A place rich in history, diverse nature and stunning views. If you are looking for the Caribbean “whole package” Antigua and Barbuda fit the definition. Independent since 1981, Antigua and Barbuda was first colonized by the English in mid seventeenth century. Much of their rule was marked by slavery started to run cotton plantations, and of which legacy can be found throughout the islands. Antigua was also a key military post for the British navy and it is here where Horatio Nelson was garrisoned for many years and has dockyard named after him.
|Size||170 square miles (440 square kilometers)|
|Population||101,000 (91% Black, 4.4% multiracial, 1.7% European, and 2.9% other)|
|Status||Independent country since 1981, part of the Commonwealth|
|GDP per capita (2014)||$25,998|
|Currency||Eastern Caribbean dollar pegged to US dollar|
|Electricity||US standard two-prong|
|Driving||on the left, local driving license or permit required|
Visitors to these beautiful islands have a huge amount of choices as far as where they stay, what and where they eat and what activities they pursue. Tourism is the key industry for this small nation and growth in the area is significant – you are likely to run into new hotel or villa construction while you are there. Hence, you will find plenty of options to spend your time as well as modern comforts here. In addition, Antigua is a second (or third!) home to many celebrities who own expansive mansions throughout the island so you have a good chance to be starstruck at some point while visiting.
Although Antigua and Barbuda are one country, since hurricane Irma hit in 2017 they unfortunately cannot be described together as a similar destination with the same features and amenities. Whereas hurricane Irma mostly spared Antigua, it devastated 90% of Barbuda and prompt evacuation of all of its population. Today, the island has recovered greatly and as much as half of it population has returned. However, several main hotels remain closed and services for visitors are still hindered.
If you like direct flights, you are in luck! You can get to Antigua’s V. C. Bird International Airport on a non-stop flight from several US destinations – New York (both JFK and Newark), Atlanta, Miami, Charlotte as well as from Toronto and UK’s London Heathrow. You can also get good connections though these cities from other locations in North America and Europe and your total travel time one way should not exceed 10 hours. However, note that the direct flights are usually once or twice per week in off-season and three to five times per week in season (December through April). Separately, it is important to mention St. John is and important port-of-call for major Caribbean cruise lines. Therefore, you also have an option of exploring Antigua for a day or two while on such a cruise.
Four wheel drive is the best way to get around Antigua and explore hidden spots that others may have missed. The island roads are not in great condition, and you will encounter lots of potholes especially on side and minor roads, of which majority are simple dirt tracks. However, if you plan to only travel between a resort and the airport or St. John’s than a standard car will do just fine. As far as taxis you will find plenty of them at the airport and many of them are mini buses picking up 10-15 people at a time and dropping them off at their various hotels. You will also be able to get a taxi to and from most hotels within 30 minutes of ordering one. For the more adventures, you can find local buses in several locations in St. John’s that have regular stops along the main roads of the island. However, their timings are pretty unpredictable and you may end up wasting much time.
If you want to visit Barbuda, you can book a flight from St John’s or take a 90 minute ferry (bumpy!), which departs St. John’s harbour five times a week (most days except Mondays and Wednesdays). Check out the website of Barbuda Express for latest schedule and pricing.
Things to explore
One of special features of Antigua is its geography. Looking at a map, you will notice the island has a very uneven coast with lots of coves and sheltered bays as well as small islands close to the coast. Such shoreline means that Antigua prides itself of hundreds of beautiful pristine beaches surrounded by calm, blue waters and sheltered from strong winds. In fact, the locals have counted as many as 365 beaches in Antigua and Barbuda, which will keep you busy all year round!
Our personal favorite beach, and one, of which you won’t read in many guides is Deep Bay beach located on the north-western coast of Antigua. The beach is in a bay facing small hills on one side and remains of Fort Barrington, which dates back to 1779, on the other side. From the top of the fort you can seem much of St John’s and Five Islands village. In the middle of the bay’s shallow waters lies a 100 year old shipwreck, which is great fun to explore for snorkelers. The beach stays empty most days and you can have it all to yourself. However, note the drive to Deep Bay is difficult and due to its remote location, safety should be top of your mind.
