Barbados is an enigma. Located 60 miles east of St. Vincent and 500 miles north of Venezuela, the closest mainland country, Barbados is the poster child for post-colonial success and one of the most densely populated nations on Earth. Most of the 280,000 locals live in Bridgetown, a bustling seaside metropolis full of hip restaurants and thumping dance halls. The temptation to hang out and enjoy the perpetual revelry is hard to resist, but smart travelers pull themselves away and head to the west coast, where placid waters tickle white sand beaches and the über-exclusive Sandy Lane Resort offers a Caribbean escape from the Caribbean itself.
Sandy Lane's private villas come with full-time butlers, maids, and chefs and look out over a beach decorated with tan European women and barefoot men wearing suits. Tiger Woods is a fixture at the 18-hole Tom Fazio-designed golf course and the best snorkeling on the island is not far offshore. Also nearby are small neighborhoods full of local "rum shops," where plastic chairs surround crates and dreadlocked men and women dance to the fuzzy reggae. Steer clear of the punch and squeeze a bit of lemon juice into your locally distilled rum, and you'll be in a good mood in no time. The island's west coast always has its buzz on and is more fun for it.
The east side of the island is a bit more rural. One-lane roads rise and fall, bending their way around the rugged coastline. The little town of Bathsheba lies a few miles past the point where travelers start to suspect they've gotten lost. The antithesis of Sandy Lane, this beach town is all beach shacks and rocky jungle. But it also hides a major attraction: Soup Bowl, Barbados's most famous break and one of Kelly Slater's favorite waves in the world, is not far from the beach. The waves, visible from low-key guesthouses like the Sea-U, roll toward the headlands.
The ideal trip to Barbados includes a bit of west coast indulgence and a bit of east coast adventure. Because of the lonely island's size, travelers can play golf in the morning, explore rain forests in the afternoon, and still have time to catch a few evening waves – if they haven't started hitting the rum.
More information: JetBlue flies direct to Barbados from New York. The flight is a quick four-and-a-half-hour hop.