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10 Not-To-Be-Missed Things To Do On Barbados

Barbados' 50 Years of Independence celebrations are in full swing. I was invited by Barbados Tourism Marketing to participate in an on-island program to update travel professionals on all that this fabulous Caribbean island has to offer. Fresh off jetBlue, with their new flights to the island from several gateway cities in the USA, here are my top 10 recommendations, in no particular order, of things to do while visiting Barbados:

1. Eat Flying Fish on a Cutter

A cutter is a salt (although not salty at all) roll, freshly baked on Barbados. Flying fish is Barbados' national dish, and you will find it served in a variety of different ways. Our favorite is on a cutter. This Bajan specialty sandwich is best washed down with a rum punch or Banks beer.

2. Visit the Mount Gay Visitor's Center

No trip to Barbados would be complete without a visit to the Mount Gay Visitors Center in Bridgetown for an educational presentation of the history of rum - said to have been invented in 1703 right here. Bajans take their rum very seriously. The guided tour takes you through the history of the spirit, including artifacts, awards, and a documentary outlining the story of rum. Following the tour and a tasting of a variety of different rums, you can participate in a fun mixology class where you craft your own signature cocktail from a combination of fruit, veggies, herbs, and, of course, rum.

3. Take a Tour of Harrison's Cave

My parents' friends - Jeanne and Russell Gurney from Closter, NJ - supervised the development of Harrison's Cave, which was first discovered by Dr. George Pinckard in 1796. Danish speleologist, Ole Sorensen, rediscovered it through an opening in Welchman Hall Gully in 1970 and saw its potential as a great tourist attraction. In 1974, the Gurneys - using ingenious lighting and a series of electric trolleys - opened up a majestic kaleidoscope of vaulted chambers of stalactites, stalagmites, crystal-clear waterfalls and pools to the general public. This world-renowned site takes you on an hour-long trolley ride through these magnificent underground caverns, and is the most popular tourist attraction on Barbados.

4. Take a Drive Along the Scenic East Coast

The amazing coral rock formations at Bathsheba, alone, are worth the drive along the 'wild' side of Barbados! Bring a picnic to enjoy under the swaying palms of Bathsheba Park (best to go weekdays because it can get crowded on weekends; there are restrooms) and browse the vendors with their colorful clothing and jewelry, or enjoy lunch at the scenic Atlantis Hotel's restaurant (make reservations in advance - it's very popular). The windswept beach from Cattlewash to Bathsheba offers some of the best views in the region. However, the pounding Atlantic surf has some dangerous currents and rip tides that make swimming ill-advised here.

5. Chill on Brownes Beach at Carlisle Bay

The talcum powder-soft white sand and calm, shallow turquoise water at Brownes Beach on Carlisle Bay make this gorgeous beach on the outskirts of Bridgetown is one of our absolute favorites on Barbados - ideal for swimming and sunbathing. A protected marine park, there are six (6) shipwrecks in the bay, which attract an abundance of marine life such as tropical fish, sea horses, rays, octopus, turtles and eels. At the northern end of Carlisle Bay is The Boatyard, a popular bar where you can enjoy watersports including sea trampoline and jet skis.

6. Check out Oistins Fish Fry Friday

On Friday nights, as the sun slowly sinks into the horizon, the otherwise quiet village of Oistins comes alive with tourists and locals, turning into a bustling street extravaganza! This is the perfect opportunity to immense yourself in the colorful Bajan culture. There's live calypso and reggae music and dancing, and - of course - their famous fish (freshly grilled or fried tuna, swordfish, mahi mahi) or meat dinners including sides of fish cakes, macaroni pie, plantains, breadfruit and other island specialties. Grab a rum punch or a Banks beer and explore the vendors' stalls (locally-made and artisan wares including jewelry, pottery, leather goods, clothing and colorful paintings) at the craft market. Sea turtles will welcome your fish scraps tossed from the pier.

