Caribbean society is still counting the cost of the destruction wrought by hurricane Irma last September. Relief efforts continue in islands like Barbuda where most housing and infrastructure remains uninhabitable.
As you might have heard, Barbuda’s sister island, Antigua, got away unscathed. The storm didn’t make landfall on Antigua but that doesn’t mean it had no affect. The twin islands share a community and identity, so pain experienced by one is felt by the other. Having suffered no storm damage at all, Antigua is as serene and welcoming as always, but it needs visitors more than ever if it is to help heal Barbuda’s wounds. Antigua needs charity donations to support its housing of displaced children from Barbuda, and the money brought in by tourism is vital to stabilising the economy after such hardship. That’s why now is the perfect time to visit Antigua; enjoy an amazing beach holiday while showing your support for these beautiful islands and their people.
Antigua holds a special place in our hearts at Kenwood Travel. Our specialist Caribbean team regard its beaches (one for every day of the year), history (preserved Georgian dockyards and hilltop naval forts) and cuisine (roadside streetfood stalls on every corner) as some of the best in the entire West Indies. Its five-star resorts are as good as any in the region too. But before retiring to their luxurious enclaves for the evening, we recommend spending the day enjoying the island’s natural charms. Here are our top attractions for those looking to explore paradise during their Antigua holiday.
Dogs sunning themselves on the roadside; children in uniform skipping to school; street-corner food stalls filling the air with the spicy aromas of creole cooking. And colour. Everywhere. From blooming bougainvillea flowers to ‘skirt & blouse’ houses painted brightly in oranges, purples and greens, Old Road Village was awash with vivid Caribbean colour. We soon swapped this vibrant scene for a blanket of verdant green as our ten-seater jeep joined Fig Tree Drive and headed north through Antigua’s rainforest.
Travis, our Island Safari tour guide and driver, pointed out the health benefits of the native jungle vegetation. The noni fruit is an alien-looking thing which locals use to aid digestion or ferment into wine (having learned to endure the pungent smell). Vitamin C-rich tamarind seeds can be used in herbal remedies to fight rheumatism and ulcers, while the leaves of the azadirachta indica tree when steeped contain health benefits for pregnant women and can reduce blood pressure. It’s not all potions and lotions though – there’s even a special, rough-sided leaf that makes an effective scrubbing brush for pots and pans; nature’s Brillo pad!
We emerged from the rainforest into the historic Liberta Village whose civic centre piece is the beautiful Saint Barnabas Anglican Church. Following the earthquake of 1843 which destroyed St Paul’s Church in Falmouth, Saint Barnabas became the island’s principle place of worship, and is today a must-see example of a traditional Antiguan green-stone building.
From village life to natural remedies to holy architecture to… animal welfare. Next stop on our Island Safari was Antigua’s Donkey Sanctuary near Bethesda. Here, in partnership with the Humane Society, volunteers do a noble job of rescuing and rehabilitating the island’s vulnerable donkeys. They currently care for 200 donkeys with a further 300 waiting to be housed, so the importance of their selfless work cannot be overstated.
Antigua’s sugar plantation heritage is a big part of its identity and it was fascinating to see the stone windmill ruins dotted around the island as we explored the landscape on our safari tour. In colonial times windmills were used to extract sugar from cane which was then turned into molasses in the boiling houses. You can see Antigua’s last remaining working windmill at Betty’s Hope Mill near Pares Village.
Justin Bieber makes a splash
D-Boat is a decommissioned 1974 oil tanker now converted into a state-of-the-art floating entertainment platform. What was once a local eyesore gone to seed (or seaweed!) on a sandbank is now a world-famous bar and waterpark where locals and visitors rub shoulders with A-listers like Justin Bieber. The chart topper attended D-Boat every day of his recent Antigua holiday, apparently.
A quick speedboat ride from Shell Beach Marina (near the VC Bird International Airport) takes you to D-Boat which is anchored in a bay off the castaway shore of Maiden Island. If you’ve seen the Youtube videos you’ll know about the various crazy ways in which you can propel yourself into the water at D-Boat. Hair-raising waterslides, rope swings and trampolines plus the famous ‘fat boys’ bounce ball all cause a splash for those brave enough to take the plunge.
And when it’s time to dry off, D-Boat comes into its own as a party boat. Cocktails were flowing, pop classics were pumping through the sound system and the Caribbean food was sizzling. This unique experience is an absolute must for any holiday to Antigua.
A tale of Stingray City
Standing up in the middle of the ocean is a strange enough sensation in itself. But having a five-foot stingray brush past you at the same time makes it all the more surreal. In a good way. It’s all part of the experience on the amazing Stingray City excursion, which you can book through your hotel in Antigua. Out in Seatons Bay on the island’s Atlantic coast lies a sand bank which reduces the water level to a depth of around 3.5 feet, allowing you to literally walk among the stingrays. There’s a floating jetty to moor the boats that bring the visitors, and trained rangers to feed the hungry marine life. Pelicans swoop in the skies above, occasionally divebombing for scraps of calamari the stingrays might have missed.
A short introduction from the experts recommends shuffling your feet so as not to step on any rays submerged in the sand, and there’s a special way of feeding them using the side of your hand in order to avoid getting a stingray ‘love bite’ (not painful or dangerous, but not exactly pleasant either). Other than that, it’s just a case of getting in the water and getting to know these friendly and majestic creatures.
Stingray City is brilliant value as a half day excursion and a great way to enhance your Antigua holiday by getting up close and personal with its marine wildlife. But it’s not over when you say goodbye to the rays. An exhilarating speedboat transfer (Captain Scooby Doo at your service) weaves you through the offshore islands back to Stingray City HQ where there’s an aviary (complete with talking parrots), a gift shop and all the rum punch you can drink.
Ask your Caribbean expert at Kenwood Travel about adding these authentic experiences to your Antigua holiday. We’re available seven days a week to take your call on 020 7749 9245.