If it’s paradise you’re after, a tropical haven edged with pink sand beaches and cooled by an easy southeasterly breeze, you should go to Antigua. Nestled among the Leeward Islands, Antigua (alongside its smaller neighbour Barbuda with which it shares political union) boasts 365 beaches – one for every day of the year.
Tourists who stay by the hotel pool rather than explore the island miss out on its riches. Explore! Snorkelling is great in Carlisle Bay and Deep Bay, or try the scuba centre on Jolly Beach. See the pink sands at Half Moon Bay, and too much pink flesh, perhaps, at the clothing-optional Hawksbill Bay. Try Fort James Beach for volleyball while Galley Beach is home to egg laying leatherback turtles. Hike up to the elegant Redcliffe Quay to people watch over lunch with views over the bay.
From all inclusive resorts to boutique hotels with a home-away-from-home feel, Antigua has it all. The north coast is sailing territory, but sunbathers may not like the breeze. Windsurfers flock to nearby Dutchman’s Bay. The Jolly Harbour area, in the west, has cute shops as well as bars and restaurants, while the south coast by English Harbour is popular with yachties and history buffs. For untouched beaches head east.
Sandals is a popular all-inclusive option but if you felt the large resort style wasn’t quite your style you may want to take a look at the the new love nest suites at the Sandals Grande Antigua. These rooms, complete with butler, offer a new level of luxury perfect for second honeymooners. Located away from the main resort some feature private plunge pools and 190-degree ocean bluff top views.
The Inn at English Harbour has a colonial elegance and with only 28 rooms has a secluded and private ambience. While Jumby Bay, A Rosewood Resort, is one of the island’s most stylish retreats and offers fine dining and five-star service.
Some of the best dining can be found around English/Falmouth Harbour and Dickenson Bay areas. Fresh fish and seafood are often cooked on open grills. Commissioner’s Grill offers authentic Antiguan cuisine while many of the exclusive resort restaurants such as Carmichael’s at Sugar Ridge and The Estate House at Jumby Bay are open to the public.
Your hotel concierge can organise island excursions, but do agree taxi prices beforehand. Hire a car or off-road bike to explore solo or why not go further afield? Ferries run from St John to neighbouring Barbuda, Antigua’s sleepier neighbour, five times weekly, where you can explore Arawak Indian caves or see the Frigate Birds’ breeding grounds. A ferry also runs twice weekly to the Island of Montserrat, much of which is an exclusion zone due to a devastating 1997 volcano eruption. Caribbean Helicopters Ltd fly over the site – or anywhere on the islands.
The Caribbean sun beckons when British skies darken, so high season is December until April, with the prestigious sailing week scheduled for that last week before May. Hurricane season’s peak is August to October, so beware.
Taking in a historical tour of the museum at English Harbour, or a drive out to the historical Sugar Plantation at Betty’s Hope, the links between Antigua and the UK are thrown into perspective – much of it was based on the slave trade.
No Antigua visit is complete without a Sunday night at Shirley Heights, high on a hill overlooking English Harbour. Everyone comes to enjoy barbecue food, rum punch sundowners, and reggae music – and you never know, you might meet a sailor whose yacht is anchored in harbour, and who’ll invite you out for a sail…
Having a top-rated kids’ club at your hotel could make or break your holiday. Carlisle Bay, on the Island’s south side, has a dedicated family wing and facilities for children aged six months up. Verandah Resort and Hotel, meanwhile, in St Philip, has mini golf, plus water sports tuition for all ages – get everyone out on the water.
Family friendly beaches include Dickenson Bay, with its swim-safe turquoise waters, and Pigeon Point, with baby change facilities and a playground. The Nelson’s Dockyard heritage centre satisfies any appetite for swashbuckling tales. Don’t forget to bring plenty of sunscreen and mosquito nets.