Cricket is king in Barbados and everybody has an opinion on the state of the game as well as the latest results. Going to watch a cricket match is an entertaining cultural experience and well worth doing, even if you don’t understand the game. Village cricket is played all over the island at weekends; a match here is nothing if not a social occasion. Cricket lovers should try to arrange their visit to coincide with a Test Match or a One Day International at the Kensington Oval. No sedate Sunday afternoon crowd this – the atmosphere is electric, with DJ music, constant whistling, horn-blowing, cheering and banter. At lunch there are food stalls outside where you can pick up a burger, roti or Bajan stew, buy a T-shirt and West Indies hat and drink a few Banks beers. The biggest crowds come for the matches against England, with touring teams tagging along, but cricket tourists come from as far afield as Australia or South Africa.
Diving and snorkelling
Barbados is surrounded by an inner reef and an outer barrier reef. On the west coast the inner reef is within swimming distance for snorkelling or learning to dive, while the outer reef is a short boat ride away and the water is deeper. Here you can see barracuda, king fish, moray eels, turtles and squid as well as some fine black coral, barrel sponges and sea fans. The underwater landscape may not be as pristine as some other islands, but there are some excellent wrecks worth exploring and Carlisle Bay is littered with bottles, cannon balls, anchors and small items such as buckles and buttons after many centuries of visiting ships ‘losing’ things overboard or sinking. There are 200 reported wrecks in Carlisle Bay, but another popular dive site is the SS Stavronikita in the Folkestone Marine Park, one of the best diving wrecks in the Caribbean. Water temperatures are usually about 25°C in winter and 28°C in summer, with visibility of 15-30 m. A highlight for snorkellers is to swim with the turtles – at Sandy Bay you can see them close to the beach; otherwise Paynes Bay and Folkestone Marine Park offer plenty of opportunity for those prepared to swim out a distance to find them. A number of tour operators run boat excursions to sites frequented by turtles.
Many keen golfers come to Barbados just to play golf and there are enough courses to keep anyone busy for a while, with several 18-hole and nine-hole courses, from the public Barbados Golf Club to the more exclusive Sandy Lane (where Tiger Woods got married). The RBC Golf Classic is held in November; the Barbados Open in August; the Sir Garfield Sobers Festival of Golf Championships in May and other competitions throughout the year. The Barbados Golf Association publishes a schedule of events.
The most beautiful part of the island is the Scotland District on the east coast. There is also some fine country along the St Lucy coast in the north and on the southeast coast. There is a particularly good hiking route along the old railway track, from Bath to Bathsheba and on to Cattlewash. The Barbados National Trust organizes very enjoyable and sociable three-hour guided hikes every Sunday to various locations.
Horse racing dates back to colonial days when planters challenged each other to races. Later the cavalry officers of the British army joined in and by 1840 there were regular race days at the Garrison. Regular races are still held there, the biggest of which is the Sandy Lane Barbados Gold Cup held in March, which features horses from neighbouring islands. Again, this is something of a social occasion, with parties, parades and concerts. The Royal Barbados Mounted Police band leads a parade of dancers, tumblers and stiltmen in carnival fashion.
An unusual spectator sport for a Caribbean island is polo, which appears to have been dropped in from the Home Counties and is followed avidly by mostly white expats. It has been played since cavalry officers introduced the game in the 19th century and the Polo Club was formed in 1884. Matches were originally played at the Garrison Savannah, where ponies were often reject race horses, but there are now several polo fields on the island and its popularity has steadily risen. The season uns from just after Christmas until May, with lots of visiting teams from overseas coming to compete.
Sailing can be a bit choppy along the south coast to Oistins and most races head up the west coast where the waters are calmer. In January there is the Mount Gay Round Barbados Race, www.mountgayrumroundbarbadosrace.com, while the three-day May Regatta is the main event of the year. Carlisle Bay is the main anchorage and focal point for the sailing fraternity. There are lots of motor and sailing boats available for charter by the week, day or for shorter periods. Cruises up the west side of the island with stops for snorkelling and swimming with turtles are very popular, whether for lunch or sunset watching. The larger catamarans can be cheaper than the smaller ones but they are often packed to the gunnels and can feel crowded. On a less busy day they are enjoyable, but it is difficult to find out how booked each cruise is likely to be. When cruise ships are in port, the catamarans are very busy with 50-100 guests on board. Those boats that limit numbers are likely to be friendlier and more relaxed with better service.
The best surfing is on the east coast at the Soup Bowl, Bathsheba, which has the most consistent break. The best time is August-November when you get perfect barrelling waves. Experienced surfers also like Duppies on the north coast, where you have a long paddle out and there is a lot of current, but the waves are really big. The south coast is good for beginners and for boogie boarding, although there is a good break at Brandons, while the west coast has some good spots with easy access, often best when there are no waves on the east coast. Sandy Lane, Tropicana, Gibbs and Maycock’s are all worth trying. The Barbados international surfing championship, Independence PRO, is held at the Soup Bowl, Bathsheba, in November, but there are national competitions in August and September.
Windsurfing and kitesurfing
The south coast is good for windsurfing and kitesurfing. The centre of the action for windsurfers is Silver Rock. There is a 3-km stretch of reef providing excellent waves for wave sailors and a lagoon for those who are less confident. The best place to learn to windsurf is in the Sandy Beach area inside the lagoon, while outside the reef you can sometimes get good wave sailing. On the north coast the waves can be very big at Cow Pens and Red Backs. Access is not easy as there is only a very small beach from which to launch yourself. Kitesurfing is best done further east near the airport, at Long Beach, where the wind is side on shore. The wind is best from November to July. When the wind is light and windsurfers can’t go out, then the area between Silver Sands Beach and Silver Rock Beach is good for beginners.