Barbados is the type of island that’s got a lot going for it. The people are incredibly friendly and truly want visitors to enjoy their little slice of paradise; the island itself benefits from natural beauty as well as thought-out infrastructure that makes getting around easy; and Barbados is large enough to offer varied attractions so just about anyone can find something of interest here.
And if you want to spend a little extra time in Barbados before or after your cruise, choose an itinerary on a cruise line like Carnival, P&O, SeaDream Yacht Club, Star Clippers, Windstar or Silversea that offer voyages that embark and/or debark in Bridgetown.
These are 13 of the most popular things to do while visiting the island pre- or post-cruise, or during a daylong shore excursion:
There is something magical about having the opportunity to swim with giant hawksbill and leatherback turtles in the Caribbean Sea. Despite how large these creatures can get — adult leatherback turtles can weigh 1,500 pounds — they are strikingly beautiful and graceful as they glide through the water. Calabaza Sailing Cruises Barbados offers a five-hour lunch tour that includes passage along the west coast of Barbados to the snorkel site; use of fins, snorkels and masks; snacks like banana bread; and a Bajan lunch served on fine china. Of course, the rum punch (or your cocktail of choice) flows throughout the voyage. The catamaran’s capacity is just 12 people, so you’re assured personalized service and plenty of space at the snorkel site.
Several catamarans, like the luxurious 12-passenger Silver Moon, can take you on an amazing tour that includes two snorkel sites: one to play with sea turtles and the second to visit a historic 19th-century shipwreck. Bring your underwater camera because the ship and surrounding coral reefs are otherworldly. The outing includes round-trip transportation from your cruise ship, snorkel gear and instruction, a Bajan-style buffet lunch and unlimited beverages (including alcohol).
Most first-time visitors to Barbados who want to enjoy a traditional beach day head to The Boatyard on Carlisle Bay, just a 10-minute cab ride from the cruise terminal. Entrance to the beach club is $20 per person and includes access to the changing room, a lounge chair, an umbrella (while they last), a drink and a complimentary taxi ride back to your ship at the end of the day. Out in the water you’ll find plenty of water toys like a floating “island,” trampoline and rope swing. There is an on-site restaurant and bar and vendors who will take you out by boat to see the sea turtles for an extra fee. The atmosphere is quite lively here; teenagers generally love it.
Sometimes all you want to do in port is take a nice walk, enjoy the scenery and let the day unfold at its own pace. A great way to make this happen is to walk the Barbados Boardwalk, a one-mile path that winds between the Accra Beach Hotel and St. Matthias Road on the island’s south coast. You’ll enjoy ocean scenery on one side and lovely heritage homes, restaurants and bars on the other. Take a 12-minute taxi ride to Accra Beach Hotel and start walking the path from there.
Away from the coast and the beaches, Harrison's Cave contains a spectacular collection of stalactites and stalagmites, underground streams, lakes and waterfalls, all accessed in comfort by riding on electric trams. First discovered in the 18th century, the caves are in the geographical centre of the island and first opened to the public in 1981.
Golfers look forward to visiting Barbados and playing any of the island’s world-class courses. Take The Green Monkey at famed resort Sandy Lane. Designed by Tom Fazio, it’s a par 72, 7,343-yard course carved from an old limestone quarry. You can’t find more dramatic views in the Caribbean, with exposed rock-wall faces juxtaposing the lush green grass of the fairways. If you stay at Sandy Lane before or after your cruise, you can enjoy this course as well as The Country Club (also designed by Fazio) and The Old Nine.
You’ll find a lot of opportunities to tour rum distilleries in the Caribbean, but St. Nicholas Abbey is situated on such beautiful grounds that you won’t want to miss it. The abbey is located about 40 minutes from the cruise terminal, near the Barbados Wildlife Reserve. With your entry fee ($40 for adults and $20 for children), you can tour the old plantation grounds, orchards and rum distillery, and get a complimentary guided tour of the great house to view antiques dating back 350 years.
