Antigua, the largest of the English-speaking Leeward Islands, boasts 365 beaches-one for every day of the year. The island is also a popular sailing destination and has a wealth of excellent restaurants, tours, and excursions.
69,108 (2006 estimate, Antigua and Barbuda)
280 square kilometers (108 square miles)
Boggy Peak, 402m (1319 ft)
Antigua’s currency is the Eastern Caribbean dollar. The exchange rate for the US dollar is fixed at $2.65 EC to $1.00 US. US currency, traveler’s checks and major credit cards are welcome everywhere.
Passport requirements vary for each destination; it is your responsibility to verify you have the correct documents prior to travel. After January 1, 2006 a valid passport is required for travel to all the Caribbean and Mexico.
Antigua lies within Atlantic Standard Time, four hours behind Greenwich Mean Time. The island is one hour ahead of North American Eastern Standard Time, except during Daylight Savings Time when the island is on the same time as Eastern Standard Time.
Cars drive on the left-hand side of the road on Antigua (like England).
Some outlets on Antigua use 220 volts (like Europe), while others use 110 volts (like the US). Most villas have both types of outlets, and those that don’t have both will provide adapters. Ask the staff before plugging anything in.
English is the official language; however Antiguans do have a lilting accent.
More About Antigua
Antigua is roughly 87 kilometers (54 miles) in circumference, with an area of 281 km² (108 square miles), and had an estimated population of about 69,000 as of July 2006. It is the largest of the Leeward Islands, and the most developed and prosperous due to its upscale tourism industry and education services, including two medical schools. Hurricane season runs from June through November. The most likely week for a hurricane to hit is in the middle of September, but there have only been six direct hits to the island in the last 50 years. Although it is unlikely that a hurricane will strike while you’re on island, we do recommend travel insurance to protect your vacation.
The following list provides a brief description of several of the most beautiful beaches. Make sure to visit as many as you can on your next vacation in Antigua.
Carlisle Bay Beach
Located by the village of Old Road on Antigua’s south coast, Carlisle Beach’s expansive beach offers clear waters, fine sand and excellent snorkeling where you can find a wide variety of tropical fish.
Crab Hill Beach
Located at the village of Crab Hill on the south west coast, Crab Hill Beach is cooled by gentle trade-winds, and offers a great venue for tanning in the tropical sun. On exceptionally clear days, the Island of Montserrat can be seen on the horizon.
Located on the south west coast, about 5 minutes drive south of Jolly Harbour. Crystal blue waters, great snorkeling and gentle cooling breezes makes Darkwood Beach a popular choice.
Fort Bay Beach
Located at Fort Bay on the northwest coast, this is popular with locals and visitors alike, a beach where you can often find a volleyball game, or a game of beach cricket to participate in. Fort Beach is also popular spot for cruise ship visitors, as it’s only a 5-10 minutes drive from the cruise ship dock in St.John’s.
Located at Fryes Point on the west coast, Fryes Beach features powder white sand and great views of Montserrat on exceptionally clear days. Like most of the beautiful beaches of Antigua, it’s ideal for snorkeling
Galley Bay Beach
Located near Five Islands Village on the northwest coast, Galley Bay Beach boasts white sand beaches and crystal clear blue waters. If you are fortunate during your visit you may even witness the hatching of sea turtles who sometimes use the beach as a nesting place.
Located just off the east coast of Antigua, this uninhabited island just off the east coast of Antigua and offers a wide variety of pristine white sand secluded beaches to discover. It is a popular stop for many Antigua sea charters and excursions and offers many opportunities for some excellent snorkeling.
Half Moon Bay Beach
Located about a 5 minute drive from Freetown village on the south east coast of Antigua, Half Moon Beach has fine pink sand, wonderful cooling breezes and an active surf.
Located on the north-eastern coast, Jabberwock beach features a mile long white sand beach. A favorite with locals and visitors alike, the warm waters are a fun place for playing in the surf.
Located on the West coast at Jolly Harbour, offers a mile long powder white sand beach on the warm waters of the Caribbean sea. With plenty of restaurants, water sports, and shopping amenities nearby, it’s a great place to spend a day, or your entire holiday on Antigua.
Long Bay Beach
Located about 5 minutes from the village of Willikies at Long Bay on the east coast, Long Bay Beach’s fine white sand and crystal blue waters make it a great place for snorkelling or just relaxing in the sun.
Pigeon’s Point Beach
Located about a 5 minute drive from English Harbour on the south east coast of Antigua, Pigeon’s Point beach is a favorite spot for the local community as well as visitors, Pigeon’s Point beach also is a fun place for snorkeling.
