Barbados is a sovereign island country in the Lesser Antilles, in the Americas. It is 34 kilometres (21 miles) in length and up to 23 km (14 mi) in width, covering an area of 432 km2(167 sq mi). It is situated in the western area of the North Atlantic and 100 km (62 mi) east of the Windward Islands and the Caribbean Sea; therein, it is about 168 km (104 mi) east of the islands of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and 400 km (250 mi) north-east of Trinidad and Tobago. Barbados is outside of the principal Atlantic hurricane belt. Its capital is Bridgetown. Barbados is 1,600 mi (2,600 km) Southeast of Miami.
Inhabited by Kalinago people since the 13th century, and prior to that by other Amerindians, Barbados was visited by Spanish navigators in the late 15th century and claimed for the Spanish Crown. It first appeared in a Spanish map in 1511. The Portuguese visited the island in 1536, but they left it unclaimed, with their only remnants being an introduction of wild hogs for a good supply of meat whenever the island was visited. An English ship, the Olive Blossom, arrived in Barbados in 1625; its men took possession of it in the name of King James I. In 1627, the first permanent settlers arrived from England, and it became an English and later British colony.
In 1966, Barbados became an independent state and Commonwealth realm with the British Monarch (presently Queen Elizabeth II) as hereditary head of state. It has a population of 280,121 people, predominantly of African descent. Despite being classified as an Atlantic island, Barbados is considered to be a part of the Caribbean, where it is ranked as a leading tourist destination. Forty percent of the tourists come from the UK, with the US and Canada making up the next large groups of visitors to the island. In 2014, Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Indexranked Barbados joint second in the Americas(after Canada, equal with the United States) and joint 17th globally (after Belgium and Japan, equal with the U.S., Hong Kong and Ireland).
Barbados is situated in the Atlantic Ocean, east of the other West Indies Islands. Barbados is the easternmost island in the Lesser Antilles. It is flat in comparison to its island neighbours to the west, the Windward Islands. The island rises gently to the central highland region, with the high point of the nation being Mount Hillaby in the geological Scotland District 340 m (1,120 ft) above sea level.
In the parish of Saint Michaellies Barbados' capital and main city, Bridgetown. Other major towns scattered across the island include Holetown, in the parish of Saint James; Oistins, in the parish of Christ Church; and Speightstown, in the parish of Saint Peter.
Barbados lies on the boundary of the South American and the Caribbean Plates. The subduction of the South American plate beneath the Caribbean plate scrapes sediment from the South American plate and deposits it above the subduction zone forming an accretionary prism. The rate of this depositing of material allows Barbados to rise at a rate of about 25 mm (1 in) per 1,000 years. This subduction means geologically the island is composed of coral roughly 90 m (300 ft) thick, where reefs formed above the sediment. The land slopes in a series of "terraces" in the west and goes into an incline in the east. A large proportion of the island is circled by coral reefs.
The erosion of limestone in the northeast of the island, in the Scotland District, has resulted in the formation of various caves and gullies, some of which have become popular tourist attractions such as Harrison's Cave and Welchman Hall Gully. On the Atlantic east coast of the island coastal landforms, including stacks, have been created due to the limestone composition of the area.
The country generally experiences two seasons, one of which includes noticeably higher rainfall. Known as the "wet season", this period runs from June to November. By contrast, the "dry season" runs from December to May. Annual precipitation ranges between 1,000 and 2,300 mm (40 and 90 in). From December to May the average temperatures range from 21 to 31 °C (70 to 88 °F), while between June and November, they range from 23 to 31 °C (73 to 88 °F).
On the Köppen climate classification scale, much of Barbados is regarded as a tropical monsoon climate (Am). However, gentle breezes of 12 to 16 km/h (7 to 10 mph) abound throughout the year and give Barbados a climate which is moderately tropical.
Infrequent natural hazards include earthquakes, landslips and hurricanes. Barbados is often spared the worst effects of the region's tropical storms and hurricanes during the rainy season. Its location in the south-east of the Caribbean region puts the country just outside the principal hurricane strike zone. On average, a major hurricane strikes about once every 26 years. The last significant hit from a hurricane to cause severe damage to Barbados was Hurricane Janet in 1955; in 2010 the island was struck by Hurricane Tomas, but this caused only minor damage across the country.
The 2010 national census conducted by the Barbados Statistical Service reported a resident population of 277,821, of which 133,018 were male and 144,803 were female.
Close to 90% of all Barbadians (also known colloquially as "Bajan") are of Afro-Caribbean descent ("Afro-Bajans") and mixed-descent. The remainder of the population includes groups of Europeans ("Anglo-Bajans" / "Euro-Bajans") mainly from the United Kingdom and Ireland, along with Asians, predominantly Chinese and Indians (both Hindu and Muslim). Other groups in Barbados include people from the United Kingdom, United States and Canada. Barbadians who return after years of residence in the United States and children born in America to Bajan parents are called "Bajan Yankees", a term considered derogatory by some.Generally, Bajans recognise and accept all "children of the island" as Bajans, and refer to each other as such.
