Antigua

Destination Location

Antigua
Hotel reviews summary
4.5

Our guest rating from 5 reviews

Overview

Are you ready to visit the home of the Caribbean sun? Antigua is the sunniest island in the Caribbean and boasts 365 beaches – one for each day of the year. Discover the luxury of this eastern Caribbean island as it offers up world-renowned sailing, snorkeling and a history rife with exploration and adventure.

The expansive, winding coastline that once made Antigua difficult for sailors to navigate is where today's travellers encounter a tremendous abundance of secluded, powdery soft beaches. The coral reefs that once wrecked many ships now attract snorkelers and scuba divers from around the world. And separated by only a few nautical miles off the coast, the fascinating little island of Barbuda is home to one of the region's most significant bird sanctuaries.

The trade winds that once safely guided exploring sailors into English Harbour now fuel one of the world's foremost maritime events, Sailing Week. The coasts of Antigua are ideal for yacht cruising and racing, with constant trade-winds, and seemingly endless harbours for exploration. A week could easily be spent cruising around this sunny island of the eastern Caribbean. Its sister island, Barbuda, has shell laden beaches so stretch long that they dip below the horizon.

Both Antigua and Barbuda are almost completely surrounded by well-preserved coral walls, reefs, and shipwrecks. The southern and eastern coasts of Antigua and virtually the entire coast of Barbuda are enclosed by coral, providing excellent conditions for shallow diving and snorkeling. There is little or no current in most places, and with water temperature averages at 25 C (80 F), these conditions couldn't be more perfect. Underwater visibility ranges up to 140 feet, making it easy to spot the exotic marine plants and animals.

To get a taste of the local arts and culture, there's no better place than Harmony Hall. Located in Brown's Bay at Nonsuch Bay, is the heart of the Antiguan arts and cultural community. Exhibits and showcases change throughout the year, but the annual highlights are the Antigua Artist's Exhibition and the Craft Fair, both in November. Harmony Hall was originally built around a sugar mill tower, which has since been converted to an attraction for both locals and visitors alike, as it offers one of the island's best panoramic views.

All that exploring is sure to work up an appetite. Make sure to enjoy one of Antigua's many water front restaurants - a perfect location for any meal. With endless adventure and hundreds of beaches at your fingertips, what’s stopping you from visiting the home of the Caribbean sun? Book your trip to Antigua today!

Destination basics

Temperatures generally range from the mid-seventies in the winter to the mid-eighties in the summer. Annual rainfall averages only 45 inches, making it the sunniest of the eastern Caribbean Islands, and the northeast trade winds are nearly constant, flagging only in September. Visitors can expect low humidity year-round.

In many ways a throwback in time, yet geared to cater to the savvy traveler, our capital city invites the explorer to visit its labyrinth of crisscrossed streets and alleyways. Absorb local color, shop for duty-free goods at Heritage Quay, browse the boutiques at Redcliffe Quay for clothing made from sea cotton. Then, try your luck at King's Casino or sample a West Indian meal from Hemingway's veranda on lower St. Mary's Street overlooking the harbor. Then, jump in a cab, a car, a boat, hop on a bus (hold on!) or rent a bike and head for a day at the beach. Any beach will do! According to local lore 'An-TEE-gah' boasts 365 pristine beaches, all minutes from our bustling capital and offshore financial center of St. John's.

For the most part, St. John's looks like what you'd expect from an island city of commerce. Colorful sun-bleached wooden shops and businesses line the litter-free, narrow streets. Some of the buildings are refurbished and well-kept but most faded and old. Down-at-the-heels businesses are interspersed with newer construction, which is built predominantly with hurricane-strength cement and designed with more an eye for function than aesthetics. With few exceptions, no building is taller than the Royal Palm trees.

If you're arriving by boat, step right onto the foot of town where no red tape will delay you. Cruise ships enter the port daily, with several ships scheduled every Thursday and Friday when the town simply overflows. What's a tropical city without vendors? You can't avoid the bazaar of friendly low-key merchants who are (for the most part) non-aggressive. Parking is almost non-existent since Prime Minister Lester Bird offered a duty-free concession of one car per Antiguan. But taxis proliferate and the drivers hustle. Don't worry about finding them, they'll find you. And, as far as capital cities go, you can walk the entire town, from the waterfront south to the National Cricket Stadium just outside the city, in about ten minutes. When you're downtown, you're only about 15 minutes from V. C. Bird International Airport.

