Photo by Bruce N. Meyer
The freshest, purest air on Planet Earth, some say, is inhaled on the east coast of the island of Barbados, the most eastern of the Lesser Antilles in the West Indies. The breeze here flows across more than 3,000 miles of open water from Cape Verde Africa, and its because of those winds that any undesirable elements are lost in the journey.
Barbados is a bit of an enigma of travel destinations. Most of us consider the little island when thinking of a Caribbean vacation, but technically Barbados is surrounded on all sides by the Atlantic.
The east coast of the island is rough and rugged, buffering the rest of the island and much of the Caribbean nation from Atlantic storms. The beaches on Barbados' west side are pristine and calm because of the gentle surf influenced by the Caribbean.
Barbados, or B'dos as the locals call it, was once a British colony. It's almost the same distance from Bridgetown Barbados to New York as it is to London, and it remains a popular destination for Brits on holiday. Traditional afternoon tea is as popular as rum punch and happy hour.
And if you think you're going to hear a lot of Bob Marley-style reggae or Caribbean calypso, forget that, and load your iPod instead with Rihanna. The multiple Grammy winner was born in Westbury, in the parish of St. Michael, and is the official spokesperson for Barbados tourism.
In addition to fresh air, high tea and good music, B'dos offers a lot of the typical beachy activities, like snorkeling, diving, and swimming with green sea turtles. There are ziplines and 4-wheeler rides and tours of sugar cane plantations. But a really fun thing is a visit to Harrison's Cave.
Caves are prevalent throughout the islands of the region, thanks to eons of the oceans water pounding on volcanic and other rock-like surfaces. Barbados gets a lot of rain, so it works its way into the earth through thousands of little openings that eventually become big caves. Harrison's Cave is the biggest and most accessible on B'dos and has been called one of the Seven Wonders of the Caribbean.
In another enigma, unlike many of the Caribbean islands, Barbados was not formed by a volcanic eruption, but by a really big earthquake and shifting of tectonic plates. You learn that and other cool things at the visitors' center before you take the ride down 150 feet underground.
Most people explore Harrison's Cave via the little tram ride, but Barbados is a bit of a bucket list destination for spelunkers for the once a week hands and knees tour where you have to get on your belly to see the highlights.
Thrill seekers of another form come to Barbados for the surfing, not something available in most Caribbean vacations. But on the east coast, where those waves come crashing in across the Atlantic Ocean, the surf is up all year long. There's a place called the Soup Bowl not far from the town of Bathsheba, known to the serious surfers for 15-foot swells and challenging breaks. A half dozen surf schools conduct a low-key business here, even for beginners.
If you plan on surfing for the first time, or spelunking, or any other adventurous activity while in Barbados, you might double check your travel insurance. Nothing kills a vacation buzz any faster than a trip to an international ER, with the bills to follow.
The west coast is considered by many the ideal vacation destination on the island. The surf is calmer here and, generally speaking, the beaches are pristine. But it's also more crowded and expensive here. Traffic on Highway 1 can, at times, be worse than any major city in the world.
That's a reason to get to your hotel and stay there. A good central choice is Mango Bay, located in Holetown and within walking distance of many good restaurants, shops, and several festivals held throughout the year. And, if you want to get out and explore the rest of the island without renting a private vehicle or incurring cab fares, the bus stop is just a few blocks from the front door.
On the south shore, families will enjoy Turtle Beach, so named for the green turtles that still come here to lay their eggs. The neighborhood around Turtle Beach is not as gregarious as Holetown, but it still offers gathering spots popular with the locals, and that's always a lot of fun.
But for something different, to get away from the crowds, spend a couple of night on the rugged east coast at the Atlantis Hotel on Tent Bay. This is a historic property dating to the 1880's with a fabulous restaurant known for its Bajan Sunday buffets.
People don't come to the east coast for long walks on the beach. Powerful waves pounding into rocky shorelines are best observed from the veranda of your room at the Atlantis. Watch the surfers wrangle the waves and breathe deep of the fresh air.
No matter what you decide to do one thing is certain, no one leaves Barbados without feeling a little more relaxed and much happier than when they arrived.
Have you visited Barbados? What was your favorite thing to do or see?
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A Midwest farm girl at heart, Diana Lambdin Meyer caught the roaming bug early in life. Diana married well - to a photographer who also has the travel bug and whose work in still and video complements her words. Now based in the Kansas City area, Diana is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers who makes a full-time living on the road and at the keyboard. Read about Diana's adventures on her blog, Mojotraveler or follow her on Twitter or Google Plus.
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