Contrary to the popular belief that Barbados is exclusively a winter sun haven, the island boasts an enviable roster of year-round activities and experiences, more than any of its Caribbean neighbors.
Opening the year, from January through April, one can enjoy the Barbados polo season. The sport has enjoyed a long history on island, dating back to the 19th century, and today locals and visitors alike can experience the thrill of a few chukkas under idyllic tropical skies, at any of the island’s polo estates, including the oldest one located on the Holders Estate on the West Coast.
Remaining in the equestrian vein, Barbados has a rich horse racing heritage. The sport of kings has its home in the island’s UNESCO inscribed Historic Garrison Savannah, which outside of races is a ‘must explore’ site. Here you will find the Barbados Museum and the fascinating George Washington House; the latter being the mansion where the future US President stayed in his youth. The historic track boasts up to 23 race days per year, including the prestigious Boxing Day race, and the world-renowned Sandy Lane Gold Cup, which takes place each March.
For lovers of flora and fauna, Barbados’ Horticultural Society hosts a season of Open Garden tours from January through March each year. Visit some of the island’s most breathtaking gardens, tucked away in centuries-old sugar estates, or enchanting countryside hamlets. Other gardens on the island that are must-sees include the fabulously curated oasis that is Hunte’s Gardens, or the island’s only botanical garden, the Andromeda Botanic Gardens, both in St. Joseph.
As summer begins to advance, Barbados comes alive with events such as the Barbados Surf Pro tournament and Dive Fest. As one of the largest surfing events held in the Caribbean, it is part of the qualifying circuit of the World Surf League tour and is staged on the island’s iconic East Coast, at the famed surf break, “The Soup Bowl”. The annual Barbados Dive Fest, hosted in July, sees global dive enthusiasts descend on the island to explore its breathtaking undersea realm, while also engaging in a range of conservational and environmental protection workshops.
In the height of summer, visitors to Barbados will be treated to one of the Caribbean’s largest festivals, Crop-Over. Historically, this festival was the celebratory end of the sugar harvest, but today, it has evolved to become a vibrant and spellbinding showcase of the island’s local music known as soca. Crop-Over launches in May, but peaks in late July – early August. The festival’s climax is the Grand Kadooment Day parade, which is held on the first Monday in August. This immense, colourful street party features costumed bands and is an unparalleled opportunity for visitors to see Barbadian (or Bajan) culture up-close, and who knows, you may even spot the island’s youngest national hero, Rihanna, on the way!
Other popular festivals on the island’s calendar include the Barbados Reggae Festival (late April to early May), which features some of the biggest names in the reggae music world, to Barbados Gospelfest (May), which has attracted many global gospel superstars; visitors to the island will be truly spoilt for choice. One of the more intriguing festivals is the Barbados Celtic Festival, an annual music festival which celebrates Barbados’ rich Celtic connections.
Apart from Crop-Over, another key festival is the Barbados Food and Rum Festival held in October. With Barbados being the undisputed Culinary Capital of the Caribbean, the marquee event, which showcases the island’s incredible gastronomic scene, boasts events starring both local and global culinary luminaries.
Barbados offers visitors several premium sport activations, which can be enjoyed across the year. In January, there is the annual Barbados Sailing Week, which features the signature ‘Round the Island’ regatta, while in May, those seeking high-octane thrills can partake in the SOL Rally Barbados “King of the Hill” event, which sees the world’s best rally drivers test their mettle on the island’s winding courses.
The island features a number of annual fitness competitions and challenges, including the highly anticipated Barbados Adventure Race (BAR), the Barbados National Triathlon (October), the popular Barbados Open Water Swim (November), however, the Run Barbados series (December) is one of the most popular and well-known.
Outside of these events, Barbados has so much to explore and enjoy- its heritage as the birthplace of rum, its UNESCO-inscribed capital city, its many restaurants ranging from fine dining to street food, and its restored population of endangered sea turtles. Barbados, at only 430 square kilometers, truly belies its relatively small size, offering a bounty of quality attractions and experiences that rival cosmopolitan destinations.