Antigua and Barbuda Offer a Lot More Than its 365 Beaches
By Tab Hauser
Senior Travel Writer
During the winter I prefer my ice in my glass and not under my feet. To make this happen, a visit to the tropical island of Antigua was just the ticket needed to beat the 2021 cold and COVID blues.
Antigua is located to the north of the Leeward Islands or southeast of St. Martin. It is 108 square miles and has 54 miles of coastline, claiming to have a beach for each day of the year. It is a hilly island with a high peak of 1319 feet. Antigua went independent from England in 1981 and speaks English
Visiting Antigua is quite pleasant. It has the advantage of being one of the sunniest of the Eastern Caribbean Islands along with low humidity. Its wonderful trade winds (more of a breeze) keep you comfortable in the shade and in the evening. There is also lots to do off the beach,
Antigua’s Many Beaches
Antigua’s beaches are what brings people there. It has one beach for each day of the year that are all open to the public.
These beaches are located just off the road or at different resorts. You can swim at resort beaches but you cannot step on the hotel property unless allowed. During our 22 day stay, we viewed or swam at a dozen different beaches.
What is nice about Antigua is that if the wind and waves are strong on one side, you can always find a calm beach on the leeward side. Beaches described here unless noted are on the calmer Caribbean side.
Darkwood Beach was recommended by many locals. It has a beach bar that rents chairs and umbrellas. (While the food was only average, the beer was ice cold) Floating just offshore is an inflatable bounce, slide and splash park.
Deep Bay is located by the Royalton Antiguan Resort but set the GPS for Fort Barrington. The water is always calm at the end of this long bay. Take good shoes for the five-minute steep hike to the top of the fort for its incredible views.
Dickenson Bay on the northwestern coast is very developed with restaurants, hotels and water sports. It is long enough to take a stroll on its soft sand but I find it a little too busy for my taste.
Pigeon Point is a quiet beach worth visiting after wandering around English Harbor (see below). We had lunch at Catherine’s Café and used their comfortable loungers.
Galley Bay is a beautiful strip of beach with a light surf at the Galley Bay Resort. At the north end is Giorgio Amani’s villa.
Hawksbill Bay is accessible by parking outside the resort’s gate and walking 15 minutes.
It is named after a large rock that looks like a hawksbill turtlehead. This is a long beach which at the end
allows swimming “au naturel”. With the beach bare of people, we did go skinny dipping.
Half Moon Bay is on the Atlantic side. This pretty beach is now less in favor due to seaweed on its shore. We also found it too windy.
Long Bay at the Pineapple Beach Resort is a good stop if you want a swim after visiting Devils Bridge nearby. The road here stops at the sand where there are picnic tables.
Antigua Sail and Snorkel
To get out on the water we used Tropical Adventures Antigua for two different boat tours. One was to Cades Reef and the other to Bird Island. The Cades Reef cruise went along Antigua’s scenic Caribbean coast. The other tour cruised north and east on the Atlantic side. While underway, the captain pointed out different beaches and places of interest in between the reggae and calypso tunes.
Both cruises offer snorkeling. At Cades Reef, the coral was not in good shape, but we did view the tropical fish in the clear water. Swimming from the boat to Bird Island we admired the elkhorn coral, tropical fish and the occasional stingray. Snorkeling up to the island you are met with the crew’s beach bar. Their specialty punch called “the baby maker” is quite potent.
Bird Island is undeveloped and home to some of Antigua’s endangered species including the harmless racer snake said to be one the rarest in the world. Take the ten-minute hike up a hill for an amazing view of western Antigua and the nearby little islands.
