Hailing a taxi may be an easier way to travel around the island, but nothing provides a peek into Bajan culture quite like hopping on a city bus.
Barbados has one of the most comprehensive and user-friendly public transport networks in the Caribbean. With modern, electric government-run buses, always entertaining private buses and minivans, and a B$3.50 (US$1.75) price tag, using public transit certainly has its advantages.
If you're willing to walk a little, buses can take you pretty much everywhere. If you're heading off the beaten path, a fleet of taxis goes anywhere the buses don't.
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It’s impossible to miss the Barbados Transport Board buses that are the backbone of the local public transport network – they're decked out in the national colors, with blue paint and a prominent yellow stripe. Once notoriously unreliable, the upgraded fleet now boasts the largest collection of electric buses in the Caribbean: 49 air-conditioned vehicles equipped with Wi-Fi, crisscrossing the island alongside some older vehicles that are heading for retirement.
Outside the city terminals, these buses only stop at designated stops, helpfully marked “to city” and “out of city” to prevent hapless visitors from heading in the wrong direction. Pay with cash in exact change and check the Barbados Transport Board website for timetables.
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Exchange comfort for speed with minibuses. These smaller private buses take the same route as the blue government buses and are painted with the inverse color scheme – yellow with a blue stripe. Despite being quite large, these “minibuses” move at quite a pace and, while not for the faint-hearted, are a convenient alternative for those in a hurry.
Yellow buses run on demand rather than a fixed schedule and usually have an attendant, so exact change is not required. They're usually hailed anywhere along the road once outside the downtown area; many are equipped with impressive sound systems that add an island soundtrack to the spectacular scenery outside.
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Get (very) up close and personal in ZR vans
Though unconventional passing maneuvers and questionable cornering speeds might make you feel like an extra in a Fast & Furious film, these privately run ZR vans are a cheap, convenient and fun way to get around Barbados.
Running on 11 short-to-medium routes across the island, these mainstays of the Barbadian transport system are typically slightly dented Toyota Hiaces or Nissan Urvans, easily identifiable by the maroon stripe on an otherwise white paint job.
In populated areas of the island, the vans can get crowded, especially during peak hours before and after work, and while there are technically passenger limits, they're not always adhered to. During a trip, you may find yourself in a contorted yoga position behind the driver's seat, balancing precariously on the edge of an already occupied bench seat or even sitting on the knee of a new friend.
More frequent than buses, the ZR vans can be hailed pretty much anywhere it’s fairly safe to stop or boarded at van stands in Bridgetown and Speightstown. Usually, there’s a helper on board to collect the fare, and exact change is not required, but small denominations are appreciated. To disembark, you’ll need to call out, “Bus stop please, driver!” well before your destination.
Tip for using ZR vans: Forget radio or streaming platforms – the very best place to keep abreast of the hottest tunes on the island is via the stressed-out speakers of the ZRs. For the full mobile-club experience, take a seat at the back between the booming bass boxes. And on the subject of seating, avoid the dodgy folding seats behind the driver. Not only are they a jarring ride once the springs age, you’ll also be getting up every time a passenger hops on or off.
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Affordable taxis take you door to door
Fast, friendly and fairly affordable, taxis are hands down the most comfortable way to get around in Barbados. They’re identifiable by blue license plates that begin with Z and usually have a taxi light on the roof; there are also minivan taxis with ZM plates that are a good option for bigger groups. Larger hotels and resorts usually have a couple of house drivers who hang out near reception.
Prices are fixed according to distance, so there are no meters – drivers are generally very honest, but even so, it’s a good idea to check the price before hopping in. A short trip across Bridgetown begins around B$10 (US$4.95), and heading into town from the beaches of the southwest runs about B$40 (US$20).
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While still a work in progress, the BeepBus journey-planner app has route information for all three types of bus services, in addition to timetables for Transport Board buses and live bus tracking on some ZR lines.
None of the major private-hire apps operate here, but the pickUp Barbados app connects passengers with registered taxi drivers across the island. A fare estimate is available before booking, and rides can be paid electronically.
Accessible transportation in Barbados
Traditionally Barbados has been difficult for those with reduced mobility, but with the arrival of the Transport Board's new wheelchair-friendly electric buses, public transport on the island is now somewhat accessible. The yellow minibuses and ZR vans remain a challenge, however. For more details on accessible travel, visit the Barbados Council for the Disabled website or the Lonely Planet Accessible Travel Resources page.