20 November 2023

Moving to Barbados - Embracing The Caribbean Rhythm (As An Expat)

Stepping onto the shores of Barbados as an expat offers more than just a change in scenery; it's an invitation to immerse yourself and your family into a lively tapestry of cultures.

Nestled amidst the shimmering waters of the Caribbean, Barbados beckons with a promise of slow island living. The result of a harmonious blend of African, British and indigenous legacies, the island pulses with a rich cultural rhythm and a distinct identity which you won’t find anywhere else. It’s an easy choice for expats to choose to move to, as there are many reasons to move to Barbados. And thanks to the "12-Month Barbados Welcome Stamp" unveiled in 2020, it’s now more accessible than ever. 


The vibrant melting pot of cuisines, lifestyles, cultures and languages, and the warmth with which Bajan residents greet you on the street, creates an island where you and your family will instantly feel an undeniable sense of belonging. The island is a symphony of flavours, energy and rhythms and it’s this mixture that has created a community with an unyielding spirit.


And in Barbados, ‘slow living’ extends past simply a vacation, it’s a way of life. Step away from the fast-paced hustle and bustle of the metropolis and embrace island living, where the fastest step you’ll take is dancing to the lively beats of calypso beneath a starlit sky. Here’s a glimpse into the daily life, culture and experiences you can expect when you own a villa in Barbados.  



Caribbean Charm: The Perfect Playground For Families

The stability that Barbados offers makes it the ideal choice to settle with your family. 


Renowned for its top-tier education system, this island nation shines as a model of stable democracy, further underscored by its remarkably low crime rate. The resonance of English as the official language facilitates a smooth transition for English-speaking expatriates, and the efficient transport system offers ease of travel up and down the island. 


For families looking to lay down roots, areas like Holetown, Speightstown, and Oistins beckon. These locales are more than just scenic—they're hubs of vibrant life, offering excellent schools, a plethora of weekend activities, varied clubs, and engaging sports opportunities. Cricket, the nation's beloved sport, offers children a perfect playground to not only hone their skills but also foster lasting friendships. 


We pride ourselves on being a family sanctuary at Apes Hill. Beyond the breathtaking vistas, Apes Hill is a trove of family-oriented activities, ensuring that every member, young or old, finds their niche.

A man looks at a small azure house with a white picket fence as he cycles past.

Colourful houses line the streets of Barbados

Family, Fun and Festivities: Christmas in Barbados

No one does Christmas quite like the Caribbean islands. Whilst Bajans warmly embrace Christmas traditions you are probably more familiar with—be it the solemnity of Christmas Eve mass, the joyous carolling echoing through the streets, or the conviviality of Christmas dinners—they also infuse the season with a uniquely Bajan essence. Upon moving to Barbados, prepare to be immersed in an entirely new set of festive celebrations unique to the island and found nowhere else. 



Christmas in Barbados at Queen's Park

This is nowhere more evident than in the annual Christmas in Queen's Park tradition. On this day, Bajans, draped in their most exquisite attire, flock to Queen's Park in the heart of Bridgetown. The atmosphere brims with melodies, especially with carolers taking centre stage. Often these groups are accompanied by Tuk bands, lending a distinctly Bajan cadence to the festivities. Meanwhile, the Garrison Savannah, a venue usually reserved for the 'Sport of Kings', transforms with a festive spirit, hosting special race days that attract both locals and visitors. 



Christmas food in Bajan culture

But what's a celebration without food? Bajan Christmas tables groan under the weight of delectable dishes. Baked ham takes pride of place, flanked by jug-jug—a delightful concoction of pigeon peas, salted beef, and Guinea corn flour—and the indulgent rich cake, laden with fruits, spices, and a generous splash of rum. 

Christmas is a time to come together as a family. And in Barbados, it is more than a holiday; it's an experience. Read here about how we celebrate Christmas at Apes Hill.



Tingling Tastebuds: Food Culture in Barbados

The Caribbean food culture is a vibrant tapestry of flavours, rooted in a rich history of trade and the fusion of an array of ethnicities. It’s at the very heart of Bajan identity, and one of the best ways and there’s no other culture that can claim to have developed throughout history, and one of the best ways in which to immerse yourself into the islands’ communities, tantalising the palate and nourishing the soul.



