Travellers' Survival Kit
Saturday 08 January 2005
You can be fairly sure that the weather in Barbados is likely to be more agreeable than it is in Britain - especially at this time of year
You can be fairly sure that the weather in Barbados is likely to be more agreeable than it is in Britain - especially at this time of year.
Climatically, the best time to visit the island is between December and April, when the island is almost guaranteed to be warm and dry. By May and June Barbados is hot and humid; July to October is cooler and wetter.
The April-November low season has some advantages: you will almost certainly see plenty of blue skies, and hotel rates and air fares sink along with visitor numbers. Understandably, fares and prices are highest between - and, especially, at - Christmas and Easter.
Concorde lives on, at least at Grantley Adams airport in Barbados. One of the jewels from the British Airways fleet is preserved on the apron close to the terminal. Unfortunately, it has not been possible to reach the Caribbean from Heathrow in four hours since the supersonic jet was grounded. Subsonic jets are scheduled to take a little over eight hours from London, and a bit less from Manchester, Prestwick and Belfast.
The main UK launch pad for the island is Gatwick, which offers nine flights each week on British Airways (0870 850 9850; www.ba.com) and one a day on Virgin Atlantic (0870 380 2007; www.virgin-atlantic.com) - representing more than 6,000 seats each way, every week. Travelling independently, expect to pay about £400-£500 for an off-peak return flight, rising to £700 or more at busy times.
From Heathrow, BWIA West Indies Airways (020-8577 1100; www.bwee.com) flies non-stop three times a week to Barbados, with additional connections via Port of Spain, Trinidad on other days. BWIA also flies once a week from Manchester, and in November was joined on the route by BMI (0870 60 70 555; www.flybmi.com). Travellers in Scotland and Northern Ireland will soon benefit from non-stop flights on BWIA from Prestwick and Belfast.
Besides these options, the big tour operators offer charter flights from a range of UK airports. These are usually sold in connection with hotel stays or cruises, but "seat-only" deals are sometimes available close to departure.
A wide range of packages is available from tour operators. Some are off-the-peg holidays, usually lasting one or two weeks; others are tailor-made. Holiday companies are able to negotiate good deals with airlines and hotels and may well offer better value than you can arrange on your own. You also have the benefit of some protection if things go wrong - financially, from the ATOL scheme, and logistically, from the tour operator's obligation to look after you.
Grantley Adams international airport, eight miles east of Bridgetown, will soon be one of the Caribbean's most customer-friendly gateways; at present, however, the builders are still in. You should expect crowds and delays when arriving or departing on a busy flight.
Upon arrival, a handy tourist office is located in baggage reclaim, before you pick up your luggage. It is usually open to meet all incoming flights; the helpful staff will answer specific queries and hand out maps of the island.
Buses to Bridgetown, calling at south coast resorts, leave from the main road outside the airport, for a fare of B$1.50 (40p). A taxi to nearby east and south coast resorts will cost around B$30 (£8); to the west coast, it could be B$50 (£13).
Check that your passport has at least six months to run after your intended return date. You must fill in an arrival/ departure card before immigration.
British passport holders are routinely allowed to stay for up to three months without a visa. A B$25 (£6.50) departure tax is payable in Barbados dollars (cash) at check-in by everyone leaving the island by air.
The Barbados dollar is fixed to the American dollar at B$2 = US$1. US notes circulate freely, but not coins. The conversion rates used in this supplement are £1=B$3.80=US$1.90.
Many establishments will happily accept US$ travellers cheques and give change in Barbados or US dollars.
Banks open 8am-3pm from Monday to Thursday, 8am-5pm on Fridays. Many have cash machines (ATMs), most of which accept cards issued by UK banks.
Tipping: Despite the presence of large numbers of American visitors, tipping expectations are still a long way short of US standards. On most hotel and restaurant bills, a service charge of 10 per cent is already added; you are, of course, free to add more than this, but it is certainly not expected.
Bus: Frank Partridge describes on page VII the now-defunct Barbados railway. Unless and until it is brought back to life, the main forms of public transport are the bus and the minibus. To make life simple, the privately run minibuses follow the same routes and charge the same flat fare (B$1.50/40p) as the regular blue Barbados Transport buses. The difference is that minibuses will stop anywhere en route, rather than just at the official bus stops.
Inside the red circle on the bus stop sign is TO CITY or OUT OF CITY, indicating whether the bus is heading to or from Bridgetown. Almost all the buses start or end at the island's capital. The most useful bus routes are north along the west coast to Holetown and Speightstown, and east along the south coast to the airport.
Hire car: Car rental brokers and tour operators will happily organise a hire vehicle in advance; even if you leave it until arrival, you should easily be able to find a suitable car for around B$600 (£160) a week (plus a nominal B$10 (£2.60) for a temporary local licence, a legal formality). Be warned, however, that road surfaces are variable and potentially treacherous after heavy rain when potholes may be disguised. Fuel is readily available for around B$1.40 (35p) a litre - under £2 per gallon.
Taxi: Given the skill, friendliness and honesty of most taxi drivers, it is a good choice to rely on them to get you around the island. Fares are not especially cheap - reckon on about B$7 (£1.90) a mile - but most journeys are relatively short. Taxi drivers will appreciate keeping the change for a B$20 bill for a B$18 ride, but won't sulk if you hand over the exact amount.
Bicycle: For confident cyclists, Barbados is the ideal island.
Helicopter: For an instant overview, Bajan Helicopters (001 246 431 0069; www.bajanhelicopters.com) offers a range of tours of the island.
Barbados shares the same "001" country code as North America and much of the Caribbean, and has the area code 246. When dialling from abroad, the seven-digit number in Barbados should therefore be prefixed 001 246. Calling the UK from Barbados usually involves dialling 011 44 followed by the British number without its initial zero, though 00 44 may work as well or instead. When calling in either direction, bear in mind that local time in Barbados is four hours behind GMT.
The cheapest way to make calls abroad is to buy a telephone card which you can use in any (functioning) payphone. Calls within Barbados are usually free from private phones, though some hotels impose a surcharge.
Internet cafés with broadband access are spreading. Outside Bridgetown, the most likely places to get online are hotels (though some restrict access to residents, or charge high rates).
Take an FM radio so you can listen to the local broadcasters, who are guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
Barbadians bestow an importance on parishes with the same enthusiasm as Americans celebrate statehood. Even on the arrival/departure form you are asked for the parish in which your hotel is located; most west-coast hotels are in St James, while south-coast places tend to be in Christ Church (sometimes abbreviated Ch Ch). Bridgetown is in St Michael.
Health And Safety
For a tropical destination, Barbados is pleasingly healthy. Tap water is safe to drink. No jabs are required. Although mosquitoes are sometimes a nuisance, they do not carry malaria. There are no poisonous snakes. The main hazards facing visitors are more mundane: burns and sunstroke from the intense sun, particularly between 11am and 3pm; road accidents; and water hazards, notably the fierce currents on the Atlantic side of the island.
Contact the Barbados Tourist Authority in London on 020-7636 9448. On the island, there are tourist offices at the airport and on Harbour Road in Bridgetown. Online, the single best source is www.barbados.org.
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