I have a friend who believes that if you want to go somewhere you should just close your eyes, buy the ticket and it’ll all work out afterward. Now this method is both highly risky and optimistic but this is basically what I did when it came to Barbados.
Fortunately tickets to Barbados aren’t too expensive when compared to the cost of travel to most of the other Caribbean islands. Jamaica is eternally ridiculous and even places which are hop away from Trinidad like St Lucia can be in the $300+ range.
I got lucky because I had enough miles to cover a one way ticket and my return ticket cost me $200USD. This was not bad considering I booked the ticket three weeks before my trip.
Travel tip: regardless of how little or often they travel – make sure you’re accumulating miles. Most airlines sign you up automatically once you purchase a ticket but for others, you have to sign up for their miles program and remember to either insert a number every time you fly, or claim your miles after your flight. Of course you still have to pay taxes, but it counts for something and personally, miles programs have made otherwise financially tricky trips possible.
I travelled with my partner Dex and our friend Rachel and even their tickets weren’t horribly expensive. Rachel booked early and got a return ticket (Trini –> Barbados) for $265 USD and Dex’s (Kingston, Jamaica –> Barbados) return ticket turned out to be $450.
So with that we opted to skip Trinidad Carnival and spend four days in Barbados. Skipping Carnival is blasphemous to so many people and that’s understandable because Trini Carnival is a true experience. But as a Trini, in my opinion, Carnival is one of the best times to travel. I had a whole vacation and didn’t take any vacation days at work. We left Trinidad on Carnival Friday night and flew back in on Ash Wednesday morning with a very conservative sum of spending money, but determined to somehow see the entire country.
This is Barbados on a budget 🙂
Before going to Barbados I would alway hear people refer to it as ‘Bim’ and I found myself unthinkingly calling it Bim without knowing where this nickname came from. So I did a little research and it turns out that ‘Bim’ is thought to be a leftover from its connection with England when it was called Bimshire….yes, Bimshire. Interestingly though there are other theories. One suggests that enslaved Igbo people referred to Barbados as bém which means ‘my home’. As there was a high percentage of Igbo people being brought to Barbados during the slave trade, it stuck. I don’t particularly get why people who were forcefully brought to live in another country under hazardous conditions would accept it with open arms and call it home, but that’s a story for another blog. The other theory I found is far less interesting but you can read about it here.
Now on to the trip!
Whether I’m on a tight budget or I have enough to splurge, chances are I’m not staying in a hotel. I rather spend money on tours, exploring, food or taxis if needs be. Our first step to staying within budget was using AirBnb. With Airbnb you can almost control how much you’re willing to spend per night and you get to see reviews of the space and speak to the host before booking.
For the first time however, Airbnb failed me because of some technical error on their side and I had to find another way to find cheap accommodation. Flipkey was a great alternative, same concept but the user interface just isn’t as clean and user friendly as AirBnb, so it will remain a solid Plan B. Nevertheless, it really helped us find a clean, central affordable place in Christ Church. We got a studio apartment – the Barbados Swiss Chalet– which was a walk away from the main road with Desmond, a super friendly host. It was $55 USD a night which amounted to less than $20USD a night per person. The place was clean, quiet and slept three people comfortably so I would definitely recommend it to anyone doing Bim on a budget.
This was, hands down my favourite thing about Barbados. Not that we were planning to rent a car, but there was absolutely no reason to do so or to depend on private taxis. Once you ensure you’re staying close to the main road – and you’re staying in the town area, you’ll get public transport until 11PM to anywhere for $1USD. This was perfect for us and saved us so much money as we only needed to catch a taxi back to the apartment at night. It was also really easy to return to the apartment from the Gap as there were always taxis parked up and the price seemed to be standard. If you’re planning a visit to Bim soon, King Arthur Taxi Service is highly recommended: 246-238-8402.
Food and Drinks
Another prop for my Flipkey host Desmond here, as he ensured the apartment was stocked with breakfast food which lasted the three of us the entire trip. Aside from this, we had reasonably priced food save the times we splurged and had dinner on the St Lawrence Gap (which most people just call ‘The Gap’ – a strip of restaurants, bars and clubs where we spent most of our nights). We tried Chefette (pass on the roti, trust me), KFC (say no), some fish cakes which were decent and finally had some great (but overpriced) food at Mustor’s Restaurant in Bridgetown.