Traditional food from the Caribbean

It goes without saying that the first way to absorb yourself into the Caribbean food culture is through trying and using local ingredients. Instead of sticking to familiar produce, venture out. Try breadfruit, ackee, callaloo, or soursop. Each ingredient offers a new flavour profile and broadens your culinary repertoire. 


There are an array of local dishes to be introduced to, too:

  • Here in Barbados, 'cou cou and flying fish' stands as the national dish, a pairing of cornmeal and okra with the delicately flavoured flying fish. 
  • Another Bajan delicacy is 'pudding and souse', a dish featuring pickled pork paired with sweet potato pudding, offering a delightful play of textures and flavours. 
  • 'Cutters', Bajan sandwiches filled with ham, fish, or cheese, are beloved quick bites that highlight the simplicity yet profound taste of Caribbean ingredients. 


And if you’re looking for drink choices, you’re in the best place in the world for rum. Also, have a taste of other local flavours such as drinks made with mauby, a syrup made from the bark of the mauby tree which is native to the Caribbean. Or if you fancy a pint, pick up a Carib or Red Stripe Beer.



Learn from the locals: Bajan food recipes

It’s hard to know where to start when you have such an array of new ingredients and flavours to choose from, but this just offers more opportunities to further immerse yourself into the Bajan communities. There are a multitude of local cooking classes, which provide hands-on experience, guided by locals who can share traditional methods and family recipes. Or, use platforms such as ‘EatWith’ and local community boards to find opportunities to share a meal with families. You can learn how to cook authentic meals, whilst also making friends in your new neighbourhood.



Barbados bazaars: exploring local markets and beach vendors

Local food markets and beach vendors form the vibrant pulse of everyday life. Wander through the stalls and you're greeted by the earthy scent of ground provisions, the alluring fragrance of tropical fruits, and the inviting aroma of freshly caught seafood. Along the sun-drenched shores, beach vendors offer a sensory delight – from succulent grilled fish to refreshing coconut water, served straight from the shell. These food stalls also offer a way in which to preserve and enrich African traditions in the Caribbean, such as smoking and grilling meats, for example. Together, these markets and vendors not only satiate the palate but also offer a profound glimpse into the Caribbean's authentic soul and culinary heritage.



Fish Fridays in the Caribbean: a weekly tradition

A quintessential aspect of Caribbean cuisine is the celebrated ‘Fish Fridays’ where locals and tourists alike gather for freshly caught seafood, often grilled or fried. 


What: Communities gather in places like Oistins Fish Fry in Barbados to eat good food and socialise. 

Why: The origins of eating fish on Fridays in the Caribbean come from the historical significance of the fishing industry in the coastal regions. Given the fresh catch available, it was only natural for local communities to turn Fridays into a day of celebrating their seafood bounty. 

Moreover, as fish was a staple in the local diet, designating a day for its consumption helped to boost local economies and sustained the livelihoods of fisherfolk. 

Now: These events transformed from mere market days to vibrant social events, with music, dance, and, of course, a vast array of seafood delicacies. Over time, Fish Fridays in Barbados and the rest of the Caribbean have come to symbolise a blend of religious observance, economic vitality, and cultural celebration, all centred around the rich bounty of the sea.

Brilliant Beats: Music in the Caribbean

The Caribbean’s music culture is a blend of African rhythms, European harmonies, and indigenous influences, and offers more than just a sonic journey; it is a deep dive into the soul of a region that has birthed globally-celebrated genres. Born from strong national identities that persisted throughout colonisation, the music of the Caribbean is central to the islands’ identities. From the narratives of Calypso to the pulsating fervour of Soca and the transcendent vibes of reggae, immersing yourself and your family into the music culture of the island is one of the core components of life in Barbados. 



Tuk Bands: the rhythmic heartbeat of Caribbean celebrations

Central to the festive spirit of the Caribbean, particularly in Barbados, Tuk Bands offer a lively fusion of African rhythms with British military band melodies. 


What: These bands, typically consisting of a bass drum, snare, and penny whistle, produce infectious rhythms that are impossible not to dance to.

Why: Historically, Tuk Bands were satirical responses to the rigid, formal European military bands during the colonial era, and so today they serve as a reminder of the strength of the Caribbean communities in upholding their individual identities.

Now: Today, they are prominently featured during festivals, holidays, and other public celebrations, embodying a significant cultural blend and a testament to the region's history of resistance and adaptation.



Jazz festivals in the Caribbean

Jazz, though originating in the United States, found a comfortable home in the Caribbean, melding with local genres and producing unique Caribbean jazz sounds. 


