The real Barbados: Tour unveils Caribbean island's hidden gems

"I'm sorry to disappoint you," says Ian Webster, looking genuinely forlorn as he helps us into the back of his open-sided Toyota Landcruiser, "but I'm afraid I'm your guide today."

Webster's dead-pan delivery and poetic turns of phrase are an unexpected highlight of this jeep safari around Barbados. The tour is a chance to escape the pampered confines of the island's luxury resorts and see how Bajans (Barbadian natives) live, work and play.

I am on a private departure organised by Barbados Tourism and for logistical reasons we are doing the route in a clockwise (rather than the normal anti-clockwise) direction. However, I am assured the stops and experiences are the same.

We start by driving up the island's manicured west coast, a brochure-friendly montage of idyllic white sand beaches, swaying palms and palatial beachfront houses. Barbados has long been a celebrity magnet and we pass the exclusive One Sandy Lane development, whose residents include Barbadian-born singer Rihanna and Simon Cowell, plus the nearby Sandy Lane Hotel, which hosted Tiger Woods' nuptials back in 2004.

Thanks to almost 350 years of British rule, the island has a distinctively English feel, with anglicised place names, customs and even accents. Webster's dialect is particularly intriguing, a curious mix of sing-song Caribbean, clipped Eton housemaster and rolling Scottish burr.

As we head north, the mansions drop away, replaced by fishing villages and simple wooden chattel (moveable) houses. The climate changes, too. "Prepare to experience the wonderfully expressive breeze of the north," declares Webster.

We stop to stretch our legs and Webster produces an unmarked bottle of "jungle juice", a dangerously moreish homemade fruit drink he assures us "was prepared with love" (plus a good splash of rum from the taste of it).

Eventually, we enter the parish of Saint Lucy at the island's northern tip and bump down a rough dirt track to what Webster calls "one of the most captivating places on the island". Little Bay is a secluded smile of coarse yellow sand flanked by towering windswept cliffs. Thanks to the relentless pounding of the Atlantic Ocean, the coastline is a jagged maze of caves, arches and blowholes. It is about as far removed from the postcard image of Barbados as you can imagine.

There is another surprise when we enter the east-coast parish of Saint Andrew. The rolling landscape of verdant, mist-swathed hills is mildly reminiscent of its namesake in Scotland. "It requires some imagination," concedes Webster. "You'll need to remove the palm trees for a start."


In colonial times, the island's primary economy was based on growing sugarcane and we pause for a photo at the Morgan Lewis windmill, the only remaining working example of the island's 500-plus windmills that were used to grind the crop.

Our final stop before lunch is Bathsheba, a fishing village with a sigh-inducing arc of beach dotted with dramatic coral boulders. Home to the renowned Soup Bowl surf break, the town is a popular competition venue when the winter swells roll in.

After a satisfying buffet lunch of chicken, fish, rice and salad, we clamber back into the jeep for the ride home. En route we pass the popular Harbour Lights nightclub in Bridgetown and someone asks Webster what it is like. "Oh, I couldn't tell you," he says, shaking his head wistfully. "Now that I'm married, I'm no longer allowed to engage in any form of nocturnal pursuit."


Rob McFarland travelled as a guest of the Society of American Travel Writers and Barbados Tourism.



Hilton Barbados Resort has an enviable beachside location, impressive resort facilities and a 17th-century British fort. See


The 5½-hour Adventure Safari includes hotel transfers, snacks and a Bajan buffet lunch. Adults $US98, children $US65. See