Barbados Crop Over 2020 review: the world’s best street party
I’m wearing a cut-up t-shirt and hot-pants, daubed from head-to-toe in neon paint and dance-marching down a street alongside over 20,000 other revellers.
I’m in Barbados for the island’s annual Crop Over summer festival, where dancing behind trucks blasting calypso music is on the agenda, and heading to get some kip definitely isn’t.
The music is beyond joyous and the energy electric. Hips and arms swing exuberantly as buckets of paint are dispersed among partygoers smearing paint-laden palms over a sea of rum-laden, laughing strangers. By the time we hit the beach, rinsing rainbows of paint from our bodies in the sea, the morning sun is rising.
Crop Over is a 300-year-old traditional celebration that comes at the end of each Bajan sugar cane season. For many, it is the most culturally significant festival of Barbados. It’s one of the oldest celebrations in the western hemisphere, beginning in 1687 on sugar cane plantations during slavery. The festival goes on for 12 weeks, from May through to August, but the best time to come is the last week of the festival.
Rihanna is the megastar ambassador of Crop Over and often comes back to her home country for the festival, dancing up a storm in jaw-dropping custom-made outfits, usually at the final parade.
The singer is one of the island’s proudest exports, and the Government of Barbados even named a street after her - Westbury New Road became Rihanna Drive. We see her at Kadooment Day (the festival finale), dancing with everyone from the Barbadian prime minister to regular partygoers in a stunning flamingo-pink feathered get-up.
For the entirety of the festival, the island is ablaze with high-octane parties and barely a patch of the country is left un-partied. It’s one of the oldest, longest and coolest festivals in the Caribbean and it’s impossible not to get amidst the welcoming Bajan culture. Soon I’m used to shaking my booty daily from dusk to dawn to the undulating rhythm of calypso music.
Here is The Week Portfolio’s guide to our favourite spots, parties and food joints.
Foreday Monday Jump Up
This is the all-night, paint-daubing march. It’s wild but the route is well lit, marked out with guide ropes, and safety and security are high on the agenda. To take part you have to join a band, which is easy enough. We “jumped” with the Jambalasse Foreday Morning Band, who provided us with T-shirts to customise, re-useable cups for the bars and plenty of paint which we used to draw elaborate patterns on our bodies. Wear comfy shoes, clothes you don’t mind ruining, and get ready for the night of your life.
There’s a lot of these on the island, and most go on all day and night. The price of your ticket includes all the food and drink you could need, and plenty more. If you’re in the mood for a morning jive, try the Mimosa Breakfast Fete, which gets going at around 4am and is in full swing by the time the sun rises.
For something slightly different and more relaxed, go to Island Mas. It’s an all-inclusive breakfast party held the day before Kadooment and continues through to lunch and beyond. It’s a true melding of Trinidadian and Bajan cultures - “a Trinbajan experience” - and comes with great food, music and of course, rum.
If you’re after an evening party with a more exclusive feel head to Bliss All Inclusive Fete and get dressed up. There’s no neon paint throwing here, everyone is dressed to impress, the stage is a huge professional setup and there are various VIP areas you can relax in after dancing for hours.
Kadooment Day Parade
This is the grand finale of Crop Over and a public holiday in Barbados. Kadooment translates as “a big occasion filled with fun & merriment”, and the streets of Bridgetown - alive with colour and chaos - certainly explain how it gets its name.
Kadooment a huge, day-long parade with over 15,000 revellers dressed in extravagant costumes. Think huge feathered headdresses, sequins, head-to-toe jewels, total body confidence and pure, infectious happiness.
The parade begins at the National Stadium and continues to the Mighty Grynner Highway, with trucks and moving bars blasting pulsating music down the streets. It’s a grand, explosive end to the best festival I’ve ever been to.
Food and culture
Crop Over is a magnificent party but you’ll need some down-time during the festival.
There are no private beaches in Barbados, so lay your towel on any picture-perfect patch of white sand you fancy, close your eyes and relax. There’s plenty of quiet, undeveloped spots to relax, or you can head to one of the swankier beaches lined with bars and restaurants.
Bridgetown Market is the biggest of the street fairs and markets. It’s free to enter and has local food, art and craft, jewellery, entertainment and more. It’s situated next to the exquisite Brandon’s beach – an idyllic long stretch of talcum-white sand with calm azure waters ideal for swimming. There are on-duty lifeguards, changing facilities, toilets, showers etc. here so it’s also a good spot for families.
If you’re up for adventure there’s a host of water sports on offer including kayaking, water-skiing, windsurfing and jet skiing. It’s also a short stroll away from the Mount Gay Rum visitor centre.
Less than a mile away from Brandon’s is Bell Buoy reef – one of the best places on the island for snorkelling. It’s shallow, meaning sunlight pours down into the reef, revealing a multitude of colourful fish, and it’s also good for beginners. The dome-shaped reef is home to a unique eco-system of brown coral forests and schools of tropical fish.
If you want to learn more about the history of the island, a great place to visit is Saint Nicholas Abbey. It’s one of only three genuine Jacobean mansions in the Western Hemisphere. Located in Speightstown, Saint Peter, it’s a plantation house, museum and rum distillery. Admission includes entrance to St. Nicholas Abbey, with an hourly tour of the great house, syrup factory and bottling plant.
On your way back, stop off at PRC bakery on Sand Street in Speightstown. Behind a pair of unassuming wooden doors, adjacent to tangerine walls, lies the best bakery in Barbados and the queue for Bajan pastries winds down the road each morning.
Food is in abundance here and there’s a fantastic range of street-side snacks and top-class restaurants. Visitors should try the fish cutters, rice and peas plus the legendary mac-pie. Barbados street food is a huge part of the culture, history, heart and soul of the island. Flying fish with coucou and the Trini doubles (chickpea filled roti wraps) are also a must-try.
We also enjoyed lunched at The Crane, Barbados’ first resort - founded in 1887 - where old-world charm meets the 21st century. There are three restaurants on-site, but the best is L’Azure, with panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean and a great selection of Caribbean delicacies.
Champers is another good dining choice, using only local ingredients and serving international food and bold, delicious Caribbean delicacies.
Where to stay
We stayed at the brand new Worthing Beach hotel, The Sands. It sits on a prime patch on Worthing Beach and the staff go above and beyond - you’ll be welcomed with open arms as soon as you arrive.
The Sands is a contemporary-style all-inclusive hotel located in the property formerly known as Sandy Beach Hotel. The studios and the one, two and three-bedroom suites, along with two-bedroom Oceanfront penthouse suites are all tastefully furnished. The all-inclusive package offer a wide array of activities, two restaurants, two bars, a gym, spa, and water-sports.
If you’re after a night on the tiles, head to the nearby Saint Lawrence Gap - bars can be ramshackle but are very friendly and lots of fun. There are clubs here too and the locals are super welcoming and will happily party with you.
How to get there
Virgin Atlantic flies daily from London Gatwick to Barbados and twice a week from Manchester to Barbados with return Economy fares starting from £453 per person return.