Three reasons to visit Antigua would be luxury, privacy and service. Antigua seems to excel in all three areas. It is the perfect place to choose if you are looking for a Caribbean holiday.
Antigua, the Caribbean Island with 365 beaches, one for every day of the year. It is quantity and quality, as the beaches are among the best in the Caribbean, with fine white sand, even pink sand in places and clear, blue, or aquamarine water.
Antigua, the playpen of many celebrities who come for peace and quiet. Antigua, a jumble of local and colonial, where Nelson was once stationed, where sugar production boomed.
Antigua, a land of cricket and rum, of wonderful seafood and reggae and steel bands.
Antigua, a perfect holiday destination for families, for lovers, for solo travellers, for those seeking peace and quiet, or for those seeking adventure. The climate is mild in the low 20’s in the winter and mid to high 20s in the summer. Humidity is low, so conditions are very comfortable.
Antigua has an advantage over many of the Caribbean Islands in that there is a regular direct flight from London, daily with British Airways and three times a week with Virgin. No worrying about US connections and ESTA’s. The main airport is VC Bird International, which is in the north of the Island, about a 10 minute drive from the capital St John’s. The airport is also a hub for other Caribbean Islands, including St Kitts, St Maarten, Dominica a Guadaloupe.
The capital, St Johns is also where the Cruise ships dock. This makes the city one that can be quite busy when passengers disembark, so definitely not the place to be if you have come for the peace and quiet.
Antigua is a small island, some 108 square miles, which means you can drive to any part of it in about 45 minutes. It is definitely worth hiring a car and exploring the island. The population is small but very proud of their island and to show it off to you. The highest part is Boggy Peak at about 1319 square feet. Although there are not many hiking trails, those that do exist tend to go upwards, and end at an old fortification.
The neighbouring island of Barbuda is smaller, at about 62 sq miles and much less inhabited and developed. It was severely damaged in the 2015 Hurricane but is recovering.
Antigua is most well known for its beaches, so we should start by looking at a few of those.
Dickenson Beach is one of the most well known, a mile of pale white, pristine sand, with several beach front resorts. The best of those is probably Sandals, and their photo of the beach shows the qualities of the beach perfectly.
Other beaches include Galley Bay Beach, Darkwood Beach, and Jolly Beach. This latter is the widest and longest beach on the island. It faces westward, so if you want to take a photo of the perfect Antiguan beach at sunset, this is the place to be.
The best beach for families is perhaps Pigeon Beach with its shallow, protected waters, fringed by Sea Grape trees. Windsurfers might choose the rougher, Atlantic waters of Half Moon Bay. It is very undeveloped if you like the “Castaway” experience, but there are no facilities or services there. It has been voted as one of the word’s ultimate beaches.
There are two main carnivals on the island. The Midsummer Carnival is 10 days at the end of July onto the first Tuesday in August. The Carnival celebrates the emancipation of slavery in the island and, as you can imagine, is riot of colour and particularly sound, with good music blaring out from every corner. There are beauty parades and pageants, local food stalls and cultural shows. The most important day of the Carnival is the J’ouvert or juve, when the local bands compete.
The second festival is the Sailing week in the last week of April. There are 3 sailing races run out of English and Falmouth Harbours. There is of course an extensive social scene attached to the whole event with some serious rum drinking.
English Harbour has arisen out of the old Dockyards. Although St John’s may be the capital of Antigua, Nelson’s Dockyard is its historic heart. It is now a designated National Park and includes both the dockyard and Shirley Heights. The restored Dockyard hosts two hotels, a museum, craft and food shops, restaurants. It is also the base for hiking trails into the surrounding park.
Shirley Heights is a restored military look out and gun battery, providing great views of English Harbour and Falmouth Harbour. It is one of the “must do” things in Antigua, particularly on Sunday nights, which is essentially Party Time. The party starts at 4 pm and the barbecues are fired up and the drinks flow freely to the beat of the local music, overlooking one of the most stunning views in the world as the sun goes down. If you do not go to one of the Sunday parties, you’ve not visited Antigua! The walk up there is steep and quite challenging but there is also public transport.
Devil’s Bridge is a natural phenomenon where holes have formed in the limestone rocks, creating a geyser effect as the waves come crashing in. If you are interested in geology, you might want to visit the Barbuda caves, where you can see drawings left by the indigenous Arawak Indians.
While on Barbuda, stop off at the Frigate Bird Sanctuary, home to the extraordinary Frigate bird and a host of other species.
Antigua has a long history of sugar growing. The island was discovered by Sir Christopher Codrington in 1684 who was looking for somewhere to support large scale sugar plantations. There are about 100 of the towers used in the processing still remaining on the island, and the original estate is known as Betty’s Hope, after his daughter. This has been largely restored and gives an excellent insight into life at that time.
