Barbados is famous for its turquoise waters and glistening stretches of soft sand beaches. It’s also known for its efforts to protect sea turtles and promote responsible tourism. Whether you’re lucky enough to swim with the turtles or witness the magic of hatchlings making their way to the ocean, it’s an experience that will stay with any visitor for a lifetime.
Barbados is an independent British Commonwealth nation. Even though English is extensively used, the locals use Bajan Creole in informal contexts. It’s comfortable weather; sunshine, year-round warm temperatures, and breezy northeast trade winds. The high season runs from November until April.
Bridgetown, the UNESCO capital, is a bustling city with world-class shopping ranging from designer jewellery and fine watches to local art and Barbadian souvenirs. Along the boardwalk, rum shacks and bars are buzzing with conversation from tourists and local fishermen.
“Where’s the best place to snorkel with turtles?” I inquired as I sipped a rum punch at one of the beachfront rum bars. “Go to Carlisle Bay,” said one off-duty fisherman. “It’s a marine preserve. There are six shallow wrecks, a thriving marine life habitat, and an abundance of green sea turtles.”
Sea turtles can be seen all year round along Barbados’ beautiful coasts. It has the Caribbean’s second-largest hawksbill turtle population, with up to 500 females nesting each year. From mid-May to mid-October, you can see green and hawksbill turtles in the wild. From February to July, the leatherback turtle, the largest of all turtle species, can be found nesting on Barbados’ beaches. They can weigh up to 2,000 pounds and grow over six feet long.
I entered Carlisle Bay’s warm waters while wearing my snorkelling equipment and made my way over a shipwreck. The ocean floor is clearly visible. Diverse tropical species, including grouper, parrotfish, angelfish, and snappers, darted in and out of the wreck. A stingray stealthily lay on the ocean floor.
I scanned the sea bed and surrounding water for turtles, floating and bobbing rhythmically above the gentle surf. I was careful not to splash with my flippers or make sudden movements that would scare them away.
They’d dive to the ocean floor and eat sea grass. Then they return to the surface to lift their plumb-sized head above the water and breathe. I remembered what the local man from the rum bar told me. “Treat the marine environment and sea turtles with great respect, and don’t touch them,” he said. Keeping my distance, I let the turtles decide if they wanted to swim closer to me.
Where to see turtles
Many locals who live and work near the beach monitor nesting and hatching activity through The Barbados Sea Turtle Project. Almost all sea turtle species are listed as endangered. This organisation has significantly contributed to their protection by rehabilitating injured or displaced turtles, monitoring turtle health and ecosystems, and providing educational outreach.
During nesting seasons, the organisation employs patrol groups and maintains a 24-hour hotline where the public can report turtle emergencies. They accept local and international volunteers between May and November each year to assist with turtle rescues and data collection.
During a patrol on Drill Hall beach, I had the honour of experiencing the heartwarming sight of tiny baby turtle hatchlings poking their heads out from below the sand. They lumbered across obstacles on the beach, beckoned by the natural light from the horizon over the ocean. I was not allowed to assist them in any way, not even as an observer.
There are many places to spot sea turtles around the coast of Barbados. Aside from Carlisle Bay, the calm waters of Worthing Beach are where families and inexperienced swimmers can snorkel over one of the best coral reefs on the island in anticipation of seeing turtles.
Another popular option is to book a catamaran snorkelling cruise. These tours will provide visitors with snorkelling equipment and stop at one or two locations for opportunities to swim with turtles.
Beaches & Water Sports
Barbados has over 80 pristine white-sand beaches, yet garbage can pose an imminent threat to turtles. A floating plastic bag looks like a jellyfish to a turtle, but it can cause a blockage in the turtle’s oesophagus or intestine. It’s not unusual to see volunteers picking up garbage from along the shores, another effort to protect the island’s turtle population.
Snorkelling, turtle watching, and soaking up rays on the white-sand beaches aren’t the only things to do on the island. Barbados’ unique Caribbean location provides consistent trade winds and various ocean conditions for different water sports. That is why it is ranked as one of the top three Caribbean islands for surfing, SUP, and windsurfing.
Oistins Fish Fry is a veritable rite of passage for visitors and a go-to place for locals. The main draw is the food: fresh local fish, grilled or fried, depending on the vendor. Tuna, swordfish, marlin, mahi-mahi, flying fish, and lobster are all cooked to order and to perfection. Here, local rum and reggae music flow freely. The sale of handcrafted jewellery, colourful pottery, wood carvings, and paintings benefits local artisans.
Harrison’s Cave, one of the world’s most revered caves, contains a crystallised limestone cave system that can be explored by electric tram. Dramatic stalagmites, stalactites, and a thunderous 40-foot waterfall cascade into a stunning blue-green lake inside.
Barbados is known as the birthplace of Caribbean rum. Mount Gay is one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious rum distilleries. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention its importance in Barbados’s heritage. Sugar cane cultivation, the sugar trade, and the refined product, rum, all have deep roots in the island’s history.
A rum tasting and tours of the working estate are available to visitors, who can also learn about the history of the island and the rum-refining process.
Barbados has a rich history and culture, as well as a plethora of fantastic opportunities to explore its natural beauty both above and below water. This island’s warm and genuine people genuinely care about their turtle friends and are passionate about protecting the sea turtle population and fostering responsible and sustainable tourism.
I’ll never forget the joy of watching baby turtles take their first swim and snorkelling with turtles in their natural habitat – and learning about the conservation efforts to protect them.
In short, if you want to know more about author’s trips, click on Boulevards and Byways.
However, if you want to know more about the culture of any country, look at our Blog.