The biggest communities outside the Afro-Caribbean community are:
- The Indo-Guyanese, an important part of the economy due to the increase of immigrants from partner country Guyana. There are reports of a growing Indo-Bajan diaspora originating from Guyana and India starting around 1990. Predominantly from southern India and Hindu states, they are growing in size but smaller than the equivalent communities in Trinidad and Guyana.
- Euro-Bajans (4% of the population) have settled in Barbados since the 17th century, originating from England, Ireland and Scotland. In 1643, there were 37,200 whites in Barbados (86% of the population). More commonly they are known as "White Bajans". Euro-Bajans introduced folk music, such as Irish music and Highland music, and certain place names, such as "Scotland", a mountainous region. Among White Barbadians there exists an underclass known as Redlegs; mostly the descendants of Irish indentured labourers and prisoners imported to the island. Many additionally moved on to become the earliest settlers of modern-day North and South Carolina in the United States.
- Chinese-Barbadians are a small portion of Barbados' Asian demographics. Most if not all first arrived in the 1940s during the Second World War. Many Chinese-Bajans have the surnames Chin, Chynn or Lee, although other surnames prevail in certain areas of the island. Chinese food and culture is becoming part of everyday Bajan culture.
- Lebanese and Syrians form the island's Arab Barbadian community, which is overwhelmingly Christian Arab. The Muslim Arab minority among Arab Barbadian make up a small percentage of the overall minority Muslim Barbadian population. The majority of the Lebanese and Syrians arrived in Barbados through trade opportunities. Their numbers are falling due to emigration to other countries.
- Jews arrived in Barbados just after the first settlers in 1627. Bridgetown is the home of Nidhe Israel Synagogue, the oldest Jewish synagogue in the Americas, dating from 1654, though the current structure was erected in 1833 replacing one ruined by the hurricane of 1831. Tombstones in the neighbouring cemetery date from the 1630s. Now under the care of the Barbados National Trust, the site was deserted in 1929 but was saved and restored by the Jewish community beginning in 1986.
- The Muslim Barbadians of Indian origin are largely of Gujarati ancestry. Many small businesses in Barbados are run and operated by Muslim-Indian Bajans.
Most Barbadians of African and European descent are Christians (95%), the largest denomination being Anglican (40%). Other Christian denominations with significant followings in Barbados are the Catholic Church (administered by Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgetown), Pentecostals, Jehovah's Witnesses, the Seventh-day Adventist Church and Spiritual Baptists. The Church of England was the official state religion until its legal disestablishment by the Parliament of Barbados following independence.
Other religions in Barbados include Hinduism, Islam, Bahá'í, Judaism and Wicca.
Barbados is the 53rd richest country in the world in terms of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) per capita, has a well-developed mixed economy, and a moderately high standard of living. According to the World Bank, Barbados is classified as being in its 66 top high income economies of the world. A 2012 self-study in conjunction with the Caribbean Development Bank revealed 20% of Barbadians live in poverty, and nearly 10% cannot meet their basic daily food needs.
Historically, the economy of Barbados had been dependent on sugarcane cultivation and related activities, but since the late 1970s and early 1980s it has diversified into the manufacturing and tourism sectors. Offshore finance and information services have become important foreign exchange earners, and there is a healthy light manufacturing sector. Since the 1990s the Barbados Government has been seen as business-friendly and economically sound. The island saw a construction boom, with the development and redevelopment of hotels, office complexes, and homes. This slowed during the 2008 economic crisis.
Recent government administrations have continued efforts to reduce unemployment, encourage foreign direct investment, and privatise remaining state-owned enterprises. Unemployment was reduced to 10.7% in 2003. However, it has since increased to 11.9% in second quarter, 2015.
The economy contracted in 2001 and 2002 due to slowdowns in tourism, consumer spending and the impact of the 11 September 2001 attacks, but rebounded in 2003 and has shown growth since 2004. Traditional trading partners include Canada, the Caribbean Community (especially Trinidad and Tobago), the United Kingdom and the United States.
Business links and investment flows have become substantial: as of 2003 the island saw from Canada CA$ 25 billion in investment holdings, placing it as one of Canada's top five destinations for Canadian foreign direct investment (FDI). Businessman Eugene Melnyk of Toronto, Canada, is said to be one of Barbados' richest permanent residents.
It has been reported that the year 2006 was the busiest years for building construction ever in Barbados, as the building-boom on the island entered the final stages for several multimillion-dollar commercial projects.
The European Union is assisting Barbados with a €10 million program of modernisation of the country's International Business and Financial Services Sector.
Barbados maintains the third largest stock exchange in the Caribbean region. As of 2009, officials at the stock exchange were investigating the possibility of augmenting the local exchange with an International Securities Market (ISM) venture.