Unlike some upscale neighboring islands like St. Barth's, there is little about Antigua that is terribly sophisticated. Yet, the island possesses an intangible magic, forever luring visitors back for more.

Beyond St. John's, a different tropical world reveals itself on this 108 square mile sparkle in the Caribbean's eye—namely, the areas of Falmouth Harbour and English Harbour. To get there, you must head diagonally from St. John's southeast toward the coast for about forty minutes. There's never much traffic, but the roads are narrow and covered with potholes. You'll likely pass road construction crews comprised of men and women, toiling side-by-side. Don't be distraught if you're detoured, just do your best to spy a posted sign advertising a restaurant in the harbor area. These signs will be your guide as few roads are named or marked in Antigua. Along your drive, you'll encounter countless livestock roaming freely, including cattle, herds of goats, chickens and an occasional donkey or horse. Remember to drive on the left!

You'll know you're nearing your destination when the roads improve and you begin angling up a moderately steep hill. Once it flattens you'll gasp at the beautiful vista below. Your destination are the harbors dotted with dozens of boats at anchor. Falmouth and English Harbours are home to some of the world's most famous sailing vessels and motor yachts. After all, you're witnessing the staging grounds of one of the world's most prestigious and raucous yachting events, Antigua Sailing Week. Activities annually get under way during the end of May. It's impossible to lose your way here, as the two areas have only one primary street between them.

Take a stop in Falmouth and walk the docks to admire the mega yachts, check out the Antigua Yacht Club or pause and grab a bite for lunch. Past Falmouth the road ends abruptly at historic Nelson's Dockyard, which fringes English Harbour. This piece of living history is the world's only fully preserved Georgian Naval dockyard, dating back to the 18th century. Many buildings here are open to the public (self or guided tours) including two small inns, a museum, the Galley Bar and the Galley Boutique, restaurants, a tiny bakery (behind the museum), post office and more. Stop by the sail loft (A and F Sails) to peek at Franklin and his team of sailmakers at work. You'll also happen upon more yacht related businesses catering to the boating community. Many yachts call these harbors home, but most are just passing through.

Ask anyone for directions to Shirley Heights, rising above the harbor area to the left (east). Here, you'll be treated to one of the most panoramic views available. Look for the ruins of a British fortress, and be sure to spot Montserrat and the Soufriere volcano, 30 miles south. You can savor the view over lunch or a refreshing beverage in the small restaurant there. If you're lucky enough to be visiting at sunset on a Thursday or Sunday evening, stay for the party! It's an Antiguan tradition to celebrate sunset with a jammin' reggae and rum barbeque. While these biweekly parties are comprised of 90 percent tourists, it's still not to be missed! Watch out, those rum punches turn what begins as a low key crowd into maniacs on the dance floor!

Another significant area you won't want to miss is the Dickenson Bay stretch just north of town. The seas here are glassy and framed by powdery white beaches. It provides an idyllic setting for several sprawling resorts including Sandals. Residents of Antigua generally avoid this area, as it has become a tourist Mecca. But, in all fairness, the beaches there are fabulous and can tire you out with all the available water sports. A romantic little open-air restaurant, Coconut Grove, rests on the beach here. You'll want to stop here, even if it's only for a tropical sip, or four.

You'll have the sense that time stands still when in Antigua. What you will take home with you is a sense of appreciation for a simpler life, splashed with beauty. This is a place where there's always time to smell the roses.

While most islands rely on hotels for evening entertainment, Antigua is somewhat different. Antiguans like their nightlife, so there are actual nightclubs on the island. Don't expect to head out after dinner and be home by the bewitching hour. Instead, take a nap after dinner, and then head out much later because that's when the real action begins.

If you're near St. John's in the evening, Julians is a wonderful bet for an evening out. Go for dinner and stay for the live entertainment, drinks and dancing.

Another hot spot is Cats, a glitzy Manhattan-style club where you can dance the night away in air-conditioned comfort. Also try the Web, a local dance club, better known by locals than visitors.

