Antigua & Barbuda, West Indies
Here is everything you need to know before visiting the beautiful island of Barbuda. I spent the first 6 months of 2019 making a base for myself in gorgeous Antigua. Antigua & Barbuda are a twin-island state, 60 kilometres apart. Antigua has a population of 100,000 people, 365 beaches (one for every day of the year), a deep harbour which takes 4 cruise ships a day & numerous luxurious all-inclusive resorts. You can read my post for the top 20 reasons to visit. I also have an Insider’s Guide if you prefer to hear it from a true local!
By contrast, Barbuda’s population is just 2000 or it was until the island was devastated by Hurricane Irma in 2017. Everybody had to leave & with the help of numerous charities, the islanders are slowly rebuilding. However, only 900 of its inhabitants have so far returned. You can read more about the impact of the hurricane in this article.
“Barbuda is home to a Frigate Bird Sanctuary, a 17-mile long pink sand beach & some of the best lobster in the Caribbean. Here is everything you need to know before visiting Barbuda & sampling all this for yourself.”
Barbuda has just one settlement, the village of Codrington. It was named after the British family who owned the island over 300 years ago (more on them later). Codrington remains the only place where running water & electricity are supplied, therefore, it is home to all but a few residents. Despite its natural wealth, the island remains virtually untouched by tourism. For me, this was enough reason to plan a visit. I finally got there in my last week & here is my account of why you should make the effort to visit as well.
Unfortunately, Hurricane Irma took its toll on the hotels & guesthouses here too. Barbudaful is a great website for all things Barbuda & has more up to date details on the guesthouses which are now open for business.
To read more about what to expect when you visit after a hurricane, please read my previous post.
“Despite the initial presence of several charities, offering aid to the islanders in rebuilding their homes, many places still have no access to electricity & running water.”
The charities have now left but the evidence of their activities can still be seen everywhere. Our guide informed us that unless residents have returned to the island, there is no progress on their homes. Some are just too traumatised by the experience to return. He lived in a tent for 8 months but is now putting the slow finishing touches to his property. The relationship between the twin islands is not an overly friendly or supportive one.
What do you need to know?
How Do You Get There?
To get to Barbuda, you take the Express Ferry service from the dock in St Johns, Antigua. The journey there is 90 minutes via ferry (US$85). A return trip with a tour (recommended as it’s hard to organise once you arrive) is US$164 per person. You can book ahead of time, but we turned up early at the ferry dock & booked from there. The tour includes the return ferry journey, a taxi trip around the island, visit to the frigate bird sanctuary, the pink sand beach & a lobster lunch. If you book at the ferry terminal you can also pay using a credit card (just remember to take ID).
The ferry leaves at 8.30am on Mon, Tues, Thurs & Fri, returning at 4.30pm. On Wednesdays, it makes 2 journeys. There are tours available every day except Sundays & check the schedule for Saturdays as it says, “Available for charter”. All details are on the website for Barbuda Express.
SVG offers flights in a small 7-seater plane for US$65. Apparently, the schedules change regularly & the flights are often cancelled so make sure they have your contact details & expect an erratic service.
We arrived at 10am to be met on the dockside by Levi, our guide & were the only tourists visiting that day. Getting into his car, we headed north for our first stop. I was surprised by how different the landscape is to Antigua.
“The island is very flat as much of it sits below sea level. Most of Barbuda is taken over by wild bush, making it one of the most unspoilt islands in the world. In 2016 Conde Nast Traveller named it as one of their ’top destinations to watch’.”
The bush creates a habitat where you can find deer, wild boar, land turtles & guinea fowl. On our journey, we passed through Codrington seeing sheep, donkeys & horses roaming along the route. Evidence of the hurricane is still obvious, with properties in disarray along the road. It has clearly been a long & traumatic journey to get this far with the rebuild.
The Codrington family were major landowners across the West Indies, developing plantations in Barbados & Antigua. In 1685 they were granted the first 50-year lease for Barbuda. They were rewarded for their efforts in maintaining English supremacy across the region. In 1705, the family were gifted an extension for a further 99 years.
The first stop on our tour was the national park in Two Foot Bay. Levi told us the story of how the Codrington family had initially been busy clearing the land. The plan was to cultivate it for farming. During the clearance process, however, Codrington changed his mind & came up with a more controversial idea.
