With their swaying palm trees and powdery beaches, Antigua and Barbuda offer travellers a Caribbean paradise.
Antigua has plenty of glamour, with swanky yachts in the harbour, and celebrities from Oprah to Giorgio Armani keep houses here.
Away from the glitz, there are countless attractions, from historic sites to steaming rainforests, to hiking trails up mountains and through national parks. Catch a cricket match, join in a session of the local board game Warri, or take your pick from an incredible line-up of watersports.
Barbuda, a little under 30 miles to the north, is Antigua’s smaller sister island, and she’s less developed but equally idyllic! Think near-empty beaches, wild beauty and a forested interior that teems with wildlife.
THINGS TO DO
Hit the beach and take to the water
Among the best beaches on Antigua is Half Moon Bay, popular with snorkellers and windsurfers. Turner’s Beach offers a view over nearby Montserrat, while inlets like Prickly Pear Island offer more tranquillity. The south-western beach off of Johnson’s Point is also quiet.
If you can tear yourself away from the sand, drive out to Seatons, a delightful Antiguan fishing village, from where you can take a thrilling speed-boat ride to one of the offshore islands and interact with stingrays, safely.
For a more sedate voyage, hire a dinghy and sail to a secluded cove for a day…
Other boat trip ideas include the pirate ship that goes around nearby Great Bird Island, or a glass-bottomed vessel giving stunning views of the reef.
Step back in time
The Museum of Antigua and Barbuda is the oldest structure on Antigua and is housed in the island’s former courthouse dating from 1750. There’s more history to soak up at the renovated Nelson’s Dockyard, dating from 1745 and one of Antigua’s best-known landmarks. Nelson lived here until 1787, and today there’s lots to see thanks to an extensive restoration programme.
St John’s Cathedral, like the museum in the Antiguan capital of the same name and built in 1854, is another imposing landmark. It has been reconstructed three times because of hurricane damage. Its bronze figures of St John the Divine and St John the Baptist are reckoned to have come from a French ship in the mid-eighteenth century.
To get a sense of colonial history, go to the partly restored Antiguan sugar plantation, Betty’s Hope, dating from 1650.
The only town on Barbuda has just a few streets and offers a tantalising glimpse into life in the Caribbean as it used to be lived. Based at a lagoon’s edge, it has a distinctly old-fashioned feel, with goats and donkeys on the winding streets, rather than fast-food joints or rowdy bars.
Frigate Bird Sanctuary
Located in Codrington Lagoon, off Barbuda’s north-western coast – this takes 40 minutes to reach by boat, and is a truly spectacular sight, whether you’re into bird-watching or not. Mating season is between September and April, during which the male Frigate bird shows off a huge redbreast in the hope of attracting a female mate. Pairs lay a single egg in a nest at the top of the mangroves.
Get out and about
The list of places to explore is endless. Take in the view across the harbour and out to Guadeloupe and Montserrat from Shirley Heights on Antigua, or enjoy a drive along the scenic 20 miles of roads that make up the island’s Fig Tree Drive. Make time for the rock paintings which can be seen at Two Foot Rock Bay Caves on Barbuda, and watch the waves of the Atlantic crashing around Antigua’s Devil’s Bridge.
If you’re here in April, look out for the spectacular sight of a string of yachts filling Falmouth Harbour for Antigua’s Classic Yacht Regatta. This is followed by five days of formal racing during Sailing Week in late April and early May.
May sees Caribana, Barbuda’s carnival, complete with five days of non-stop partying. On Antigua, it’s carnival time in late July and early August. It’s also the mango festival here in July!
Finally, every November 1st there’s a ceremonial parade in St John’s and plenty of celebrating as locals mark Antigua and Barbuda’s independence from Britain in 1981.
When is the best time to visit?
The closeness of these islands to the equator means they enjoy year-round sunshine and a tropical climate. Seasons and temperatures vary little, and it’s actually less humid and drier here than on many Caribbean isles. The driest months, January to April, are also busy season. From May until August, there’s more chance of rain, usually in short shower bursts, and prices are more attractive as a result.
Even in the wettest season, however, during the UK’s autumn, you’ll still be able to soak up lots of the lovely Caribbean sunshine.
With so much to enjoy in this part of the world – what are you waiting for?