Past and present commingle joyfully in this beach-ringed sailing haven.
The emerald/sapphire/aqua sea that rings Antigua (pronounced an-TEE-gah) like a many-jeweled bracelet never ceases to stun new visitors. To enjoy the warm and lovely waters from a tawny beach, head to any of 365 strands of sand, giving you a different choice each day for a year.
If you’d rather just live it up at a fine resort, eat spectacular food, and relax with a massage or wrap in a top-notch spa, the island is more than equipped to handle that request.
Set In Stone
Begin your exploration of Antigua at Nelson’s Dockyard. Part of a national park, it’s the only existing Georgian naval dockyard in the world, built in 1725 and once England’s most important naval outpost in the Caribbean. Along the waterfront of English Harbour, walk by the huge stone pillars of what was once the boathouse, dating back to 1797, and imagine the days when English Harbour was full of working frigates, sloops, schooners and cutters. Buildings are signposted with their dates of origin and former uses, from the Sawpit Shed to the Copper and Lumber Store. In the erstwhile Naval Officer’s House, a nice little museum gives the history of the area.
Antigua comes alive in April with Antigua’s Sailing Week, an international event that takes place over a five-day period. More than 1,500 sailors compete in this high-speed competition, with exciting races leaving from English Harbour and Falmouth Harbour daily and returning into the harbours in the evening for Sailing Week’s much anticipated night festivities. April also features the Classic Yacht Regatta: Graceful and elegant traditional craft built of wood and steel, their curving sails ruffling in the breeze over Antigua’s sheltered waters, make this a show that’s more about beauty than speed.
Those who prefer land-based expeditions can drive across the unspoiled countryside. Meander along spectacular Fig Tree Drive as the road winds upward through a luxuriant terrain of overhanging mango, wild almond and papaya trees, and burgeoning banana plants (the fruit is called ‘fig’ here).
Soon St. John’s, the island’s animated main town, greets you with a jumble of color rising from the harbor, backed by a twin-spired cathedral. Trip up irregular, bustling sidewalks past unmistakably 21st-century shops hawking sneakers, CDs and clothing. Enter the Antigua and Barbuda Museum and you’re back in the past, watching the island’s history unroll from geologic roots to modern times, with artifacts like ancient stone pendants and flint knives, displays on cassava, and for sports lovers the cricket bat of Sir Vivian Richards, a beloved island athlete.
Stop in Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine for a moment’s respite in the peaceful atmosphere created by rounded wooden ceilings, a gorgeous octagonal pulpit, an elaborate brass chandelier and silver altar candlesticks.
Down the road, combine shopping with history at Redcliffe Quay, a series of historic buildings beautifully transformed into a little retail village. The area was originally a slave-trading yard; after emancipation, the stone and wood buildings were used by merchants and innkeepers. Now you’ll find some of the island’s most intriguing boutiques, which feature a range of goods from jewelry and clothing by local designers to a wide variety of crafts.
Back in the countryside, your eye will inevitably go to the most evocative reminders of Antigua’s past: almost a hundred towers that are the remnants of Antigua’s sugar mills. These cylindrical stone forms, dating from the days when sugarcane ruled, dot the countryside where over 150 sugar-producing plantations once stood. At Betty’s Hope, founded in the 1650s and once Antigua’s largest sugar producer, twin mills have been restored to working condition, complete with antique sugarcane-crushing equipment. Pictures, maps and models in the visitor center recreate the heyday of Betty’s Hope.
Quench your thirst for historic windmills (and for refreshment) at Harmony Hall, whose bar is located in another former mill. Harmony Hall also features a fine art gallery and a superb restaurant.
Be sure to leave room for the Sunday afternoon barbecue up on Shirley Heights, where steel pan and reggae musicians, flowing rum punch, and tasty barbecue are backed by that spectacular vista.
By all means, explore the island’s other pleasures. Undersea fanatics can dive such well-known spots as Cades Reef and the sunken three-masted ship Andes. Eco-tours lead through inland lagoons, and of course those 365 beaches are a perennial draw.
If it’s utter peace and quiet you’re after, then even laid-back Antigua might be too busy for you. In that case, head to drowsy Barbuda (Bar-bew-da), the lesser-known of the two islands and a place to kick back, walk the beach and spend your days in beautiful indolence. It feels untouched by progress, with the principal inhabitants being the graceful frigate birds.
Take a boat ride through the Frigate Bird Sanctuary in Codrington Lagoon and see these unique birds, which spend most of their time in the air because they can’t walk or swim. If only they asked for your advice, you’d tell them to do like you do and just lie back on a beach the color of sugar with just a hint of blush thrown in; on Barbuda, you’re unlikely to see more than a dozen other human beings during your repose.
Just 20 minutes by air or three hours by boat from Antigua, Barbuda makes its big sister look like a hub of activity. Sure, you can explore the depths of Darby Cave or arrange a fishing trip. But doesn’t that sand look awfully tempting?
Nightclubs and casinos. Hotel and restaurant dining. Dance clubs. Ongoing island activities and events also offer nightly entertainment.
Direct flights from the USA with American Airlines from New York JFK and Miami, United from Newark, Delta Airlines from New York JFK and Atlanta and US Air from Charlotte. From Canada Air Canada fly direct from Toronto and Montreal, Westjet from Toronto and Air Transat in the winter from both Toronto and Montreal.
From Europe, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic fly direct to Antigua from London Gatwick, Condor fly from Frankfurt and Blue Panorama from Milan
Regionally LIAT links Antigua with the other Caribbean Islands whilst SVG Air, ABM Air and Fly Montserrat link with Barbuda and Montserrat. Caribbean Airlines links Antigua with Trinidad and Jamaica. interCaribbean Airways
All US citizens traveling by air to and from Bermuda and the Caribbean are required to have a valid passport to enter the United States.
Canadians need one of the following for entry: A valid passport or an original or certified birth certificate accompanied by a valid driver’s license with photograph or a Citizenship card or naturalization certificate with photo identification.
All visitors must have proof of onward or return tickets.
Museum, art galleries, Harmony Hall (art gallery with restaurant and nearby beach), glass bottom boat trips, visit to the fruit, vegetable and newly opened craft market, a visit to the Antigua Black Pineapple fields, Parham village and visits to renovated forts and sites, such as Nelson’s Dockyard and Shirley’s Heights.
Tours: (Day) tours to nature island Barbuda, accessible via airplane and high-speed catamaran. Barbuda attractions include: the Frigate Bird Colony, Martello Tower, Castle Hill, Highland Hill, Bryant Cave and many other caves. Snorkeling, scuba diving, turtle watching, bone fishing, horseback riding, hiking, cycling and herbal tours are some of the many other activities to do. Tours to other neighboring islands, such as ‘volcano’ island Montserrat and Dominica (the island of rivers and waterfalls). Eco-Kayak, swim with the dolphins.
Contact the Ministry of Justice & Legal Affairs, located at Government Complex, Parliament Drive (Tel: 268-462-0017 or 268-562-0381).
The fee for registration is US$40. The application fee for the Special Marriage license is US$150; marriage officer’s fee is US$100.