Updated on July 30th, 2020
If you are interested in visiting Antigua & Barbuda, with its 365 beaches, then look no further. Here I have asked my friend Michael, Antiguan born & bred for his top suggestions. Here is everything you need to know before you head to this jewel in the Caribbean.”
Antigua & Barbuda, West Indies
Michael was born & raised in Antigua & returned to his native island after living & studying abroad in the USA for a number of years. We met at a party on my first night in Antigua celebrating the start of Sailing Week in 2018. Here, he has agreed to share what he believes are the best bits of Antigua & Barbuda.
What do you love about Antigua?
The climate – it is tropical but the trade winds blowing off the Caribbean Sea & the Atlantic Ocean makes it cooler than most for enjoying in all forms of recreational activities. The average temperature is 86ºF or 30ºC.
The people are easy going and friendly.
Antigua also has great transport networks around the island through bus, boat, taxi, car & motorbike rentals or walking, with plenty of tours to explore the island. It is safe to drive with a curvaceous & sexy topography which makes it also worthwhile exploring higher elevations (SW & NE especially). Antigua has an international airport & one of the best natural harbours in the Western Hemisphere (English Harbour), as well as Deep Water Harbour which is enjoyed by cruise ships & other sea vessels, in the heart of the capital city of St John’s.
Antigua is a coral island which gives it a very attractive coastline of pristine turquoise, emerald green water, white sand beaches & unique rock formations. This makes it a contrast to most of the other Eastern Caribbean islands which are more volcanic & mountainous in nature.”
What are the key tourist attractions that no visitor should miss?
Lord Nelson’s Dockyard in English Harbour is a historical monument & museum. It gives an excellent account of Antigua’s colonial past & the history of why it was such a strategic post for the British Empire to keep as a main hub in the region during colonialism. As a result, it was key in England maintaining its sovereignty over the other English-speaking West Indian territories.
English Harbour is the main port for the yachting & sailing community & drives a large proportion of the local tourism industry’s GDP. It’s on the SE part of the island where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Caribbean Sea.
Shirley Heights Lookout (for the Sunday afternoon BBQ), Indian Creek & Devils Bridge are not to be missed for spectacular views & natural coastal formations, that create a fascinating geological landscape of the island’s natural beauty.
Fort James, a short distance from St John’s on the West coast, is a historical landmark with an amazing view of the beach where the islands of St Kitts & Nevis can be seen on the horizon most days. It is generally a beautiful part of the island on the Caribbean Sea. The St John’s Deep Water Harbour & the entire bay area inlet demonstrates its historical value. It is also a great place for horseback riding, swimming, the beach & surrounding views of the West coast stretching northwards towards Runaway Bay & Sand Haven Beach. There are local dining menus & entertainment with beach bars & grills.
Sting Ray City, as the name describes, is where you can get a tour to swim, feed & spend time with the stingrays in their natural habitat, along with a visit to the surrounding islands. It is part of the North Sound Coast which makes up a very viable ecological habitat.
What are the best things to do that many tourists may miss?
Betty’s Hope is a sugarcane plantation established in 1650, shortly after Antigua became an English colony, & was successful as an agricultural, industrial enterprise during the slave trade. The building was restored with a double windmill as a replica of the technology used during that period & is an important monument in signalling the changes towards self-sufficiency as the demand for sugar (molasses) grew through the centuries before emancipation from slavery. It is now an open-air museum with a visitors centre & great tourist attraction, located in the southern township of Pares village.
Harmony Hall is a restored sugar mill in Browns Bay on the NE coastline, which has a museum & restaurant. This section of the island has beautiful natural coves, inlets & a sanctuary for natural habitat. In addition, not far from Harmony Hall, is the world-famous Half Moon Bay, previously featured on many travel TV shows e.g. Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous. Also neighbouring Half Moon Bay is the private exclusive resort of the Mill Reef Club.
Nonsuch Bay is a picturesque natural bay with a beach resort & hotel making it accessible to other private islands, one being Guiana Island. This North Sound coast of Antigua is excellent for fishing, sailing & other water sports including kite surfing.
Redcliffe Quay is a shopping plaza close to Heritage Quay where the cruise ships dock. It contains nice boutiques, duty-free shopping, local crafts & trinkets to buy.
St John’s Anglican Cathedral is on the hilltop of Newgate St & is a historical monument built in 1681 & rebuilt in 1746. It is the largest church on the island & one of the oldest. It is of baroque architectural design & built on a fossil reef. Its panoramic view of the island makes it a great landmark. This is a beautiful part of the island in the capital city.
Antigua & Barbuda is a twin-island state & Barbuda is a great place to experience an ecotourism safari on this flat coral island. The island is mainly composed of limestone & clay deposits.
There are many beautiful beaches, including the very unique pink sand. It is pristine with wild deer roaming around, excellent swimming & snorkelling. Barbuda is a fantastic place to sample the lobster as the water around the island is rich in seafood & supplies lobster for all the local restaurants & hotels.”