7. Embark on a Tiami Catamaran Cruise

Enjoy a premium bar and sumptuous meals. Come aboard for an unforgettable experience on their catamarans, voted “Most Luxurious Experience in Barbados”. Swim with turtles. Bask in the warmth of the evening and toast to the sunset. Dance the night away or relax by the bar with one of their special cocktails. Highly recommended.

8. Experience Underwater Sealife in the Comfort of an Atlantis Submarine

Experience the award winning Atlantis Submarine tour which is one of the most highly recommended things to do in Barbados for families. The tour lasts ninety (90) minutes from departure in the office to return and you will spend forty to forty-five minutes (40 - 45 minutes) underwater. This fully narrated “must-do” undersea voyage can take you to a shipwreck and to depths of 150 feet, in air conditioned comfort. Piloted by a professional crew, you will view colorful coral formations and a variety of tropical marine life.

9. Observe Sea Turtles Hatchlings Release

If you happen to be visiting Barbados between February and October, you just might have the opportunity to see a female leatherback, hawksbill or green turtle laying her eggs (February to July or May to October depending on species) or, even better, catch a bevy of sea turtle hatchlings making their way to the sea (mid-July to mid-October). These carefully monitored events are overseen by the Barbados Sea Turtle Project. If interested, sign up from the link below:

10. Participate in Local Celebrations

Many of the islands in the Caribbean have wonderful festivals during the year. Barbados stands out among the top in that list. You may want to plan your vacation or business venue around one of these popular annual events:

Crop Over Its origins can be traced back to the 1780's, a time when Barbados was the world's largest producer of sugar. At the end of the sugar season (July/August), there was always a huge celebration to mark the culmination of another successful sugar cane harvest - the Crop Over celebration. The festival was revived in 1974 and other elements of Barbadian culture were infused to create the extravaganza that exists today ... an event that attracts thousands of people from across the globe. Calypso is one of the main features of the Crop Over festival.

Holders Season Founded in 1993, this event is known to be one of the premier cultural events in the Caribbean. Acclaimed nationally and internationally, the Season is a celebration of opera, music, theater and comedy. Held in mid-to-late March, the production always plays to capacity houses and its high artistic standard draws audiences from around the world. Holders House, St. James, plays host to this musical and theatrical festival. This stately residence has been in existence for over 300 years and is an interesting mixture of English and Barbadian vernacular. The lovely grounds are extensive, with mature tropical trees and shrubs - the perfect setting for the open-air theater that comes alive every year during the Holders Season.

Reggae Festival Debuting in 2005 on Farley Hill National Park, the Barbados Reggae Festival stages have been graced by many top reggae performers such as Sizzla, Luciano, Admiral Tibbett, Buju Banton, Anthony B and Capleton just to name a few. Generally held the last week of April.

Open Houses Programme The Open Houses Programme is presented each year by the Barbados National Trust and features some of the island's most historic and beautiful private homes. Held Wednesdays and some Saturdays from 2:30-5:30 pm during the months of January to March. The homes of the island are some of the world's best examples of a period of architecture, dating back to the 16th century. Rare possessions, mahogany furniture, ornaments, household artifacts, big wheeled buggies, art and sculpture decorate these homes in a unique setting of tropical color and building style. These lovely homes - from the grand old plantation houses rich with centuries of history, to the newer, luxurious Bajan-style villas. Enjoy a garden party atmosphere, with fresh fruit juices, homemade rum punch and snacks served on the lawns. Books on Barbados and the Caribbean are also available for purchase, and a small selection of artists and craftspeople display their art for sale.

Holetown Festival commemorates the anniversary of the first settlement of Barbados at Holetown in February 1627. The week-long festival begins in mid-February with the opening celebrations taking place at the Holetown Monument and includes historical lectures, a fashion show, beauty contest, street parade with tuk band, tattoo show, exhibitions, concerts, theatrical presentations, antique car parade, and sporting events.

Gospelfest This well-attended festival of religious music brings together some of the top gospel artists from North America, the Caribbean and Barbados. The music of this festival is very diverse and includes reggae, calypso, jazz and soul. Whatever your style, you will find the music and the festival uplifting and inspirational.

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