Cool, sultry and easy-going, Barbados has a sunny disposition that reflects its tropical climate and the warm and fun-loving nature of its people. A coral island in a region of countless volcanic ones, it's bounty of white sand beaches also means it's rightly popular as a holiday destination. Tourism has become the main industry on the island so it's little surprise to find that much of its coast is taken up with holiday accommodation of one type or another.
Most places to stay are clustered around the best beaches in the south and west. Travelling up the west coast from Bridgetown, an almost unbroken line of luxury hotels have claimed the island's most precious ribbons of sand facing onto the perfectly calm Caribbean. In the south, where the water is less serene but the beaches are larger, the resorts and guesthouses are generally more affordable and spread out along the coast.
Trawling a haul of Barbados hotels with a gang of holiday experts gave me a rare inside look at the spectrum of accommodation options available on the island. From five-star heritage hotels and exclusive enclaves frequented by celebrities to little boutique retreats and budget rooms overhanging the beach, I'm pretty sure I saw a place to stay for every type of traveller. Here I share the ones that stood out from the pack, plus a few places that didn't fit the tropical idyll.
Boutique retreat – Little Arches
With just 10 rooms, Little Arches is the smallest hotel in Barbados with a warm, friendly atmosphere suitable for solo travellers, friends and couples. Converted from a grand old Barbadian home, it's positioned on a slope with aquamarine vistas of the southern coast and lovely tree-lined Miami Beach, which is about a minute's walk away. The en-suite rooms are decorated in a pretty Mediterranean cottage style with bespoke touches, and the theme extends throughout the hotel – think terracotta tiles, arches and mosaics.
The hotel's eatery – Cafe Luna – is locally renowned for its high-quality, tasty food and at night the roof-terrace is transformed into a romantic dining spot with twinkling fairy lights and sea views. The tiny size of the hotel means the staff can treat every guest to personalised service, including snacks and cocktails brought to your pool-side lounger (or hammock) and, unusually, late breakfasts until 11.30am for those who like to have a lie-in on holiday.
All-inclusive family fun – Turtle Beach
A bright and shiny all-inclusive resort with its own stunning white sand beach on Barbados' south-west coast, Turtle Beach is managed by the reputable Elegant Hotels chain, which runs several really nice resorts on the west coast too. Turtle Beach is the most family-orientated of the bunch with a great kids' club, playground and splash pool. Its position close to lively St Lawrence Gap makes it a good base if you want to explore and try activities away from the hotel. You won't be subjected to a week of boring buffet dining here either with a la carte restaurants, a live cooking station and live entertainment every evening.
Palatial seclusion – Crane Resort
This rather grand and sprawling resort must have one of the most dramatic locations in Barbados – perched along a high cliff overlooking the unspoilt peaches and cream-hued beach of Crane Bay. Backed by a dense tract of wood and palms, the wide half-moon beach faces onto the churning Atlantic with fresh sea breezes that are welcome in the tropical heat. First opened in 1887, this is one of the oldest resorts in the Caribbean and has grown from its early days as a heritage mansion to become a large five-star resort with 252 luxurious rooms and a village featuring a range of eateries, shops and other facilities. In fact, the resort encompasses three of the best dining spots in the south-east – clifftop L'Azure that serves fresh local fare, Cutters Cafe and the excellent Asian-inspired Zen restaurant.
The tiered, green grounds are dotted with pools, waterfalls, fountains and ponds flashing with colourful coy. Guests can choose from rooms in the historic east wing or more modern parts of the hotel. Large high-ceilinged suites sleep up to six people and have terraces and plunge pools, and there are villa-style apartments with up to 4 bedrooms offering plenty of space for larger families to spread out. The lofty views from the high suites and roof-terraces reveal the raw natural beauty of Barbados' eastern seaboard, which is much less developed than other parts of the island.
Beach budget – Blue Orchids
Blue Orchids is a sleepy hotel in southern Barbados is underwhelming upon first appearance but it is a real little gem if you are looking for cheap self-catering accommodation right on a fine, peaceful beach. The small resort has a quiet, rustic charm and its simple three-storey studio blocks have balconies backing onto turquoise sea, some actually overhanging the beach. The studios are airy and spacious with cooking facilities giving you the freedom to make your own meals, though there are plenty of restaurants and cafes nearby. The location is great for younger people – travelling friends for instance – as its located close to lively St Lawrence Gap.
