Antigua boasts 365 beaches, one for each day of the year! In fact, much of it seems like one long, continuous beach around the island. (Still, no complaints there!)
The island is undulating and green and the highest point is Shirley Heights in the southeast, which is the prime place for partying, along with what seems like the entire population of the island, at their ‘jump-up’ on Sunday night.
Think reggae, steel drums and plenty of rum!
Make sure to get up there before sunset, for photo opportunities galore across the coastline and inlets. For females travelling to the island, it is worth being careful when alone. Local men can be rather over friendly and, because so much of the island is hotel based, there are many quiet areas. So, it is worth staying in groups to visit remote areas during the day or on trips to town in the evening. If you are travelling alone and want to meet people, then choose one of the activity-based hotel resorts to avoid an overdose of honeymooners. That way you can get a group together, hire a jeep and take to the open road. Alternatively, most accommodation offers day trips that you can book via your hosts.
Antigua has a fascinating history, not unlike something from Pirates of the Caribbean. Long used as a base for successful sugar plantations, the ruins of which can be seen in a multitude of locations all over the island. On Antigua, you can still see sugar being harvested in the fields for rum making to this day.
The island played a vital role in securing the safety and success of the British fleet during the 1800s, under Nelson, with its secluded inlets allowing ships to hunker down during bad weather or for repairs. Today, you can see the port and its fortifications’ dating from that period, at the aptly named Nelson’s Dockyard in English Harbour. You can even pop to a local hotel for traditional English afternoon tea. It can be quite a novelty to take afternoon tea al fresco, with a guarantee that it won’t rain!
The capital, St John’s, also has sites of historic interest, such as the cathedral, the Antigua and Barbuda museum and the former courthouse. St John’s is also the place for souvenir shopping, but be aware that there are not many real bargains to be had, due to the prevalence of countless cruise ships passing through. Gifts on sale include locally brewed rum, sarongs and tropical style clothes, jewellery, perfume, and the usual holiday knick-knacks. Head over to Harmony Hall, in Browns Bay, at Nonsuch Bay in the east of the island for more authentic offerings. Here, the local art community holds exhibitions and sells pieces year round, and there are prominent, larger arts and craft exhibitions in November. Harmony Hall is set in one of the converted sugar mills and has a bar where you can survey your purchases whilst admiring the inspiring view. Also over this side of the island is Half Moon Bay, a quiet, evocative crescent of sand that you may well have all to yourself.
Unsurprisingly, where you have turquoise waters, you also have water sports…in abundance. Most hotels and beaches offer the opportunity to try your hand at kayaking, sailing, snorkelling, scuba diving and deep-sea fishing for Marlin or Barracuda. Of particular note is the Antigua Sailing week held each April, which is exciting, as a spectator either from the hills on land, from a boat on the water or for an exceptional view, by helicopter. The best time to visit is from November to June, when it is drier. The months from June through to October are more changeable, often raining in the afternoon and, if you are truly unlucky, there is a passing storm or hurricane.
All over the island, you’ll also be able to witness the locals’ obsessive love for cricket, whether played in the imposing Sir Vivian Richards Stadium or on patches of grass, in villages, by smiling children. However, if all that sounds a tad too energetic, then settle down on the white sand with a good book and order a rum punch. You can’t beat it.