With its beautiful winding coastline providing hidden and secluded powdery white beaches and azure sea, Antigua is a wonderful example of the wealth of scenic delight available in the Caribbean. As a wedding or honeymoon destination you are spoilt for choice with top hotels and photo opportunities. As a Caribbean holiday destination Antigua will leave its imprint on your soul.
An Historic Island
Over 200 hundred years ago Antigua was just as sought after, but for vastly different reasons. The fantastic coral reef and winding coastline that draw divers from all over the world today, provided protection from outsiders and safe harbours for the fleets under the Admiralty of Horatio Nelson. In 1784 this was the most important British Caribbean Naval base for the protection of the trade fleets taking advantage of the ever present Trade Winds. Sir Christopher Codrington had arrived in 1632 and set up Betty’s Hope, the first of around 150 sugar plantations on Antigua that brought wealth to the Leeward Islands.
It is said that Nelson found the island “detestable” and spent his three year stay onboard his ship! But this didn’t stop him from building “Nelsons Dockyard” and fully establishing English Harbour in the south of the island. Thankfully there are many fabulous places to stay in Antigua today, including some rather special boutique hotels. If you have had enough of relaxing by the pool or on your private beach Antigua is not short of things to do. Whether you are immersing yourself in the warm waters with a snorkel or in the long and varied history and culture of the island, its sunny charm will warm you.
When should you visit?
The best time to visit Antigua is one of personal choice. High season runs from mid-December to mid-April when there is less rain, heat and humidity. However, being only around 17degrees north of the equator means year round warmth. Temperatures usually range from the mid seventies in winter to mid eighties in summer. It may pay to be mindful that Hurricane season runs from late July through to November and the power of these storms should not be underestimated. It is significantly busier in high season and booking is recommended well in advance for both accommodation and dinner reservations.
Two of the biggest events in the Antiguan calendar are Sailing week that traditionally takes place in late April and the Carnival which is held in the last two weeks of July. Over all it is a place to relax, succumb to Caribbean time, and soak in the delights of some of the top hotels Antigua has to offer.
Things to do in Antigua
The beautiful tropical island of Antigua and its sister island of Barbuda are not just places to soak in the warmth of the Caribbean sun and whilst famous for its 365 beaches (one for every day of the year), Antigua is an island of adventure too. Depending on how energetic you are feeling there are many ways to explore, from trekking on horseback through guided routes, hiking on the mountain trails or in a chauffeur driven limousine, there is plenty to see and plenty of people who are happy to tell you about their island home.
Forts & Monuments
There is no question that the wealth of historic forts and monuments from the late 16th and 17th century are a breathtaking experience to behold. We have included a deal more detail on our A brief history of Antigua page, but if you are considering things to do in Antigua its difficult not to visit some of these historic sites.
From the incredibly famous Nelsons Dockyard, where various buildings have been converted into shops, a museum, an hotel, and restaurants.
Or Shirley Heights, the fortified lookout station that overlooks English Harbour where on Thursdays there is a steel band and Caribbean fare between 4pm and 8pm, but it is Sunday that the venue comes alive with a renowned party night, which runs between 4pm and 10pm and takes advantage of the fabulous views providing the best sunset viewpoint on the island, with food, drink and music to lift your spirits as you party into the night.
Or the most fantastic Fort James, which having retained its full complement of 10 cannon (that kept the French at bay) would excite any boy (young or old).
Other historic sites worthy of a visit include Fort George at Monks Hill, which was built in 1686 to protect Antigua’s Falmouth Harbour, which is now the home of the Antiguan sailing club and the site of the specially constructed marina for the mega-yachts. To cater for the visitors coming to Antigua in this way many restaurants and shops have sprung up making the nightlife in the Falmouth Harbour area quite vibrant.
Or the restored sugar processing mill at Betty’s Hope, of which parts are now restored after being abandoned in 1944 and falling into ruin. The mill now gives an excellent though thought provoking insight into the conditions the hundreds of slave workers endured. There is also a Museum on the site documenting the impact of sugar production in Antigua.
Culturally, Antigua was shaped by the occupation of the British to a significant degree. Not only do they drive on the left, speak English, and remain part of the Commonwealth, but more importantly, the population are mainly descended from the African slaves brought to work the plantations. This heritage is honoured by the celebration of emancipation which came on 1st August 1834.