Of course, Antigua and Barbuda are so much more than just the beaches! Head to St.John’s to explore its colorful public food market (opened on Fridays and Saturdays), Redcliffe and Heritage Quays, which are buzzing shopping areas with tens of shops and restaurants as well as the museum of Antigua and Barbuda where you can learn much about the island’s history, geology and nature. Outside the capital you will definitely want to visit English Harbour, which is the location of Nelson’s Dockyard, the only Georgian era dockyard in the world still in use. You can visit the local museum, admire the 18th century architecture or hike Shirley Heights just outside the town, which offers stunning views of the surrounding hills and beaches. For even more history, visit Betty’s Hope in Pares and the town of Falmouth, both of which were a site of sugar plantations founded in the 17th century. And, if you are a nature lover – head to Antigua’s rain forest and its highest point, Mt. Obama located in the south-west of the island. In good weather conditions, you will be able to see much of the island from it as well as most of the beautiful forest around you.
Although you can find any type of hotel your heart desires on Antigua, as of December 2018 you will be out of luck when it comes to Barbuda. Due to devastation from storm Irma, the few hotels that used to operate on the island have either closed temporarily or permanently. The one that has just recently reopened is Barbuda Belle, a boutique, luxury hotel located in the north of the island. When it comes to Antigua, the number of great quality hotels is too high to list even the majority of them. Hence, here are three hotels that each cater to completely different wants and needs:
• Jolly beach Resort – located right on beautiful Jolly Beach and a walking distance from Jolly Harbour this all-inclusive resort is perfect for those who want to have all amenities close by and are looking to simply relax and enjoy the beach. Great for families and kids the hotel is a good value for money and relatively close to the airport and St. John’s
• Jumby Bay Island – for those looking to spend their vacation in style and away from crowds, or in fact, civilization, this small five star and all-inclusive hotel offers it all. Stunning villas are surrounded by private beach and a golf course. Spa services are available pretty much 24/7 and the food is spectacular. The only problem is getting a booking, as the hotel sells out months in advance
• Blue Dream Antigua B&B – if you don’t care for glamour or many amenities, but care for privacy and natural beauty at a good price, you will find this B&B to be the perfect getaway. It only has four rooms overlooking beautiful Willoughby Bay and sits in the midst of a rainforest allowing you to enjoy the sounds of nature and your company without much disruption
It is worth keeping in mind that hotel prices in Antigua like in most of Caribbean drop significantly in low season (April to July and late October to early December) by as much as 50%. Hence, consider carefully your options and timings before making a reservation.
Food & restaurants
Have you ever tried black pudding or dukuna? How about fungi (no, not mushroom)? These are just several of unique Antiguan dishes, which are very popular on the island, and which you will surely be offered at some point during your stay. Antiguan food is varied and rich in protein. However, good local restaurants are hard to come by as many have been put out of business out by hotels with all-inclusive options. Of the surviving ones, most offer an eclectic menu, but there are several with a fantastic Caribbean options and reasonable prices. Check out Papa Zouk in St. John’s and Russell’s in Fort James. Worth keeping in mind: dinner dress code is formal with collar shirt and long pants for men, while tips are optional and based on service received.
Big, all-inclusive hotels in Antigua will usually have an evening schedule, which includes dance nights, performers and games. For those willing to venture outside of their hotel, most of your night time options will be in English Harbour, where you can find several bars and clubs like: Abracadabra, Mainbrace Pub and Shirley Heights Lookout, which doubles as a restaurant and a late night hangout on Sunday evenings. If you don’t mind trying your chances at a Black Jack, you can visit King’s Casino in St.John’s Heritage Quay.
Sports & adventure
Are you interested in any of the following activities: windsurfing, kite surfing, kayaking, diving, snorkeling, zip-lining, golf, cricket, yachting, sailing, fishing, safaris, cycling, horseback riding or off-road driving? If you said yes to any of these, you are in luck – you can do any of them extensively on Antigua. Most of the bigger hotels offer equipment and lessons for many of these activities and there are also several tour operators that do others and leave their leaflets in hotel receptions.
With so many lovely coves surrounding the island, yachting is a popular activity that will allow you to visit secluded inlets and islands and dive into coral reefs and shipwrecks rarely disturbed by human visitors. Antigua’s popularity as a yachting destination is also a reason why every April it hosts the biggest regatta in all of the Caribbean – Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta.
If you are a cricket fun, you would have likely heard of an Antiguan Sir Vivian (“Viv”) Richards, who was a captain of the West Indies team and played often at Antigua Recreation Ground, which is the island’s national stadium. The venue has hosted many test matches and with careful planning you may want to be able to combine your vacation with attendance to one or several matches (just don’t get your spouse upset!).
Safety and security
Antigua and Barbuda are generally safe, but caution is advised. Staying late at night in St. John’s is not advised as crime rates in the city are higher than in other parts of the island and tourists are the preferred targets for thieves. Poverty is visible across the islands and recent hurricanes have made things much worse. Despite their struggles, however, most locals are friendly and will make you feel welcomed!
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