On a trip this December we passed through Barbados and met up with some old friends. We joined them for lunch at Champers, one of our preferred restaurants on the island. Barbados is a favorite destination of ours and is particularly well known for the quality of its’ restaurants.
Champers is located on Skeetes Hill near Rockley Beach on the south coast, and rests on a point with commanding views of the sea and beach. Sitting on the main floor deck looking out at white
sand, palm trees and ten shades of turquoise water you just know you are in paradise. The restaurant features great food, spectacular views and a very attentive staff, and you just can’t do much better for an elegant dinner or lunch while on the island.
We’ve never had a bad experience at Champers and this time was no exception. When in Barbados it’s a tradition to have flying fish, which I had
(fried with caper dressing) along with an appetizer of coconut shrimp with chili sauce, and both were excellent. Lunch was finished with an excellent warm bread pudding. My wife had West Indian shrimp curry with jasmine rice and grilled vegetables, also outstanding.
We were lucky enough to finish that day sitting on the porch of our friend’s house out at The Crane sipping famous Bajan Rum Punch.
Barbados Rum Punch Recipe:
One part Sour (fresh squeezed lime juice*)
Two parts Sweet (Demerara sugar**)
Three parts Strong (Barbados Rum (Our preference is Mt. Gay Extra Old))
Four parts Weak (Water)
Mix well and add a few drops of Angostura bitters. Pour over ice and add a bit of fresh grated nutmeg to each glass when serving
* Mexican or Key limes are preferred.
**Demerara is a type of raw cane sugar that has a large grain, hard texture, with a pale brown color. A substitute If you don’t have Dmerara sugar on hand, is to use an equal amount of granulated sugar and light brown sugar in its’ place.
This island is probably our favorite Caribbean destination. It is one of the oldest English outposts and has been an independent nation since 1966. It also has one of the Caribbean’s highest literacy rates and standards ofliving. . Its’ location puts it deep into the southern Caribbean and east out into the Atlantic so that its western shores are washed by the Caribbean and the east coast is famous for good Atlantic surf. Because Bathsheba, on the east coast, has nothing between it and Africa to block waves coming all the way across the Atlantic it has become the site of some major surfing competitions.
Beaches & Nitelife
Geography places a majority of the activity and hotels on the west side of this island stretching from the northwest coast to the western south shore. Starting out on the northwest coast is Speightstown which features a couple of good places to eat and beach clubs and not far away is one of our favorite restaurants, The Fish Pot. From Speightstown south along the sea, you come to the high rent part of Barbados. This area is dotted with palatial estates and upscale beach properties. The center of this neighborhood is the Royal Westmoreland Golf Course and Sandy Lane Beach. The Sandy Lane Resort is a destination for celebrities and jet setters with upscale shopping at Limegrove Center nearby. Limegrove and the local area also feature a movie theatre, cafes and upscale restaurants. Traveling farther south you pass a
number of good beaches and then the seaport as you approach Bridgetown,. the capital. It is the island’s government center and features a number of restaurants and shopping including the major department store Cave Sheppard. Leaving Bridgetown and again heading due south you find another beach with good resort hotels along with the Garrison and Drill Hall areas. In the center of this is Harbour Lights, one of the island’s destinations for nightlife for tourists and locals alike.
Heading further south you will find resort properties with names like Hilton, Marriott and Radisson dotted along more great beaches along with many smaller local hotels. There is also a nice boardwalk that starts near Bridgetown and winds its way south for a number of miles. It’s a great walk with a number of cafes and restaurants. Near the end of the boardwalk is Rockley Beach. This is one of our favorite areas to stay. There are a number of places to eat from fast food (Chefette is Barbados’ own fast food chain featuring chicken) to upscale eateries, gift and beach shops and grocery and wine stores. The center of this is the Accra Beach Hotel which, while older, is a nice beachfront property. We have also stayed at Coral Sands which is very nice, as well along with several other smaller properties in Rockley. For dining check out Bubba’s Sports Bar, Mojo’s and the Tiki Bar. One of our favorite places in this area is Champers which is a good upscale restaurant overlooking the water.
