Barbados and St Lucia have long been two of the most coveted Caribbean destinations. And while they’re both pretty amazing, there are some significant differences between them. We’ve compared the two countries in terms of things like size, attractions, accommodation and the overall ‘vibe’ to help you decide which one is best for your next vacation.
Barbados or St Lucia – which is best?
While Barbados is mostly famous for its picture-perfect beaches, the island has plenty more to offer. In addition to the powder-white sands and turquoise waters that fringe the island, you’ll find buzzing nightlife, a Unesco-listed capital and a beautiful interior that’s dotted with colorful gardens and plantation homes. Barbados gained independence from Britain in 1966 but with its colonial buildings and English-speaking locals, it still retains a bit of a British vibe.
Size-wise, there isn’t a huge difference between Barbados and St Lucia. Barbados measures around 166 square miles making it slightly smaller than St Lucia. Although relatively small in size, Barbados has more attractions than most other Caribbean islands. You can explore historic sites, tee off on top golf courses, party at world-famous festivals or shop ’til you drop at its many malls.
The dollar has been the local currency in Barbados since 1935. Barbadian dollars (BDS) are permanently fixed at the rate of $2 BDS for every $1 US dollar, and most people in Barbados will accept US dollars at the fixed rate.
In terms of getting to Barbados, all airlines fly into the Grantley Adams International Airport in the southern parish of Christ Church. If you’re visiting Barbados from the UK the flight time is around 8 hours from London, while if you’re flying in from New York it’s about half of that.
Getting around Barbados couldn’t be easier, whether you’re hiring a car, getting a taxi or using the well-established bus system. Like Brits, Bajans drive on the left, and the excellent road network stretches across the whole island. The speed limit is 37mph (except where otherwise indicated) so anyone used to faster roads will find driving here pretty relaxing in comparison.
Located around 100 miles to the northwest of Barbados, St Lucia is a really attractive alternative. For sheer beauty, you couldn’t wish for more than the striking sandy beaches and the jungle-clad volcanic spires known as the Pitons. In the north of St Lucia, Rodney Bay offers lazy days and modern conveniences, while in the south, Soufriere (the former capital of Saint Lucia during times of French rule) offers hidden beaches, historic plantations and some of the most stunning scenery in the entire Caribbean.
In terms of size, St Lucia has a total area of 238 square miles and a population of around 180,000 (so it’s substantially bigger, with far fewer people). Its currency is the Eastern Caribbean dollar (EC) although US dollars are widely accepted by most businesses on the island. In fact, prices are quoted in US dollars at many resorts, restaurants and tourist destinations.
Things to do in Barbados and St Lucia
You can happily laze the days away on either island but when it comes to the big attractions there are obvious differences between Barbados and St Lucia.
Barbados has a reputation as a place where you can spot celebrities, especially on its luxurious west or ‘platinum’ coast, but there’s a whole other side to Barbados that is culturally rich and a lot less expensive. The posh hangouts are there if you want them, but you’ll also find cheap-and-cheerful eateries, duty-free shopping malls and free activities to enjoy if you know where to look.
The island has all manner of spectacular beaches including top spots for swimming, surfing and relaxation. The west coast has pristine sands fringed by the calm Caribbean Sea, allowing you to enjoy swimming, water sports and snorkeling with turtles. Venture over to the Atlantic beaches on the east coast and you’ll find a windswept coastline and lively surf.
Barbados is also one of the safest Caribbean islands so you can go out and explore as and when you wish. You can meet green monkeys at a wildlife reserve, discover ancient underground caves or get down with the locals at a Friday night fish fry. Cricket, afternoon tea, dancing and drinking rum are all popular pursuits, as are relaxing on the beach, hitting the waves and dining out.
If you’re passionate about golf you can tee off on the first class courses at Sandy Lane and Westmoreland golf clubs. The Green Monkey course at Sandy Lane was designed by legendary golf course architect Tom Fazio and is rated as one of the best golf courses in the world. Both clubs are located along the west coast and are easily accessible from the island’s holiday resorts.
There are dozens of festivals throughout the year including street parties, sports festivals, cultural celebrations and culinary events. The most famous festival is Crop Over, the origins of which date back to Barbados’ booming sugar cane industry. Other events include the Barbados Reggae Festival, Holders Season, Holetown Festival and the Barbados Food & Rum Festival.
Recommended villas in Barbados
4 bedrooms – sleeps 8
Mullins Beach 3
8 bedrooms – sleeps 16
4 bedrooms – sleeps 8
St Lucia, meanwhile, has some of the most dramatic scenery in the entire Caribbean. Spend time exploring and you’ll discover gorgeous botanical gardens, a drive-in volcano and a pair of soaring twin peaks. The picturesque spots of Rodney Bay and Marigot Bay are the destinations of choice for most vacationers, while dense rainforest, jungle-clad mountains and vast banana plantations dominate the central and southern parts of the island. You can make day trip excursions by boat and road between the north and the south.
Golden in the north and mostly grey in the volcanic south, St Lucia’s beaches are beautiful and diverse. The northern beaches are busier and more developed but have a far greater choice of amenities such as water sports rentals, restaurants and bars. The south, especially the southwest where the Pitons are located, is much more scenic and tranquil but here the beaches are mostly of dark volcanic sand.
The best diving and snorkeling sites are along the calm west coast in areas like Soufriere, Anse Cochon, Pigeon Island, Rodney Bay and Marigot Bay. Introductory scuba courses are offered daily by most dive operators, as are open water, advanced, dive master and specialty courses. St Lucia is home to many reefs, wrecks and other diving sites, all teeming with tropical sea life.
