Antigua: what to see and do. A paradise island with snorkelling, scuba diving, turtles and top class hotels

Antigua: A paradise island with snorkelling, scuba diving, turtles and top class hotels.
Antigua: A paradise island with snorkelling, scuba diving, turtles and top class hotels.
Why go

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.

What to do
Antigua Swimming with sting rays
Swim with the stingrays in translucent waters

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.

Where to stay
Jumba Bay 620
Jumby Bay Beach, Antigua

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 Pool Grille at Rosewood Hotel's chic Jumba Bay
The Pool Grille at Rosewood Hotel’s chic Jumby Bay

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.

Where to eat

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.

Getting around

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.

Antigua Blue Waters Hotel sunset
Sunset from Blue Waters Hotel
When to go

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.

Three things we like
  1. The Antigua Cricket ground is the place where locals party. Match days are Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays from January to July, and your afternoon in the sun will be accompanied by the effervescent sound of a steel band. Grab some goat water from local street vendors on the way home!
  2. Souvenir shoppers should head for Heritage Quay, at St Johns harbour, for high-end gifts and craft goods such as pottery and artworks. You’ll find more local crafts in the Vendor’s Market a couple of streets away (it’s OK to barter here) but our favourite shopping spot is Heritage Market, bursting with the aromas of local fruit, vegetables, and exotic spices. Buy vanilla pods here.
  3. Try the local English Harbour and Cavalier rums – they have quite a kick.
Something we don’t like

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.

Antigua beach life
Relax on one of the three hundred and sixty-five beaches
High50 insider tips
  • It you’re spending a week or more on the island, avoid St Johns when the cruise ships come in – it’s so busy!
  • Some of the beach vendors are a bit over enthusiastic, and taxi drivers can pester tourists when cruise ships come in. Be street smart.
  • Do be friendly in shops and restaurants – even if you are not buying.
  • You can grab great deals if you fly off-season in May and June
Don’t miss

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…

Travelling with family?

New_Dock Jumba Bay. Antigua 620

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.

Need to know
  • Eastern Caribbean Dollars (EC) is the official currency and £1 is worth about EC$4. Tourist venues will let you pay in US dollars.
  • VC Bird International Airport is five miles from the capital St Johns. Since Antigua is only fourteen miles long and eleven miles wide, transfers are short.
  • In the British winter, GMT is four hours ahead of Antigua time. In summer, it’s five hours.
  • Year round 24-30 degrees is the norm.
  • Antigua is friendly but opportunistic crime exists so don’t leave valuables unguarded. Be aware of your surroundings, as in any unknown spot.
  • Antigua has American-style sockets, so you’ll need two and three pronged, flat-pin plugs.
  • It takes between eight to nine hours to fly direct from London airports.
  • Neither Visas nor specific inoculations are required.
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