After spending three days in Panama, I learned about the architecture, cuisine, fashion, history, sights and now truly appreciate the culture.
One of my favourite places to visit is Barbados. Definitely in my top five countries. The independent nation is very warm and welcoming leaving one intrigued by Bajan customs. Saying good morning and helping you out is customary.
Upon arriving, Grantley Adams International Airport is open-air and breezy hub. As you exit immigration, it’s best to hire a car from Drive-A-Matic because they have the best rates and customer service. Continuing onto the island, the motorway takes you on an adventure. Through straight roads surrounded by sugar cane fields and roundabouts, you can experience everything.
Barbados is comprised of eleven parishes. Starting with Christ Church, the best place to stay is in Saint Lawrence Gap either at Infinity On The Beach or Bougainvillea Hotel for recreation with a mix of locals and tourists. I highly recommend The Cove for dancing and nightlife. Also, Graeme Hall Sanctuary is nearby off of Highway 7 for exploring a bit of swamp nature during the day. Then the town, Oistins is always bustling with fresh fish coming in from boats and ‘Fish Fry’ parties on a Friday night. Heading north, Saint Philip will take you to Culpepper Island, an uninhabited rocky area with stunning views of the coastline. Above, there is Saint John which holds a beautiful and historical Parish Church. Towards the left is one of the two landlocked parishes, Saint George where the prominent landmark, Gun Hill Signal Station has been located since 1818.
Following that, Saint Michael is home to the nation’s capital, Bridgetown where you can view a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Close by is Carlisle Bay, one of the most beautiful beaches on the island. For more excitement, examine the architecture of the Parliament Buildings, explore artisan shops, catch a cricket game at Kensington Oval, take a snapchat of Lord Nelson statue, see moments honoured at the National Stadium and just in case there’s an emergency, Queen Elizabeth Hospital known as QEH is in this parish.
Additionally, this past weekend I attended the Festival of Speed, class entertainment at Bushy Park where three time British Formula One driver, Lewis Hamilton entertained a massive crowd with his inspiration and daring attitude to be the greatest. Passing by Saint Thomas, one must visit Harrison’s Cave for natural subterranean geology education on the crystallized limestone that helped to build a lot of the island. This tour reminded me of a fifth grade class learning about stalactites and stalagmites. On the eastern side of the island, Saint Joseph is there with gorgeous landscapes at Andromeda Gardens and a fun fishing village, Bathsheba which highlights a massive picturesque rock. Up to Saint Andrew, you can stand at the highest point on the island at Mount Hillaby. It’s like being on top of the world.
Anywhere you go, a lovely lunch can be found in Saint James. Holetown, the main attraction has cute colourful chattel houses for your perfect Instagram photo and quick, boutique and romantic restaurants including Chefette (fast food), Just Grillin’ (budget), Lone Star (moderate), Daphne’s (moderate) The Tides (fine dining), The Mews (fine dining) and The Cliff (fine dining). Personally, I have been to all of these places and they each offer something special depending on your mood. Looking for something more, head down to Mullins Bay Beach Bar & Grill (moderate) right on Mullins Beach (favourite beach!!). That’s where I relax most of the time. Further down in Sherman’s, Saint Peter is my favourite restaurant on the island, The Fish Pot (fine dining).
Bajan food is flavourful including coucou (cornmeal based dish similar to mashed potatoes), roti (flat bread made from wholemeal usually filled with vegetables, poultry and/or meat), flying fish (the best fish ever!) and other types of fresh fish such as barracuda, tuna, dophin, shark, king fish, marlin and more usually accompanied by salad, rice & peas or macaroni pie. For drinks, most people sip tropical spirit infused cocktails, Mount Gay rum or the national beer, Banks. And if it’s super hot, many people cool down with a sno-cone (shaved ice and sweet flavoured syrup) or a tall ice cold glass of Mauby.
Along the Platinum Coast of Saint Peter, Port St. Charles and Port Ferdinand are great spots for viewing the oceanside. Making it to the top of the island, Saint Lucy is the only female named parish and birthplace of the first Prime Minister of Barbados, Errol Barrow.Well historic, no wonder this parish is on top. As you enjoy island life, you are bound to hear sounds of soca such as Alison Hinds, Contone, Kimberley Inniss, Peter Ram, Rupee (love him!) and then calypso from Mighty Gabby, Grynner, The Merrymen and Red Plastic Bag. The music is everything and makes my holiday better each time. The next best time to visit will be around 30 November 2016 when the nation will celebrate its 50th Independence Day. Visit beautiful Barbados!
Known for white sandy beaches, cohibas and rum, Cuba has a variety of historical culture to offer surrounding the beautifully preserved Spanish colonial architecture.
