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How to do Barbados on a budget

You don't have to be part of the Sandy Lane set to enjoy this dazzling Caribbean island, says Sara Humphreys

We say

You can still shell out £4,000 for a night in a luxury penthouse at Sandy Lane (001 246 444 2000; www.sandylane.com), Barbados's most exclusive hotel. But the celebrity's favourite Caribbean playground is becoming increasingly more affordable. "Budget Barbados" is no longer an oxymoron, as the island now possesses a sprinkling of good-value guest houses and economical self-catering apartments. Typically they are set back from the pricier accommodation along the coast, yet still within a few minutes' walk from dazzling coral-sand beaches and deliciously warm seas. This is the perfect time to be in Barbados, as the storm season subsides but before high-season prices kick in for Christmas. Hop on an aircraft now, and you can catch the island's Independence celebrations at the end of November.

They say

"In the cool of the evening we rode out... to seek lodgings in the country... And I was perfectly ravished by the beautiful prospects which on every side presented to our view." From George Washington's diary.

"The island is maturing into a holiday destination for all budgets. If you're looking for clear, warm water, tropical sunsets and fine dining, I can think of nowhere better." Cliff Richard, quoted at www.simonseeks.com.

"Naturally charming and sophisticated, alive with possibilities, as boundless as the turquoise sea, endless as the sandy shore." www.barbados.org.

A good package deal?

Virgin Holidays (0844 557 5825; www.virginholidays.co.uk) is offering a week at the self-catering Palms Resort (001 678 202 0947; www.thepalmsresort.net) in Sunset Crest, south of Holetown – a 10-minute stroll from the beach – for £673, if you depart Gatwick on 30 November and book today. Alternatively, grab a superior studio room plus kitchenette for a week, leaving 1 December, at the delightful seaside Butterfly Beach Hotel (001 246 428 9095; www.butterflybeach.com) in Worthing with Expedia (0330 123 1235; www.expedia.co.uk) for a bargain £695 including flights on Virgin Atlantic from Gatwick.

Independent travellers?

BA and Virgin Atlantic compete fiercely from Gatwick, with midweek flights from around £438 for the last week in November. You might want to fly out on a Wednesday, back on a Tuesday, to avoid the cruise ship crowds that spend the day on Barbados on Wednesdays. Book a flight online, then check into one of the island's scarce budget places to stay. West-coast Villa Marie (001 246 417 5799; www.barbados.org/ villas/villamarie) is an immaculately kept guest house. Before 15 December, you can get a large double for B$160 (£50) or a room for four for B$150 (£47), though air conditioning is extra. Enjoy a large shared kitchen-dining area (a handy supermarket is close by) and garden, two minutes' walk from the beach. There's a bus stop almost outside so you can easily access your favourite strip of sand.

Party people should consider the clean, compact hostel Rio Guesthouse (001 246 428 1546; www.rioguesthouse. hostel.com), where you can get a bargain single with shared bathroom for B$70 (£22) per person, or pay around B$60 (£19) for an en suite double (air conditioning extra).

For a more comfortable, quieter getaway, try the intimate Gemini House (001 246 420 4504; www.geminihouse. com). It offers excellent value at B$130 (£40) B&B per double (before December) with shared kitchen and barbecue, close to the south-coast surf of Inch Marlow, but a 15-minute bus ride to a swim in calmer waters.

And transport?

Barbados's buses are cheap and reliable, and offer good coverage of the south and west coasts. Get around for next to nothing (B$1.50/47p per trip) at speed from dawn till late (though on Sunday, transport is more sluggish). Then, hire a Mini Moke (glorified beach buggy) for a day or two to explore the hilly interior and rugged windswept east coast. You can't beat Fat Jack's rates (001 246 420 6502; www.fatjacks rentals.com): currently B$150 (£47) per day, including full insurance, to B$560 (£175) per week, though prices will increase in December.

On the beach and in the water?

All beaches are public and free in Barbados, though where shade is scarce you may want to pay for an umbrella. The best deal for beach comforts is at the Boatyard on Carlisle Bay (001 246 436 2622), where a lounger with umbrella costs just B$20 (£6.20), which is redeemable against food at the bar, and you get to play on their water trampoline and rope swing.

Swimming with turtles off a catamaran is a genuine island highlight. Head for Paynes Bay, on the west coast, at around 4pm, and swim out 50m from the shore to the anchored catamarans, where the turtles will congregate.

Otherwise, Folkestone Marine Park (free access; 001 246 422 2314), just north of Holetown, offers the best snorkelling, along with bags of shade, picnic tables and masks for rent.

A good day out?

Race day at the Garrison Savannah racecourse (001 246 426 3980; www.barbadosturfclub.org) outside Bridgetown has a distinctively Bajan, festive feel. Surrounded by attractive colonial military architecture, it regularly comes alive on a Saturday with impromptu food stalls and deck chairs lining the railings in between the redundant cannons. You can bag a grandstand seat opposite the finishing post for a mere B$10 (£3.10).

Eating and drinking?

Although pre-eminent among Caribbean destinations for its fine dining, Barbados's weekend fish-fries are far easier on the wallet. Eschew the tourist crowds and creeping prices of Oistins, and seek out one of the many local stalls along the south and west coasts. Top billing goes to the Pentecostal Church stand in Paynes Bay, which grills the most delicious marinated fish, with sautéed potatoes and salad, for a mere B$25 (£7.80). On the south coast, try Shakers (Tue-Sat after 6pm), in a backstreet off the south coast road in Browne's Gap – a cosy rum shop-cum-restaurant with garden seating that dishes up fine grilled fare for a modest sum. The Bean and Bagel (001 246 420 4604), with outlets in St Lawrence Gap and Holetown, serves inexpensive (by island standards) breakfasts all day.

As for drinking, stick to Mount Gay Rum and local Banks beer, during the copious late-afternoon Happy Hours and you needn't worry too much about the beverage budget.

What Google will tell you...

"The gold band [on the national flag, representing the sand] is surrounded on both sides by vertical bands of ultramarine representing the sea and sky of Barbados." Wikipedia.

What Google will not tell you...

National Trust membership in the UK will gain you free access, or reduced entry, to the splendid historic sites managed by the Barbados National Trust (001 246 426 2421; www.trust.funbarbados.com). Properties include the magical Andromeda Botanic Gardens overlooking the Atlantic coast, and Arlington House in northerly Speightstown – a splendid interactive museum which gives insights into the former port's fascinating history.