Lunch with Lobster
Both cruises come with a fine lunch, (lobster is extra), open bar and include a swim at Deep Bay. Tropical Adventure is a good one-stop place for both sea and land tours. https://tropicalad.com/
Getting Around Antigua
A good way to get to know this 11 X 14-mile island is by driving around at your own pace. It is easy to navigate using your cell phone GPS app. A hint for driving on the British side is to use small Post It Notes on the windshield that say “Think Left”. We used Chase Rental because of their fast email response, low rates and exceptional service. (www.chaserentacar.com/)
Stingrays and Donkeys
Stingray City Antigua runs a meet and greet tour of these beautiful creatures that glide through the water. After receiving a briefing, mask, and snorkel a speed boat whisks you 10 minutes to a
dock standing in four feet of open water. Guides there can help you feed or hold a Stingray. www.stingraycityantigua.com/
Five minutes from Stingray City is Antigua’s Donkey Sanctuary. This is an interesting and quick stop that introduces you to some of the 150 donkeys there.
Visitors are given a brush to groom them if they wish. Admission is by donation.
Taste of Antigua
Travel should always involve local food and drink. It is literally a good way to taste a place and get to know its people better.
On Saturday, the Public Market Complex in St. John bustles. This is an open-air food market in and around the building.
Here you can see vendors and buyers interact over produce on tables, counters and in the back of pickup trucks.
At the market, we picked up some freshly shucked sugar cane from the coolest jamming sugar cane guys. (20-second video at: Jammin Sugar Cane Guys )
Adjacent is where the fishmongers are weighing and cutting the fresh catch. Buyers jostle their way to get the biggest or best cuts of fish.
Steps from the fish market are food carts selling local hot food. Here a local grandma served us Antigua’s national dish called pepper pot complete with mini cornmeal dumplings.
In St. John, we took a food tour of the island’s cuisine while seeing a few landmarks with Eat’n Lime. Our guide walked us around much of downtown stopping at small restaurants or take-out places.
During our walk around we sampled minced salt fish and Johnnycakes at Annette’s, a large roti at the Roti King, a piece of salty and savory bread with cheese at Brownies. To cover the Jamaican influence we had a vegetarian dish at the Rastafarian place, One Stone and then Jamaican beef patties at Patty Delight.
Eatnlime Food Tours
As rum is the spirit of the Caribbean we sat down and took a deconstructed rum punch class at Quin Farara, a multi-generation family liquor store.
To make a real rum punch remember, “One of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, four of weak”. Afterward, we sampled Antigua’s five and ten-year aged rums neat.
For some amazing views and a walk through Antigua’s history allow half a day in English Harbor.
The Nelson’s Dockyard National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, covers sixteen square miles of the south coast. The three draws here are Nelson’s Dockyard, the Clarence House and Shirley Heights.
Nelson’s Dockyard began construction in 1741. It is named after Britain’s most famous Admiral, Horatio Nelson, who was the senior captain in 1784.
This the only Georgian dockyard in the world and a pretty place to stroll. The dockyard’s restored historical buildings now house hotels, restaurants, shops, a museum, and marina-related businesses. Docked at the end are beautiful sailboats.
The Clarence House, overlooking the dockyard is the only historical mansion open to the public. This impressive stone cut Palladian
style house was built in 1804 for the Navy Commissioner and was immaculately restored in 2016 by local craftsman. Outside it has a large awning that covers a wraparound porch. Inside is original and period-piece furniture. It is available for conferences and weddings.
Shirley Heights, high above English Harbor has incredible views of south Antigua, Montserrat and Guadeloupe. At the top there are the ruins left from the British army. Sunday nights bring out steel bands and BBQ in a party atmosphere.
Take a Hike
Antigua’s hiking trails go from mild to wild. Randy Allen (firstname.lastname@example.org) can help you arrange a hike across some of the valleys, rain forests or peaks.
We took an hour to climb the 1319 foot Mt. Obama, Antigua’s highest peak. From the top, you can see all of Antigua and some of the neighborly islands 50 miles away.
Antigua’s Sugar History
Betty’s Hope is the site of one of Antigua’s oldest sugar plantations owned by the Codrington family from 1674 to 1944. A visit here is a step back in time that starts with a one-room museum having a scaled model of the original estate. There is information explaining the history of the place, how sugar is made and its slave labor.
