Antigua & Barbuda Overview
- White sandy beaches, leafy green hills
- Coast life
- Steel bands and deck shoes
What sets Antigua apart from other tropical Caribbean islands is its geography: the lush undulating hills promise postcard-perfect panoramas like nowhere else. Barbuda, Antigua’s far less developed little sister, is a petite coral island hemmed with pink-and-white talcum-powder sandy beaches and a swimming-pool-clean sea.
Antigua is small enough not to need street signs (with the exception of its capital, St John’s), but sufficiently big that can easily discover your own private white sandy beaches. Antigua is celebrated for sailing, thanks to safe harbours, coves and trade winds. The largest of the English-speaking Leeward Islands, Antigua also invites you to crash on a sunlounger alongside the calm, come-hither waters of the Caribbean Sea to the south-west and the choppier Atlantic Ocean to the north-east. But it’s not all lazing in the sunshine, and if you want to return home with a little culture under your belt then wander around historic English Harbour and Georgian Nelson's Dockyard – the only of its kind in the world. Indeed, this pretty holiday island is well worth exploring by road and by boat. Drive through villages of brightly painted clapboard houses and pass immaculately turned out schoolchildren on their way to classes. With as much on offer in the water as there is on land, the crystal-clear sea is crying out for watersport shenanigans such as snorkelling and kayaking. And when the sun sets, the fun needn’t stop – night owls can soak up soca and calypso care of Antigua’s vibrant music scene.
Absolutely Antigua & Barbuda
Antigua is world-famous for its sailing, but if that doesn’t float your boat, get a dose of home-grown fun on terra firma at Shirley Heights on Sundays. A market day with views across Falmouth and the English Harbour, ‘Jump Up’ night starts in the afternoon at the Lookout and features local barbecues, drinks and bad-ass basslines. The cruise ship hordes do sometimes descend, but most bumbag-toting groups disappear by 7pm, and it becomes a gregarious mix of locals and tourists. You’re best off organising transport home in advance – see ‘Taxis’.
- Taxis can be flagged in the street but a safer and easier option is to ask the hotel to provide one. Ranks are located at the West Bus Station and at Heritage Quay. If you are going to a more remote restaurant or bar, arrange to call your driver 30 minutes before you want to leave. Chances are they will wait outside while you drink/eat.
- Tipping culture
- 10 per cent is expected. But remember, you’re on Caribbean time, so service is a little, well, ‘laid back’.
- Packing tips
- Mosquito repellent, DVDs (most hotels have players) and a good sense of direction – in some parts of the island there are very few road signs.
- Recommended reads
- Dancing in the Dining Room, Antigua West Indies by Donna Goring is a riveting tale of the triumphs and tribulations author's relocation to Antigua.
- The most important thing to do on any Caribbean island is get to grips with the local brew – in this case the very great (especially ice-cold) Wadadli beer. To really understand how things work, consume at least three of these, possibly followed by a rum punch; then sit back and watch the world go by. Notable varieties of rum punch are available at Jumby Bay’s beach bar, or, if a thirst catches you whilst shopping in St John’s, try the Spot Café & Rum Shack on the harbour deck at Redcliffe Quay. Thanks to the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean, Antigua is well stocked with excellent seafood – a must-try is the local dolphin (it’s a fish, not the Flipper variety). For some of the best seafood (and, for that matter, meat) try the innovative, new-colonial and very romantic Cove Restaurant (see Restaurants). Other key consumption essentials include jerk anything, red snapper and rice and fish curries in coconut shells – available throughout the less touristy restaurants across the island.
- Although local currency (East Caribbean Dollars) is necessary, it’s a good idea to carry US dollars in cash too. The approximate exchange rate is EC$2.65 to $1.
- Time zone
- GMT -4.
- Dialling codes
- North American Country code: +1; Antigua & Barbuda: 268
- Do go/don't go
- Peak season in the Caribbean is from December until Easter. Often the most pleasant times to travel to Antigua is after the tourists have gone home and there are less cruise ships passing on the horizon, and the island takes things down a gear. May and June are also great times to visit, not least because most of the rooms are half the price. Go in July and August if you like the baking heat and flashes of rainfall.
Don't go home without...
A tan and a bottle of English Harbour five-year-old Rum (a seriously good bottle of the dark stuff).