Colonial chic – Coral Reef Club
A blissful beach hideaway in the west of Barbados, the Coral Reef Club's palatial plantation charms were not lost on the likes of famous writer Agatha Christie, who apparently worked on one of her detective novels here. The resort's white-washed plantation-style houses are spaced out amid tranquil, perfectly-manicured grounds, some split into suites, some available to rent in their entirety.
Modelled around the few original colonial villas, the resort has an authentic Caribbean feel and the airy interiors are the epitome of beach chic – driftwood, seashells and light cotton. Much more dream seaside home than luxury hotel room, each suite or villa has rustic wooden verandas and balconies looking out onto the perfectly calm Caribbean Sea.
Beautiful Romanesque swimming pools are hidden amid the exotic foliage, but the warm clear sea on your doorstep makes them superfluous. When night falls, the focal point of the resort is the large thatched beachfront restaurant and bar, where there's a convivial atmosphere and the owners can often be found socialising with guests. This private paradise doesn't come cheap, though, and a stay at the Coral Reef Club is something of a treat for most people. Try booking out-of-season from June to early December for more affordable rates.
Honeymoon hideaway – The House
With just a clutch of sumptuous and sophisticated suites, this adults-only retreat is ideal for a romantic getaway or honeymoon. The intimate resort has a barefoot chic vibe, and stays in the richly-furnished villa-style rooms include luxurious extras such as champagne breakfasts served on sea-facing terraces, afternoon tea and evening canapes.
There's a butler service to cater to guests' every whim and complimentary jet-lag revival massages. But the biggest boon is neighbouring Daphne's restaurant, one of the best eateries in Barbados, which is attached to the resort. Guests at The House can enjoy all-day dining options by Daphne's and revel in its romantic setting open to a fine white west coast beach.
Midrange maverick – Radisson Aquatica
This mid-range, mid-sized beach hotel – part of the famous Radisson hotel chain – has something no other hotel in Barbados can boast. Its overwater rooms at the end of a rustic Bajan pier are the only accommodation of its type in the Caribbean.
Set on a peaceful part of huge Carlisle Bay – with wide white sands stretching to the horizon – the hotel's pier suites have panoramic sea views and add a quirky, luxury twist to an otherwise non-descript resort. The location and beach are particularly good for active types, as you can try virtually any kind of watersport in Carlisle Bay and Barbados' capital Bridgetown is just up the road.
Hot gastro-hotel – Little Good Harbour
Best known for its Fish Pot restaurant housed in an old seaside fort, which draws visitors from miles around for its fresh expertly-cooked seafood, the Little Good Harbour also has a clutch of delicious little New England-style cottages facing onto a pale slice of sand. Beautiful wide verandas, light but cosy interiors and huge comfortable beds, plus the authentic non-resort location beside the peaceful fishing village of Shermans, give the place a home-away-from-home feel. The hotel is perfect for foodies, friends and families looking for a luxury hideaway on Barbados' fashionable west coast. There are 10 one-bedroom garden cottages, three two-bedroom villas, as well as six three-bedroom suites for larger parties.
Low-key luxury – Sea Breeze Beach
A low-key but stylish resort with large affordable rooms, the Sea Breeze Beach has a wide sea front but is small enough to keep a friendly atmosphere. The main sea-front bar and restaurant is rustic and relaxed with a beautiful colonial-style piano room and is flanked by two sweeps of pale sand. The larger beach has sun-lounger service, a fresh pizza oven and free non-motorised watersports. It's a supremely peaceful little enclave that's surprisingly central – one of the best elements of the Sea Breeze is its great location close to St Lawrence Gap, Oistins, Bridgetown and many of the island's main attractions.
Glamorous getaway – Sandy Lane
This glittering west coast resort has become synonymous with celebrity and the standards of service are correspondingly high. For mere mortals, a stay here is more likely to be a honeymoon or an indulgent one-night stay. It's good to bear in mind that while the resort is ultra luxurious, the sun-dappled beach is no more beautiful than the many others indenting this stretch of coast.
Brand beware – Marriott and Hilton
The world-famous Hilton brand seems like a safe bet if you are looking for a luxury bolthole, but while you are sure to get a room with a view at the towering Barbados Hilton, its facade is one of the island's least attractive, resembling a multi-storey carpark marking the farthest point of Carlisle Bay. Its private little beaches of creamy sand face out onto choppy headland waters, and with the waves rolls in a fair amount of seaweed.
Similarly, you may recognise the Marriott brand when looking for a hotel in Barbados and book it for its international mid-range reputation. But while perfectly standard, the Barbados Marriott is, peculiarly for hotels on the island, not by the beach and it is only really suitable for business travellers. If you want a trusted mid-range brand on the beach, go for the Radisson Aquatica.