Take endless rows of almost-too-perfect palm trees, mountains so lush that they look like something out of an idealized Romantic painting and sand so white that, on first sight, you may actually believe that it’s sugar, and you pretty much have it—Antigua is a visually stunning feast for the eyes and an all-around pleasure for the senses.
With 365 beaches, one for each day of the year, this sunny spot in the Lesser Antilles—along with its sister island, Barbuda—entices visitors to take it easy, lounging seaside and soaking up the rays.
But for those who seek more from their vacation than a suntan, Antigua has just as many vigorous (and cultural) pursuits as it does beaches. With top-notch sports facilities, a long, rich history (Christopher Columbus landed on these shores on his second voyage, way back in 1493) and drivable roads that beckon the wandering soul, Antigua and Barbuda can provide a perfect holiday, whether you’re a laid-back Enlightened Explorer or a high-octane Turbo Traveller.
Go down in history
For those who prefer delving into the past versus pumping their legs on a high-energy hike, Antigua offers a number of excellent opportunities to learn a little more about this island’s fascinating history. Start your adventure down at Nelson’s Dockyard, where you will find a restored and revitalized version of the 18th-century harbour community that served as home to the Royal Navy (including famed English seafarer Horatio Nelson, who lived here from 1784 to 1787) and now bears the distinction of being the only continuously working Georgian dockyard in the world. Take a guided tour of the seaside sites, including an informative museum housed in the former Admiral’s House, as well as the buildings where the sick were treated, masts were repaired and ships were “careened” (an old-school alternative to dry-docking). Afterward, enjoy a leisurely stroll around the grounds, perhaps pausing to buy some handmade gifts at one of the many little shops or to settle in and watch the yachts sail by and sip a glass of vino on the inviting patio of The Admiral’s Inn, one of Antigua’s oldest hotels.
Serving up Caribbean tastes
If you love to eat, these islands offer a veritable cornucopia of culinary experiences. Start with a drive up to Shirley Heights on a Sunday evening for the weekly barbecue. Set on a hilltop, partiers enjoy sweeping views of the beaches and bays far below while browsing the various open-air grilling stations for barbecue chicken and other delicious barbecued fare—the whole scene is set to the sound of a lively steel-drum band.
And if you prefer a little beachside dining, a visit to Uncle Roddy’s on Barbuda is well advised. This tiny spot—little more than a brightly painted cottage with a broad patio—serves up cool, bubbly drinks and some mean seafood. Owned and operated by Rodman George, it is also his son Philman’s favourite haunt on the island. Philman is from Toronto and is also known as The Rhyming Chef, a public persona that has earned him a show on a national food channel, as well as a DVD series, where he raps while he teaches others his craft. While he may or may not be at Uncle Roddy’s (he splits his time between Barbuda and Canada), the restaurant is always a dependable spot for a smooth rum cocktail and something delicious from the Dutchie (a traditional Caribbean metal pot).
Sun and sand
Although Antigua’s beaches are only one of many things that set this place apart from other islands, they are, nonetheless, the No. 1 reason most people come here. Happily, all beaches on Antigua and Barbuda are open to the public, so while you may be tempted to just relax and chill out at your own resort, doing so would mean selling yourself short of the many other opportunities to be a complete beach bum in a variety of diverse and stunning settings.
If you’re looking for a deserted powdery cove, spend the day at Deep Bay. If it’s crystalline waters and excellent snorkelling that you seek, claim a spot on either Darkwood Beach or the four Hawksbill Beaches. And, if you want to be the only one to leave footprints in the sand, visit Barbuda, where mile after mile (after mile) of pink and white sand stretch to that faraway place where blue meets white on the horizon.
Take a hike
If you’re looking to work up a sweat, Antigua and Barbuda oblige with plenty of great walking trails. Devil’s Bridge, for example, may sound a bit daunting, but it’s actually part of Indian Town National Park and a picturesque place to hike along a series of paths, which run across the surfside meadows and along the coast, within sight of the bridge itself. Bring your camera to capture dramatic images of waves crashing under this natural limestone arch and spouting up through the blowholes that surround it. But don’t get too close (or attempt to cross the bridge)—the churning water may not be evil, but it can be dangerous.
Those looking for more than a recreational hike should head to nearby Barbuda which, connected by a twice-daily 20-minute flight, is far less populated and features a great deal of undeveloped green space. Take a boat tour of the largest frigate bird sanctuary in the western hemisphere, then hike the highlands near Two Foot Bay—your efforts will be rewarded with views of authentic petroglyphs in the caves that pierce the rock and, from the top of the cliffs, a panorama of the rugged coastline that over the years has claimed—and wrecked—literally hundreds of ships.
Held every November, the Curtain Bluff Resort’s Tennis Challenge draws professionals and top-shelf players from around the world to its four championship hard courts. Pros run clinics for resort guests, then compete alongside them in a series of pro-am matches and doubles competitions on courts which back directly onto the beach, encircled by a fringe of palm trees. Non-hotel guests are welcome to watch the competitions but can’t partake.
But even at this tennis challenge, it’s not all about tennis. Each day provides opportunities for guests to participate in yoga classes, water aerobics, cardio exercise and other blood-pumping pursuits. And the pros hang around well into the evening, leading tables of guests for dinner and dancing under a sky filled with bright, Caribbean stars.
Come sail away
A nation with a proud seafaring history, Antigua celebrates its salty heritage with an annual regatta and sailing week, held every April and May. Next year will mark the 26th year for the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta, the largest and longest-running classic yacht regatta in the Caribbean, and past celebrations of the subsequent sailing week have traditionally included a number of thrilling races.
But if you think this sounds like an event built for the majority of attendees to serve as simple spectators—you’re wrong. The Antigua Sailing week offers the opportunity for all sailors (wannabe or otherwise) to get involved in the races by chartering a yacht with their own crew or joining a yacht as a crewmember. Or you can just relax and use the craft for an adventure holiday (crews can be hired, too). Meanwhile, the sailing week parties are open to all and vary from casual affairs held at the yacht club or shindigs at the beach, to party-down bashes that last long into the night.