It's a shore thing

Adam Vaitilingham, author of 'Barbados Directions', chooses the island's best beaches


Where Did The First Tourists Lay Their Beach Towels?

Where Did The First Tourists Lay Their Beach Towels?

Hastings, a short ride east of Bridgetown. It first developed in the 18th century as a by-product of Britain's military development of the nearby Garrison area. Soldiers from St Ann's Fort were quartered here - you can still see the red-brick former barracks on your left as you enter the town - and a naval hospital and the Admiral's quarters were built south of here beside the coast.

More than a century later, its proximity to the capital led to Hastings being developed as Barbados's first tourist resort, and a handful of grand old hotels on the seafront still mark those glory days. Sadly, the once-attractive beach has been heavily eroded, but recent development has added a fresh splash of colour and life to the area.

So Tell Me A Good South Coast Beach

Aim for the tiny, touristy village of Rockley. Its magnificent stretch of shore - known locally as Accra Beach - is a great white swathe of sand, popular with tourists and local families. It can get pretty crowded at peak season and weekends. The people-watching is top-notch as hair-braiders, T-shirt and craft vendors as well as the odd hustler, co-exist with the windsurfers and sun-ripening tourists, creating one of the liveliest beach scenes on the island.

There are a couple of decent places to stay, such as the Accra Beach Hotel (001 246 435 8920; www.accrabeachhotel.com), an attractive 148-room hotel right on the beach, featuring balconies overlooking the sea, palm trees strewn around the gardens and a giant swimming pool. Come evening there's a Polynesian restaurant and an outdoor dance floor. In summer, you can find a room for US$144 (£76) per night excluding breakfast.

A short way east, Worthing has a gleaming white beach. It is less crowded than Accra Beach but just as enjoyable, with a couple of laid-back bars, a string of vendors hanging up their T-shirts and batik prints, and locals offering boat-trips and wave- runner rentals.

Can I Get Some Exercise?

Head for Maxwell. There's not much to the place, and it's easy to drive straight through on Highway 7 without noticing it, yet the beaches here are as good as those further west. The area is popular with windsurfers, particularly beginners and intermediates (experts head east to Silver Sands), and boards can be rented from Club Mistral (beside the Windsurf Village Hotel), for US$20 (£11) an hour, $55 (£29) for a half-day. Coaching is also given, though prices are high.

To shake off the crowds, continue east along Highway 7; take the right hand turn-off for Enterprise (a tiny village) and another right is soon signposted for the Enterprise Coast Road, offering a fabulous drive beside the sea. On reaching the coastal road, turn right for a lovely stretch dotted with casuarina trees that marks the last protected beach before you round the headland for the exposed central and eastern beaches. This is Miami Beach.

Art Deco Hotels And Indulgent Restaurants?

No. Miami Beach, Barbados, has little in common with its Florida namesake. You'll often find local Bajans exercising here; children playing cricket on the beach and elderly folk taking a refreshing morning swim. Alternatively, turn left past the South Point lighthouse for Silver Sands.

Celebrated for its windsurfing, Silver Sands attracts enthusiasts from all over the world, though non-surfers come here too for the quiet, easygoing vibe. Fantastic waves roll in for most of the year and there are a handful of (pretty expensive) places where you can rent a windsurf board if you haven't brought your own.

The Silver Rock Hotel at Silver Sands (001 246 428 2866) is a three-storey pink and white block with 33 comfortable rooms, which cost as little as US$120 (£63) in summer, excluding breakfast. There is also a pool, and a crowd of surfer guests. If you're not here for the kite- or wind-surfing, you may find the place isolated and the other guests obsessed.

Beyond Silver Sands you can find the longest beach on the island - a huge stretch of crunchy white sand strewn with driftwood. This is Long Beach, and is often completely deserted.

It's Getting Rough

Yes, both the sea and the terrain - which is why tourist development has never really taken hold in the south-east of the island. The coastline here, in the parish of St Philip, is much more rugged than that further west, with only a handful of white sand beaches - several of them, especially Crane Bay and Bottom Bay, quite spectacular - divided from each other by long cliffs and rocky outcrops.

The Most Secluded Hideaways?

On the east coast: Harrismith and Bottom Bay are a couple of good beaches worth checking out - assuming you can find them. The first, Harrismith Beach, is overlooked by the old Harrismith Great House, with steps leading down just west of the house. It's pretty and usually very quiet here, with palms, cliffs and small caves for exploring. Surpassing it is Bottom Bay, a small sugar-white beach sandwiched between cliffs, with a backdrop of palm trees and the Atlantic waves crashing in. Few people find it, but locals use it at the weekend and the occasional tour bus heads this way during the week.

To get to Harrismith, head out of Sam Lord's Castle and take the first right up to the main road, then turn right again. After 500 yards or so there is a right turn marked "Harrismith". Follow the road down and turn left along a rutted track just before you reach a couple of casuarina trees. At the bottom of the track is the deserted Harrismith Great House, a former hotel overlooking Harrismith Beach. To reach Bottom Bay, continue along the main road past the Harrismith turn-off and the turning is signposted on the right. Park at the top of the cliffs and walk down the steps.

Where Can I Meet The Rich And Famous?

On the west coast. A sparkling strip of sand runs for many miles south along the sheltered Caribbean side of Barbados to Bridgetown. The sandy beaches and warm blue waters have made the so-called "platinum coast" the island's prime resort area. As a result, much of the coastline has been heavily built up with the island's top restaurants and priciest hotels, such as Sandy Lane - a byword for Caribbean affluence and ostentation, with a list of repeat celebrity guests as long as your arm.

Yet there is no such thing as a private beach in Barbados and the island's authorities take pains to ensure easy access to the whole shoreline. For example, when Ronald Tree was developing Sandy Lane in the Sixties, as part of his deal with the government he promised to provide a right of way to the south of the property, giving public access to the shore. Take advantage of that if you've got the energy and wander down to the bay past the tall casuarinas and manchineel trees. The sweep of gently shelving sand, backed by the elegant hotel, is quite magnificent.

Can I Look Beneath The Water?

Yes: if you're not inclined to sign up to learn scuba diving like Joyce Ohajah (see pages 10-11), pay B$1 (25p) to visit Folkestone Marine Park, north of Sandy Lane Bay (open 9am-4pm from Monday to Friday).

Established in 1979, the Folkestone Marine Park extends down the coast as far as Sandy Lane Bay. For snorkelers there are some decent patches of coral reef just offshore; alternatively, you can usually find a glass-bottomed boat to take you out and hunt for colourful fish and the occasional turtle. The visitor centre has a short video and a handful of reasonable displays on the island's coral reefs and other marine life. If you're just into loafing around, the beach outside the centre is popular with local families on weekends and holidays, and has a lifeguard, showers, snack bars and a sprinkling of beach vendors.

Anything Handy For The Capital?

Yes, heading up the west coast from Bridgetown, the first you find is Betts Rock Park - a large, slightly scruffy beach zone with a couple of lifeguard towers. A better bet, if you want to swim, is Prospect Beach, a little further up the coast - a narrow crescent of sand, backed by manchineel trees and palms, and a calm turquoise bay. Public access is via a path just north of the all-inclusive Escape Hotel.

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