Do you know what my secret is to designing a culture-packed Caribbean trip? I plan it around a major annual festival. Whether it’s a music, food, sports or heritage-focused event, you’re guaranteed to get the most immersive and colorful experience.
Barbados Food and Rum Festival is a perfect example of this: four days showcasing the best of Bajan cuisine, craft cocktails — hello, birthplace of rum! — beaches and music, while mingling with the island’s award-winning chefs and mixologists.
Within twenty-four hours after I returned home from last year’s edition, I felt so energized I put together this recap video. Not only did we enjoy endless tastings of creative dishes and cocktails — all the events were brilliantly executed — but we also squeezed in countryside drives, visits to organic farms and beaches, and dining around the island’s best restaurants.
This year, Barbados Food and Rum Festival will take place from October 24 to 27. And it’s the festival’s 10th anniversary.
In one word: GO. Visiting Barbados during “Food and Rum” is fantastic bang for your travel buck and it’s also a great to support the island’s gastronomy talents. It’s never too early to plan. Book your rooms (bonus: October is still low season) and take note of these 11 tips to maximize your fun during Barbados Food and Rum Festival.
1. Stay on the west coast
You’ll need solid relaxation and splendid beaches at your reach in between all the festival and sightseeing fun. That’s why it’s a great idea to stay on the west coast, where you can easily explore the shoreline — on foot, by bus (USS$1 one-way) or rental car. Better yet, hop on a free boat shuttle for guests when you stay at one of Elegant Hotels‘ properties (my favorites: Waves Hotel & Spa, Colony Club and Treasure Beach) conveniently stretching along white sand beaches, from Weston to Mullin’s, Speightstown and Payne’s Bay. Pretty sweet. And that west coast sunset? You can’t beat it.
2. Explore the wild Bajan countryside
St. Lucy’s countryside scenery is the perfect way to tap into the island’s true pace and charm after you arrive in Barbados. The majority of visitors get a glimpse of St. Lucy, Barbados’ northernmost parish, when visiting the popular Animal Flower Cave. But few spend more time beyond that point.
Rent a car and go for a slow, scenic ride. Wind along lush, green fields — occasionally dotted with remnants of the colonial past, sugar mills towering over the land — and enjoy views of a rugged, Atlantic coast and cliffs while the ocean roars from a distance. You’ll spot horses and goats; make sure you watch for ducks crossing the road.
3. Feast on lionfish with ocean views at Catch 22
While you’re in St. Lucy, stop in for a cocktail and fresh lionfish for lunch at Catch 22 restaurant, boasting spectacular clifftop views of the Atlantic.
If the weather’s good (sadly it was pouring when I visited), ask the staff about the hiking trail that will take you closer to the ocean for some spectacular scenery and photos. If you’re completely in love with the place, you can stay overnight in the attached Sunset Point Resort rooms and practice laps in the Olympian-sized swimming pool to that fresh ocean breeze. Cool fact: owner Terrence Haynes is a two-time Olympic swimmer — he represented Barbados at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics.
4. “Wine yuh back” to tuk bands at Night Out in Oistin’s
The official opening of Barbados Food and Rum takes place at Oistin’s on Thursday night — one day prior the usual Friday weekly fish fry event. Come early to beat the crowds at Pat’s and avoid a long wait for your food.
The best reason to go to Oistin’s that night (aside from the seafood and that delicious macaroni pie)? The tuk band and carnival dancers who kick off the event, getting everyone pumped for the fun weekend ahead. Get in there and show off your “wine.”
5. Visit Peg Farm and Nature Reserve
Go on a walking eco-tour the next day to burn the calories, at one of Barbados’ new organic farms: Peg Farm and Nature Reserve, tucked above the east coast.
The 100-acre Peg Farm is an example of the growing movement across the island to grow and source food organically. After years of sugar cane planting by the British, Barbados was left with poor soil, no farms and even fewer forests. The island imports 70 percent of its food as a result. But newly established farms over the past couple of years are attempting to reverse course and raise awareness among locals to eat healthier.
Peg Farm has been regenerating the soil on their land using biodynamics principles, free-range animal husbandry and permaculture. They’ve created a space where locals can come and learn, connect with nature, and embrace their role in food security.
You’ll get a guided tour of the medicinal plant garden, with native and foreign plants, and visit the farm’s various free range animals. Meet the chickens (they are a hoot), piglets and cows. Don’t miss the stunning lookout from Hackleton’s Cliff over the east coast.
After the hike, grab a farm to table lunch at the on site, outdoor terrace cafe. (If you’re a real trooper, you can sign up for the sunrise and breakfast experience).
6. Eat, sip and repeat all night at Taste of the Exotic
If you can only make it to one night out for Barbados Food and Rum Festival, choose this one! Taste of the Exotic, held on Friday night, is an all-you-can-eat extravaganza, featuring table after table of Chef-created hors d’oeuvres, washed down with as many mixologist-made cocktails as you’d like. Throw in a live band playing the best of soca hits and it’s the dream night out.
