By Lisa Vivirito
A tropical paradise in the southeastern Caribbean, Barbados is an island for many different types of vacations.
The west coast, on the calm Caribbean Sea, is home to beach resorts, lush gardens, secluded coves, a colorful harbor and cruise ship terminal. The east coast, on the Atlantic Ocean, has rugged rock formations, pounding surf and casual beach houses.
The 116-square-mile island of Barbados can be reached by a three-and-one-half-hour flight from Miami. The island, which gained its independence from British rule in 1961, is divided into 11 parishes. The spoken language is English though the Bajan dialect can be heard around the island.
Barbados offers a variety of hotels including the Tamarin Cove, Colony Club and the Fairmont. A favorite of many, especially families, is the all-inclusive Almond Beach Club. Driving in Barbados is on the left side of the road and the majority of vehicles are "right hand drive" so be prepared to drive on "the wrong side of the road" if you are planning on renting a car!
As you can imagine, Barbados is an island of beautiful beaches; there are some 70 square miles of beaches to enjoy. West Coast beaches include: Carlisle Bay, just south of Bridgetown, the capital city, Mullins Bay and Gibbs Beach in St. Peter, and Paynes Bay in St. James. On the south coast, Silver Sands Beach is a favorite among windsurfers.
On the east coast, the Atlantic side of the island, a surfers' paradise can be found at Bathsheba, with the giant waves of the "Soup Bowls."
If you like a seafaring adventure, you can take a trip aboard the Jolly Roger, a festive pirate ship that offers snorkeling trips and party and dinner cruises. Or you can enjoy a party cruise on the Harbour Master with dinner, live entertainment, theatre and dancing. If you wish to explore the underwater without getting wet, you can dive to depths of 50 meters aboard the Atlantis submarine.
Barbados also has much to offer inland. You can visit Gun Hill Station the former British Military installation, which offers a great view of the entire southern half of the island.
Francia Plantation has on display many examples of 19th century furniture made by Barbadian craftsmen of that time.
At the Barbados Wildlife Reserve & Grenade Hall Forest and Signal Station you can see tortoises and Barbados green monkeys as well as other animals in their natural habitat in a beautiful mahogany forest.
Other outdoor adventures include horseback riding, mountain biking, hiking and four-wheel drive tours.
My favorite attraction of the island is Harrison's Cave. The only cave of its kind in the Caribbean, it houses limestone caverns carved by nature and an underground network of streams. One cavern has a 40-foot waterfall plunging into a lagoon. You'll be amazed at the arches and formations as you ride by and get out of the special tram, which takes you on a tour of the cave.
Since Barbados is known as the birthplace of rum, you may enjoy a tour at Malibu or Mount Gay where you can see the stages of rum production from refining to bottling.
The island offers many dining possibilities from Chinese to Continental, but be sure to try flying fish, which is Barbados's signature dish and also has become the national emblem of the island.
Don't forget to shop while in Barbados! There is a great selection of duty free shopping including world-class retailers with prices 30 to 50 percent less than in the United States.
Whether you're planning a relaxing vacation, an adventurous vacation, or some of both, consider Barbados, it has it all!
Lisa Vivirito is owner of Diamond Travel in Vero Beach. Call her at 772-567-8481 or 800-795-1986 www.diamondtravelofvero.com.