Crocodile shaped since Christopher Columbus landed in 1942, this warm and welcoming country has changed over time. From Fulgencio Batista‘s dictatorship to Marxist revolutionary, Che Guevara overthrowing the government, fearless Fidel Castro led the nation to a prominent place. Now President, Raúl Castro is maintaining the Communist rule of the sovereign state with style. Hopefully, the country will keep its creative charm while the infrastructure is transitioning its marketplace from foreign investment interests. You notice the little things here.
Leaving Jose Martí International Airport, where will you stay? Well “hello Havana” or should we say, “Hola”. For accommodation, Hotel Florida is a cosy colonial casa featuring a cute courtyard with authentic Cuban cuisine in Old Havana. Hotel Saratoga which I know from my first visit is a great location for exploring on foot and by eye at their rooftop bar that has numerous cocktails and excellent service.
Then Hotel Nacional de Cuba, where I previously stayed on my second visit is a lovely luxury gem over 90 years old in the middle of Vedado. Amazing art deco, beautiful blue skies, exclusive eats, seaside views, a gorgeous garden, a cool cabaret room and celebrities strutting through the lobby are what got me. This is the place to be! Taking a walk along the magical Malecón, you’ll find the Museo de la Revolución, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana and Museo Nacional de Historia de Cuba where one can learn about the art, culture and history of Cuba.
When looking for a casual lunch, support the locals by going to a paladar (family-run restaurant). La Galería (moderate) has amazing fresh fish or Atelier (splurge) offers Cuban continental cuisine, both in Vedado. For the art lovers, you will admire every inch of this island. From the classic vintage cars to locals painting portraits on the cobblestone streets, there is something for everyone. Business is also flourishing more now and I’m rooting for Cuban entrepreneurs. Fashionistas are even in town for Chanel‘s Cruise 2017 collection runway. Follow on Instagram for updates. Who knows you may even brush shoulders with the master of fashion, Karl Lagerfeld or Brasilian supermodel Gisele Bündchen, rumoured to be walking the show by the Paseo del Prado promenade claims Harper’s Bazaar.
Two blocks away, El Capitolio designed by Eugenio Rayneri Piedra stands grandiose with neoclassical architecture. Often a friendly guy, Miguel is hanging out on the steps who will take your photo with an old fashioned camera which I loved since photography is one of my passions. Say queso and smile as you’re taken back to the 1950s. Local music can be found in numerous neighbourhoods. Soon enough, the Latina in you will come out as you hear different beats and sounds around the city. Prepare your Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC, local currency) for drinks at El Floridita to delve into the era of Ernest Hemingway and sip the best daiquiri in the world.
Dinner at the popular eatery, El Aljibe is the best. It’s the pollo (chicken)! Also the open concept and again this is a family run restaurant. I love it. And of course, you get a special treat at the end of your meal. Can you say Cuba Libre y cigarro? I think yes! Dance the night away at Café Cantante Mi Habana with a range of artists representing real rumba, heavy hip-hop, rock and sassy salsa in a mixed crowd of locals and tourists aged early 20s to late 40s. For that midnight bite, stop by Cafe de los Artistas. Lastly, I would be recommend venturing to Varadero in the northeast Matanzas Province, Trinidad in the midwest Sancti Spíritus Province and the second largest city in the southeast, Santiago de Cuba to enjoy the ocean coastline.
Today marked an emotional moment as well. According to Reuters, it was the first time in decades that a U.S. cruise ship entered the Havana Bay area. Get ready to travel. Check flights and peruse hotels. Dare to discover colourful Cuba.
About four years ago, I visited Havana feeling transformed and englightened as an individual. Today, I decided to relive that experience and visit an authentic Cuban restaurant to travel in time.
Agozar was the first stop. Located in the East Village, this Cuban bistro has strong mojitos and jazzy mixes of charanga, guajira, mambo, pachanga and rumba tunes. You feel alive from the colorful and historical decor of heritage. There’s a sense of pride and community welcoming you in.
After sometime, I took a walk over to Alphabet City. And almost missing the entrance, I eventually found Cienfuegos. This nuevo Latino style restaurant was perfect for rum and tapas. The variety of rum stocked was impressive with multiple Caribbean and Latin nations presented: Barbados, Cuba, Jamaica, Nicaragua and Puerto Rico to name a few. For food, empandas carne, yuca fritas and croquetas de jamon filled me well (shown below).
The beach inspired walls reminded me of my walk along El Malecon (seafront pier), waves crashing against the rocks, children hanging on the edge and the soul of Havana. Definitely worth a visit or fly there – flights.
When celebrating Barbados Independence Day 🙂