There are many bars throughout the island like the Big Banana at Redcliffe Quay in downtown St. John's which has bands a couple nights a week. At TiTis restaurant at the Galleon Beach Club in English Harbour, the sailing crowd enjoys reggae sounds once a week and a weekly treat by local favorite Laurie Stevens. He'll sing, strum and entertain you until the wee hours. Not to be missed is Shirley Heights, an 18th century fortification near English Harbour, that really jams on Thursday evenings and Sunday afternoons. This is THE place for barbecue, drinks and music.

The trendiest place on the island is Abracadabras in English Harbour. Come for a creative Italian meal and stay for the action. After 11p the party crowd comes out of the woodwork to dance and drink the night away on the deck to the Euro sounds. Any age will mix well here, but you've got to be cool. Then there's The Dry Dock at the corner of Falmouth Harbour and the main strip running into Nelson's Dockyard in English Harbour. This restaurant/club is struggling for an identity but does draw a good crowd from time to time. While in the Falmouth Harbour area, Friday nights are sizzling at both the Mad Mongoose and the Last Lemming, just yards from one another. The crowd is thirty and under at the Mongoose and a mix of every age at the Last Lemming. Best arrival time is around 10p.

Aside from big buffets, Spinnikers and Millers by the Sea are both popular bars with live music nightly. Southern Cross in English Harbour is also a hangout for the yacht set. They serve plenty of drinks and northern Italian cuisine. This is not a party place, thus more suitable for a romantic and low key night out.

For a different sort of entertainment, Antigua has two main casinos with gaming tables plus several others offering slots only. Look for these in the departure lounge area at the V.C. Byrd International Airport. In town, there's the Kings Casino, which boasts the world's largest slot machine. There's also the more sophisticated and European-inspired St. James Club. The casino at the Royal Antiguan Resort has many slot machines, but no tables.

Throughout the year you'll find specialty entertainment. Each spring the island plays host to Antigua Sailing Week when sailors from all over the map converge here for a huge week-long regatta. It's great sport for the sailors as well as the spectators. Book your accommodations early for this one. You don't know what hard partying is until you've spent this week in Antigua. Speaking of sailing, an entertaining day can be had at the Antigua Yacht Club every Thursday when members and visitors race yachts and join for drinks. Call the club to confirm. Schedules depend on weather and turnout.

There's also the Antigua Tennis Week, hosted each year by the Curtain Bluff Resort, which pulls in some tennis greats and massive fans.

Some call it boredom, some call it more important than politics, but in Antigua, cricket is the all-important activity. Just ask anyone on the island or check the local newspaper listings to find a match.

Friday nights are a blast for the sports-minded at Temo's, a bar, tennis and squash club. On Friday, all are invited to throw their hat in the ring for an evening of round-robin tennis. It's casual and comfortable. Most players (all levels) have a few beers before and after the game. Temos is in English Harbour on Falmouth Harbour between Last Lemming and Mad Mongoose.

For more sophisticated tastes, visit the Antigua Community Players, which sponsor musical programs and original plays and productions. There's also a local dance troupe called the Antigua Dance Theatre that occasionally gives impressive public performances.

Check out the hotel evening scene in the Dickenson Bay area when you're making your plans. There's always plenty of lounge entertainment and dress is always casual. While in the area, peek into Putters, an up and coming singles spot that attracts all ages.

In Antigua, party time is all the time, so there are many places to go for dining and drinking. There are a wide variety of spots at the dozens of hotels on the island. And with 365 beaches, there are many beach bars. If you're planning a beach day, go to Pigeon Beach in English Harbour. There, you'll have an opportunity to treat yourself to a tropical and casual lunch and drink at Bumpkins, a colorful beachy looking open-air spot. The owner, Carol, opens this eatery according to her whim, but a good bet is to arrive between 1p-5p daily.

Depending on your tastes, food types are plentiful, though dishes with Caribbean/West Indian flair are the most common. Fresh seafood, particularly deep-sea fish, can be found on most every menu.

You won't have trouble finding a place to dine in downtown St. Johns, the island's lively capital. Some are in the historic Redcliffe Quay area, housed in old warehouses that have been restored as shops and restaurants. The brick and stone Redcliffe Tavern, with old water pumping equipment used as decor, offers wonderful continental fare and a great place to hang out and have a drink. Next-door is the Big Banana. They serve pizza and food in the little shopping area where you can dine in or out. For some reason, Big Banana holds the prize for the best CD collection on the island.