The distillery crafts St. Nicholas Abbey rum using traditional methods and lovingly hand bottles the spirit, which should be sampled before you head back to your cruise ship. You can only purchase this brand of rum at the abbey, and they also sell brown sugar, molasses, chutneys, jams and jellies made from ingredients sourced on and near the plantation.
If you’ve ever wanted to ride a horse along a gold-sand beach, you can do it on Barbados. Companies like Ocean Echo Stables offer one- to three-hour tours for both beginner and expert equestrians. Newbies trek through lush foliage on the way to Bath Beach while more advanced riders tackle Hackelton’s Cliff and Conset Bay. Riders must be at least 10 years old and groups are limited to six people. Each tour begins with some instruction in the paddock and cartroads before hitting the trails.
For something decidedly different from a beach day, visit Welchman Hall Gully at the center of the island. Here, you can enjoy the forest canopy that is home to two troops of green monkeys. Spy them as they sit in banana trees or check out their feeding platform near the entrance of the gully. Morning is the best time to see the monkeys.
A man-made path through the three-quarter-mile gully makes it quite easy for anyone to enjoy the tropical plants and trees like nutmeg, palms, clove and bamboo. Entrance fees are $12 for adults and $6 for children ages 5 to 12. Kids under 5 are free. Guided tours start at 10:30 a.m., Monday through Friday from December through April. You can get to the gully from the cruise terminal aboard the local “Reggae Bus” for about $2 per person, or you can take a taxi.
If Welchman Hall Gully whetted your appetite for tropical foliage, you can also explore the six acres that comprise Andromeda Botanic Gardens in St. Joseph. Here, you’ll enjoy a variety of tropical beauties like orchids and hibiscus, palms and cacti, bougainvillea and begonias. A stream gurgles through the gardens, and as you wander the grounds, you’ll come across pools and waterfalls. Before you leave, visit the on-site art gallery or have a bite to eat in the Garden Cafe.
For a glimpse of what life was like living in one of Barbados’ great plantation homes, tour Sunbury Plantation House in St. Philip’s countryside. The home was built around 1660, and various additions and improvements were made through 1788. You’ll find an extensive collection of antiques as well as unique horse-drawn carriages. A meal at the Courtyard Restaurant is generally included in tours of Sunbury Plantation House that are booked directly through your cruise line. It’s a 25-minute cab ride from Bridgetown Cruise Terminal.
The best beaches are mostly on the sheltered west coast of the island—where the most luxurious resorts are to be found. All of the beaches in Barbados, even at exclusive Sandy Lane, are publicly accessible.
While most beaches are within a 30-minute taxi ride from the cruise terminal, if time is a factor there's a choice of two within walking distance. Take a left from the dock gate and it's a short(ish) stroll past the Kensington Oval cricket stadium to the Malibu Club at Brighton Beach, or head into town and then cross the Chamberlain Bridge to get to the busy Carlisle Bay Beach, where there are plenty of opportunities for watersports.
Further east is Crane Beach, voted by TV's Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous as one of the 10 best beaches in the world. It's about a 40 minute cab ride from the cruise terminal and will cost about $30. All of the beaches in Barbados are free to the public so as long as you don't enter the beach through the hotel, you won't have to pay a fee. Bathsheba Beach, north of the airport, is the place for the adventurous to surf the Soup Bowl—where a northeast swell can produce a perfect tube.
Historic Bridgetown, within easy walking distance of the cruise port, has been recognized as a World Heritage site, cited as "an outstanding example of British colonial architecture consisting of a well-preserved old town built in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, which testifies to the spread of Great Britain's Atlantic colonial empire."
The nearby military garrison "with its serpentine urban lay-out ... testifies to a different approach to colonial town-planning compared to the Spanish and Dutch colonial cities of the region which were built along a grid plan," adds UNESCO, which also recognizes the town's connection to the slave trade.