A little way south down the coast again is the St. Lawrence Gap area, usually referred to as just “the Gap”, another neighborhood for restaurants, bars and nightlife on the island. There are a number of hotels in the Gap area but be warned that the party scene can be pretty loud late into the night. Following the coast out of the Gap you will find another stretch of great beaches with good resort hotels. We have had good experiences staying at Bougainvillea Beach and Coral Sands in this area as well.
Friday Oistin’s Fish Fry
Next comes the town of Oistin where everyone regularly goes on a Friday night for a waterfront fish fry. Oistin is a traditional Bajan fishing village and the Friday Oistin’s Fish Fry is an event that has been going on forever: fresh fish cooked amidst a carnival atmosphere. It is something not to be missed.
Next comes the airport area and after that is the Crane Beach and Crane Beach Resort. The area features cliffs with pocket beaches below and gets its’ name from a crane that was used to lift cargo up the cliffs in early days. The hotel is an excellent resort but somewhat isolated. If your intention is to relax and spend quality time with the family, sand and surf it is a good choice.
Getting around Barbados can be a challenge. There is public bus service and a number of tour operators but to really see the island it is best to rent a car. You need to be warned though, because the traffic is English drive or driving on the left. The roads can be narrow and unmarked and the island makes use of lots of traffic circles (remember that the traffic in the circle always has the right-of-way) that they call round-abouts. Also, the roads in some areas can be a maze where even Bajan friends of ours have admitted to getting lost.
Things To Do
Visit the Barbados Historical Museum and the George Washington House
Take a sunset cruise
Go snorkeling or diving
Eat flying fish with Bajan hot sauce
Visit Harrison’ Cave and Hunte’s Gardens
Take a ride out to Bathsheba and the northeast island
Take the tour at the Mount Gay Rum Distillery
Cross a street without looking both ways (your instincts can kill you)
Wear clothes with camouflage pattern (it’s against the law)
Many years ago on a Caribbean cruise we stopped in Roatan, Honduras. Our ship docked at a commercial pier only a short walk into the small town of Loma Linda. We went shopping in the local market, bought some ground coffee and a tee shirt, visited a local leather shop where they did everything by hand. On the way back to the ship children skipped along with us and locals set up craft stalls in their front yards.
A few years latter we again stopped in Roatan on a cruise but things were much different. We docked at the new cruise ship pier in Mahogany Bay. Across a bridge from the dock is a well-equipped resort beach area and just a short walk down the pier is the shopping village featuring all the usual stores, Diamonds International, Del Sol etcetera. The area was clean, modern, attractive but except for the sales staff the only other people there came off the ships. It was hard to tell if we were in Honduras or Sint Maarten.
Theme parks treat you to wild animals, high-speed excitement and tastes of foreign lands and we appreciate that it is all part of a carefully orchestrated consumer experience. This experience is designed to be attractive, stimulating, clean, safe and above all else fun. It’s what makes people want to come back. As millions of people travel by ship or plane to Caribbean ports and resorts do they give much thought that they are taking part in a similar process?
Making tourists happy is big business and it has everyone playing to get a share of that dollar. Island governments go to great lengths to keep visitors safe and happy, telling their friends and coming back. Island resorts function very much like theme parks where the attractions are sea, beach, food and fun. The cruise industry offers ships that meet these same objectives but they are also faced with the need to make port calls. Over the past twenty years the cruise lines have done a lot to shape the on-shore experience of their customers on these Caribbean islands.
The first and obvious addition is the cruise lines creation of private islands. These are isolated locations where the cruise ships offer beaches, water sports and cookouts in a perfectly controlled environment. In the Caribbean these include Disney Cruise Lines – Castaway Cay, Bahamas, Holland America Lines – Half Moon Cay, Bahamas, Norwegian Cruise Line – Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas, Princess Cruises – Princess Cays, Bahamas and Royal Caribbean’s CocoCay, Bahamas and Labadee, Haiti.
Next are the new cruise ports, usually developed with the help of private companies, local governments and the cruise industry. In the most inclusive form they include Sint Maarten, Cozumel and Costa Maya in Mexico, Roatan in Honduras, Sub Base St. Thomas and the port onGrand Bahama Island. In 2005 a private company with financial support from the government developed Port Zante to accommodate the big cruise ships visiting St. Kitts. Similar facilities where developed in St. Lucia, Curacao and St. Vincent with development planned for Belize and several other ports in the future.