I can’t remember how many cocktails or dishes I sampled, as I wound my way around the fabulous tent set up at Limegrove Lifestyle Centre. Everywhere I stopped, signs encouraged me to Eat, Sip, Enjoy, Repeat! And at every stand, I was impressed with the creativity of Bajan chefs, the equally talented, award-winning bartenders and rum masters and the warmth and hospitality I felt from everyone. All of these factors made it my favorite Caribbean food and rum event experience in the region.
The chefs were an inspiration to watch interacting with their crowd. As busy as they were, their passion was palpable and infectious. And the drinks, oh my. I still remember mixologist and rum master Shane McLean’s Sipping Sorrel Sour — made with salted sorrel syrup, Doorly’s 3-year, lime juice and scotch bonnet liqueur. Woo! That was a serious after-kick on the tip of my tongue.
We shook it all off to a live soca band. Four hours later, my feet were killing me and I reluctantly left at midnight, missing the main act. If you only take away one thing, it’s this: wear comfortable shoes.
7. Yoga to the sound of crashing surf
All that food and alcohol needs to shift to some place other than your thighs. The perfect solution: burn some calories the next morning to the sound of the south coast’s crashing surf. Tiffany Skinner is originally from Oregon and moved to Barbados with her family, launching Flow Yoga Barbados. She offers classes once a week at this very spot — Ocean Spray Apartments — check ahead for exact schedules.
Fuel up afterwards on site at Mamu’s Cafe, for some delicious forest farm to seaside table breakfast: chickpeas, orange beet, banana oats pancakes (including gluten free ones), and fresh fruits. The ingredients are sourced from the owner’s farm, Coco Hill Forest, which you can also arrange to hike.
Not into yoga? Try biking along the surf coast instead.
8. Head east for brunch in Bathsheba
Ask Bajans which is the most beautiful side of Babardos and among those answers you’ll definitely hear: Bathsheba. It’s hard to disagree: that entire eastern coastline is a show-stopping scene of massive cliffs, boulders strewn on wild beaches, and surf waves crashing and spraying you with that fresh Caribbean air. To boot, there are a handful of charming brunch spots with outdoor terraces facing Bathsheba’s coastline.
My personal favorite pitstop is Roundhouse. You can take the steps down to the beach below before your meal and dip in the shallow “Bathsheba pools” before the high tide kicks in in the afternoon.
9. Go restaurant hopping: Gourmet-Safari Dinner Series
On Saturday night, the Barbados Food and Rum Festival hosts a Gourmet-Safari Dinner Series. This means various participating restaurants around the island are offering a set, multiple course menu designed and made by their chefs. Each course is paired with a cocktail. There are as many establishments to choose from as there are amazing Bajan chefs — which is to say, a lot.
I highly recommend you pick Chef Damian Leach’s Cocktail Kitchen, located in St Lawrence Gap. Sit on the top outdoor deck and enjoy one more night of food tasting with your group. Hit the St. Lawrence Gap bar strip afterwards if you’re up for more drinks and partying.
For a full list of participating restaurants, go to www.foodandrum.com
10. Beach lime on Sunday
I know I don’t have to say it. Get your Sunday beach lime on. You could park yourself at Carlisle Bay, after exploring Bridgetown and its UNESCO World Heritage sights. Snorkel and lunch on fish cutter sandwiches from Cuz’s.
If you’re restless like me, however, you could spend Sunday beach hopping and exploring the island’s varied coastline. Settle in at off-the-beaten track Bottom Bay Beach with a picnic and marvel at the scenery, under the gaze of monkeys. Don’t let the occasional wave of sargassum keep you away from this beauty.
11. Taste the spirits of polo
A couple of Bajans I asked told me they don’t care much for polo, which made me laugh because it goes to show that there isn’t just a single “local” view when you travel. But polo is clearly part of the Bajan elite scene. After attending a few games last year during my two visits to Barbados, I have to admit that it’s a mesmerizing, skill-packed sport to watch.
And when you throw in fine cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, including desserts? It makes it one of the not-to-be-missed events of the Barbados Food and Rum Festival: Taste the Spirits of Polo on Sunday. It’s also the perfect way to wrap up your Barbados Food and Rum weekend — rubbing elbows with polo players and chefs.
For complete, up-to-date information on this year’s Barbados Food and Rum Festival (October 24-27, 2019) and to purchase tickets, please visit the festival’s page or stay tuned to Visit Barbados on social media. For more of my recommended activities around the island, check out this article.
My trip to Barbados during Barbados Food and Rum was a prize from the Barbados Tourism Authority for being a 2018 Barbados Media Awards recipient (Best Photo in conjunction with a feature article and Best Story by a Blogger. I also received the Standing O – Best of Best Award).
Have you been to Barbados Food and Rum? Or planned a Caribbean trip around a food festival? Share with a comment!