Despite being the most British island in the Caribbean (witness its adherence to three-day cricket tournaments, teatime and fancy-pants dining attire), Barbados is surprisingly, tropically, thankfully nonchalant in terms of its personalities and pastimes. Locals are especially chill and generous when it comes to navigating the less populated, more rustic side of the island—where the surf breaks and the fish are big and bold and there’s no shortage of reasons to stay in the water. So get on the reggae bus already.
Barbados is an amazing place to surf, possibly one of the best for the full spectrum of folks—from novices to pros—on boards these days. Every November, world-class athletes gather for the Independence Pro Surfing Soup Bowl, a competition at Bathsheba Beach, where a gnarly break can easily cause a coral pileup. To watch, gather under palm trees on the grass lawn leading to the sharp shoreline.
Between spectator sessions, grab a board of your own and tune in to find the best surf spots each day. Rent a car (remember U.K. custom and drive on the left), or call Emmanuel Tours (1-246-824-4254; ask for Willie) to set up a driver to ferry you between Silver Sands, Duppies, Bathsheba or wherever else you scout a good swell. No matter if it’s breakfast or lunch, it’s always time for a cutter at Cuz’s Fish Shack, an unassuming beach-parking-lot kiosk where expertly layered sandwiches of flying fish, egg and cheese are served on a salt-bread roll. Don’t ask; just eat. There’s a reason it’s always busy.
If the ocean’s flat, try your hand at kite surfing or windsurfing at deAction Beach Shop in Silver Sands, a colorful slice of beach where you’ll find Barbadian surf pro Brian Talma’s studio and beach hut. These days he’s into stand-up paddle-boarding on steroids and leads two-mile paddling safaris along the coast.
Skip the well-known but too touristy Harrison’s Cave and head instead to Animal Flower Cave, an accessible swimming hole full of sea anemones located near the base of a rugged set of cliffs on the island’s northerly point. Descend the 27 steps and paddle around in the tidal pools while watching the waves crash in the ocean below. After your dip in the dark, scramble up and into the light, toward the family-run cliffside restaurant and bar. Enjoy great drinks, shrimp rotis, sauteed conchs and whale sightings in the Atlantic.
Beat by the sun and salt yet? The Lone Star is a cool little hotel that eschews the typical beach-hut look for a nautical-industrial vibe. Six suites, including a beach house, and a restaurant on the sand are fashioned from a former auto garage from the 1950s, hence suite names such as Shelby and Studebaker. But you don’t need a set of wheels to make it down to the shore—and back up again—for a few quality rum drinks before crashing into bed.