Located on the northwest coast, Runaway beach, a seeming endless white sand expanse, is home to many popular resorts, restaurants and bars, Runaway beach is a fun place to discover on your Antigua holiday. If you get to hot in your wandering, hop in and cool off in the clear waters of one of Antigua’s most popular destinations.
Located near Johnson’s Point on the south west coast, Turner’s Beach is cooled by gentle trade-winds, Turner’s beach offers a great venue for tanning in the tropical sun. On exceptionally clear days, the Island of Montserrat can be seen on the horizon.
Valley Church Beach
Located on the west coast just south of Jolly Harbour offering powder white sands in the calm waters of Lignum Vitae Bay. Relax in the warm waters as local fishing boats glide by. You’ll marvel at the beauty of this spot.
Antigua is the perfect destination for a Caribbean wedding. Imagine saying your vows on a white-sand beach, on a yacht, at a church or at a villa overlooking the ocean. It’s relatively easy to get married on Antigua. For a normal wedding license, either the bride or the groom needs to be on the island for 15 days before the application; however there is a special license which does not have a residency requirement.
In order to apply for a marriage license in Antigua, you will need:
– Decree Absolute (if one or both parties are divorced)
– Death Certificate, if one is a widow/widower
– Deed Poll, if a name has been changed
– If under 18, evidence of the consent of parents is required (sworn affidavit stamped by notary public)
The fee for a normal marriage license is EC$100; for a special marriage license, the fee is US$150. There is an EC$100 registrar fee and an US$100 fee for any wedding not taking place at the courthouse. Applications are made at the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs in St. John’s, which is open Mon-Thu 8:30-4:30 and Fri 8-3.
CaribbeanDays can help you find a wedding planner if you’re interested in getting married on the island.
A wide variety of dining options is available to guests of Antigua villas, including French, Caribbean, and Italian cuisine. Dining here is likely to be al fresco, and many restaurants have waterfront views. A 10% service charge is usually included, but if the service is good you may want to leave 5%-10% more. Reservations are generally recommended, and it would be wise to check on the dress code at that time as well. Antiguans generally dress more formally than on other Caribbean islands.
Here are a few of our favorite restaurants:
Nelson’s Dockyard, English Harbour
“Enjoy the lovely views, history, and a drink here. A must for Anglophiles and Mariners. Closed September to mid-October.”
“Excellent Italian food, warm hosts, and casual, open-air atmosphere. Closed Monday and May-October.”
Big Banana Pizza in Paradise
Redcliffe Quay, St. John’s
“Some of the best pizza in the Caribbean, housed in an 18th century rum warehouse. Take-out and delivery also available.”
Galley Bay Hill, Five Islands
“Classic French cuisine with awesome sauces. Good service on a charming hilltop terrace. Closed Sundays and in August.”
Brown’s Bay Mill, Brown’s Bay
“Ultrafresh Italian fare with panoramic sea views. Remote location, but worth the trek. Great lunch restaurant, with an art gallery to visit as well. Closed May – October. No dinner Sunday – Thursday.”
Gambles Terrace, St. John’s
“Authentic Caribbean food prepared from the freshest ingredients. Personal, friendly service in a comfortable, cozy atmosphere. Favorites include the Carib gumbo, the curry, and the bread pudding with rum sauce. Closed Sunday. No lunch.”
Barrymore Beach Hotel, Runaway Bay
“Excellent continental cuisine with Asian influences. The specials are particularly inspired. Closed Monday. No lunch.”
“Amazing French cuisine with great service (especially Duke, the bartender). Try any lobster dish or anything in puff pastry. The passion fruit mousse and crepes suzette come highly recommended. Closed Monday. No lunch.”
Hilda Davis Drive, Gambles Terrace, St. John’s
(268) 562-1284 or (268) 464-7576
“Excellent seafood, atmosphere, and service. Try the bouillabaisse and the rum punch. No credit cards. Closed May – October. No lunch Sunday – Tuesday.”
CoCoBay, Valley Church
“Creative menu in a lovely setting perched into a cliffside. Odd combinations that trigger all of your taste buds. Closes twice a week on a rotating schedule, so make reservations in advance. No lunch.”
American drivers will have to get used to driving on the “wrong,” or left, side of the road. Driving at night can be particularly challenging, with cows, goats, and speed bumps on the roads. By paying careful attention, you’ll get the hang of it. Roads can be windy, so be very cautious, and try not to pass if it’s at all possible.
To get the most out of your Antigua vacation, we recommend renting a car before you arrive (especially during high season, Sailing Week in April, and August Carnival). Our villa specialists are happy to help you arrange your car rental.
Please call CaribbeanDays for more information.
Visit Nelson’s Dockyard to get a taste of Antigua’s history. The informative and entertaining museum here includes a marina and military fortifications, and there are interactive displays as well.
