clubs and on the Southern Coast of the island. Try not to stare at persons without good cause. If you happen to bounce into someone in a club, you should immediately apologize to the person.
Keep in mind that Bajans are very protective of family, and insults to a person's family are taken very seriously. This also relates to their views on issues such as homosexuality; even though most Bajans do not agree with the practice, your rights are still respected.
There are several small internet cafes located around the island as well as connections offered by the larger resort hotels.