Antigua and Barbuda is a multi-island nation in the eastern Caribbean. Most of its people live on the largest island, Antigua. This island is mainly flat and has fine white sand with rich coral reefs along the northern coast. Most of Barbuda is composed of low-lying coral islands, unexplored nature reserves and protected wildlife. It has become a haven for many birds, lizards, and giant turtles that are facing extinction. Redonda and the other small and remote islands remain uninhabited. Antigua’s tropical climate and cool sea breezes attract many visitors. Tourism is the country’s main industry, although sugar cane remains an important crop and source of income.
Here are the top ten not-to-be-missed places on the islands of Antigua and Barbuda.
When in St. John’s — the capital city — it is difficult to classify the beaches because they are all wonderful. The Galley Beach — with a comfortable hotel at its adjacent resort — is definitely one of the best options. The color of the sea and the white sand are really unequalled. At night you can enjoy the magic of bioluminescence and the spectacle of the sea turtles that come to lay their eggs. It is a beautiful place from any point of view. The site is quiet and peaceful, and the rooms are intimate. They are all facing the sea except for the cottages, and they have a private pool. Snorkeling can be enjoyed on the shallow parts of the beach. Elsewhere on the same beach, the huge waves and the strong winds are ideal for all kinds of water sports activities.
When the current and waves are too strong or a storm threatens, the yellow flag is raised up and no one is allowed to swim. But when the waves are normal, the crystal-clear water is perfect for swimming and snorkeling fun. Deep-sea diving adventures, kayaking and sailing facilities are strategically placed around the island. Fresh fish and lobster are staples of the local diet. Many tourists come here each year to enjoy the warm hospitality of the people and the hot weather.
After seeing so many beautiful beaches and crossing the island of Antigua from west to east, it’s time to learn some history of this island and there is a lot to tell. A visit to an old sugar plantation called Betty’s Hope provides an interesting break after a day or two on the beach. Betty’s Hope has two large refurbished windmills and inside you can still see the very old machines that were used to squeeze cane sugar. All the liquid was collected and poured into large containers, hung over a low fire and stirred to achieve a big block of crystallized sugar. This sugar was then cooled down, repacked and exported all over the world. This hard labor was the task of slaves flown in from Africa during the time of English colonization (1674).
In the nearby museum you can see old photographs and drawings that explain very well the various stages of collection and processing of sugar cane. In the surrounding open green space, you can see the ruins of a large village where the slaves use to live alongside the quarters of their British masters. It is still possible to see, even if disintegrating, the pools where they collected rainwater that allowed all inhabitants of the island to survive — water wells did not exist. This tourist attraction provides a good glimpse of history that is both interesting and informative.
Heritage Quay is a haven for people who love to shop and at the same time want to experience a cultural interaction with the locals. The Quay is lined with stores full of nice crafts, duty free items, perfumes, jewelry, woodwork, bottles of good rum, and clothes with Caribbean colors. There is also a pleasant walk around the harbor, and many tour operators are located here in order to offer tours of the island for a few hours when the cruise ships are docked.
In addition to designer clothes and diamonds, the classic small shops are filled with locally made souvenirs. Plus, it is a duty-free zone; remember to bring your re-boarding pass, or the return flight information and your passport to qualify for the discount. Note that even with this discount the prices of imported goods are high. If you walk towards Market St., you can find something more affordable for gifts to bring back home.
The cost is a little high for a round trip on the Barbuda Express but it is definitely worth it. The ferry is strong even if it’s small and built in fiberglass, and It has no problem crossing the magnificent sea to remote Barbuda Island.
The 90-minute catamaran ride is the perfect option to view the longest beach of the island and its wildlife attractions such as birds, monkeys, etc. Lunch is included in the fee, and consists of fresh seafood, rice, salad and beans, and freshly cooked live lobsters. Barbuda is a small island with a beautiful endless beach. There are few inhabitants and only one hotel standing on its pink sand.
The Valley Church Beach is a piece of paradise on the waters of Antigua. It can be reached by riding a shared taxi that leaves directly from the Jolly Harbour area approximately 25 minutes away. It is a unique beach where the water is not transparent but milky because of the shells and broken corals in the sand. On the beach you can rent sun loungers or take shelter under a beautiful palm. It is also possible to rent a watercraft to explore the rest of the island. Taking a walk and admiring the myriad shells is truly a delight.
The beach is beautiful and long. It is not pure sand but consists of shells and crushed corals that give it a color ranging from white to pink. You can spot starfish and shells in many incredible shapes. The Valley Church beach is a spectacle of nature with unforgettable colors. View a tranquil sea and enjoy cocktails at the bar to beat the heat and immerse yourself in the wonderful Caribbean atmosphere. Boat tours, fishing adventures, and diving in the vast coral reef area are just a few of the best options to explore this natural wonder.
