Travel

Rihanna’s Barbados Is a Caribbean Dream for Rum Drinking and Spelunking

If turquoise waters weren't already reason enough to visit.

moorehartphotography/Shutterstock
moorehartphotography/Shutterstock
moorehartphotography/Shutterstock

When some people think of Barbados, the image of Rihanna might come to mind. Sure, the easternmost island of the Caribbean is the birthplace of the pop icon-but there’s far more to this country than just its significance in the music scene. From the vibrant capital city of Bridgetown to the pristine reaches of Saint Lucy, the country is packed full of spectacular beaches and limestone landscapes, with no shortage of fish fries, roasted breadfruit, and tropical cocktails along the way.

While it’s certainly possible to craft your own journey, first-time visitors may wish to seek out some local perspective on how to explore the island. Blu Isles is a tour company staffed with a fleet of born and bred Bajans, offering in-villa cooking demonstrations by local chefs or sourcing a private driver for the entirety of your stay-the latter of which is particularly useful for any serious rum aficionados.

Plunge into one of the Caribbean’s most impressive caves, snorkel amidst schools of dazzling reef fish, or just unwind with a rum punch in hand and Pon de Replay on repeat. Here’s what to do in Barbados, to find your own island inspirations.

Mount Gay Rum
Mount Gay Rum
Mount Gay Rum

Sip through the island’s world-class rum scene

From the jungles of Belize to the shores of Trinidad, there’s no shortage of nations across the Caribbean that are well-versed in rum production-but no country boasts as lengthy a history with the spirit as Barbados. A major sugar producer in the 1600s, the island gave rise to an early ancestor of modern-day rum that was referred to as “killdevil,” thanks to its harsh aroma and fiery flavor on the palate.

For a deep dive into the rich history of Bajan rum, few distilleries can compete with Mount Gay. This world-renowned brand is the oldest operating rum producer not just in Barbados, but on the entire planet, with concrete evidence in the form of a deed dating back to 1703. In downtown Bridgetown, you’ll find a polished facility brimming with cocktails, rum flights, and savory Bajan fare. Or up in the northern parish of Saint Lucy, guests can sip spirit straight from the source at the distillery itself. From mixology classes to paired tastings to a deep dive into the history of the surrounding facility, there’s no shortage of fascinating excursions available.

While Mount Gay is certainly the oldest rum found across the Caribbean, it’s far from the only one-a fact that Colony Club knows all too well. In addition to lush gardens and a white sand beach, this dazzling property comes complete with its very own Rum Vault, where guests can take part in a luxurious paired tasting. During the experience, on-property Rum Ambassadors select from an impressive collection of more than 150 varieties of spirit from across the globe, blending the drink into a cocktail or serving it neat. At the same time, a dedicated Vault Chef crafts refined plates that accentuate the complex flavors of each individual beverage.

KLiK Photography/Shutterstock
KLiK Photography/Shutterstock
KLiK Photography/Shutterstock

Spelunk in the heart of the island

Most tourist attractions across Barbados tend to be concentrated along the coast, but in the very heart of the island, Harrison’s Cave offers incredible views that can be found nowhere else in the nation. Packed full of towering stalactites and gaping caverns, this natural cave complex showcases the thick layers of limestone that make up Barbados-and for those wishing to get an up-close view of this natural phenomenon, there’s no better option than the signature tram tour.

Upon arrival, guests are treated to a short film that delves into the geography of the island, followed by a stroll into the cave’s lengthy tunnel system, where a massive cart awaits to plunge them into the darkest depths of Barbados. As the tour kicks off, participants can bask in the beauty of natural formations like the 50-foot-tall Great Hall and The Altar-a pair of stalagmites that bear a slight resemblance to a couple in the midst of a marriage proposal-all the while taking in fun facts and ultra-corny puns from the expert guides. As an added bonus, there’s a wealth of activities available once you’ve made your return to the outside world, with ziplining and rum tastings both available for booking at the Harrison’s Cave entrance.

WIRRED
WIRRED
WIRRED

Get up-close and personal with the local hives

At Walkers Reserve, you can get acquainted with a literal queen bee-unfortunately, we’re not talking about Beyoncé, but this is a different kind of hive that promises entertainment. Established across a former sand quarry, this sprawling space is adorned with towering trees, vibrant flowers, and a massive array of fruits and vegetables. While the surrounding vegetation attracts native pollinators like the green-throated carib, bees are a main focus around here, thanks to the Walkers Reserve Bee Experience.