Many passengers on cruise ships usually see the islands on arranged destination-focused tours. Unfortunately they completely miss the real Caribbean and spend their time shopping in the same stores on different islands that include
Diamonds International, Del Sol, Columbian Emeralds, Cariloha, Little Switzerland and others.
All-Inclusive resorts aren’t really much different from the cruise ships at giving us a feel for an island and its people. Their intent is to provide virtually everything the guest could expect or want in a relatively isolated location. They even arrange tours in much the same way as the cruises. There are also destinations where the entire island has been mostly overwhelmed by Western style and culture. Grand Cayman, Sint Maarten and Aruba can be characterized that way.
If the focus of your trip planning is turquoise water, sun and sand, water sports, entertainment and good food and you don’t really have an interest in island culture and history that’s fine. After all those are the things that have made the Caribbean the destination it is. But if you would like to spend some time exploring Caribbean life, that option is available.
Fortunately a number of the larger Caribbean destinations have cruise facilities near to larger towns that can offer some insight into the real character and lifestyle of the island. In Curacao the ships dock very near to Willemsted and in St. Thomas many ships dock at Havensight with a nice walk or short jitney ride into Charlotte Amalie. In Antigua ships dock on the waterfront of the capital, St. John. The area near the dock has been developed to offer shopping and restaurants but most of the city is a working West Indian environment. All opportunities to look around, try a local restaurant and talk to people.
NOTE: While most areas in the Caribbean are safe, just like in Europe or America there are places that should be avoided. While we have almost always felt safe we would be cautious in areas of Trinidad, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica. In the case of Jamaica every effort is taken to provide a safe environment at the major resort areas as well as major tour destinations.
If you’re cruising, you’ll find Grand Cayman is a popular stop on many Caribbean itineraries. It is a tender port which means small boats serve as ferries between the ship and the island. The tenders drop you off right in the center of George Town, the primary city on the island, where you can find many duty-free stores. Grand Cayman is dotted with great beaches (one called Seven Mile Beach), terrific snorkeling and diving and a multitude of American chain restaurants.
As a word of caution, the Cayman dollar is permanently fixed to the US dollar with the exchange rate being one Cayman dollar equals US$1.25. This makes everything 20% more expense than it first appears as prices are normally quoted or shown in Cayman dollars. Be sure you know exactly what something costs before you pay.
If you are on a cruise ship, our recommendation for a great day is a tour to “stingray city”. It is advisable to book through your ship as it is a long day and sometimes can get dangerously close to missing the ship’s departure. We suggest picking a tour that visits the stingrays and also a coral reef for snorkeling.
If you have decided to fly in for a holiday, finding accommodations will not be difficult. Cayman has more hotel rooms per square foot than almost anywhere else in the Caribbean and thousands of condos (many owned by Americans) available for weekly or monthly rental. If your plans include staying in the Seven Mile Beach area, you can probably get by comfortably without renting a car. A limited number of taxis are available and there is a local bus service, but a rental car may be a better choice if your hotel is not centrally located.
If beaching and shopping start to wear thin, there are a few diversions on the island. The biggest attraction is the Cayman Turtle Center (https://www.turtle.ky/) , located in West Bay. It was the first commercial venture to domesticate Green Sea Turtles and is now home to around 11,000 of them. Also in the neighborhood are the Dolphin Cove (http://www.dolphincove.ky/) where you can encounter dolphins and the Hell post office and gift shop where you can send post cards to your friends at home postmarked from “Hell”.
Most of the better beaches are found along the coast between George Town and West Bay, including Seven Mile Beach, which lives up to its name. If you are looking to get away from the crowds, we would recommend driving out toward Bodden Town and beyond where there are still some smaller pocket beaches and coral formations near the shore. Back in the day, Grand Cayman was dotted with hundreds of isolated small beaches. You could find them in the direction of West Bay along with dozens of rustic dive hotels. A look at Google Earth today, however, quickly shows that the shoreline is now dominated by resorts, mansions and condos.
Whether you are arriving by airplane or cruise ship, Grand Cayman is still a great tropical destination if you are looking for incredible beaches, clear turquoise water and all the comforts of home.
Technically, the country is Antigua and Barbuda but Barbuda is lightly populated and rural. Antigua and Barbuda became an independent state on November 1st, 1981 and is a member of Caricom, the Caribbean Common Market . The currency is the East Caribbean dollar (EC$) but US dollars are gladly accepted.