If you want a night out in St Lucia you should head to the main strip through Rodney Bay Village where you can hang out with the locals, drink bottles of local Piton beer and try your hand at karaoke. Rodney Bay is also home to the island’s only casino, Treasure Bay, as well as a weekly street party at Gros Islet, just north of Rodney Bay, and a Friday night fish fry at Anse La Raye, south of Marigot Bay. Elsewhere on the island, life after dark is much lower key.
Over on the west coast, Castries is the capital city and a major tourist destination in its own right. It has a busy cruise ship port with duty-free shopping near the harbor. High-speed catamarans to Guadeloupe, Martinique and Dominica also run from here, making it an ideal base for island hopping. Colorful Castries Market is a must-visit; you can also take a stroll around the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and Sir Derek Walcott Square. The soaring Morne Fortune (2795ft) serves as the city’s scenic backdrop.
With its seemingly endless natural attractions, St Lucia is a top spot for adventure activities. You can go zip-lining through the treetops, trekking through the jungle and hiking up Gros and Petit Piton. It’s also home to one of the world’s only drive-in volcano, where you can soak in a warm mineral mud bath and rinse yourself off in a volcanic pool.
When is the best time to visit Barbados and St Lucia?
The sun shines all year round in the Caribbean and there really is no ‘best’ time to go but conditions and prices do vary depending on the time of year. Generally speaking, peak season on both islands runs from mid-December through April. During these months, accommodation rates are generally higher than at other times of the year, but the weather is usually at its best.
Rates are cheaper in the summer and autumn months, when it’s stickier and wetter. Note that St Lucia gets more rain than its less mountainous counterpart, Barbados. There are a few shoulder seasons too (late spring and late autumn) when you’re likely to get the best of both seasons.
Also bear in mind that the hurricane season runs from June to November, with September and October statistically the likeliest months for storms.
Where to stay
If you’re looking for accommodation, the options offered by Top Villas are some of the best on the islands. You’ll find everything from cozy 1-bedroom condos in affordable resorts to sprawling mansions where you can relax in ultimate style and comfort. Here are a couple of our favourites.
Mullins Beach 4
This stylish 3-bedroom beach house is located just a stone’s throw from the sea on the white sands of Mullins beach. It boasts bright and airy living areas, a large sun deck and panoramic sea views. The property is also fully staffed with a cook and a housekeeper.
This villa can accommodate 6 guests and is available to rent from around $800 per night.
Recommended condos in Barbados
Mullins Beach 6
2 bedrooms – sleeps 4
3 bedrooms – sleeps 7
3 bedrooms – sleeps 6
St Lucia 10
This palatial villa offers 6 bedrooms, spacious living areas and a huge sun terrace with a private pool. Just a few minutes from the beach, it’s surrounded by immaculately manicured gardens in St Lucia’s exclusive Cap Estate.
It has space for up to 12 guests and is available to rent from $2,000 per night. That may sound expensive to afford on your own, but if you split the cost a few ways it actually works out pretty cheap considering the amount of luxury you get.
See all St Lucia rentals
Barbados vs St Lucia – the verdict
For the Caribbean-bound visitor, choosing between Barbados and St Lucia is no easy task. Both islands exude their own personality and flair so choosing between them really depends on what type of vacation you’re looking for.
Barbados is ideal for couples, families and partygoers who love to get out and mingle with the friendly locals. You can opt to go as lavish or as budget-friendly as you like, and whether you want to relax on the beach, get out and explore or party until the early hours, Barbados has it all. Its smaller size and excellent road system make it super easy to get around. It’s also one of the friendliest islands in the Caribbean.
St. Lucia is one of the most popular islands with eco-tourists and honeymooners. For romance and sheer beauty you couldn’t wish for more than its lush tropical landscape and stunning natural wonders. Even if you’re not on your honeymoon, St. Lucia is ideal for divers, snorkelers, trekkers and those who generally love the excitement of outdoor living.
Barbados vs St Lucia – at a glance:
- Beaches: Barbados has long white-sand beaches lapped by turquoise seas whereas most of the beaches in St Lucia have golden or grey sand, are in smaller coves, and have darker water.
- Shopping: Both islands have good shopping options however Barbados offers lot more variety.
- Dining: Barbados and St Lucia both have a variety of restaurants and eateries in all price ranges.
- Nightlife: Barbados has a lot more bars and nightspots, plus it hosts world-famous festivals.
- Natural beauty: Besides the beaches, St Lucia has more spectacular scenery.
- Golf: Barbados has numerous golf courses including world-class options. St Lucia only has one 18-hole course.
- Culture: Barbados has a strong British influence while St Lucia blends the influences of African, French and English heritage. The official language of both island is English but Creole, a form of French patois, remains an influential secondary language in St Lucia.
- Historic sites: St Lucia has a few forts and plantations while Barbados is packed with historic sites including its Unesco-listed capital.
- Overall affordability: Again, both islands can provide a relatively inexpensive vacation or a very expensive one – it depends on what you choose.
- People: For the most part, the local people on both islands are very friendly.
- Getting around: Barbados has an excellent road system and is flatter, making it much easier to get around.
- Best time to go: On both islands, mid-December through April are peak months (drier, cooler, less humid). St Lucia is known to experience slightly more rain due to its mountainous terrain.
If you can’t decide between Barbados or St Lucia for your vacation, why not visit them both?
There are several flights that travel between the islands daily and the journey takes no longer than 45 minutes. Liat and Caribbean Airways are the two primary providers. They both have easy-to-use online booking systems, and return flights cost around $300. Sadly, the ferry service between the islands was discontinued in 2016, however you can take a guided cruise or charter a boat.