Caribbean Island Hopping

Barbados Trinidad Tobago

I sometimes think that PX should work for Flight Centre. He always manages to find the best deals and the most cunning routes to take. Last Autumn his quest for our new year break, while his restaurants are closed and London is basically a wasteland of discarded Christmas trees and faded tinsel, was focused on 14 days, not too long haul, and as much of a bargain as possible!

When you think bargain, you don’t generally think Barbados. And to be fair, Barbados was not the end goal. Tobago was. But to get to Tobago from London you need to hop from Barbados, to Trinidad, to Tobago. A long and tiring trip if done in one go. But PX had a plan and discovered that you could extend each stop over for a few days in each place, without the overall cost of the flight changing. Three island visits from one flight purchase. Clever eh?

Barbados

4 days

The Island of 8am happy hours, legal drink driving, Cutters and Mount Gay Rum. We arrived on this boozy island on Jan 1st, already laden with UK spawned megalithic hangovers, still lingering after an exceptional NYE in London. The kind of hangover that you feel may well last the entire holiday, if not for the rest of your life, forcing you to accept feeling like a bucket of pigs swill for all eternity.

But we are in the right country. Hangovers don’t exist here on this magic island of sugar cane. The key is to keep drinking…rum.

We were staying in the capital Bridgetown, not considered the most salubrious part of the island. But we were on a budget and couldn’t stretch to living it up with the squillionaires of Sandy Bay, and that’s not really our scene anyway. We found a homely apartment in a neighbourhood near enough to Carlisle Bay for some beach splatting and “liming” with the locals.

Our first night is spent mooching around the streets of Bridgetown, getting our bearings and snacking from bbq stalls. Walking around the increasingly quiet, tungsten lit back streets may not have been the greatest idea, fresh off the plane and still battling those raging hangovers. As we walked past an open door with a sign for “Rose’s Sweet Wine Bar”, we noticed a policeman, in full uniform and fight vest, inviting us in to join him at the bar.

We drank with this on duty copper as he ordered round after round of Stag beers, no more than a £1 a pop once you’re away from the tourist locales, so why not? We asked him about the crime levels in Bridgetown. The fact that he was mainly ignoring any calls on his radio and was drinking with us for a couple of hours, suggested that either Bridgetown was rocking some kind of lawless society, or there was so little for the police to do, he felt it appropriate to be supporting Rose’s wine bar, before hopping back on his police bike to cruise the streets looking for non existent trouble!

As it happens neither is the case. When we chatted with taxi drivers, or friends who knew the island, they raised an eyebrow when we said we were staying in Bridgetown and gave us that “you be careful you porcelain white tourists” look. As we walked the sidewalk taxis would pause to make sure we weren’t lost and needed their services. We never did, and felt perfectly safe regardless of the fears of the locals. Blissfully ignorant maybe.

Day 2. A London lurgy had smuggled itself in my suitcase and crawled inside my chest with a swag of rope and what felt like a thousand tiny knives. I went down like a lion mauled zebra in the Serengeti.

PX lost me for a couple of days, where all I could do was sleep and intermittently cough so hard my pelvic floor was seriously challenged and I’d have to hang onto a well rooted object be it a tree, wall, or car while I attempted to dislodge that spiky arsed gremlin clinging to my thorax. Sexy.

We hired a car for a couple of days to explore the island. We were only in Barbados for 4 nights, so had a few specific boxes to tick besides snorkelling & general beach time which we achieved mainly in Carlisle Bay where we took a boat ride out to swim with a turtle and over a couple of ship wrecks. Both these sites are pretty close to the beach and once you know where to aim for you could do this without the boat. Just follow the groups of tourists in their high vis life jackets bobbing about in the sea.

Barbados Boxes Ticked:

Cutters – Basically a filled roll, fish, chicken, ham etc. There are a few well known outlets on the island, such as Cuz’s Fish Stand, which attracts large queues, mainly due to a relaxed service speed if nothing else.

We were tipped off by the owner of our apartment about an unnamed shop on Beckles Road where we were staying, that sold the best ham cutters on the island. Cars would pull up from all over to stop and grab one of these most simple of sandwiches. The shop had no name, just a paint flaked exterior and nothing more than a few bottles of shampoo and condensed milk on its shelves. The elderly shop keeper would carve generous swathes of warm home cooked ham to wedge into a soft white roll, garnished only with local yellow chilli sauce. Possibly the greatest sandwich ever.