For people watching, you can't beat Hemingway's, a downtown eatery in a wonderful old West Indian building covered with gingerbread. You can sit on the balcony for a drink or meal and watch the world go by. Do try the curry dishes.

There are many restaurants in town to keep a visitor busy for many nights. Harbour Lights, an elegant restaurant on the water, offers special meals for vegetarians and diabetics. Two others in the historic area include the Commissioner Grill, offering West Indian dishes and seafood, and the Archway Cafe, open for lunch only serving pasta and other casual fare. O'Grady's Pub (sounds like it should be in Philadelphia), a favorite hangout for locals, serves pub grub and green beer in March.

Arguably one of the best restaurants on the island is Julian's, also downtown. This restaurant is elegant with food to match and a good wine list, with many sold by the glass. Dining is available in an outdoor garden or in air-conditioned comfort.

Though most of the island's restaurants are connected with hotels, a few of them are freestanding. Miller's by the Sea is one of them. It's very popular with local people because of its large and affordable West Indian buffet and nightly entertainment. For some genuine West Indian cuisine,this is not to be missed. The Coconut Grove restaurant is outstanding. Look for it on the beach at Dickenson Bay. You can't get much more romantic than this as the pristine calm waters practically lap at your toes and the stars glitter above.

Another "essential" during a visit to Antigua is the Sunset-Into-The-Night Party at Shirley Heights (an 18th century fort not far from Nelson's Dockyard area). With its stunning views and magnificent old buildings, this spot has all the elements. There's a pub-style restaurant open daily, and on Sunday and Thursday nights there's a huge barbecue that is attended by literally hundreds of local people, tourists and the yacht-set. For great food and a big party with live music into the night, this is the place.


Most hotels have restaurants, but an true standout is the Bay House Restaurant at the Tradewinds Hotel in Dickenson Bay. Coco's, also on the west "sunset" coast, has great food and views for diners. For one of the finest wine selections anywhere (certainly in the Caribbean) try Curtain Bluffs, a lovely resort built on a bluff and run by wine connoisseur Howard Hulford. Reservations and jackets are required for dinner in this elegant restaurant.

In English Harbour, there's a good Italian restaurant, Abracadabra, with live music and even livelier food. The Admiral's Inn open-air restaurant serves tantalizing dishes, especially fresh seafood. Or, just stop in for a drink at the nautical bar inside the hotel. In the same area is Catherine's Cafe with plenty of personality, good food and great espresso. More French fare can be found at LeBistro at Hodge's Bay. It is consistently ranked one of the finest restaurants in all of the Caribbean.

Antigua

Country: Antigua & Barbuda

Antigua by the Numbers
Population: 80,161
Elevation: Ranges from 0 meters (0 feet) to 402 meters (1319 feet) at its highest point.
Average Annual Rainfall: 12.7 centimeters / 5 inches
Average January Temperature: 25°C / 77°F
Average July Temperature: 28°C / 82°F

Quick Facts
Electricity: 230 volts, 60 Hz; airport area: 110v, 60hz; standard two-pin plug

Time Zone: GMT -4

Country Dialing Code: +1

Area Code: 268

Did You Know?
In Antigua, you could visit a different beach every day of the year without repeating since the island is home to 365 beaches.

The highest point on the island is Mount Obama, named after the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama. Before 2009 it was called Boggy Peak.

Orientation
The islands Antigua and Barbuda are located in the eastern Caribbean at the southern end of the Leeward Islands. Antigua is about 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of the island of Guadeloupe and about 69 kilometers (43 miles) east of the island of Nevis.

When the English first landed in Antigua there were certainly no jewelry stores boasting their exotic wares in Heritage Quay and Redcliffe Quay or the Bank of Antigua flaunting it's shiny marble floors. In fact, there were no streets at all!

Colonization came about in 1632 by a party of Englishmen who set out from nearby St. Kitts under the leadership of Edward Warner. They established a tenuous settlement on the southern side of the island and were under attack by the Caribbean's (from neighboring islands) and the French. By 1667, the little town really began to swing.

