5 August 2013 by Bert Hyett
Whilst pure white sands and crystal clear waters are typical of all of the Caribbean islands, what you're blessed with in Antigua is it's extensively sinuous coastline. This feature has created a number of safe harbours and secluded beaches where you can spend your time in complete tranquillity. If you can bear to drag yourself away from the beach though there are plenty of other things to do on the island; the nearly unbroken wall of coral reef and wrecks around the island lend themselves to exceptional snorkelling and diving experiences but if you'd prefer to stay on dry land then a visit to the English Harbour is a must.
Festivals and Events
The Carnival annual festival takes place at the end of July and culminates with a bold parade on the first Tuesday in August. Based mostly in St John's and featuring calypso music, steel bands, masquerades and floats, this is an event not to be missed.
If you're travelling in October then you'll be fortunate enough to catch the Antiguan Jazz Festival.
Antigua is renowned for its connection to sailing and at the end of April this is celebrated with Antigua's sailing week. This attracts around 200 boats to the island and, along with the races, there are rum parties and barbeques.
Best beaches in Antigua
Antigua's tourist office boasts that there are 365 beaches, one for every day of the year. Unfortunately seeing all of them would be a questionable challenge so here are a few of the highlights.
- Dickenson Bay in the North West corner is ideal for water sports, and offers trips to Great Bird Island.
- Carlisle Bay, with its stunning backdrop of gently rolling hills and lush rainforest its definitely worth spending a day relaxing on.
- Half Moon Bay on the South Coast is known for its bigger waves, ideal for windsurfers and kite surfers.
- Beaches in the South West are less developed and therefore quieter; try Rendezvous Bay or Doigs Bay. Although more difficult to reach, they are certainly worth it.
Essential experiences in Antigua
- Make sure you explore St John's, the capital of the island. It's a major tourist centre but still has that true West Indian feel. Here you'll find shops, restaurants and galleries in quaint wooden huts along the harbour. There's also a duty free shopping arcade at Heritage Quay and a shopping complex with cafes and restaurants at Redcliffe Quay. If it's culture you're craving there's also a community-run museum with displays depicting island life. Don't forget to take in Antigua's landmark feature, St John's Anglican Cathedral, too.
- Immerse yourself in the history of the English Harbour; Nelson's dockyard is the safest landlocked harbour in the world and was used by Nelson, Rodney and Hood in the Napoleonic Wars.
- Diving or snorkelling is exceptional in Antigua, especially off the South and East coast. A popular site is the coral encrusted wreck 'The Andes' where visitors will see turtles, sharks and barracuda.
- One of the most picturesque routes on the island is Fig Tree Drive; hire a jeep and look out for rainforest, old sugar mills and churches.
- Take a day trip on a luxury yacht or catamaran and cruise to isolated beaches in order to act out your own castaway ambitions.
- A day trip to Barbuda is essential to bird lovers, Frigate bird sanctuary on the island offers 170 species of bird and is only accessible by boat from St John's.
Read and Watch
Sir Vivian: The Definitive Autobiography', written by Antigua's most celebrated sportsman, cricketer Vivian Richards. It's the story of his career and a great read for cricket fans travelling to the West Indies.
'Annie John' by Jamaica Kincaid, is an evocative story of a young girl growing up on the island of Antigua.
Food and drink in Antigua
Like most Caribbean islands, Antigua enjoys exceptional seafood. Make sure to try the lobster and red snapper in particulr. If you're looking for something traditional then try the 'pepperpot' stew, or 'ducana', a sweet potato dumpling served with saltfish. For something sweet try 'duckanoo', a dessert made with cornmeal, coconut spices and brown sugar or simply a fresh Antiguan pineapple, small, round and extra sweet. Antigua's fresh fruit is outstanding and makes great fruit juice, fantastic on it's own and even better in a Rum Punch. Cavalier Rum is the islands own rum. If you fancy a beer instead then Wadadli is the local brew.
- Le Bistro is a French restaurant in Hodge's Bay run by chef Patrick Gauducheau and open Tuesday to Sunday for dinner.
- Carmichael's on Sugar Ridge serves Caribbean fusion food.
- If you're looking for an authentic Antiguan experience, try the Commissioners Grill in St John's open daily for lunch and dinner.