How To Make The Most Of Your Antigua Holidays
When thinking about Antigua holidays, most people immediately start picturing gorgeous, white sand beaches, palm trees and an endless refill of piña coladas or daiquiris while laying lazily in the sun.
I have just returned from a trip Antigua, where I have spent an incredible week, and I can promise that there’s much more to this tiny island than meets the eye. It surely caught me by surprise, and in a wholly positive way. My Antigua holidays were nothing short of perfect.
As soon as I arrived in this tiny Caribbean gem, I met its sunny, friendly and incredibly welcoming people. Billboards around the island greet visitors with a massive “Welcome to Paradise” – rightly so, because anybody who spends a few days is ab solutely charmed by Antigua beaches, and finds an incredible variety of things to do in Antigua, making it a perfect holiday destination.
Sure enough I made the most of my Antigua holidays. This post aims at providing a few tips on things to do to make the most of your Antigua holidays. But before doing that, I shall share a few facts about this beautiful country.
A Few Facts About Antigua
A Bit Of History (and culture)
Antigua and Barbuda is a twin-islands nation in the heart of the Caribbean. No more than 100000 people live in the archipelago, whose capital is the colorful and lively Saint John’s. Barbuda was severely affected by Hurricain Irma in September 2017, resulting in all its inhabitants being evacuated to Antigua, which on the other hand was hardly affected: Antigua beaches haven’t suffered any damages.
The English settled in Antigua in 1632 and in Barbuda in 1684: slaves were brought in from Africa to be used on the sugar plantations, with slavery finally being abolished in 1834. Antigua and Barbuda became independent on 1 November 1981, remaining part of the Commonwealth of Nations. Antigua has a rich history, and as I will explain in this post, one of the top things to do in Antigua is learning about it.
One thing I didn’t know before my Antigua holidays is that the national sport is cricket – there’s fields across the island, and a state of the art stadium too. Another beloved sport is sailing, with Antigua sailing week attracting lots of locals as well as tourists from all over the world.
People In Antigua
If there’s one thing I loved during my Antigua holidays, that’s the people. I think it is hard to beat the welcoming vibe, the genuine friendliness and the smiles of Antigua. Anywhere I went people were nothing but nice to me, always keen for a chat, always helpful. A friend and I noticed how, whenever we said “thank you” the locals would reply “you’re welcome.” Such a small, simple thing that truly made a difference and restored my faith in the Caribbean region, after a close to disastrous trip to Cuba.
To read more about my experience in Cuba, read this post.
The majority of people in Antigua are of African descent (around 95%); and around 80% are Christians, one thing which is reflected in the many colorful (and some really antique) churches scattered around the island. One of the nicest things to do in Antigua is visiting the churches, though it’s not always easy to find them open.
Languages In Antigua
The official languageof Antigua is English– though one of the first things I noticed after arriving is that among themselves locals speak Antiguan Creole. Around 10% of Antiguans also speak Spanish. As everyone speaks English, getting to talk to the locals is very easy, and in fact it’s one of the nicest things to do in Antigua.
When To Visit Antigua
Antigua gets two seasons: dry and wet. Needless to say, it rains a lot in the wet season, and I would advise against booking any Antigua holidays between August and October, when there’s a higher risk of hurricaine. December to April mark the dry season, and are thus high season. July and August are great months to visit for cultural events (it’s when the carnival takes place). I visited in May, for sailing week, and the weather was pleasant, mostly sunny, with the occasional short and strong showers.
Getting To And Around Antigua
Antigua holidays are easy to organize as the country airport is served by many international airlines, such as American Airlines, United Airlines, Air Canada, Delta, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic. There’s direct flights to many cities in the US, to London Gatwick and even to Milan Malpensa in Italy.
Once on the island, most people get a shuttle to their resort and join a guided tour to explore a bit. Yet, one of the nicest things to do in Antigua is driving around aimlessly: that’s how I stumbled upon forts such as Fort Barrington or Fort Berkeley; and why I recommend renting a car.
As in most former British colonies, driving in Antigua is on the left (or shall I say wrong?) side. Renting a car isn’t just one of the nicest things to do in Antigua: it’s also much cheaper than joining a guided tour, especially if the costs can be shared among several people. In order to rent a car, a valid driving license is needed, which will be used to issue a temporary license typically valid for 90 days.
The driving on the left shouldn’t be of concern. There is a bit of traffic in the capital, but locals are used to tourists looking lost and confused and in fact often stop them to offer directions and help (and how nice is it to meet the beautiful locals during Antigua holidays!). Outside the city, there really aren’t many cars at all – just a lot of speed bumps, pigs and donkyes roaming freely: so drive slowly!
Currency In Antigua
The local currencyis the East Caribbean Dollar (XCD). At the time of writing, the exchange is $1 USD to $2.7 East Caribbean Dollars. Locals commonly use the word “dollars” to refer to XCD, which caused a lot of confusion during my Antigua holidays. I was almost outraged when I was asked to pay $10 XCD for a meal in the streets of St.John’s, but then I realized that’s less than $4 USD!