The rest of the property is an open-air museum in ruins with signs stating what each building did. Alongside the buildings, you can see a couple of rum distillation tanks getting weather-beaten.
A highlight is a fully restored windmill that ground the sugarcane into juice with all its gearing inside it.
Of the hundreds of windmills built on Antigua in the 1700 and 1800s, you can still see about 90 of them in various states of condition.
268 Buggies guides guests on a fun self-drive of UTV’s or off-road buggies on 2.5-hour tours. Drivers go zooming around Antigua’s dirt roads in the backcountry or through farms passing the occasional cow.
All tours stop for a well-needed swim at a remote beach. Bring sunglasses and a kerchief to keep the dust off your face. www.268buggies.com
The Galley Bay Resort is a “leave your worries behind” five-star adult’s only all-inclusive place on the perfect beach.
You can hear and see the surf 75 feet from every room and suite. Their luxury cabins by the lagoon have a very private plunge pool. The resort has a nice pool with a rocky waterfall surrounded by spaced-out lounge chairs and palapas each with a call button for drink service.
The food here is excellent and we were pleased there were no buffets. The extensive breakfast always had fresh fruit, and my favorite, coconut bread available every day. Lunch at Gauguin’s was served under individual palapas with an ocean view. (I could have lunch here the rest of my life and be very happy)
It was fine dining at Galley Bay every night at one of three restaurants. Menus always had an Antiguan special of the day. (Look for the pepper pot at lunch) The kitchen staff works around allergies and can cook you nearly anything with advance notice.
The Tee-Pee bar at the center of the resort had a diverse menu of drinks served all day using premium spirits on request.
In the evening there was a bar with nightly entertainment. There I ended each night sipping one of their fine rums that were aged 12 to 23 years old.
What sets Galley Bay Resort over others is its care and service. At most meals, one of the managers would stop and see how things are going.
It was also impressive to have met so many staff members working there for 20 years or more. It says a lot about a place. www.galleybayresort.com
Four Star St James Club
The St. James Club Resort is a nice four-star vacation place for families or couples. Accommodations are spacious oceanfront rooms and suites. There are also family villas.
The resort is located between an ocean beach and a tranquil bay. The bay is ideal for children and pleasant to swim in when the waves, wind, or seaweed may build on the ocean.
The bay is where the water sports area is located. Here there are plenty of lounge chairs spread around the large crescent-shaped beach.
A nice feature was the visiting bar cart driving around in the sand. (Another caring feature of the St. James Club was seeing an electric lawnmower cutting grass outside our suite in near silence)
Food at St. James Club offers a mix of sit-down and buffet dinners and a large buffet breakfast. Lunch by the bay always had a daily delicious local dish to try. Included is a coffee shop where you are tempted with sweets from morning until night. The resort has a large pool and bar and a smaller pool near the spa. www.stjamesclubantigua.com
For complete information on Antigua visit https://visitantiguabarbuda.com/
Pandemic Travel Note:
Avoiding COVID was important in our getting away. We felt safe in Antigua. It has a population of 97,000 and during our stay had a two-week average of about 25 cases per day and dropping.
Percentage-wise, that was about .03% of the population and significantly lower than home. We considered our risk of getting sick very low because everything except sleeping was outdoors.
It helped that all guests were tested before arrival and the resort staff got testing regularly. Staff vaccines were just starting.
Traveling during a pandemic requires a willingness to change and adapt. This meant for us flying in N-95 masks and safety glasses from the gate until arrival in Antigua where we switched to our normal masks. It also meant going with the flow due to the circumstances.
When we got to both resorts, not all its restaurants and services were open due to the lower guest count and that was OK because there was never a wait or a crowd. It was a tough season for the staff and we were really appreciative of their excellent service at both the St James Resort and the Galley Bay Resort.