This Caribbean gem is famously home to 365 beaches, offering up the possibility of lounging on a different sandy stretch every day of the year. The island is also a yacht-lovers’ paradise, due to its many stunning sheltered harbours.
Its sister island Barbuda has pink sand beaches, unspoilt coral, a lagoon and a sleepy, laid-back Caribbean atmosphere. There’s plenty of good value and luxury accommodation and all in all, it’s a fantastic destination for a bit of winter sunshine.
Getting there, getting around Antigua
There are direct flights from London to Antigua with British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and bmi. Flights with other airlines will involve a connection.
Once on the island, your best bets for getting around are by taxi, the local bus service or rental car. If you aren’t planning on doing much exploring, then be sure to arrange a transfer from the airport to your hotel. If you’re looking to explore more than one island, there are lots of airlines operating island-hopping services.
Beaches in Antigua
The main resorts are found along the developed North West coast. Dickenson Bay and Runaway Bay are both quite low-key by Caribbean standards but Dickenson is the livelier of the two. At both you’ll find the full range of facilities.
The south coast is popular with yachtsmen, particularly in Falmouth and English Harbour. Johnson’s Point has great views at sunset and the snorkelling’s really good at Pigeon Point near Falmouth Harbour. On the southeast corner of the island is Half Moon Bay, now a National Park, and Long Bay, on the easternmost point of the island, is a great choice for families, as it is sheltered by its reef. Generally though, the sea tends to be a bit rougher on the east coast, making it the most isolated part of the island.
Sightseeing in Antigua
If you can drag yourself away from your resort beach, then the capital, St John’s, is definitely worth a visit. It’s home to an impressive cathedral, a bustling daily market and an interesting museum which has a traditional Arawak village reconstruction.
The new Jolly Harbour resort is a quirky place, with some fairly unusual architecture in the form of mini Spanish castles. Also worth a morning out of the resort is Betty’s Hope – an old sugar plantation with a fully restored sugar mill. Nelson’s Dockyard, named after the British hero, who spent time here, is an 18th century harbour which has been restored and is now a fashionable yacht marina.
Family attractions in Antigua
A lot of the big resorts have wonderful facilities when it comes to keeping your little ones entertained. Many also have Kids Clubs, so you’ll be able to get some total peace and quiet for a few hours while you children go and have some serious fun.
Away from the hotel, there’s also the Jolly Roger Cruise where you can rope swing and walk the plank while touring the island. There are also some excellent glass bottomed boat cruises. Jolly Harbour’s a lot of fun and Devil’s Bridge, a spectacular outcrop of rocks overhanging the sea, should leave them open-mouthed.
Day trips in Antigua
There are inter-island flights throughout the Caribbean if you want to enjoy more than one idyllic paradise during your stay. Or you could take the ferry to neighbouring Barbuda to truly kick back on a tiny unspoiled island. It’s a great spot for bird-lovers as you’ll often see Man ‘O War birds skimming the water.
Many companies offer day or half day outings aboard a catamaran. Tours will often include a few stops for swimming and diving and the price of your ticket will nearly always include unlimited drinks and a meal. How raucous things get will depend on who’s in your group. Scuba diving is extremely popular in Antigua and the southern and eastern coasts are considered to offer the best diving. Advanced divers will want to check out ledge of Sunken Rock on the south coast.
Shopping in Antigua
Antiguan folk pottery, produced in a number of workshops around Antigua, is a good buy, but you have to be careful transporting it home as it breaks rather easily in cold climates. In St John’s, head for Caribelle Batiks for quality Caribbean-made wall hangings and clothing and at Nelson’s Dockyard, The Art Centre sells local artwork, inexpensive prints, T-shirts, jewellery and other souvenirs.
Calabash art is very popular too but you need to watch out for cracks as, contrary to what the seller tells you, if the calabash is still green it will crack more as it dries out. Harmony Hall at Nonsuch Bay has fine arts and crafts with exhibitions of work by local artists. The Heritage Quay shopping mall is also good for souvenirs. Rum is the most popular tipple on the island and you can buy white or dark varieties all over the place.
Eating out in Antigua
While you’d be a fool not to miss out on some of the local Caribbean cuisine, there a wide range of international fare including Italian, French, English and North American. When you fancy a quick snack you’ll find plenty in the way of fast food and lots of pizzerias too.
The West Indian food however is delicious, found in most restaurants. Local snacks include the Antiguan version of roti, large pancakes filled with curry. The fresh fruit really is superb and you’ll be amazed how good the bananas, pineapples and coconuts taste compared to those we have back in the UK. Antigua has small black pineapples which, despite their odd appearance, taste divine. When you’re looking for something to wash it all down with Wadadli is the local lager, and Cavalier and English Harbour are among the best local rums. A cocktail at sunset always seems to go down pretty well too.
Nightlife in Antigua
At Shirley Heights, overlooking English Harbour, you can enjoy the sound of steel bands and reggae music every Thursday and Sunday evening, when there’s also usually a barbecue. It’s a great place to unwind and relax while watching the sunset. Elsewhere there are a few good clubs dotted around the island, and clubbing in Antigua is often an extremely pleasurable experience as few venues have a roof or walls!
Milers by the Sea at Fort James, Spinnakers at Dickenson Bay and Margaritas at Redcliffe Quay in St John’s all have live music, and for a real treat, visit in late July and early August when the whole island moves to the Carnival beat and you can marvel at the colourful parades and street parties. If you fancy a flutter then head to the GrandPrincess Casino in Jolly Harbour.