 The Fishermans Pub

Traditional Caribbean grub, served buffet style in a pretty sea front pub.

Animal Flower Cave 

Right at the northern tip of the island, and complete with a decent restaurant and stunning views. This sea facing cave, lined with coral and home to Animal Flowers, tiny coloured anemone that cling to the rock pools, is well worth a visit, especially if you like swimming in cave pools with the ocean waves crashing in around you!

Huntes Gardens

If you do one touristy thing in Barbados then go and visit Anthony Hunte and his wonderful garden. Imagine Willy Wonka getting into horticulture in a tropical climate, and hey presto, you have the most stunning, colourful and eccentric garden you could ever dream of.

Make sure you go to the house and meet the man himself, drink his rum punch and wander around his stunning environment.

Oistins Fish Fry

Every Friday, tourists and locals alike head to Oistins for a fish supper and a bit of a party. The queues build quickly so get there early. We waited 45 minutes in line, but the fish was fresh off the grill, decent value and fun atmosphere. We ended up eating from the stall with the biggest queue, like the sheep we are, Uncle Georges Fishnet Grill. Red Snapper & King fish with all the sides of mac pie, coleslaw & griddled potatoes was worth the wait!

Bathsheba

Worth a visit for a really rugged natural beach, and an excellent coconut rum cocktail at the bar right at the top of the track that leads down to the beach!

Trinidad

4 days

Literally everyone we met and mentioned we were going to Trinidad, would say “Really?”. “why would you go there?”. We’d read that the crime levels here were pretty high, and that we should take care. But the more we were warned about the place the more nervous we became! Is it really that bad?

We were picked up by the hotel transfer, our driver Michael, who we stayed in touch with and I fully recommend you call him up if you’re planning a visit, would tell us not to walk on the streets after about 8pm, don’t go to deserted beaches or waterfalls etc. There are tours that take you to the waterfalls, but they can be pricey. He told us a few horror stories about tourists being attacked recently. We were even stopped in the street by a local resident and told that we should turn back and walk the other way ideally not be on the streets at all. This is bandit country!

Is it really that bad? We were staying in the capital Port of Spain, an industrial sprawling place, interspersed with lovely colonial “gingerbread” buildings, but mainly the city is all about the oil & gas that is their main export. Hence the low level of tourism. They don’t need it. The gas & oil is all they need to keep the island as one of the most wealthy in the Caribbean.

We never felt threatened however and Michael told us that the current Prime Minister was implementing a zero tolerance regime, not unlike that of New York’s Giuliani. Even if they don’t need a tourist industry, I’m sure they’d like to be thought of as a country worth visiting.

And so it is! Once we’d ventured out of the rather uninspiring Port of Spain, which frankly hasn’t a great deal to offer, the surrounding jungle strewn hills and beautiful rugged beaches are some of the most luscious we experienced. This island was all about wildlife & plants, colourful & exotic.

Micheal’s WhatsApp number if you need a taxi or a tour guide : +1(868) 682 0736

Trinidad Boxes Ticked

Trinidad Food Tours

Fun and informative, Anthony is a very charismatic guide, who takes you to all his favourite street food stalls across Port of Spain. These are places you would never otherwise know existed, let alone be able to find. Anthony wraps Trinidad history around each of the dishes we tried really bringing the culture to life from Rotis, to the staple diet of Doubles. A well thought out tour, maybe a bit pricey but its great for getting your bearings and seeing parts of the city you wouldn’t dare to on your own!

Asa Wright Nature Centre

After the urban pavement pounding of Port of Spain, driving through the verdant jungle roads, winding and prehistoric, was a relief to both our feet and eyes. Asa Wright was a refreshing revelation. We didn’t really know what to expect other than Micheal had recommended it.

Tucked away in the hills, this lodge and conservation centre gives a warm and friendly welcome. Standing on a terrace over looking the gardens, are more humming birds buzzing around feeders like insects, than you would have ever imagined seeing in your life! We could watch them for hours.

They offer treks around the local area, bird & plant spotting as well as being an eco lodge for those that can afford to stay there!

Las Cuevas Bay

Our favourite beach of the whole trip. Beautiful , rugged with the jungle & rocks encroaching the sand. A popular beach for the locals without being crowded and far more pretty that the nearby Maracas Beach which is the tourist go to.