History buffs will love exploring English Harbour and Shirley Heights. In the eighteenth century English Harbour was a base for the British Navy and headquarters for the fleet of the Leeward Islands. The Heights had a garrison and fort commanding the high ground above the harbor. English Harbour was developed by Horatio Nelson in the eighteenth century and included Nelson’s Dockyard to service the fleet.
After closing in 1889, the dockyard has now been completely restored and it is the only Georgian dockyard in the world. Shirley Heights can be reached via a lookout trail and, from its’ height of 492 feet, provides views of Guadeloupe and Montserrat. Dow’s Hill Interpretive Center is located along the trail and offers a presentation of Antigua’s history. Observation decks at Dow’s Hill provide sweeping vistas of the harbour and surrounding islands and the ruined fortifications of Fort Berkeley are nearby.
Sailboat people know English Harbour as the site of Sailing Week, one of the Caribbean’s premiere sailing events each year. The event is so popular that accommodations are hard to come by and some people plan years in advance to attend. Even if you aren’t a sailboat person, the weeklong party is an overall great time. Accommodations in the English Harbour area include The Copper and Lumber Store Historic Inn, Admiral’s Inn & Gunpowder Suites and the Antigua Yacht Club Marina Resort nearby in the Falmouth area.
If you are looking for tropical beaches it is said that you can visit a different beach every day and not start over again for a whole year. There are a number of resorts to pick from including the longtime favorite Halcyon Cove just north of the capital of St. Johns. South along the coast are Keyonna Beach Resort and Jolly Beach Resort. At the other end of the island is The St. James Club, an exclusive all-inclusive property that has been a popular resort for well-to-do English tourists.
If you are looking for insight into life in Antigua and aren’t looking for a beach location, try staying in the middle of St. Johns. The Heritage Quay Hotel is frequented by business travelers and is located near the waterfront. It is on Heritage Quay a popular shopping and duty free district, near King’s Casino and not far from Redcliffe Quay, a tourist shopping, craft and restaurant area. Nearby is the cruise ship pier which can be very congested on days that ships are in. St. Johns also offers the Antigua Museum and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. A short trip from the city is Betty’s Hope, a former sugar cane plantation.
For over twenty-five years the heart of our business was servicing customers in the Caribbean. It would be easier to list the places we haven’t been than were we have. As a result we like to think we know the neighborhood pretty well.
Back in the beginning, Eastern Airlines was the primary carrier from the U.S. to most islands and they sold an island hopper ticket that allowed us to travel around the islands for a discount price. We would usually go out for a couple of weeks at a time spending a day at each island and staying at local or discount accommodations. Fast forward a decade or more and Eastern is gone (mostly replaced by American) and, because we now have to book each flight in and out with between islands mostly being LIAT and seaplanes, the trips take in fewer stops at much higher prices. Fortunately our business is more successful but travel has gotten more complicated because we are hauling children with us.
The restaurants, hotels and resorts are more upscale and we tended to spend more time in each location, partly because of the airfare, but also because we are spending time with more customers. We also took a number of busman’s holidays because we liked skin diving and beach combing but also because we could include business and offset some of the costs.
There are some places that we haven’t been back to in a while but we can still talk about the character of the islands. There is one place we can’t go back to because a volcano buried it (Montserrat). There are a number of places we return to often and can offer current tips and suggestions. Keep an eye out as we add articles about our little corner of the world including:
At 84 square miles, St. Croix is the largest island in the Virgin Island group and significantly more rural than the others. The island features a rain forest in its western interior, an arid climate in the east and two historic towns.
The island was a possession of Denmark until the early nineteenth century and boasts a deepwater port at the west-end town of Fredireksted. The port was defended by Fort Fredirek as far back as the mid eighteenth century. A second deepwater industrial port was developed on the south coast in the nineteenth century. The island, along with St. Thomas and St. John was bought by the United States in the early nineteenth century. That means you don’t need a passport to visit and you can bring back five liters of liquor duty free.
