There are few places to which I have traveled that can boast of the endless beauty and wonder of Barbados, the easternmost island in the West Indies. This small island, which lies above South America, is only 21 miles long and 14 miles across at its widest point. It is two thousand miles from New York, but is easy to get to from any major US city.
I have traveled to Barbados on numerous occasions, because I am a professional travel photographer, and although Barbados may be tiny, it is packed with family adventure activities. The island has a wonderful variety of landscapes. The north shore of Barbados is lined with spectacular cliffs made of coral, constantly pounded by rolling waves. The east coast has dense tropical forests that extend up to endless beaches of pure sand and azure washed seas. The southern coast is flat and windy. And the west coast has some of the most famous beaches in the world.
For running along beaches, hiking over endless stretches of powder white sand, or swimming in warm, emerald water, nothing can compare with the beaches of Barbados. The beaches are arguably the best in all the Caribbean. There are endless expanses of flat sand, hidden caves, and secluded coastline. The temperatures range from 70-85 degrees in the winter to 75-85 degrees in the summer season, a mere five degrees difference.
One of the most spectacular beaches is Bathsheba on the east coast. Giant coral rocks sit in the water and it is as if Neptune himself threw them into the sand. The waves are ferocious and only experienced surfers should take on the surf. But as the tide goes out, large rock pools emerge, perfect for every one of all ages to explore. This is a terrific place to hike and then end the day, sitting in a pool cooling off.
Crane Beach, on the south coast, is the ultimate island beach, with its pure, pink sand. At Crane Beach, a high vantage point near the base of the cliffs provides a natural diving platform for the strong swimmer. This is not, however, a place to learn to swim as the waves can be gigantic.
For those who want to participate in the excitement and fun of more intensive activities on Barbados, the clean clear waters support a plethora of water sports everywhere around the island. The west coast has the best beaches for swimming, because the ocean is calm and tranquil. The beaches on the east coast, because of their primitive and rugged nature, along with year round winds, have great surfing. The even windier south coast offers incredible and challenging surfing.
One of the best adventures to be found in Barbados takes place underwater and offshore. Barbados is surrounded by pristine coral reefs and the warm water is the perfect environment for coral reefs to grow and thrive. The island has two kinds of reefs: the fringing reefs which are near the shore, and surround almost the entire island, and the barrier reefs off the south and west coasts. The entire island offers divers wonderful opportunities.
In shallow dives (25 feet or less), one encounters different kinds of corals, covered with sea fans and brown gorgonians. The marine life is varied and fascinating. There are frogfish, flying gunards, snake eels, parrotfish, stingrays, eagle rays, and seahorses. There are also sea turtles, which can be surprisingly tame. The barrier reefs are 1/4 to 2 miles from the shore and in pristine condition with large coral heads, sponges, and plant life. This is where the deeper diving takes place.
Barbados also has a great variety of land wildlife. There is a tiny wildlife reserve where I have hiked and seen bracket deer, hares, West Indian tortoises, and iguanas. My favorite creature is the free roaming, but reclusive, whistling frog. The wild green monkeys, which are on most parts of the island, were brought to Barbados in the 1600’s, as were the black-bellied sheep, a unique Barbadian species. The mongoose, introduced to the island in the 19th century, acts as a natural predator to animals that destroy the sugar cane crop.
A rare event that I was privileged to observe was the nesting of the hawksbill and leatherback turtles. These turtles return to lay their eggs on the very beaches upon which they were born. This event only happens at night between the months of April and October. Because these turtles are an endangered species, great care must be taken while viewing their nesting behaviors.
Another wonderful activity on Barbados is to explore the caves. You don’t have to be a spelunker to enjoy these natural formations. Animal Flower Cave is located on the rugged north shore. Over thousands of years, the Atlantic breakers have dug into the coral cliffs and created this wonder. The cave is accessible only in a guided tour. The spectacular “indoor/outdoor rooms” of the cave are cool and slippery. The luscious pools are filled with marine and coral life. The windows of the caves look out over the huge ocean, where crashing waves constantly batter the rocky cliffs of the coast.
Barbados is also home to the famous Harrison’s Cave. It is thought to be over a half a million years old! This subterranean maze was formally explored in 1970 and explorers discovered over three miles of interconnecting chambers. One mile is now open to the public via guided tours. I took the tour of this underground wonderland and descended into the caverns by an electric tram. There I saw streams, lakes, waterfalls and fabulous large and small “rooms.” Hundreds of stalactites hung from the roofs of the caverns and dramatic stalagmites grew up from the floors. It was stunning.
When I left Barbados I brought home eight rocks from Bathsheba Beach. They sit on my desk, a tribute to the small, gorgeous, nugget in the Caribbean–the island of Barbados.
Jim Smith is an adventure seeker and freelance photographer.
By Jim Smith