If you go to Antigua you can swim and play with stingrays at the Stingray City. Yes, they still have their stingers, but you will not feel at all threatened because the trained guides on the site are very attentive. You can take as many photos you want. The tour guides can answer all your questions about the stingrays and they will also take professional pictures but there is no pressure to buy. It’s very special to be so close to these large animals to watch how they swim past — and even shove a little and roam on their way. You can also feed them.
There is ample opportunity to see and touch, as there are about 30 to 40 stingrays in all shapes and sizes. There is also other marine life swimming around, with skilled instructors always alert to be sure you have the opportunity explore but keeping an eye on your safety at all times.
The view of English Harbour, especially at sunset, is unique and worth every minute you spend there. The landscape is just as if painted in the truest sense of the word, like a scene straight from a postcard. Every Sunday evening this tranquil town is transformed into a really lively location, because from about 5:00 a steel band regularly performs calypso and reggae music in Shirley Heights, followed by the other local live band groups in Antigua. This makes the island festive with great music and a relaxing atmosphere. The audience is normally 80% tourists, who drive the prices of the food and drinks up. You get to this delightful promontory in about 40 minutes from St. Johns.
The panoramic view of the bays and inlets of English Harbour and Falmouth Harbour is truly spectacular. Climbing towards the fort of Shirley Heights, you can see Clarence House, the house built for Prince William Henry, who later became King William IV of England. You can drink, party and eat while waiting to see the spectacle of the sunset.
Among the most interesting places to visit on the island of Antigua is The Nelson Dockyard. History lovers should not miss the opportunity to visit this historic site. In a beautiful natural harbor surrounded by mountains, the British built the largest naval base in the Caribbean. This dockyard served as shelter for a fleet that fought against the French and included a facility where boats were repaired or new ones were built. A wall surrounding the base prevented the entry of intruders from the ground. Within the citadel, all buildings are now fully restored. These include the barracks, officers’ houses, workshops and a very interesting museum on the history of Nelson’s time on that island and in the Caribbean.
Numerous bars and restaurants in the old buildings face the sea. There is a pleasant walkway — or the opportunity to simply enjoy a cup of coffee on one of the terraces while sailboats, cruise ships and yachts come and go. This place is where the locals and tourists celebrate the famous Antigua Race Week. The Nelson Dockyard and the nearby English Harbor are both exceptional places to spend a day and learn about Antigua and its history. If you do not have a car, buses run frequently from the Central Market of Saint Johns and bring you right to the doorstep of the Dockyard. It is the most convenient and inexpensive way to go.
Saint Phillip Parish
Half Moon Bay on the Atlantic coast is protected by a coral reef and is one of the best beaches in Antigua. The sea is of an indescribable color and a transparency that keeps visitors enthralled. The sand is white and resembles the consistency of a talcum powder. Swimming is hard to resist and it is difficult to get out of the water that is so clear and warm. And like almost all the beaches of Antigua it is practically deserted.
This is the perfect spot for romantic couples that want to avoid huge crowds and just enjoy the tranquility of the surroundings. It is a deserted beach where there are no fancy services when you arrive, but if you go left you will find a paradise with crystal clear water, a thin strip of golden sand and a sense of calm — all sheltered by the barrier reef.
At the end of a dirt road and some rocky terrain, the Devil’s Bridge is the point of the island where the Caribbean Sea meets with the Atlantic Ocean. The spectacle is fascinating as the ocean slams its powerful waves against the rocks in a unique way. Behind the waves is a crystal clear sea that is in absolute peace and the only noise you hear is the sound of the waves and the crashing of the waters as it forms sprays and rainbows along the bay. Because of the constant force of the Atlantic waves, the rock has eroded here and formed a unique-looking bridge. It is a view that is quite interesting, especially since the raging sea lends a little sense of adventure to the otherwise relaxing atmosphere. Antigua is a beautiful island with supposedly 365 different beaches, but at Devils Bridge it is not advisable to swim because of the dangerous waves. But standing there and watching the water as it foams, bubbles and splashes thunderously is an amazing way to experience the force of nature.
To witness this you can rent a car in St John’s and take the road to the stadium (Sir Vivian Richards), and then drive past the gas station to take the left road to The Veranda Resort. A few yards’ walk from the hotel entrance will take you to a bumpy dirt road where this rocky point is the main attraction. Depending on the wind and waves, the spectacle is unforgettable. The best place is right on the flat rock. One should always stand where the soil is dry — the wet part where the waves come up here and there can be very dangerous.