It is also where you can try the delicious local cuisine of ‘goat stew’. Barbuda was hit hard by the hurricanes which devastated the area in 2017 but is working hard on recovery so all tourists are very welcome & any assistance is welcomed in this relief effort.
Barbuda has a bird sanctuary which is home to the endangered species, the Pelican. The island is only 30 miles away from its sister isle of Antigua & can be reached by air, ferry or other sea vessels (powerboat or catamaran) in approximately an hour.
The Old Road / Fig Tree Drive (rainforest) area to the hilly picturesque South Coast (Goat Track). The route encompasses & overlooks Falmouth Harbour, Pigeon Point Beach to Carlisle Bay, Old Road on the S Coast & beyond. You can also get a spectacular view of neighbouring islands Montserrat, Redonda, St Kitts & Nevis and the French island of Guadeloupe. Other similar trails in that elevated range can present you with breath-taking panoramic views of the entire island.
There is also another trail leading to Boggy Peak (now renamed Mount Obama) which is the highest point in Antigua & goes through a plantation of the famous Antigua Black Pineapple.
What are your recommendations to make this an even better experience?
If you’re interested in how the Caribbean people celebrate, then don’t miss the Carnival (Summer Mardi Gras) around 25th July to 2nd August.
This is when Antigua celebrates their freedom from slavery & colonialism. Antiguans use this as a way to express their cultural heritage, African ancestry, social commentary & future aspirations of the diaspora in revelry.”
Carnival features parades with costumes, masquerades, dancing, artistry, parties, steel bands, pageantry, Calypso & Soca music competitions (the folk music of the English-speaking Caribbean). It all ends with the J’Ouvert which is an all-day party from after midnight Monday, extending until the closing ceremony the next day (Carnival Tuesday), with the judging of bands & dance troops parading through the streets of the city.
Sailing Week – if you are into the yachting scene then Antigua is the place to be for the last week in April, 1st week in May. It is arguably one of the largest sailing regattas in the entire Caribbean & very festive.
Independence Day is a celebration on 1st Nov which is similar to Carnival but for 2-3 days of festivities & includes a national holiday.
It is said that Antigua has 365 beaches – 1 for every day of the year & these are some which I would recommend:
Rendezvous Bay, Half Moon Bay, Browns Bay,
Nonsuch Bay, Dickenson Bay (especially Tony’s Water Sports & Beach Bar), Dark Wood Beach
Valley Church Beach, Carlisle Bay, Pigeon Point Beach (Falmouth Bay), Sand Haven, Runway Bay, Fort James Beach, Buccaneer Cove, Cocobay Beach
Where are your favourite bars & restaurants?
The food is very diverse, spicy, aromatic & West Indian but uniquely Antiguan with the occasional European, Asian & North American blend. In addition, the seafood especially is excellent – whichever way you choose to eat it! I believe this is the best-kept secret of Antigua. The unique local cuisine gives Antigua a truly distinct Caribbean flavour of multiculturalism in its recipes.
Food & drink are inexpensive (& tastier!) here compared to larger countries & the hospitality is second to none as it is fresh & organic!
Putters (mini-golf restaurant & sports bar)
Al Porto (Italian)
Big Banana at Redcliffe Quay (pizza)
Le Bistro at Hodges Bay
OJ’s Bar & Restaurant, Crab Hill
Beach Limerz, Fort James
Sheer Rocks Restaurant at Cocobay
Dishes to try:
Fish, whichever way you like it (grilled, pan-fried, steamed, stewed, baked) with Caribbean style side dishes
Fungi / Cou-cou (cornflour pudding with okra) & fish
Ducana (sweet potato & coconut dumpling) with stewed codfish
English Harbour & Cavalier Rum
Caribbean Rum punch
Wadadli is the local beer which is named after the indigenous tribe (Arawak Indians) who inhabited Antigua before colonization.
Where to stay?
Catamaran Hotel (Falmouth Harbour)
Hawksbill (West Coast) is a traditional & exclusive but less pricey option with a great location & friendly ambience
Trade Winds Hotel (Halcyon Heights)
Curtain Bluff Hotel (South Coast)
What is your top piece of advice for anyone visiting for the first time?
You will be conscious that you are in a home environment because of the superior hospitality & service that creates the ambience for the perfect holiday escape. Although we are all self-protective, the island presents you with the experience of a new sense of freedom.
Be prepared to unwind, let down your guard & delve into the ultimate island adventure in paradise!”
To fully experience the beauty of the island, it is best advised that you don’t stay in one of the gated all-inclusive resorts that are on offer. There are many smaller & locally owned hotels, guest houses, apartments & condos which offer as good, or better, to create an easily accessible, fun-filled, safe vacation unlike any other destination regionally. If you do stay in one of the resorts, please do make time to get out & explore these best-kept secrets of my beautiful authentic twin-island state, Antigua & Barbuda!
SueWhereWhyWhat would like to say a HUGE thank you to Michael Christian for taking the time to share all this info & to Michael B & Caroline for their photos!
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