Blue waters, white sands, secluded coves and balmy trade winds. These key ingredients of a tropical paradise are served up in abundance on the two-island nation of Antigua and Barbuda. Add in a culture of welcoming West Indian graciousness blended with British customs, foods, and sports, and you have a complete recipe for a vacation.
Antigua’s slogan is a beach for every day of the year. With 365 beaches, coves and nooks ringing the coastline of this amoeba-shaped island, there is good reason to pack your beach togs. In addition, there are more than a dozen small islands and 25 named bays and harbors that circle the island. For an active beach and a mile long walk, west coast Dickenson’s Bay is the spot. To the south Jolly Beach offers a shoreside assortment of bars, restaurants and shops. East coast beaches such as Half Moon Bay and Long Bay are known for their stretches of white sand, while kite boarders and windsurfers head to Jabberwock Beach on the north coast. For a beach that’s all to yourself, catch a boat from Harmony Hall to Green Island.
2 The Other Island
A short hop from Antigua by plane or sailing catamaran, the laid- back and off-the-radar island of Barbuda offers 17 miles of near- deserted pink and white sand beaches where nature takes center stage and donkeys outnumber tourists. In addition to beach time, visitors can hike to historic sites and explore mysterious caves decorated in Arawak petroglyphs. Birders will find delight at the lagoon, where the Frigate Bird Sanctuary is home to 170 species of birds, including more than 5000 of the namesake frigate birds.
The steady trade winds that once brought tall ships to the most important port in the British Caribbean are now prized by yachtsmen who consider Antigua to be the Caribbean’s sailing mecca. Each spring the island is invaded by a flotilla of partying yachtsmen for Sailing Week, which is widely known as one of the premier sailing events in the world. Days filled with heated racing are followed by nightly parties at English Harbour. More regattas follow throughout the year, ranging from informal match races to major events such as the Jolly Harbour Valentine’s Regatta and the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta.
4 Cricket Season
From January to July the island is abuzz with cricket reports from matches across the island and around the Caribbean. The sport of cricket took hold back in 1820s, and while it took a long time to bridge the class and race boundaries it didn’t hurt that Antigua’s Sir Viv Richards dominated the cricket scene worldwide from 1974 until his retirement 1991. Today you can’t walk in a pub without a match being beamed on the telly.
5 Remains of the Empire
The stone buildings that line deepwater port at English Harbour were once the center of British Naval power in the Caribbean, and home to the fleet under the command of Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson. The dockyard is now a favorite place to take in history, shop, dine and overnight at a pair of small inns. The fortifications at Shirley Heights that once served as a lookout and gun battery now see Sunday gatherings devoted to eating, drinking and socializing to the music of steel drums. This island high point is also the best place to view sunsets over the harbor below.
6 Sugar High
At one time there were 170 sugar mills operating on Antigua. Today, the remnants of nearly 100 are still standing and scattered about the island. Many remain in ruins, but some have been preserved and restored. The intact mill at Betty’s Hope Estate is part of the island’s first and largest plantations. Similar stone towers can be seen at Hawksbill Resort, where the mill doubles as a boutique, at Harmony Hall, where the mill now serves as a lookout over Nonsuch Bay, and at Galley Bay, where the original structure is now incorporated into the resort’s lobby.
7 Adventures Afloat and Ashore
Land and sea activities are plentiful on the island. Coastal mangrove forests offer kayaking and bird watching. Diving and snorkel adventures include sea caves and coral canyons, while the reefs off Barbuda are home to 200 wrecks. Landlubbers will find plenty of trails to hike, and a local favorite are the hash runs, which are equal parts human foxhunt and party.
8 A Capital Market
The capital town of St. John’s is rich in history, inviting visitors to stroll a network of streets lined with buildings that date back to the 1800s, now updated and painted in bright colors. Once the administration and legal center of the British West Indies the town is home to many historic sites, along with the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda. Not to be missed is the lively fruit and vegetable market that spills onto the streets on Friday and Saturday mornings.
9 The Black Pineapple
Sweeter than the varieties from Hawaii, this thin, small fruit bursts with natural sugars and rich flavors. Individual pineapple plots can be seen on an island tour, and the larger 20-acre government owned Cades Bay Agricultural Station offers farm tours. For jars of pineapple jams and mango chutney stop at Elaine’s Culture Shop on Fig Tree Drive.
10 Island Art
Some of the best galleries in the Caribbean are found on Antigua. Many artists are in residence on island and you can meet and watch them work when they have open houses at their studios. During high season, monthly art shows are sponsored by Abracadabra and feature emerging artists from the Caribbean.