Often times, when we think of cultural meccas we think of destinations like Europe and urban centres such as New York City, but there is an emerging trend in the Caribbean you might want to consider for your next vacation…Barbados, the easterly most island of the Caribbean.
Once our winter is over and most of the cruise ships have transferred back to Europe, the islands of the Caribbean claim back their countries from the tourists. No longer inundated with sun seekers, the residents of Barbados are able to focus back on their authentic cultural celebrations.
I was recently designing a cultural tour to Barbados and found May to be an extraordinary time to visit. There were so many events happening I had a hard time choosing which activities to include in my tour.
Here are some interesting and possibly unknown facts about this Commonwealth nation. Barbados is 431 sq. km sitting on a bed of coral limestone; population is approximately 290,000; the literacy rate for Barbados is 99.7% which makes it the 4th highest ranking country in the world; Barbados has the third oldest parliament in the world; and even has its own stock exchange. The country has a high standard of health care including a burgeoning medical tourism industry. Barbados is said to have some of the purest air in the world, which is why so many Europeans travelled here in the mid-18th C to help family members recover from respiratory illnesses, including George Washington (at the age of 19) with his ailing half-brother, Lawrence. Barbados left its mark on this rising politician. The house where he stayed is now a National Trust Heritage Site.
Music is part of any culture and Barbados is no exception. Apart from the famed Rihanna who was born here, annual festivals celebrating International Gospel, Jazz, Reggae and even Opera stars regularly make appearances here…. Sometimes performing under the stars! It doesn’t get more Caribbean than that!
Did you know the word rum originated in Barbados? As early as the 17th C sugar cane planters converted their waste molasses into a marketable commodity. Distilling over time in wood casks improved and mellowed the previous harsh grogs. Barbados was able to export their rum to New England and Britain. In fact the British Navy instituted the practise of giving each sailor a daily ration of Rum. My father, once a lieutenant in the British Navy spoke fondly of this ration practice which lasted over 200 years until it was discontinued in the 1960s.
Barbados has long been a culinary mecca for seasoned foodies, as well as some of the world’s best chefs. This culturally diverse island blends the old and new. Bajan cuisine brings together the influences of African, Caribbean, Chinese, Indian, Italian, Mexican, Thai, Polynesian and European delights to create a unique and authentic foodie experience. Culinary festivals and competitions can be enjoyed throughout the year, but November is my favourite with the tantalizing Barbados Food and Rum Festival.
And looking back to the land, ancient collapsed limestone caves called Gullies are found in Barbados and cover 5% of the island’s land mass. These gullies represent an important bio-ecological zone and house majestic rainforest trees, delicate plants found nowhere else on the island and of course you will experience the antics of the wild Green Vervet monkey. A walk along gully paths, such as found at Welchman Hall, will have you seeing Barbados the way it originally looked to the first inhabitants of the island.
Horticultural enthusiasts can also retreat to the Barbados countryside to enjoy the beauty of Orchid & Tropical Plant World with over 1,000 Caribbean plants, flowers and exotic orchids. Six acres of artistically landscaped and meandering paths take you past a waterfall, through a coral grotto and into five orchid houses which are a feast for the senses.
And last, but not least, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the sports culture in Barbados. With world class facilities and international competitions, Barbados is definitely on the forefront in the world’s sports scene. The final of the 2007 ICC Cricket World Cup was played at the pre-eminent sporting facility called Kensington Oval in Barbados. One lesser known sport niche is that of Polo. The international polo season runs from New Years’ through to May ending with the Presidents/Kearns Trophy at Holders Polo Field. Barbados is a destination where the sport flourishes and the social scene excels. Champaign and divot stomping anyone!
Every Caribbean island is unique in its culture which is something you cannot experience while in a cruise port for one day. My advice, is if you really want to feel the pulse and heart of Barbados culture, then plan your visit between May and November. With 11 parishes to explore and endless festivals to attend, you will discover the unique character and cultural attractions of this tiny but significant gem of a Caribbean island.