There are a few opportunities for hiking on Antigua – including the hills around Boggy Peak in the southwest and a rainforest trail at Wallings. A guide is helpful to lead you in the right direction and to teach you about the tropical flora and fauna. Contact The Hiking Company (268-463-2662).
A horseback ride is a great way to sightsee “off the beaten path.” A range of trail rides, including the popular ride to secluded Rendezvous Bay, are offered by Spring Hill Riding Club in Falmouth (www.springhillridingclub.com, (268-460-7787 or 268-773-3139).
Want to stay active, even on vacation? Consider renting bikes or taking a bicycle tour. Contact Bike Plus (268-462-2453), Cycle Krazy (268-462-9253), or Mountain to Sea Bike Adventure (www.mountaintoseabikeadventure.com, (268-770-4837) for information.
Antigua has many excellent tennis courts, with the best at St. James’s Club, 5 courts (268-460-5000); Ramada Renaissance, 8 courts (268-462-3733); Half Moon Bay, 5 courts, ((268-460-4300); Curtain Bluff, 5 courts (268-462-8400).
Antigua is home to two 18-hole golf courses.
Cedar Valley Golf Club, located northeast of St. John’s, is a par 69 course with restaurant, bar, pro shop, and clubs and carts for hire.
Jolly Harbour Golf Club, next to the marina in Jolly Bay on the island’s west coast, is a par 71 course designed by Karl Litton. Facilities include driving range, clubhouse with restaurant, bar, pro shop and club rental.
Antigua has a wide variety of water-based activities to offer its guests, including snorkeling, scuba diving, windsurfing, sport fishing, and sailing.
Antigua’s beautiful beaches are ideal for snorkeling, with many coral reefs close to the shoreline and rental equipment readily available. Many day sails include a visit to a reef, usually Cades Reef, for snorkeling.
While Antigua is not generally known for its diving, there is reasonable variety here and the island can certainly be a good destination for beginning divers. The diving is mainly to the south of the island. Visibility can be quite good, up to 100 feet, thanks to weak currents, a white sandy bottom, and clean water. Some of the reefs are very close to the surface and have seen hurricane damage. Better marine life is farther offshore. Contact Antigua Scuba Centre (www.antiguascuba.com, (268-729-4698 or 268-561-1383) or Ultramarine (firstname.lastname@example.org, 268-463-3483).
Antigua has good opportunities for windsurfers, with winds straight off the Atlantic blowing at around 20 knots and up. Many hotels have equipment that you can rent. The winds are best early in the year (Dec. – March), but it is possible to surf year round and June and July are also good. The best place to windsurf is in the northeast beyond the airport, with beginners starting off in Dickenson Bay. The two main companies for windsurfing and kitesurfing are H2O Antigua in Dutchman’s Bay (theteam@H2oAntigua.com, 268-562 3933) and KiteAntigua in Jabberwock Beach (www.kiteantigua.com, 268-460-3414).
Antigua and Barbuda has an annual sport fishing tournament, held each May and attracting big game anglers. Depending on the time of year, the fish here might include kingfish, wahoo, and dorado. To go on a fishing charter, contact Overdraft (www.antiguafishing.com, 268-462-1961).
Antigua is famous for sailing, and celebrates Sailing Week in late April. All over the island, you’ll find yacht racing and beach parties. Dockyard Day, the festival’s grand finale, includes games and contests. Be sure to book sailing trips and sea excursions in advance if you’re coming for Sailing Week.
A day out on the superb waters surrounding Antigua can be a highlight of your visit. Many sailing trips head out to the northeast of the island, where you will find small islands and cays with calm beaches and snorkeling, or to Cades Reef in the southwest. Contact Wadadli Cats (www.wadadlicats.com, 268-462-4792), Jabberwocky Yacht Charters (268-773-3115), or Tropical Adventures (www.tropicalad.com, 268-480-1225).
Active travelers may take advantage of the opportunity to see Antigua by kayak. Contact Antigua Paddles (www.antigapaddles.com, 268-463-1944) or Tropical Adventures (www.tropicalad.com, 268-480-1225).
There are fantastic local companies that offer tours of the island providing local knowledge and culture. We recommend Jackson Taxi & Tours (www.jackstaxi.com, 268-460-3612), Elvis George & Son Tours (email:email@example.com, (268-461-5660), or Lawrence of Antigua (www.lawrenceofantigua.com, (268-464-4428).
Caribbean Helicopters Ltd. (www.caribbeanhelicopters.net, 268-460-5900) offers a variety of amazing island tours with panoramic views and amazing photographic opportunities.
Antigua is home to a wide variety of shops and boutiques, selling everything from handmade Antiguan gifts and cool Caribbean clothing to duty-free perfumes, watches, and crystal. Heritage Quay in St. John’s is the place for duty-free (there is even a casino here), while Redcliffe Quay has some nice shops with a more authentic West Indian feel.
