Everyone starts off a trip to the gorgeous Caribbean island of Barbados on the beach, but when you fancy a change from the sand, the rest of the island awaits. Scenic highways meander beside brilliant turquoise waters and backcountry routes criss-cross the rural interior, making Barbados a pleasure to explore by road.
Drifting around the island with a rented car or scooter, you might stumble across an action-packed game of cricket on a parish green or spot troupes of inquisitive green monkeys chilling by the roadside – a side of Barbados that’s far removed from the big resorts and cruise ships.
Here are five of the best road trips on the island, taking in stately manors, gorgeous gardens and the forest-filled gullies of the interior as well as the wild scenery of St Lucy parish and the Atlantic coastline.
1. Barbados’ West Coast
Best for calm waters and snorkeling
Bridgetown–Six Men’s; 23km (14.5 miles)
Barbados’ famous Platinum Coast stretches up the western side of the island from just north of Bridgetown towards the northern end of the island. This paradise strip is home to the country’s most tranquil waters and the villas of international movers and shakers.
From the capital, head out to Hwy 1 and pass Brandons and Brighton beaches en route to Paynes Bay for a morning swim and snorkeling with sea turtles in front of Rihanna’s lavish pad at One Sandy Lane. From there, it’s just a short hop to Holetown for a walk along the boardwalk and a gourmet meal with a view before you continue north to the Folkestone Marine Park where you’ll once again need your snorkel.
North of Folkestone, narrow Hwy 1 enters its most attractive stretch, hugging the water’s edge as it twists and turns north through tiny villages that are often little more than a clump of houses and a rum shop. Stop for a break on the lovely sands at Mullins Beach before ducking into historic Speightstown to visit the Arlington House museum and explore the atmospheric waterfront of the settlement known as “Little Bristol.”
Finally, rejoin Hwy 1 and continue north, remaining on the seaside road when the highway splits until you reach the tiny village of Six Men’s. Here, the unpretentious Braddie’s Bar awaits right on the water’s edge with cold drinks, dominoes and killer sunset views.
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2. Across Barbados
Best for gardens, gullies and caves
Holetown–Bathsheba; 23km (14.5 miles)
This cross-island sojourn serves up the best of Barbados’ nature on a soul-soothing drive from coast to coast. Begin in the heart of Holetown and follow Hwy 1A uphill to Rock Hall, at which point the countryside of rural Barbados takes hold and the pace of life gets noticeably slower.
Continue east to the famous Harrison’s Cave to check out the eerie subterranean caverns. Pop back out into the sunshine and pick up some fresh-baked coconut bread at Celestine’s diner before enjoying a picnic at Welchman Hall Gully just north on Hwy 2.
Cross to the other side of Hwy 2 and visit the Flower Forest Botanical Gardens (a 49-acre garden on a former sugar plantation), or drop into Coco Hill Forest to hike on trails that cut through remnants of native woodland and offer sweeping views down the forested slopes to the Atlantic.
Next, follow Richmond Rd down to Hwy 3a to see Barbados’ most colorful outdoor attraction, Hunte’s Gardens, a lush, tropical bower set in a craterlike depression formed by a collapsed cave.
The last leg of the trip is all downhill to the little village of Bathsheba, the main town on the Atlantic Coast where you can finish the trip in style with a meal overlooking the Soup Bowl, one of the Caribbean’s best surf breaks.
3. Flavors of Barbados
Best for tasty treats and outdoor dining
Maxwell–Martin’s Bay; 40km (25 miles)
For a full day of Caribbean culinary delights, try this relaxing drive to experience the flavors of both coasts. Begin the journey in Maxwell in the southwest, where the legendary Golden Sands restaurant serves up a traditional hangover-busting “pudding and souse” breakfast that will set you up for the drive ahead.
Suitably fueled, head inland to the Brighton Farmers Market for a coffee and some homemade baked treats while browsing the works of local artists. Head east on Hwy 5 to grab some of the island’s best sandwiches at Cutters of Barbados before a picnic at the tranquil hidden cove of Shark Hole just down the road.
Continue along the coast to Bottom Bay and spend the afternoon at one of the island’s finest beaches on silky white sands enclosed by chalky cliffs. Finally, rejoin Hwy 5 to head up the east side of the island to Martin’s Bay. Settle in at one of the picnic tables in front of the crashing waves outside the Bay Tavern and finish the journey with the island’s freshest fish plates.
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4. Atlantic Barbados
Best for historic buildings and panoramic views
Bathsheba–St Nicholas Abbey; 16km (10 miles)
This off-the-beaten-path road adventure is a great way to ditch the crowds and get to know the Barbados of another era. The road trip begins at the boulder-strewn beach of Bathsheba on the eastern side of the island following the Ermy Bourne Hwy and Hwy 2.
Track the windswept coastline north to Lakes Beach and Walkers Beach, two long, empty stretches of sand backed by rolling hills that are perfect for long hikes beside the thundering Atlantic (but not safe for swimming). Leave the car at either beach and walk to Long Pond, Barbados’ most pristine wetland, which divides the two.
Stop at the beautiful St Andrew’s Parish Church, which looks like it has been airlifted in from the English countryside, then continue north to the magnificent Morgan Lewis Windmill, one of only two complete wind-powered mills left in the Caribbean.
After taking in the views, follow the rural road up to Cherry Tree Hill, 260m (853ft) above the coastal plain below, which marks the entrance to St Nicholas Abbey, one of the island’s best-preserved estates and a fine place to end this east coast adventure.
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5. St Lucy loop
Best for dramatic cliffs and hidden coves
Speightstown–Speightstown; 30km (18.5 miles)
Barbados’ craggy northern tip couldn’t be more different from the tranquil, sheltered beaches on the covers of most tourism brochures. This trip through St Lucy parish takes visitors to striking clifftops and wild, isolated bays. It’s wonderful country to explore but swimming is dangerous on most of this stretch of coastline due to the wild waves.
Beginning in Speightstown, head north on Hwy 1B, hugging the coastline to reach the Harrison’s Point Lighthouse which can be climbed for wonderful views of the grassy hills descending to the sea. Park near the hospital and walk down to avoid a risky drive down this axle-testing track.
Rejoin Hwy 1B and turn left at Crab Hill to find hidden Archer’s Bay, framed by forest-covered limestone bluffs, rocky outcrops and transparent green waters. Double back to Hwy 1B and continue to the northernmost point of the island at Animal Flower Cave, a deep grotto hidden by imposing cliffs.
From here the highway takes a turn to the south to River Bay, where a small river flows into a pretty enclosed bay. It’s one of the few places on this coastline that’s safe for swimming, but don’t go out past the headlands. From River Bay, Hwy 1C heads back to Speightstown through tranquil farmland in the interior of the island, home to more grazing goats and farmers than tourists.