Combine with a visit to the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda in St John’s. The building was put up in 1750 and is believed to the oldest building in the City. Other architectural places of note are St John’s Cathedral and the Martello Tower
Let’s get active, much more active, with 268 Buggies, who will ruin your clothes in an adrenaline filled but mud soaked drive in open 4 x 4 buggies on an off road trail. You have to get up early for the 5am Hike Club which takes place every Saturday morning, but is a great way to walk off too much rum from the night before.
The Antigua Rainforest Canopy is a zipline adventure through the roof of the trees, but if your passion is more for the water, there are plenty of options from power boats to paddle boarding, sailing to kayaking, and of course multiple options for diving. I am more hesitant to recommend Stingray City, where you can swim with friendly stingrays, even stroking them, which is the source of my hesitation. There is no greater way of experiencing wildlife than to see it in the wild, but is it the same where the wildlife is no longer wild?
The Pink Panther Pack is a collection of female drivers in specially commissioned pink Land Rovers. They will take you on an adventure through the island, and it is a fun way to see it.
This just gives you a taste of the varied type of activities available to you in Antigua and Barbuda. There is really something for everyone and a huge number of suppliers to fit every budget.
You will find a game of cricket happening on every street corner. Tennis is also big in Antigua and most of the resorts will have a resident coach. There are two gold course, one in Cedar Valley and one at Jolly Harbour.
Antigua has a good selection of good and very good resorts. There are so many that I can only mention a handful. Please contact me if you need any further information about a particular hotel, whether I have mentioned it or not.
Sandals Grande Antigua is situated on Dickenson Beach and is regularly voted the World’s Most Romantic Resort. The resort has all of the usual Sandals facilities and services, 11 restaurants, all inclusive with unlimited everything, 7 bars including swim-up up bars.
They do of course provide PADI-certified diving, professional instruction for watersports, day and night Tennis. There is a huge amount to do at Sandals, but remember the Island’s motto: “Fall in love with the Island, then with your resort”. Make sure you get out and about, and don’t just stay in resort.
Bluewaters Resort and Spa is the place to be if you like that effortless elegance and service that comes from years of experienced management. It is a quiet resort, and is renowned for its service. You may think that the hotel staff are reading your mind as they seem to know what you want just as you are formulating the thought in your mind. The hotel is situated on a cliff top, but if you are thinking that you are going to have a gorgeous view, wait until you get to the Cove Restaurant. When you arrive, you will be greeted by flaming torches, and led into the candlelit hall. Then you see the views over the Caribbean Sea. The food is described as Caribbean and French with flair. Bluewaters makes a real effort with the travel trade, visiting England every year to engage with us and to ensure that they can give us the best reasons to visit Antigua and to ensure that our guests are well looked after.
There are two other restaurants, one air conditioned and one al fresco pretty much on the beach. Rooms and suites are generously appointed. There is an excellent spa and a selection of wellness activities such as yoga, pilates and aqua aerobics. Bluewater is a popular resort for anniversaries and honeymoons. http://www.bluewaters.net
The Barbuda Belle is a boutique resort on Barbuda, which is less developed than Antigua. The hotel is much more than just a luxury hotel, it oozes local, natural beauty through its beautiful wooden walls and floors as it sits on one of the most beautiful beaches you will ever see. There is one restaurant where the French chef prepares an a la carte menu with local ingredients. This is perhaps a hotel where you will come for a few days and where you want to do nothing more energetic than turn the pages of your book, but in luxury and calm.
Carlisle Bay is a perfect resort if you do not want to worry about anything on a slice of paradise. The beach is of course an expanse of dazzling white sand, the waters a fusion of shades of blue. The spa and wellness facilities are top notch and the hotel organises everything for you from swimming with stingrays to tennis. It also has a very good Kids Club run by qualified professionals and with a host of activities that children will want to do.
If you would like an adults only resort, Cocobay may be the one for you. It comprises of a selection of pastel coloured cottages on a hillside, gently dropping down to two white sand beaches. Great food in the restaurants or in pop-up dining stations, or even on the beach, great service, this is a barefoot luxury concept that you will not want to leave.
Sugar Ridge Resort is perhaps the only resort set back from the Sea in the hills. There is a free shuttle to take you down to Turner’s Beach or Valley Church Beach with Sugar Ridge Staff on hand to provide you with everything you need. The Resort is small with only 60 rooms, two restaurants and three pools. Luxury, privacy and wellness are the feature that mark out Sugar Ridge as special.
It is a very special Caribbean Island, and the reasons to visit Antigua are not just limited to the three that I mention, luxury, privacy and service. The food is amazing, the party vibe is enjoyable without being too much in your face, and there is plenty to do if you are looking for activities.
For more information you could look at the tourist board’s website https://visitantiguabarbuda.com
Or please contact me for more information and advice as well as to book an ABTA regulated holiday for complete peace of mind.