Buzo – Italian Restaurant. Port of Spain

PX’s birthday dinner, and only a few yards from our hotel, so we could scuttle back inside before those after dark Banditos caught up with us.

Caroni Bird Sanctuary

Take a tour through the mangroves and watch thousands of Scarlet Ibis, the national bird, come home to roost on the same small island every sunset. Its quite a sight, and we were lucky enough to see a flamboyance of flamingos in the same area.

Tobago

6 days

Our ultimate destination for a bit of R&R. We knew that Tobago was more tourist orientated than Trinidad, but not too much, and it was considered much safer.

We were staying in Buccoo, at Millers Guest House, a simple self catering apartment, looking out over the idyllic Buccoo Bay. A wide stretch of uninhabited beach, and a small jetty where fisherman would be descaling their catch as the sun goes down. Perfect.

Bucco itself offers a lot for such a small place. There are two really good if slightly expensive restaurants, one Italian, La Tartaruga, that is known for its wine list, and a damn good Lasagne, and a modern Caribbean, Makara. The bar below Makara is a proper local hang out. Super cheap and you are welcomed like a regular. We drank there most nights and hung out with our three favourite strays, Bitey, Blossom & Big Ears. (Not their real names, I don’t think they have real names)

Try Shirl’s Finger Lickin’ for great fried chicken. Only opens after 7.30pm

Alongside these two more high end places, there a loads of little bars and places to eat and snack. We especially enjoyed Cafe Down Low, where Joseph & Kerry are keeping it simple with some really good European inspired dishes and a daily changing menu.

We loved Tobago, and would definitely return one day. Its the kind of place where you see that same bunch of bar staff, fishermen, tour guides , all hanging out at the local bar, and for those few days in your life, they are your besties. Its just so nice to be waved at everyday! Its the simple things…

We hired scooters for a couple of days to nip about the local beaches, and hired a car for a day to drive the loop of the entire island. In both Trinidad and Tobago, we used Econocar. £20 a day to hire a car. And fortunately they are pretty relaxed about damage control. We had a couple of scrapes which I think we got away with!

Tobago Boxes Ticked:

Beaches: Pigeon Point. Maybe slightly sanitised but really pretty none the less. Store Bay. We really liked this beach. Its bustling with load of creole food stalls and a really great sundowner bar – Man on the Rock . Speyside, and The Blue Water Inn. On our drive around the edge of the island, we stopped at Speyside, which is the best place for diving, but instead of going to the main part of the bay, we snuck into the hills and discovered the well hidden Blue Water Inn. A hotel we would never be able to afford, but they allow non residents to use the beach and hotel services. We snorkelled over some decent reefs straight off the beach, then made use of the pool facilities whilst pretending to be wealthy Americans. An hour or so of pretend luxury did us the world of good!

Neon Pool & Buccoo Reef – Captain Phillips Tours. If nothing else Captain Phillips is hilarious. He has two glass bottom boats and does a little tour of the Neon Pool, a raised sand bank in the middle of the ocean that you can walk on. And snorkelling over Buccoo Reef. All good fun and he’s good company. You’ll see him at the local bar most of the time and he has rum punch on the boat which is all that matters really.

Sunday School. A Buccoo street party every Sunday, its a bit of a tourist attraction in the early part of the evening with steel bands and street food, but the locals come out later, much later. It’s a fun party of dancing and cheap booze that starts late and finishes early (4-5am)

Being With Horses. I will have to try and contain myself here so as not to come across too gushy. But….OH MY GOD YOU HAVE TO TRY THIS!!! Now I consider myself a half decent rider, having grown up with the beasts and done all that pony club posh kid stuff when I was younger, but this was in a different league.

Veronika & Lennon, (German and Tobagan) have created something wonderful in this wellbeing centre for both horses and people. The horses are all rescued or retired racehorses, show jumpers or abused horses that simply needed saving. Through their holistic and original approach these horses are rehabilitated, and their confidence and fitness restored though their daily ocean swim. They also run a Healing with Horses where the obvious spiritual and gentle nature of horses help those with physical & learning difficulties. Its a lovely thing.

To ride a horse, with barely any of the conventional bridle or saddle kit that usually keeps us in place, as it strides up to its withers in the waves, is the most extraordinary experience. You feel the strength of the animal below you as it powers through the water, the resistance in your legs is huge and we were pretty sore the following day!

I cannot recommend this place highly enough. As you might be able to tell.

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