Muddy Insider Guide: Antigua
Dreaming of sunny skies and turquoise waters? With the world slowly opening up to tourists once more, here's all you need to know about awesome Antigua
THE BEST BEACHES
One of the loveliest things about Antigua is that all 365 beaches are public, so even next to exclusive hotels the locals aren’t locked out of their own coastline – you’ll see Antiguan families rocking up on a weekend or after work to enjoy the sea and sand. To choose one beach over another is like asking which diamond you prefer, but good starting points are Long Bay (the proximity to the reef offers good snorkeling; Ffrye’s Bay, Darkwood Beach and Crab Hill Bay/Johnson’s Point, all in the south west; and Jolly Beach, with a white sweep of beach, safe bathing, and kayak, pedalo and scuba trips available, plus the marina complex next door for a spot of gawping.
SPEND A MORNING IN ST JOHN’S
Avoid the port itself with its garish international jewellery stores and cruise ships, and steer off instead to Redcliffe Quay (above) – more attractive, slightly quieter and with a better range of shopping and eating opportunities. The Museum of Antigua and Barbuda is worth a dip into, home to archeological exhibits, artifacts from the country’s colonial period and displays on Antiguan culture and history, but otherwise it’s more of a mooch around kind of place and you’ll be ready for your sun lounger after lunch.
Catherine’s Café Plage on Pigeon Point is excellent if you’re looking for a more formal gastronomic day to end a day at the beach. Robert de Niro is a fan of Papa Zouk Fish ‘N’ Rum, a restaurant/rum bar in an unassuming suburb of St John’s – there are over 250 rums from the Caribbean and the world waiting to give you the hangover of your life. Fish is fresh on the day and the vibe is informal and fun. For fine dining try the largely French menu of Le Bistro north of St John’s (ask for a verandah seat). Otherwise, check out Dennis’s Cocktail Bar and Restaurant above Little Ffrye’s Bay in the south-west (not far from COCOS) – classic Caribbean food that’s popular with the locals with reggae music and a bar on the beach below.
If you like more to your Caribbean holiday than simply white sands and rum punch, think about tying in your holiday with an island event. Antigua Festival is held form late July into August – 10 days of steel band music, street dances, parades and parties – and is always held over the anniversary of the emancipation from slavery and you can actually pay to join a group, wear a costume and twerk like your life depends on it. Annual Run in Paradise’s half marathon, 10km and 5km races took place in September this year, check the website for 2022 dates. The Antigua and Barbuda Independence Festival is held on 1 Nov to celebrate the islands’ 1981 independence – its a public event with parades, fetes and music, and free to spectators. If you’re planning for 2022 it’s worth tying in a trip with Antigua Sailing Week (late April/early May) for parties galore and beautiful sights on the seas.
HIRE SOME WHEELS
A typical Antiguan church
Hotels can get you to the tourist attractions but if you’re like me, you’ll want to zip around doing your own thing a bit too. Public transport links won’t always get you to the more remote beaches and destinations so this is the best way to get your ‘must-see list’ sorted and pootle around at leisure. The island’s only 10 square miles, so nowhere’s more than 45 minutes’ drive away and you can easily pick up a car in St John’s through Avis.
DON’T FORGET BARBUDA
Antigua’s sister island Barbuda was hit hard by Hurricane Irma several years ago and tbh it’s still recovering. However this undeveloped paradise is definitely worth island hopping for. It’s only 30 miles south of Antigua, so you can either take visit for the day on rum-punch-fueled catamaran trip, or stay for a few days at Barbuda Belle, a barefoot boutique escape overlooking powdery white sand and home to the Jelly Tree Bar & Grill and a tiny spa. Bliss.
Nelson’s Dockyard, English Harbour
Remarkably this elegant naval dockyard, at one time Britain’s main naval base in the north-eastern Caribbean and now the only continuously working Georgian dockyard in the world, was once one of the most heavily defended places on the planet. Nelson once served here (famously calling Antigua and ‘infernal hole’ – er Horatio, better rub those eyes), and it was given World Heritage status by UNESCO in 2016. Well worth a visit.
Shirley Heights for a sunset drink
This is a real institution – missing it is kind of like refusing to visit Big Ben or climb the Eiffel Tower. Every Sunday there’s a massive BBQ at the Shirley Heights fortification above English Harbour with steel bands, food and amazing views around the south of the island – it’s been running for more than 50 years and is a must-visit.
Rainforest canopy tour
If you have kids or are getting a bit stir-crazy on the beach, you might want to visit this zip-wire forest park to the south west of the island. There are suspended walkways, tree houses and a café at the end.
Want to compare Antigua to other possible Caribbean choices?
Hey, I can help you with that too! Check out my Insider’s Caribbean Travel Guide – it gives you all the info you need on the best places for family holidays, honeymoons, awkward teens and a whole range of other variables.