Find out the top things to do, where to stay, where to eat and drink, and some insider information to help you plan your holiday to Antigua in the Caribbean.
I’ve been lucky enough to visit the Caribbean a few times now, with travels in Cuba, a week at boutique music festival SXM in St Martin, and most recently a special ambassadorship for the island of St Kitts. I’ve loved seeing both how similar, and how different each of the islands are. So when the opportunity arose to visit Antigua, I jumped at the chance! I was ready for a week of sailing, sunshine, smiles and Susie’s Hot Sauce (an island fave!)
Antigua is the latest Caribbean stamp in my passport. From rum punch and bright colours, to local charm and of course – ocean that shade of aquamarine that draws tourists year after year, it was easy to see why it was so popular. On the flight over I read there are 365 beaches in Antigua, and I intended to visit as many as possible.
It was no ordinary week though. This particular week in May happened to be Antigua Sailing Week. The party scene was in full force, with sailing drills and competitions during the day, followed by rum-fuelled boat parties and concerts, all to a reggae soundtrack. Well this is the Caribbean after all.
So if you’re considering a trip to the Caribbean, why pick Antigua? And what are the things you just can’t miss when you get there?
Antigua: What’s The History?
A former British colony, Antigua was discovered by Christopher Columbus, who thought he’d finally reached Japan! Errr – almost! He originally named the island Wadadli, which incidentally is now the name of the local beer. Horatio Nelson built a dockyard on the island, which today is the only working Georgian dockyard in the world. Of course, the big industry was sugar – an industry full of tragedy and slavery. While abolished in 1950s, there are plenty of reminders in the form of the old sugar mills dotted all over the island.
Antigua: Why Visit?
If you’re fancying a super-relaxing holiday, then welcome to Antigua! The pace is slow, the tourist infrastructure is well established and there are plenty of hotel, villa and apartment options to choose from. For the adventurous, there’s easily enough to do to fill a week’s holiday, or for those who want to laze around, there are 365 beaches to pick from.
Antigua: How To Get There
There are several flights a week between the UK and Antigua (St John’s International Airport) with Virgin Atlantic and British Airways, and it takes just 8 and a half hours. Brits and Americans don’t require a visa for Antigua so long as you have an onward flight booked.
Antigua: Best Time To Visit
Mid-December to mid-April is usually considered the best time to visit Antigua. It’s the coolest and driest time in the Caribbean, plus it’s when Britain is coldest. Winter sun – tick! By July and August it gets pretty toasty on the island. Hurricane season runs from June to October but the worst month is September, so its best avoided if possible. Temperatures are pretty consistent all year around, and yes we’re talking between 25-30 degrees! Don’t forget to pack some good suncream – I tried out UltraSun on this trip and would definitely recommend it.
Antigua: How To Travel Around The Island
The best way to see the island is to hire a car for your trip. If you fancy living like a local, there are small mini buses connecting the main areas. You just have to flag them down, and they usually work out at around 3 EC Dollars for a short journey (under £1). Cycling is an option, but beware – Antigua is very hilly and some of the roads are pretty bumpy.
Antigua: Things To Do
From exploring the pristine beaches, to adventures on the water and learning the island’s history, Antigua is the kind of island you can happily take at whatever pace you fancy.
Hit The Beach
Locals claim there are 365 beaches to choose from, some enjoying the Caribbean’s calm waters, while others pick up the choppiness of the Atlantic. Sand is silky soft and comes in shades of white and pink.
Jolly Beach, Dickenson Bay, Pigeon Point Beach and Half Moon Bay are among the most popular!
Take A Trip To Barbuda
Antigua’s smaller partner in crime is only a 20 min flight or an hour and a half’s boat ride away. Pink and white sand, caves, wild deer and exotic birds await, along with main town Codrington – a place which many describe as like going back in time.
Visit Nelson’s Dockyard
UNESCO World Heritage Site Nelson’s Dockyard was once home to British warships (and of course Horatio Nelson himself). These days it’s a lively spot, buzzing with super yachts and sailors.
Explore Antigua’s Not So Sweet Past
As you drive around the island, you can’t fail to spot the chimneys of the sugar mills. A visit to Betty’s Hope is an emotional, but important stop on your island adventures. Dating back to 1651, you’ll learn about Antigua’s tragic history of slavery, and see restored windmills (complete with sails) plus a working distillery.
Get a Taste of the real Antigua at the Market
The vibe at Heritage Market is undeniably local. It’s vibrant and full of exotic sights. Selling fresh produce, you’ll see Antigua’s famous tiny pineapples, mangoes, custard apples, green oranges, and huge avocados.
Explore Antigua’s Colourful Capital
St John’s is one of the most colourful places I’ve ever visited. With vibrant block colour walls, if you prefer life in technicolour, you’ll have plenty of pics to snap here!
Views, Views, Views (and party) at Shirley Heights
The views from up here are really special, with English Harbour below (particularly busy during sailing week). It’s the most famous spot on the island for a Sunday session, with crowds gathering for beautiful sunsets, followed by reggae covers of big hits, and a big old BBQ. Don’t miss it!
Snorkelling and Diving
You’re never far from the water in Antigua, and swimming, snorkelling and diving are all popular. Head off diving or snorkelling and you might get to see angelfish, parrotfish, rays, barracuda, nurse sharks, turtles and dolphins. I snorkelled and spotted some southern rays and colourful fish.