Christiansted is the other town on the island and, to us, represents the quintessential tropical waterfront. Christiansted is located on the north central coast. The waterfront is fringed with a boardwalk and small boat docks, protected by a natural reef and a close-in small island. The harbor features sailboats at anchor, crystal clear water and a number of small hotels and restaurants along the boardwalk. Running up from the waterfront is a colonial era town where the stone and brick buildings include colonnades protecting the sidewalks. Most of these buildings feature galleries, shops and restaurants along with a couple of small hotels. Just to the east on the waterfront is the old Fort Christiansvaern operated by the U.S. Park Service. The small island in the harbor is Protestant Cay and features the Hotel on the Cay which is serviced by hotel launches.
For almost thirty years, Christiansted was often our base of operations and we have stayed at King’s Alley, Holger Danske, Caravelle, The Hotel on the Cay, The Danish Manor (now the Company House Hotel) and a number of places which are no longer open, like the Anchor Inn. On a number of trips we didn’t rent a car and spent almost all our time around town or at the beach at The Hotel on the Cay. (You can take the hotel launch over for a fee if you aren’t a guest).
Most of the beachfront resorts are clustered in three or four locations on the island and you really need a rental car to get around. Driving is on the left side of the road which can be awkward because most of the vehicles also have the steering column on the left. Taxis are available but they are expensive. There is also limited bus service and “taxi buses” which have dedicated routes and a flat fare.
The most popular area on the island is the eastern north shore with the centerpiece being the Buccaneer Resort and Golf Course. The Buccaneer has been an institution on the island forever and deserves its’ high marks. A little further along the coast are the Tamarind Beach and Chenay Bay resorts. We stayed at Chenay Bay a couple of times long ago when the cabins were pretty primitive but still everyone enjoyed the stay and the beach is great. Based on current photos and reviews a lot has changed at Chenay Bay.
Crossing the island to the east end of the south shore there are a couple of resorts centered on Divi Carina Bay Resort. We haven’t visited since Hurricane Hugo destroyed the Divi hotels in 1989 but, before that, we did a fair amount of snorkeling along that shore. The reef is close along that area and the coral is impressive.
Another area, which we used to love for its beaches and good snorkeling, is Davis Bay. Located along the western north coast it has always been pretty isolated and primitive but the beaches are some of the best on the island. Some thirty years ago the Rock Resort people built an exclusive resort above Davis Bay called the Carambola Resort but a combination of things, including Hugo, caused the venture to fail. Today it is alive as the Renaissance St. Croix Carambola Resort and, based on location alone, it is worth considering.
On our first visit to St. Croix we rented an apartment at Mill Harbor and it is still there and renting units along with its neighbors Colony Cove and Sugar Beach. While a little out of the way, the beach is nice and the amenities are good.
Back in the day when an associate and I had some time to kill we would drive into the rain forest for a beer and stop at a thatch-roofed shack of a bar with a pig pen attached. In those days you were expected to buy the pig a beer by simply tossing a can into the pen. The pig would pick up the can, raise its head, crush the can and drink. If you got there too late (or early depending on perspective), the pig was passed out drunk. I never knew the places name but apparently it is Montpellier Domino Club and I would bet that that pig is long gone. It has been replaced by a couple of pigs and now seems to be a “must do” tourist destination.
If you are a skin or scuba diver, or just a novice swimmer, one real “must do” on St. Croix is to visit the underwater National Park at Buck Island where the whole island, not just the reef, is the park. Located 1.5 miles off the northeast coast, there are a number of boat tours from Christiansted out to the area and the reef is spectacular. There is also an underwater trail on the eastern tip. If you can convince yourself to take this trip and put on a face mask you will never forget it.
At this juncture we don’t think we can offer much in the way of restaurant recommendations because that scene is likely to change a lot over even short periods of time. Back in the day Friday night was a locals event at Cheeseburgers in Paradise and, that may still be the case, but late night mud pie and Jamaican coffee at the Chart House are long gone. Anyone with recent experiences, we would love to hear from you. We are planning a short visit for this coming January.
While there aren’t a lot of cruise ships visiting some do spend a day tied up to the Fredireksted pier and, if this is how you come to St. Croix, we would recommend that you rent a car and spend your day driving around the island. The scenery is breathtaking with the rugged coast along North Shore Road and Cane Bay Road worth the trip. Along Centerline Road visit the Estate Whim Museum, the only surviving plantation great house in the Virgin Islands. Go into Christiansted for lunch and a walk around and return to Fredireksted via the rain forest on Mahogany Road.