Most holidaymakers are happy to fly and flop when visiting Barbados. But this Caribbean isle has plenty of soft adventure options to explore.
We’re picked up from our hotel in a 10 seater, 4X4 safari land rover by Ron, a 6ft 5in tower of humour. During our on- and off-road tour lasting seven hours, we bump and grind around all 11 parishes on Barbados, taking in gullies, forests, remote bays and coastal roads, all punctuated by Ron’s chirpy banter.
Take for instance Ron’s comment as we pass a quaint parish church straight out of the English countryside. Barbados has the world’s densest number of churches per square mile, Ron reveals, but for every church, there are two rum shops. “We like to keep our spirits together,” he guffaws.
Spirits are certainly close at hand in the jeep as Ron offers us endless cups of Jungle Juice, a cavity-inducing, homemade rum punch, leading to escalating shrieks of laughter as the day progresses.
Our island safari reveals the country’s rich, multi-layered tapestry from historical sites such as Morgan Lewis Mill, one of only two working sugar mills left in Barbados and a legacy from the country’s colonial past to the luxury hotels, prosperous millionaires’ homes and designer shops of St James, key to the country’s current fortunes.
Eventually we leave behind the placid, azure Caribbean Seas of the west coast and alight at cliffs overlooking Little Bay on the northeast of the island where powerful Atlantic Ocean breakers crash spectacularly onto shore. We gawp at natural rock pools and blow holes; some tourists scamper down to take a closer look.
Then Ron drives us southwards to Bathsheba where frog-, lion-, turtle- and mushroom-shaped rocks scatter the shoreline like giant, forgotten children’s toys. It’s a great photo opportunity – and time for yet more Jungle Juice.
For lunch, we dine at the 350-year-old historic Sunbury Plantation House built by one of the first settlers on the island. We tuck into a delicious buffet of fish fry, sweet potatoes, yam, salad, chicken and rice before there’s a chance to browse some of the antique furnishings, old carts and machinery dotted around the property.
For holidaymakers keen to escape the beach for the day, Island Safari (tel: (246) 429 5337; www.islandsafari.bb) is a fun, enlightening way to explore Barbados and get a sense of its landscape and history.
Diving in Barbados
Barbados may not top the list for Caribbean dive holidays as the reefs are less interesting and the fish life less abundant than other islands. However, Barbados’s warm, calm seas and easy-to-access dive sites make the destination ideal for beginners. In addition, more advanced divers will be attracted to the exceptional number of wrecks that litter the western and southern coasts. There are about 30 dive sites in total, home to everything from turtles and sea horses to colourful sponges, corals and plant life.
I chose to dive off Speightstown, St Peter, on the northwest coast with Reefers & Wreckers (tel: (246) 422 5450; www.scubadiving.bb). Despite the spattering of rain, the weather is hot and sticky and the water a tempting 29°C (84°F).
Our first dive site is Bright Ledge where the coral reefs are in good condition, with psychedelic orange and purple fan and brain coral proving to be particularly prominent. There are also plenty of colourful reef fish. I’d read that the site was popular with turtles but am still surprised when I see one swimming towards me mid-way through the dive. It looms closer to me, completely unphased, as my eyes widen behind my mask in astonishment. It’s an unexpected delight.
On my second dive, I explore the wreck of the Pamir, a 50m-long (165ft) ship sunk in 1985 to create an artificial reef and now the most northern wreck site on the west coast. I delve into the interior of the ship’s hull, at one point, sticking my head into an air pocket (always a bit surreal when underwater) before exiting to follow the ship’s rusting metal hulk to the stern. Colourful parrot fish and big silvery jacks swim into view.
As I hover with my fins close to the sandy floor, something catches the corner of my eye and a giant grey sting ray – easily dwarfing my 5ft frame – glides off gracefully into the murky gloom. It’s a moment I enjoy all to myself and one that I savour.
Price: Singe tank dives from US$70, including equipment.
Aerial Trek Zipline Adventure
Experience the adrenalin rush of whizzing through the rainforest canopy on a jungle zipline adventure (tel: (246) 433 8966; www.aerialtrek.com). Kitted out in a helmet and gloves and under the watchful eye of two experienced guides, you can enjoy the exhilaration of flying through the air high above the ground attached to a rope and a harness.
The experience may not pack the same punch as hang-gliding or bungee jumping but the half-day tour at Jack-in-the-box Gully, Walkes Spring, St Thomas, is definitely a fun way to soak up the sights and sounds of a tropical rainforest.