For first-time visitors to the Caribbean, Barbados is the perfect place to start, combining the tropical and the familiar in one sunshine-filled whole. For every roadside rum shack there's a hip beach bar; for every wooden chattel house there's a glamorous luxury villa. There are green monkeys in the trees and thoroughbred ponies on the polo fields; tangled woods planted with silk cotton and fustic trees and perfectly manicured championship golf courses. And it isn't just first-timers who appreciate this island gem for many of its regular visitors Barbados is the Caribbean. It does, after all, offer some of the best hotels and restaurants in the region. Its beaches are beautiful and varied. The azure waters on the island's west coast are calm and perfect for all kinds of watersports, while the more dramatic east side is great for surfing and getting away from it all. Compared with neighbouring islands, Barbados is relatively flat, while its original rainforests gave way to sugar cane fields long ago. But its rolling landscapes are always a delight to explore, peppered with historic plantation houses as well as a number of beautiful gardens. The service-minded Bajans are warm and welcoming, delighted to share their Friday night fish fries and Crop Over festivals with outsiders.