What: The various Jazz Festivals across the Caribbean are events that bring together international and local musicians to celebrate the rich tapestry of jazz in the backdrop of the island's pristine beauty. The Barbados Jazz Festival debuted in 1993, and today it also celebrates ​​golf in the Barbados Jazz Excursion & Golf Weekend. 

Why: Originating from the Southern US, Jazz found synergy with the Caribbean’s blend of Indigenous, African, European, and Asian influences, both of which grew in popularity as ways of expressing resistance against oppression.

Now: For the Caribbean, it’s not just about the music, but also about cultural exchange, community engagement, and showcasing a diverse range of talents. Celebrated with zeal, these festivals amplify the islands' reputation as hubs of music and festivity.



The Caribbean Landship tradition

The Landship tradition, particularly in Barbados, is a unique and theatrical representation of the island's naval and maritime heritage. 


What: It's a socio-cultural organisation that mirrors the structure and ranks of a naval ship, but on land. Members dress in naval uniforms and perform intricate, synchronised dance movements resembling the motions of a ship at sea. 

Why: Dating back to the 19th century, the Landship originated as a community support system and symbolic representation of the island’s history, collective identity, and connection to the sea, influenced by African naval traditions.

Now: They are performed at national celebrations, such as Barbados’ Independence Day on November 30th, during cultural festivals, community events and at funerals to symbolise the love for a community member. Today, witnessing a Landship performance is like watching a living piece of Caribbean history and tradition, essential to Bajan identity. You can find out when the next performance will be on local community calendars. 



Crop Over Summer in Barbados

A kaleidoscope of colours, rhythms, and flavours, celebrating the culmination of the sugarcane harvest season, the Crop Over Festival draws from the island’s rich historical tapestry.


What: Stretching from June through to the first Monday of August, this festivity paints the island in vibrant hues of music, dance, and an array of dazzling costumes. Throughout the festival, Bridgetown Market comes alive with local crafts and foods, while folk concerts, art displays, and numerous parties or "fetes" showcase the island's rich cultural tapestry.

Why: In the rhythmic heart of Barbados, the Crop Over Festival stands as a testament to the island's sugar industry history, echoing the enduring spirit of protest against injustice and a celebration of the ultimate liberation of an enslaved people. 

Now: Music is a highlight; the Pic-O-De-Crop competition has Calypsonians competing for the crown, and the Soca Royale is a contest for the best Soca performers. Stray from your usual morning routine, and join in the Foreday Morning Jam, where you can dance through the streets covered in mud and paint. Kadooment Day is the grand finale, where bands with elaborately costumed participants parade the streets, making it an unforgettable spectacle. 


It’s a jubilant blend of tradition and modern festivity, where your childlike delight can be rekindled amid the simple joys of music and laughter. 


It’s unmissable. 



Calypso and Soca music

Two music genres in the Caribbean, that not only provide lively beats to dance to during Bajan festivities, but are also crucial components of wider Caribbean identity, history, and the spirit of celebration. 


What: Calypso is the ‘vocal narrative’ of the Caribbean, combining African rhythms and European harmonies to comment on societal issues, tell stories, or share local gossip. On the other hand, Soca is the heartbeat of many Caribbean carnivals, driving dancers to the streets in joyful celebration.

Why: Originating in Trinidad and Tobago, Calypso began as a tool of both celebration and resistance, especially during colonial times. In the 1970s, Soca, or ‘Soul of Calypso’, emerged as an offshoot, thanks to musicians like Lord Shorty. Soca infused calypso with elements from Indian music and funk, creating a faster-paced, rhythm-centric sound that quickly gained popularity for its infectious beats and its ability to energise carnival revellers. 

Now: You can experience and enjoy them throughout the year, at the Crop Over Festival, Kadooment Day, during the National Independence Festival of Creative Arts and even in some nightclubs, such as Harbour Lights or The Boatyard.

Colours, music, energy and vibrancy at the Crop Over Festival

Embracing the vibrant culture of your new home as an expat couldn’t be easier than in the Caribbean. And at Apes Hill, we are committed to enhancing your family life and cultural experience. Read more about how we intertwine both our Apes Hill and local Bajan communities together here. To truly immerse yourself in the beauty, warmth, and unique traditions of Barbados and the Caribbean, reach out to us today and take the first step towards making Barbados your new home.


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