Participants suit up in the property’s finest protective gear, then head uphill to discover the apiary packed full of domestic honeybees. Once the insects have been calmed with a few puffs of smoke, guests can take a close-up look at the interior of the hive, with guides at the ready to provide insight into the complex hierarchy of the animals, as well as their crucial role in the local environment. And to sweeten the deal, each visitor is gifted a small vial of honey to serve as a liquid reminder of their time in Barbados.

Calabaza Sailing Cruises
Calabaza Sailing Cruises
Calabaza Sailing Cruises

Set sail on the Bajan high seas

Once you’ve acquainted yourself with the sloping hills and pristine beaches found across Barbados, it’s time to take a trip past the shoreline. Calabaza Sailing Cruises typically tops off at just twelve guests, providing voyagers with gorgeous Bajan scenery without having to wrestle strangers for a front row seat.

Cruises range from an early option (with lunch included as the day progresses) to an unforgettable sunset voyage. Shortly after setting sail, guests can take the plunge and come face-to-face with curious green sea turtles. The second stop on the trip showcases the colorful reef fish that congregate around one of the region’s most striking shipwrecks. And of course, there’s no shortage of free-flowing food and beer to enjoy along the way.

Barbados Tourism Encyclopedia
Barbados Tourism Encyclopedia
Barbados Tourism Encyclopedia

Feast at the fish fry and on rich Bajan cuisine

Barbados might be best known for its world-class rum scene, but this tranquil island is no slouch when it comes to dining, either. Just one night at Oistins Fish Fry is all it takes to become a believer. Kicking off each Friday on the island’s southern shore, this vibrant event draws locals and tourists alike to dine on macaroni pie, roasted breadfruit, and flying fish, all to the tune of live music. As the Banks beer flows and the party grows more cacophonous, be sure to take a break from the action and peruse some of the local roadside stalls, many equipped with dazzling handmade jewelry and souvenirs.

While the Oistins Fish Fry is a top-notch destination for experiencing Bajan cuisine firsthand, it’s far from the only venue worth visiting across the island. Just south of Bridgetown, Cocktail Kitchen crafts up inspired takes on classic Caribbean cuisine, ranging from flying fish tacos to roast breadfruit and lobster. Calma Beach Club is another top destination for a round of fried chicken tacos and rum punches bathed in the golden glow of sunset. And when it comes to fine dining on the Barbados shore, there’s no beating The Tides, a polished venue located on the western edge of Holetown. Adorned with dazzling art installations and open-air seafront seating, this upscale restaurant excels at the art of succulent seafood, with dishes like coconut-crusted shrimp, tuna tartare, and miso blackened salmon all gracing the menu.

Cobblers Cove Hotel
Cobblers Cove Hotel
Cobblers Cove Hotel

Unwind in the country’s most luxurious hotels

After a marathon day filled with rum tasting, you’ll certainly be in need of a little rest and relaxation-and fortunately, the Bajan coast is dotted with a wealth of spectacular hotels and resorts to enjoy.

The Crane Resort is a tranquil option that’s been established for more than a century, perched high on a cliff on the scenic coast of Saint Philip Parish. During daylight hours, guests are welcome to take full advantage of the property’s massive outdoor pools or take a dip at Crane Beach. And once dinner time rolls around, L’Azure Restaurant is a must-visit, providing diners with a wealth of hearty Caribbean dishes like oven-roasted barracuda and seafood bouillabaisse. For those seeking a truly intimate experience, The Crane also offers a set of nearby Beach Houses, each one equipped with a full kitchen and outdoor infinity pool with some of the most gorgeous views in all of the east coast.

For those who prefer to stick closer to Bridgetown, Cobblers Cove serves as a particularly idyllic getaway just 25 minutes north of the capital. Operating out of a 1940s-era mansion, this colorful estate is dedicated to supporting local businesses across the island, with furniture, art installations, and roughly 95% of all ingredients used on-property hailing from the surrounding area. The hotel also offers complimentary snorkels and boat trips for guests, as well as verdant gardens that spring to life each night with the unmistakable squeak of the Barbados whistling frog, a tiny amphibian that’s found all across the island.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTikTokTwitterFacebookPinterest, and YouTube.

Jared Ranahan is a freelance writer focusing on travel, wildlife, and food & beverage.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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