17 Things To Do During Your Antigua Holidays
Enjoy the amazing Antigua beaches
I know what a good beach looks like: I grew up in Sardinia! So take my word for it – Antigua beaches are beautiful. Imagine sand as white and soft as it gets; add thick vegetation as a backdrop and clear, turquoise waters, and it’s easy to get the picture.
What’s best is that Antigua beaches are empty! I am not sure if it was due to the day or the time of year, but surely was a real treat to have the beach all to myself on certain occasions.
The following are only some of beaches that should not be missed during Antigua holidays:
Darkwood beach: this is one of the best beaches in Antigua, often swept by the strong winds thus making it a favorite for those who like wind surfing or kite surfing.
Turners beach: among Antigua beaches, this is pure tropical perfection. There’s a few restaurants right on the beach, where to enjoy the famous Caribbean food and atmosphere.
Rendezvous bay: considered one of the best beaches in Antigua, this pristine beach is located on the south coast of the island and it can only be reached on a four-wheel drive.
Morris bay: among Antigua beaches, I’d say this is a hidden gem where it not for the fact that it is super easily accessible. I can’t explain why there was literally nobody there when I went, but the complete lack of people surely was no deterrent to my full enjoyment. The beach is located opposite Old Road village.
Long bay: among the best beaches in Antigua there’s the one that I went to every day, as that’s where the resort where I stayed is located. It sure was a nice perk to my Antigua holidays. The beach is small, the incredibly white and soft, and the vegetation is thick all around. There’s a few boats docked on the beach, and when I went to see the sunrise (jet-lag hit me really badly!) I spotted a few locals enjoying an early morning swim.
Snorkel and kayak on the reef
Antigua is famous for its clear waters, so one of the ultimate things to do in Antigua is to kayak through the mangroves and then snorkel to admire the beautiful marine life.
Practice water sports
With such gorgeous waters, Antigua is a great location for water sports. Windsurfing and kite surfing are popular on the island. There’s also some great diving spots. I would have loved to go diving during my Antigua holidays, especially after having tried it in the Maldives for the first time, but unfortunately I didn’t have time to do it.
I had tried yoga only one ages ago, but when I saw it was on offer at my resort, I decided to give it another try. One of the nicest things to do in Antigua is learning the best Pranayama yoga practices, which help relax the mind and the body.
Chase the Race (or just go sailing)
Chase the Race is one of the most fun things to do in Antigua during sailing week. Every day a beautiful catamaran sets to sail to follow the regatta, going on the open waters and offering passengers a wonderful experience at the seas, with plenty of opportunities to snorkel, and eat and drink on board.
But… I admit I didn’t do this one, though my Antigua holidays were right during sailing week. Those who read my blog know that I love swimming, I love the ocean, I go diving, snorkeling and all. One thing I can’t do, though, is sailing. I have tried to sail in Panama and it didn’t go quite well. I thought I’d spare myself the suffering, and spare my friends (who went to Chase the Race) the worry of seeing me in agony for sea sickness. Those who went said it was an incredible experience, so I thought I’d share it with you.
Here’s a selection of some other great sailing tours in Antigua:
- Full day small group charter to Green Island
- Private sunset cruise
- Half day private sailing yatch cruise
Hike (yes, hike!)
Antigua is hardly known as a hiking destination, yet there’s various good trails around the island and during my Antigua holidays I had the chance to go on a short and sweet hike that offered impressive coastal views. I joined a local group, Wadadli Trail Blazers, and with them, all dressed in their pink shirt (they had one for me too!), I walked from English Harbor to Shirley Heights.
All along the trail, the views were splendid. I had no idea that Antigua would have such a rugged coastline in points, and since it was the very end of the dry season, the landscape was barren: small cactus plants were scattered along the trail, their colorful flowers bright against the otherwise brown land. Once at Shirley Heights, the view was absolutely breathtaking, leaving me with no doubts that hiking is one of the nicest things to do in Antigua.
Enjoy the sunset from Shirley Heights…
Speaking of Shirley Heights, one of the unmissable things to do in Antigua is going there to enjoy what may well be one of the most beautiful sunsets in the world. Every Sunday the local restaurant (Shirley Heights Lookout) throws a massive party with live music and a barbecue. Just my luck had it that I happened to go on a Sunday!
I arrived at around 5:00 pm, and was immediately immersed in the festive atmosphere: imagine a moltitude of people drinking, talking, dancing to the tunes and just having a good time. I’d dare say one hasn’t had proper Antigua holidays if he hasn’t been to Shirley Heights for sunset!
… and sunrise at the beach
When jet-lag hits, make the most of it! That was my motto during my Antigua holidays. Since I fell asleep so early, and woke up before sunrise, I decided to make the most of it and walked to the beach to enjoy a fabulous light. I was one of the very few at that time of day – just two locals swimming in the calm sea, and a bunch of birds flying around announcing the day was about to start. It was definitely worth it.
Go zip lining
My first zip lining experience was in Mexico. Since then, I became addicted, and I do it whenever I have a chance. I tried it in Argentina and other places. So of course when I learned about the Antigua Rainforest Zipline Tours I knew I had to go. Flying from one tree to the other in the thick rainforest is one of the most fun things to do in Antigua. I didn’t find it scary at all, and the guides made everyone feel safe and comfortable all the times.