Fly Through The Trees
Adrenaline lovers will enjoy seeing the island from the ziplines at Antigua Rainforest Zipline Tours.
Top tip – there’s a lovely cafe overlooking the rainforest for anyone who doesn’t fancy taking part!
Get Out On The Water
Sailing is hugely popular in Antigua, and I visited during the 50th Antigua Sailing week (29 April to 5 May). 150 boats took part from small yachts with groups of friends finding some competitive spirit for their holiday away, to billion-dollar super yachts. No doubt 2018 will be even bigger!
If you’re not fancying the hard work, book onto a boat trip with Tropical Adventures. They’ll take you on a tour of the island, serve up a great Caribbean feast and offer all the rum punch you can possibly drink!
Top Tip: If you visit during Sailing Week, you can head off on a special Chase The Race cruise. The captain will take you into the heart of the action for an adrenaline-filled view of the race!
Included in the all-inclusive package at Verandah Resort and Spa was stand up paddleboarding – another great fun way to get out on the water.
Get fit in the most fun way possible with FloatFIT HITT
Head to St James’s Club for a FloatFIT HITT class with Aquabase. Burpees, lunges and squats have never been so fun, as you float on the water with incredible views for inspiration.
Check out Devil’s Bridge
The billowing blowholes at Devil’s Bridge are caused by the colliding surf of the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. It gets pretty blustery up there, but it’s a great example of Antigua’s rugged coastline!
Experience Antigua’s Carnival
This year is the 60th Antigua Carnival from 28th July – 8th August, with plenty of dancing, colourful costumes and a party atmosphere!
An amazing way to explore Antigua’s natural beauty is by paddling through the mangroves. The North Sound Marine Park is home to beautiful mangroves, calm waters, starfish, sea cucumbers and upside down jelly fish.
Hiking in Antigua
Adventure types will want to venture inland to explore the lush rainforest. Mount Obama is certainly inviting, but another popular route is the hike to Boggy Point – prettiest, so I’m told, if you set your alarm for sunrise!
Antigua: What To Eat and Drink
While you’re never far from familiar dishes in Antigua, don’t miss an opportunity to try some Caribbean classics. Corn, coconut, Caribbean spiced chicken, curried goat, yams, plantain, conch, rice, beans and saltfish are all staples of the diet. Fresh seafood is available at most places, and usually of excellent quality!
Also, don’t forget to pick up some hot sauce to take home. Susie’s Hot Sauce is the most famous brand on the island and comes in a variety of spice levels…. Be warned, the tornado edition will blow the head off even the biggest of chilli addicts!
A few of my favourite dishes included fried plantain, coconut shrimp, hot and spicy shrimp, Caribbean BBQ chicken, grilled butterfish and conch fritters. They really brought to life all the best sweet, salty, sea-like flavours of the Caribbean.
When it comes to drinking in Antigua, it’s all about rum! Most restaurants and bars will serve their take on a Caribbean rum punch (dark or light rum usually mixed with tropical fruit juices (pineapple, mango, passion fruit etc) lime and sugar. Dark and Stormys were another of my favourites (rum, ginger and lime) along with a classic pina colada. Or if you fancy beer, be sure to try Wadadli – the local brew.
Antigua: Best Restaurants And Bars
Nicole’s at Verandah Resort and Spa – This fine dining a la carte restaurant serves up excellent seafood, salads and steaks. Be sure to try the coconut shrimp.
Shirley Heights Lookout– Starting the day with mackerel, okra and jonny cakes (a type of fried dumpling) will really give you a flavour of local life on Antigua. Plus, this breakfast spot boasts the most spectacular view of the island.
Beach Limerz – One of my favourite meals of the week, this beach bar serves excellent seafood right on the white sands, with a steel drum soundtrack. Be sure to try the shrimp and lobster here.
Ffreye’s Beach at Dennis Beach Bar – Perfect beach views from this restaurant, which happened to be one of my favourite meals of the week too. The hot and spicy shrimp were excellent, and once you’ve ordered you can nip to the beach for a quick swim before eating!
Trappas Restaurant and Bar – close to English Harbour, this casual restaurant has a buzzy atmosphere, and offers Caribbean curries, ceviche, sashimi, grilled fish and plenty more.
Papa Zouk – Run by a German film producer moved to the island, you’ll find plenty of great seafood here, and the island’s biggest selection of rums.
Antigua: Where To Stay
Verandah Resort And Spa – This all-inclusive eco-resort sprawls along the coastline with wooden villas with sea views. Spacious rooms, plenty for families, lots of food options, and a beach with all-inclusive watersports. Slightly out of the way for those who want to explore the island.
St James’s Club – All-inclusive with two great beaches, located close to English Harbour. Definitely take part in their FloatFit HITT classes, or their adult colouring relaxation time!
Jolly Beach – For those who want to be close to Jolly Harbour and located right on the Caribbean, this is a great option.
Cocobay Resort – Exclusive adults only, all-inclusive resort perfect for honeymooners. Beautiful private infinity pools overlook the Caribbean sea.
Antigua: Useful Tips
In Antigua, US Dollars and Eastern Caribbean Dollars are accepted, but EC Dollars are the official currency. While the rate isn’t always the best, I’d recommend having US Dollars as you’re more likely to use them up elsewhere. The rate is 1 USD = 2.67 ECD.
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