“He decided to breed slaves. There then started a 30-year business, taking slaves from neighbouring islands & breeding them to sell back into a life of slavery elsewhere.”
In Two Foot Bay, there are the remains of a watchtower, built for use in another questionable plan. Codrington set up a fire on the high ground in the north. He would instruct the slaves to go to the watchtower & when they saw a ship approaching, alert the men to light the fire. This would trick the crew onboard the ship into thinking they had reached a safe haven. As they headed for safety, the boats would hit the reefs, wrecking the vessels & leaving the crew no choice but to abandon ship. At this point the inhabitants of Barbuda would go & steal all the contents, creating a highly lucrative enterprise for their master. Apparently, they would save the sailors but as all the stealing happened on his land, it was all perfectly legal.
Two Foot Bay
Now, this is a stunning area & national park in the north of the island, with no other discerning evidence that it was ever the site of such horrific history. Now, you can walk along a perfect white sand beach & by climbing a little way, end up in a large cave overlooking the water. Again, I reiterate, when I visited, we were the only ones there, apart from the tracks left by the soldier crabs in the sand. It really did feel like I had found my own private paradise.
Through to the back of the cave, we climbed up the rocks to re-emerge on the high ground, looking down past cactus & along the cliffs. The view of the Atlantic Coast was truly breath-taking! We were in no rush to leave but then heard that our next stop was the Magnificent Frigate Bird Sanctuary.
Frigate Bird Sanctuary
I visited in June when the male birds had migrated to the Florida Keys to mate with females in the US. The males can take your breath away, especially when they are trying to attract a mate.
“The sight of these creatures puffing up their bright red chests while cawing loudly & ruffling the feathers on their wings is a sight to behold.“
I was lucky to have seen this during my recent trip to the Galápagos Islands (the photos below are from there).
The males are present on the island between October to April, however, on our visit we were treated to hundreds of females. They are not as colourful but when you see the sheer size of the wingspan it’s difficult not to be in awe. With them, were the very cute, white fluffy chicks & juveniles. In our small boat, we were able to get very close without causing any interest at all from the birds. However, we were slightly concerned when we got grounded a couple of times as the water here is so shallow.
What was interesting to hear was how the bird colony survived the hurricane. They all left beforehand & although there was a concern that the creatures may never return, the area was thriving again a month later. They clearly love Barbuda & I have to say that I don’t blame them!
Princess Diana Beach
From the sanctuary, we headed to the other side of the lagoon, where we disembarked the boat for a bit of time on this 17-mile-long beach. Again, we were the only people there. As I walked across the sand, I literally took a sharp intake of breath & yelped as I saw the sheer beauty of the clear blue water on the other side. Then, on closer inspection, realised that the beach was actually comprised of coral which gives it a pink hue, especially when it’s wet.
It was easy to get carried away taking photos of this pink sand beauty, but Levi had given us a time limit. We still had to get lunch & make it back to the ferry in time! I was straight in the water, all the while pinching myself.
“In this time of over-tourism, how I could have this natural beauty all to myself? It was one of those moments when you can only feel grateful for the opportunities to experience these things.”
True to our word, regretfully we had to leave & head back to the boat. Levi returned across the lagoon, before depositing us in another slice of paradise for lunch. We ended up in a true, no-frills beach shack. Lobster season is between July – April (I visited in June). I had been looking forward to sampling Barbuda lobster for 6 months, but ended up missing out! It wasn’t a problem. Today had been so perfect that I always like to find a reason to return!
“It was a delicious, rustic & truly authentic experience.”
Again, we were the only diners. The beach outside was magnificent too, broad, white powder sand.
After lunch, I took it all in. This had been a unique & amazing day. Levi had been an excellent guide & even managed to track down a friend who had a spare lobster which we could take home with us! True to his word, he deposited us back to the wharf for our 4.30pm ferry back to Antigua.
I hope I have now given you everything you need to know before visiting Barbuda. I had nearly been put off a trip by the price but fuelled by a determination to try everything I could, I bit the bullet. I’m so pleased I did. After all, how often do you really find yourself alone in paradise?
Interested to read more?
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