As on most Caribbean islands, sugar cane once was a primary source of revenue and a booming industry; its heyday was from the mid 1600s to the mid 1700s when slavery was the norm. Sugar cane ceased production altogether on Antigua in 1972.

In September 1672 a decision was made by the governing Assembly that one slave for every eight owned by planters should be supplied for work on the erection of forts at Falmouth and St. John's. In case of attack from the Caribbean's or French, a fort was to be built on Rat Island in St. John's Harbour. In 1680, Colonel Vaughn gave St. John's Point to the King for a defense to be called Fort James. This fort was completed in 1704.

St. John's town had grown as large as Falmouth by 1689. Together, Falmouth and Parham were Antigua's foremost towns. But by the following year nearly the whole island of St. John's was destroyed by a hurricane. Eighteen vessels ran aground; others just disappeared. The arduous task of rebuilding had to be started all over again. Destruction from disasters of one type or the other presented many setbacks for Antigua.

In 1702 cross streets were laid by the military, a market was built and the town of St. John's was born. A clerk for the market was appointed who was also to be the public crier. Town wardens whose duty was to assess houses and land were elected and a cage, pillory, stocks, whipping post and ducking stool were placed at the publics expense on the corner of what is now Market and Church Street. Night watches were also appointed to have the same power as watchmen in London and a watch house built in this convenient spot.

The following four years were particularly noteworthy in the history of colonial administration when Antiguan's reigned as one of the most controversial governors in the island, Daniel Parke. Parke's behavior and private life turned out to be arbitrary and extreme. Before he had held his government post for twelve months, articles of impeachment were prepared and forwarded to England. Parke never returned to England in spite of being recalled by Queen Anne. His end came at a standoff between soldiers he had quartered at the Government House and the planters. He was shot in the leg and subsequently died.

St. John's second church was built on the site where Parke was murdered.

In 1747 Peter Harrison, a Yorkshire architect, designed and started work on the St. John's Courthouse. He was also responsible for designing and building many important buildings in Jamaica and the East Coast of America. The courthouse eventually housed the Legislative Council and when not in official use, dances and other social functions were staged there. Notable celebrities such as Prince William IV and Horatio Nelson were entertained in that building. Today, it is used as the Museum for Antigua's Historical and Archaeological Society.

A most dreadful town fire occurred in 1769 when an unattended coal pot set a building ablaze. Two hundred and sixty houses were leveled to the ground and two thirds of St. John's was destroyed.

In 1801 a proposal for the construction of a Government House slated to be the Governor's residence was adopted. Previously he had resided in rented homes. Unfortunately, this stately home fell into disrepair some years back but today, a private society (along the government) raised funds to have the building restored.

The barracks east of the town was converted to a prison. The year 1735 remains inscribed above its portals. Progress continued in 1830 as the first library in the British West Indies was established in St. John's as a private venture. It was later taken over by the Government and run by a Board of Trustees. Part of this prison is still in use today but suffered massive damage in 1999.

In August 1834, a proclamation was read in the city emancipating all the slaves of Antigua. Eight years later St. John's was raised to the dignity of a 'city' when the diocese was established. In fact, every year, a week long carnival is held in celebration of the Emancipation. Always ready to celebrate, Antiguan's make no bones about it. The spirit of the Antiguan today reflects that of happiness and contentment.

As the city progressively grew, the first batch of indentured laborers from Madeira arrived at St. John's. The General Post Office, London opened a branch in St. John's in 1850. The island enjoyed even more progress when, in 1867, a reservoir was built at Gray's Hill just outside St. John's to supply the city with pipe-borne water. The reservoir itself was fed from a dam at Wallings.

Finally, in 1981 Antigua was granted full independence from Great Britain while retaining its Commonwealth status.

Despite fires, riots and chronic hurricanes, the town of St. John's managed to keep its history in check. Although most of the original buildings are long gone, there are still a few homes and establishments in St. John's, which represent its historic era. The St. John's Cathedral and the Courthouse are pinnacles of that time.

Perhaps the most condensed Antiguan architecture and history has been best maintained in the preservation of what is now Redcliffe Quay. A former baracoon where slaves were kept prior to sale, Redcliffe Quay reflects the genesis of the country as a people.

Points of interest in Antigua

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