For many years the abolishment of slavery was celebrated in informal ways until 1957 when the first Carnival in Antigua was organised. Today it is a 10 day extravaganza of music, dancing, pageants, talent competitions and formal shows beginning on a Saturday in late July and culminating in “J’ouvert” (pronounced juuvay) before dawn on the first Monday of August. During this time the Antiguan Recreation Ground, normally the home of cricket becomes ‘ Carnival City ‘ and is the focal point for the festivities. A small word of warning if you are staying during Carnival though, whilst you are very welcome to join in just make sure you have plenty of water, comfortable footwear and aren’t wearing your best outfit as often coloured powders, water and paint are thrown!
Sea and water sports:
As with other Caribbean holiday destinations a great focus for visitors is the sea and water sports are available at most resorts and popular beaches. Widely available are Jet skis, windsurfing and kayaks, but when using the equipment it is essential that you bear safety in mind and remember that the most popular activity is swimming and snorkelling.
Antigua is famed for its almost complete barrier reef which is home to many species of coral, fish, turtles, and sharks and there are many diving schools and cruises which offer the opportunity of scuba diving off Antigua or snorkel and experience the crystal clear seas and view the varied marine life that inhabit it.
Once you have seen what the inshore waters have to offer it is possible to get out for a spot of sport fishing in the Atlantic fishing grounds of Antigua. There are various boats available to charter offering you the thrill of landing Marlin, Tuna, Kingfish, Wahoo, Shark or Barracuda amongst others. Many Captains run a strict “only keep what you can eat” policy but, it’s still possible to share your successes with those landlubbers that stayed behind!Visit www.antiguafishing.com or telephone: (268) 464-4954.
Antigua sailing regatta:
Staying with the beautiful azure seas that sparkle around the coast of Antigua we cannot fail to mention one of the largest events in the Antiguan calendar and now one of the premier sailing regattas in the world, Sailing Week arrives in late April and brings sailors and yachts from all over the world to compete or simply see the spectacle. April also sees the Classic yacht regatta making it a wonderful time to visit.
You don’t need to be a sailor to enjoy this time of year and spectacle of the event itself; there are plenty of vantage points on land from which you can view the races and take in the atmosphere. In particular The Inn at English Harbour, which enjoys the most breathtaking views over English Harbour itself and the view out towards Windward Bay. The fun extends to Falmouth Harbour and Dickenson Bay, which all contributes to one huge celebration and party. April is busy and more expensive, but a fantastic time to visit the beautiful Caribbean island of Antigua, be sure you book well in advance.
This guide would not be complete without a mention of the passion for cricket that is pervasive and tangible here in Antigua. There are regular tours by other nations around the West Indies and Antigua hosts many international games at the Antiguan Recreation Ground during the year. It is possible to organise school or college tours to play against teams here and an association has been set up to help facilitate this.
A new sport is emerging in Antigua, that of Tennis. Many of the resorts have built courts for the use of their guests and for a week in May a tournament is held to promote tennis.
There are many ways to take in the sights and sounds that this beautiful island has to offer. Tours of Antigua are varied with many providers. You have the choice of staying on land and going hiking through the rainforest, up to Boggy Peak, the highest point in Antigua standing 1319ft above the sparkling azure sea. There is even the modern transportation of a Segway tour, Eco-friendly and fun, you will be lead through the streets of St John, to some of the most popular beaches, and even to fort ruins, sugar mills and other landmarks.Visit www.segwayantigua.com or telephone: (268) 562-7433.
The National Parks also run informative and interesting tours focused on the history of Antigua, going behind the scenes and including amazing archaeological tours, but sensible footwear is essentialVisit www.antiguamuseums.org or telephone: (268) 460-1379.
If walking or hiking tours are a little too much it is possible to take to horseback and see the island that way. There are popular trails which lead down to a secluded beach where you can rest or swim with your horse.
Visit www.springhillriding.com or telephone: +1(268) 773 3139.
By sea or air:
The other options for touring Antigua would be by sea, or air. There are numerous providers of cruises, yachts, catamarans many offering snorkelling, swimming and luncheon stops on secluded powder soft beaches. Whilst another thought would be the so called Seafaris where you will be taken to see some of the wonderful sea life surrounding Antigua ‘s shores.
Visit www.adventureantigua.com or telephone: (268) 726 6355.
Or maybe you would prefer the bird’s eye view as you can take a helicopter tour of the island. Generally taking half an hour, your pilot will be able to answer questions about what you can see and give you an amazing tour of the sights and focal points of Antigua from the air.
Visit www.caribbeanhelicopters.com or telephone: (268) 460-5900.
Whatever your preference, there is plenty to keep an interested mind or active body busy for the duration of your stay in Antigua. The beaches are just the start.