Visit Devils’ Bridge
In Indian Town and not far from The Verandah and Pineapple Beach Club, Devil’s Bridge is one of the unmissable places to visit during Antigua holidays. It is a splendid natural bridge at the head of Indian Creek, with blow-holes thorugh which water sprouts high and fast. According to legend, the devil lives down there and if two eggs are thrown in the water to boil, the devil will give back one and keep the other.
Go to Betty’s Hope
Sugar mills are scattered all around the island, reminding visitors on Antigua holidays that the island was one, enourmous sugar cane plantation at some point in history. Most of the mills are in ruins nowadays, but the ones at Betty’s Hope are perfectly kept. The estate was granted to Christopher Codrington in 1674 and the family owned it for more than 250 years. It costs $2 USD to visit the twin mill towers, one of them perfectly restored.
Another great place to visit to discover more about Antigua rich history is Naval’s Dockyard, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Visit Antigua’s Donkey Sanctuary
Antigua Humane Society gives shelter to more than 150 donkeys in its Bethseda sanctuary. There’s many neglected donkeys around the island, and here they find a safe haven, with food, medical care, water and love. I am a big supporter of animal rights and responsible tourism, so it goes without saying that during my Antigua holidays I had to pay a visit. There is no admission fee but donations are welcome.
Explore St. John’s
The capital of Antigua is absolutely lovely, and I am glad I insisted on visiting during my Antigua holidays. It is a colorful city, full of character and with a friendly vibe: I went with a friend and wherever we went people welcomed us with a smile.
Among the places of interest in St. John’s there’s the Cathedral, originally built in 1683, replaced in 1745 and rebuilt in 1843 after an earthquake. At the moment, the Cathedral is undergoing restoration works so I could not visit the interiors. Other things to do in Antigua’s capital are visiting the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda, which provides great insights into the history of the city; going to the colorful local market and eating the delicious street food.
Try the taste of the Caribe
Oh, and about the food! Most people who go on Antigua holidays stay at resorts and end up eating international food all the time, at most venturing for a Caribbean style barbecue. It’s a pity! Food in Antigua is delicious: a combination of local and international ingredients; full of flavour and with just the right amount of spice.
When I visited St. John’s I was attracted by one of the many small stands in the street. A lovely woman was pouring the biggest portion of pork stew and rice and beans on a plate for a customer, and it looked yummy. He (like all people in Antigua!) was so kind and welcoming that he insisted I had a bite off his plate, and that convinced me to order a full portion.
As I gorged down the food, the owner explained that she had been in the catering industry for a long time but that she decided to open her own place because she was tired of serving tourists with paninis and international food: she wants them to try the local specialties. She has a point, for sure! I concluded that one of the unmissable things to do in Antigua is trying the local food.
A great way to learn more about the food (and with that, about the culture) of Antigua is joining a cooking class – it is one of the nicest things to do in Antigua. These are the best cooking classes on the island:
Drink all the delicious cocktails
No Antigua holidays can be called such without a good amount of cocktails. As any other Caribbean island, Antigua produces great rhum so it goes without saying that the best drinks are all rum based. Rum punch is the most common cocktail, but I’d say that the daiquiris (mango or strawberry) are great too.
Join a choir workshop
Possibly the most fun thing I did during my Antigua holidays was enrolling a choir workshop. I have always liked singing, but never thought about pursuing this. When I saw that Elite Island Resorts offered a choir workshop to its guests, I didn’t think about it twice. Every day, for two hours each time, I attended a choir class led by celebrity vocal coach Mike King along with 25 other guests. The penultimate night of my stay, we had a performance. It was one of the most exhilatating, uplifing experiences of my life – so beneficial to my mind and soul that I want to pursue it at home as well. Here’s a short video of one of the songs we performed – the video is courtesy of Joe Allam.
Relax in one of the fabulous resorts
Antigua is packed with excellent accommodation options that suit all budgets. There’s small traditional inns as well as gorgeous all inclusive resorts, which are a perfect solution for those on Antigua holidays who are in need of some relaxing time. I will be writing a more in depth post about the best Antigua all inclusive, but meantime here’s a blurb about some of the best resorts in Antigua:
- Pineapple Beach Club: located in Long Bay, it is an adults only resort with nice, comfortable rooms and a bunch of restaurants and bars to pick from, from casual to smart dining.
- The Verandah Resort and Spa: a massive resort with beautiful cottages with Caribbean style decor, all having sea views. It is very eco-friendly.
- St. James’s Club & Villas: famous for its exceptional service, its main perks are the two beautiful beaches and a wide range of water sports on offer for guests.
- Galley Bay Resort and Spa: the most intimate of the four, located on a gorgeous white sand beach; there’s also a beautiful spa.
Have you ever been to Antigua? What did you like the most about it?
Legal Disclaimer: I visited Antigua for the #lovenantiguabarbuda campaign hosted by Antigua and Barbuda and Elite Islands Resorts. Many thanks go to Traverse Events for putting together an amazing trip.
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