People kept giving us Banks (Barbados’ beer). Everywhere we visited the conversation went:
“Oh you’re not from Barbados..okay…have you had Banks yet?” “Well…”
“Oh let me get you’ll one…it’s really good”
We drank SO much free beer…and the alcohol we did buy was SO STRONG. Let me tell you. We spent most of our nights on the Gap and while we tried the different clubs/bars/lounges – there were about three – we always ended up back at Hal’s Carpark Bar…sound suspect? Well maybe, but Hal (well we assumed he was Hal) was so entertaining, music was almost always great and the drinks were insanely strong and cheap (about $1.50 USD a glass)…and you only needed like three (spaced out) to be more than good for the night.
Coming from Trinidad where street food at night is one of our specialities, I found Barbados to be kind of disappointing in this category. Who eats a whole slice of macaroni pie half drunk on the road? We opted for burgers when we did street food which were okay, but overpriced.
We did a lot in Barbados in the short time we were there. On our first night we went to Oisitins which has a big party and fish fry on the weekends and somehow ended the night at a strip club. I’ve only been to strip clubs in Jamaica and this one was a bit different…and a little suspect. For starters we entered through a curtain and the women were much more forward. Dex ended up meeting a fellow Jamaican and I was all but accosted by another woman. Unfortunately I can’t remember the name of the club but it wasn’t very far from the Gap.
We were able to get an almost full tour of the island – we went to the oldest church in Barbados, Little Bay and Cove Bay (extremely gorgeous) and Codrington College. All this and we spent almost nothing as we have amazing friends there who took us on a day trip on our first day.
This leads me to another point regarding travelling on a budget. For me, making and keeping good friends from university who live around the Caribbean has been great. Aside from great friendships, I can get accommodation, free tours or even just advice on places to go when I travel regionally. I of course ensure I do the same when I have visitors to Trinidad, but this is a good way to save money. I know of other people who, if they don’t know someone in a particular place, use their networks to find people. While this may not be the best bet for accommodation, it has worked for advice on where to find the cheapest accommodation or tours.
On our second day we went snorkeling in Carlisle Bay. The tour takes you out to swim with sea turtles and see two shipwrecks. Fascinating, worth it, great experience. A quick search of snorkeling in Barbados brings up some other service providers who are probably great but unnecessarily expensive. The cheapest I found was Snorkel Wid Nevil. Neville picked us up from the apartment and took us out on his boat for the hour long trip. It was just us which was a plus and after the trip we got rum punch and a drop back to the apartment. It cost us 30USD a person and was worth every penny. A lot of people swim out and go snorkeling on their own or do snorkeling on Jammin’ Catamaran trip which has great reviews and I would recommend it. We would have done it but like I said…Barbados on a budget.
One thing we did splurge on was a half day tour with Glory Tours. We booked and paid online which was quick and easy. They offer half day and full day tours which are all described on their website. We did the Treasures of Barbados tour ($95USD) which picked us up at the apartment and took us to:
- Harrison’s Cave where we did a tram tour (really recommend, you get a solid history of Barbados’ formation. If you’re into geography and geology it’s a must)
- Bathsheba (pretty but I would advise not doing it with a tour if you can as you’ll get to spend more time)
- Morgan Lewis Windmill (one of the only two intact and restored sugar mills in the Caribbean)
- Cherry Tree Hill (breathtaking view)
- St Nicholas Abbey (one of only three genuine Jacobean mansions in the Western Hemisphere, if you’re into old buildings, history and rum this is for you)
Overall the tour was definitely worth the splurge but if you’re renting a car then you can do all of these things and spend some more time at each place. You can also travel to the different places of attraction using the public transport system which will definitely be cheaper and actually has buses which pass most of the attractions. You will have to factor in waiting for a bus though, which can take quite a bit of time as many places are outside of the town. Kudos to their transport system though – they actually have a list of the different attractions and the corresponding buses to take to get there – I appreciated that!
On our last day we went to The Boatyard which we all really enjoyed. It cost us $25 USD and we got access to their beach, their water activities (ocean trampoline, iceberg climb and slide, dive platform, rope swing) food and drinks- get in on their happy hour.
Before going to Bim, it wasn’t on my travel bucket list but I really enjoyed the trip. I loved how easy and cheap it was to get around, loved the constant free beer, learning about their history at Harrison’s Cave and on our day tour and liming in Oistins and on the Gap. I found the people we met quite friendly, the activities we did were all extremely enjoyable and we had absolutely no bad experiences.
I think if you’re looking for a quick, relaxing weekend that won’t destroy your pocket on an extremely beautiful island with great beaches and decent parties (and not longing for great, cheap food) then Barbados is a good choice. If you’re looking to spend even less, you can skip the tour (priciest thing we did), pick two attractions and travel to them or explore Bridgetown on foot and take the public buses to beaches around the island. There are so many other things we didn’t do that we could have with more time and money, but we will in the future as Barbados is a place I will definitely lah hay to again.