Going To Antigua? Read This First.
Antigua is a beautiful little tropical island floating in the middle of the Leeward Islands in the Eastern Caribbean, just seventeen miles north of the equator. As you can imagine, warm, tropical waters and an endless string of white sand beaches make Antigua a quintessential Caribbean paradise. It’s known as the sunniest of the Eastern Caribbean islands with average annual rainfalls of only 45 inches. Temperatures year-round fall in a picture perfect range of 75 degrees in the winter to 85 degrees in the summer months. Antigua was discovered in 1784 by Admiral Horatio Nelson and remains one of Britain’s most beloved tropical gems in the New World.
Interestingly, Antigua means “ancient” and was named after an icon in Seville, Spain’s ancient and infamous Catedral - namely, Santa Maria de la Antigua (St. Mary of the Old Cathedral). The indigenous people often refer to their island by the name of Waladli, or Wadadli, meaning “our own.” With a population of approximately 80,000 people - many of its part-time residents belonging to the rich and famous - (Oprah has a home here, as does Eric Clapton), Antigua is the more lively island in relation to its sister island of Barbuda.
Nelson’s Dockyard is Antigua’s most popular touristic site as well as the main port for luxurious yachts making their way into the island gem’s sparkling shores. It once served as a royal naval base, dating back to 1745. In the late 1800‘s when the island’s economy went south and it lost its strategic importance to Great Britain, the historic dockyard was abandoned, only to be restored again in the 1950’s. Today it serves as a lively port and the only working Georgian marina in the western half of the world. There are restaurants, shops, hotels - even a handsome two-story museum housed in the residence of a naval officer from long ago. Check out the Copper and Lumber Store Hotel, constructed from bricks once used as ships’ ballast. The lovely hotel dates back to 1789 and is well worth a visit even if you don’t spend the night.
Rendezvous Bay, one of the island’s most isolated beaches is a must-see - only privy to travelers willing to make the effort required to reach the gorgeous stretch of sand and sea. It’s accessed either by a 4WD which you can rent, or by foot (after an hour and a half hike through the rainforest) or by boat. The boat option can be iffy as swells in the bay often make it difficult to moor the boat. The hike is a lovely way to get your daily dose of exercise while taking in the native flora and fauna. Just be sure to wear good hiking shoes and bring your water, for this trail is not for the faint-hearted. However, the bay’s sheer beauty and exclusion are well worth the trek.
Shirley Heights Lookout
Eighteenth-century fort ruins mingle with expansive hilltop views (you can even see Montserrat and Guadeloupe on a clear day) when you visit Shirley Heights Lookout, Antigua’s old military complex located on the island’s southern tip. It’s also a Sunday afternoon gathering place for parties, where steel drum bands and soca music mix with barbecues, fruity tropical drinks and uninhibited dancing. On Thursday evenings, the spot hosts an event called Made in Pride in Antigua, where you can purchase hand-crafted goodies and local foodie favorites.
With over 360 beautiful white sand beaches, trade winds perfect for sailing and pretty, pretty people, you may wish to simply lounge on the beach all day with your pina colada in hand. However, the interior of the island is also worth exploring. Mount Obama, Antigua’s tallest peak rises above the sea at 1,300 feet. It’s a popular hiking spot for tourists and locals alike. If you make the hike, treat yourself to fresh coconut water, presented graciously to you by a native Antiguan making their humble living.
Carlisle Bay is an amazing luxury resort hotel, if you’re looking for an all-inclusive Antiguan experience. However, with all the cultural fun the island offers, you may wish to simply pop in for a massage at the spa. Antigua has an abundance of tropical fruit and vegetable markets where you can shop like a local and sample fresh melons or West Indian locust fruit. You’ll also want to try the famous black pineapple, the national fruit of Antigua and Barbuda. It’s grown on the southern part of the island and is undoubtedly one of the world’s sweetest. Fish markets also abound, where you’ll be tempted to chat up the local fisherman, letting them talk about their catch of the day. Wahoo, parrot fish, conch, and snapper are all bountiful in these waters. Try the local favorite, “fish water,” a fishy stew medley served in calabash bowls made from the native calabash plant.
Whatever you choose to do on this Robinson Crusoe-like island, you won’t be disappointed. Antigua promises to provide you with tropical travel memories to last a lifetime!
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