You won’t want to miss a visit to the Heritage Market in St. John’s. Come on a Saturday morning if possible. The market is located across from the West Street Bus Station and opens early (around 5:30 AM). Here you will find plenty of locally-grown produce, and the vendors will be happy to fill you in on anything you don’t recognize. There’s also a small arts and crafts market attached to the main market.
Store hours vary, but the majority are open from 8:30-12:00 and 1:00-5:00 Monday to Saturday. Shops stay open longer when cruise ships are in port. Be sure to stick around your Antigua villas on Sunday – shops are open Monday through Saturday only!
Antigua has communications systems that are up to date with modern standards, so staying in touch with the rest of the world (should you so desire) is relatively easy. Most villas have cable TVs, allowing access to local, national, and international networks.
Most villas have telephones that are capable of making calls overseas (you may need to make a phone deposit); if yours does not, you can use a local pre-paid phone card at a pay phone. If you feel the need to catch up via the internet, there are internet cafés in the tourist areas.
Guests of Antigua vacation villas will find that the island is relatively safe and secure. Keeping these few health and security concerns in mind will help to ensure that your vacation is enjoyable and hassle-free.
As is true for any vacation destination, we recommend keeping your villa and your rental car locked. Don’t keep any valuables in your rental car, even if it is locked. Antigua does have its fair share of robberies. Valuables left unattended on beaches are also vulnerable to theft.
Driving on Antigua can be challenging, since driving is on the left side of the road and there are sometimes wandering animals and slow-moving heavy equipment on the roads. Stay alert, follow the speed limit, and drive carefully to avoid a trip to the hospital. Seatbelts are recommended for all passengers as well as the driver.
Do not underestimate the power of the Caribbean sun – many a traveler has had his or her vacation spoiled by painful sunburns or sunstroke. Protect yourself with sunscreen and avoid the strong midday rays. To avoid dehydration, drink plenty of non-alcoholic beverages.
The drinking water on Antigua is safe, but it may not be what you’re used to. Many travelers prefer to drink bottled water.
Antigua has one major hospital as well as a private clinic and many qualified doctors, but the facilities are not up to U.S. standards. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate payment for their services. There is no hyperbaric chamber here; divers requiring treatment for decompression illness must be evacuated from the island. For major medical problems, contact Holberton Hospital in St. Johns ((268) 462-0251) or Adelin Clinic in St. John’s ((268) 462-0866). For minor medical issues, it’s best to avoid the Antigua medical centers and the insurance hassles that may evolve. Instead, visit a local pharmacy. There are several pharmacies in St. John’s and around the island, and most are open 9-5 Mon-Sat.
For the police, ambulance, or in case of fire, call 911 or 999.
The first inhabitants of Antigua, around 2400 B.C., were the Ciboney (“Stone People”). Arawaks from South America followed around 2000 years ago, but were driven off the island around 1200 A.D. by the fierce Caribs from South America. The Caribs are said to have given the island the name “Wadladi,” still in use today and also the name of the local brew.
The first European to arrive here was Christopher Columbus, on his second voyage in 1493. He christened the island “Santa Maria la Antigua” after the miracle-working saint of Seville. It would take a century and a half for the Europeans (Spanish, Portuguese, and then English) to finally put down a settlement that the Caribs didn’t destroy. The English settlement was founded in 1632 in the south of the island, in an area now called “Old Road.”
Early attempts at tobacco production proved unsuccessful. In 1684 Sir Christopher Codrington came to Antigua with the goal of large-scale sugar production, which was quite successful. Huge numbers of slaves were brought to the island to support this new industry. By the mid-1700s, the island was home to more than 150 sugar cane plantations. Each had its own cane-processing windmill, and you can see many of these stone towers today, serving as houses, bars, restaurants, and shops. Betty’s Hope is Codrington’s original sugar estate, where visitors can see a fully-restored sugar mill.
The slaves were formally freed in 1834, the earliest abolition of slavery in the British Caribbean; however, without an apprenticeship period, many of the slaves had no choice but to return to the same estates for very low wages. The sugar industry had already begun to decline as cheaper sources of sugar became available in Europe. Antiguans struggled until the tourism industry began to develop more than a century later.
Vere Cornwall Bird is probably the only national hero Antigua ever had. In 1943, he was elected president of the Antigua Trades and Labour Union, and from that time he led the island through the various stages of independence, culminating on November 1, 1981 when the nation became fully independent. Bird retired as Prime Minister in 1994, and was succeeded by his son Lester. V.C. Bird died in 1998, but his name lives on throughout the island including the airport, which is named after him.