Antigua is the island that has it all. Hundreds of pristine beaches, miles of sparkling, warm waters and plenty of exciting activities to make it one of the most versatile islands in the Caribbean and, indeed, the world. Peppered with colourful corrugate-clad buildings and even more vibrant tropical birds, this island is appealing to all the senses, which you will undoubtedly find whilst lounging in the sun sipping on a delicious ice cold beverage.
However, as many people visit Antigua for its slow pace of life as for the exhilarating activities its landscape makes possible. This might leave you wondering how to plan your itinerary for a holiday to Antigua. Are you looking for action-packed or relaxed? Do you want to unwind in the tropical temperatures or try something entirely new?
As Praveen from TripHobo explains, Antigua is a land where “vast acres of clear sands and bursts of fresh air are abundant, limitless and waiting to be savoured. Popular as a honeymooners’ paradise, Antigua is, in all honesty, a vacationer’s haven. As warm locals with bright smiles and plates full of freshly-caught seafood welcome you to the island, you will realise that this is not just a laid-back holiday destination. It offers unlimited opportunities to experience thrill or just to chill.”
Whatever you’re looking for from your Caribbean holiday, we’re here to help you decide by taking you through some of the best options in Antigua for both chilling and thrill-seeking.
Legend has it that Antigua has a beach for every day of the year. This is no exaggeration, as the country boasts 365 stunning stretches of sand meaning that, as travel blogger Michelle from The Purple Pumpkin says, “It would be rude not to spend a day here and there during a holiday on the beach!” Whether you’re dreaming of leaving the daily grind behind whilst reading a book on the soft sands or you fancy laughing with friends over a few delicious cocktails, Antigua provides a sanctuary to soothe both body and soul.
Relax in the land of three hundred shores
Antigua’s beaches are nothing short of perfection. In fact, if you were seeing a photograph of the island for the first time, you might not believe that what you saw was the unadulterated, unedited truth. Michelle, however, testifies that it is in fact pictures that cannot do justice to the beauty of Antigua’s beaches. She describes, “Expanses of white sand, crystal clear aquamarine waters, lush greenery, seashells, sunshine and warm trade winds, it feels like heaven on earth.”
Amy Littleson from travel blog Amy Believes in Pink agrees, commenting, “The beaches were some of the prettiest I’ve ever seen– especially the ones on the little islands that surround Antigua.” Whether you’re looking for a beach with a sun lounger ready and waiting to transport you to serene bliss, or prefer something a little more secluded, there are plenty of gorgeous spots for everyone.
Better yet, the coastlines of Antigua haven’t seen the same levels of tourist development as some other areas of the world, making a day spent at the beach a much more natural and sublime experience. As Amy says, here, “It’s very unspoiled, laid-back, and welcoming!”
The best stretches of sand are to be found along the south west coast of the island, but wherever you are staying there is bound to be a picturesque spot waiting for you. According to Michelle, “Some of the best beaches are Half Moon Bay, Dickenson’s Bay, Turner’s Beach, Fryes Beach, Darkwood Beach”. Each day, boats sail around the island, making it easy to reach some of the most desirable spots, and even the offshore islands of the north east, for a truly sequestered experience.
Visit a chic beach bar
No afternoon on the beach is complete without a delicious chilled drink in hand. Sample Antigua’s local fruits such as coconuts, apple bananas, mangoes, passion fruit and guava in a fresh smoothie that is both refreshing and healthy at one of the countless beach bars across the island. Michelle comments, “You can lie back and let the sunshine envelop you, you can head into the water to swim or snorkel, or grab a drink and a snack from one of the beach bars. Seriously… it’s heaven!”
For Amy, too, “One highlight was relaxing at both Jacqui O’s and Catherine’s chic beachside restaurants”. Here, lay back in a comfortable hammock in rustic surroundings adorned with palm trees and surrounded by the turquoise seas. Watch an expert mixologist craft a cocktail specially made for you, or dine on some delicious local seafood, tapas or jerk-style barbeque food.
Take a sunset yacht ride
One of the finest ways to experience the seascapes of Antigua is, unsurprisingly, by boat. With a rich marine history, the island is very much intertwined with its seafaring infrastructure, making it easy to reach any corner of the country and its surrounding islands. If you’re looking for a way to unwind with friends, or a romantic activity with a loved one, a sunset yacht cruise is the perfect pastime.
Sit aboard a modern ship as you glide above the azure waters, looking out for exotic fish above Antigua’s coral reefs and watching the sun go down as the sky assumes a beautiful tie-dye tone. Antigua is famous for its sailing with its annual Antigua Sailing Week regatta, this year occurring between 28th April and 5th May. Here, world-class fleets compete in various sports, showing just how important the aquatic lifestyle is in Antigua.
Wander around the St. John’s Saturday market
“Antigua may not be the swankiest shopping destination that you would want to splurge at,” says Praveen, “but remember, happiness comes in small packages! On a Saturday, head to the St. John’s Morning Market which is surfeit of fresh local produce that will put a smile on your face. From fresh, juicy papayas to bountiful coconuts with lot of flesh, St. John’s is a great place to chill, and quite off-beat too. Shop for fresh meals (that can be stored) and later devour them as you lie on the beach.” Whether you fancy trying your hand at cooking a local Antiguan delicacy or simply want to sip on a fresh juice as you wander the stalls, this market is the perfect way to spend a morning.
Admire panoramic views from Shirley Heights Lookout
There are plenty of gorgeous sights to be enjoyed on a leisurely hike around the island. Praveen recommends a walk to Shirley Heights for the perfect oasis of relaxation after a refreshing hike:
“A historical gem restored today, Shirley Heights lookout is a popular spot in Antigua to relax and observe the beautiful island. The lookout has a restaurant and a bar where you can grab a drink and spend a day. On Sunday evenings, there is a BBQ party with local bands playing Caribbean music that will transfer you to another world of bliss!”
Visit the unique beach of Barbuda
To see something you’ve never laid eyes upon before without having to commit to a potentially-strenuous activity such as skydiving or scuba diving, head over to the minute island of Barbuda. Lonely Planet claims, “If life on Antigua is a beach, Barbuda is a beach: one smooth, pink-tinged strand hemming the reef-filled waters.” Michelle names the pink sand beaches of Barbuda as one of her favourite spots on the island. She advises to get to the island from Antigua by catching a 1 hour 45 minute boat ride across the water, where you will be greeted by hues you’ve never witnessed before.
The pink-toned sand gives the island a mystical feel, which continues as you wander among historical and natural sites including magnificent caves featuring ancient drawings of the Arawak Indians, the grandiose grounds of the 18th century Highland House, or the swarms of tropical birds filling the air. Where could be better for an easy-going yet inspirational escape?
…Or seek a thrill?
For some of us, though, the best way to get that reinvigorated holiday feeling is to get active and try something slightly out of our comfort zone. If you consider yourself a bit of an adrenaline junkie, don’t let the laid-back atmosphere deceive you – Antigua actually has a huge amount to offer the adventurous traveller.
When asked about the best active experiences to try out in Antigua, Linda Jackson, Editor of Active Caribbean, named countless opportunities for adventure. She says, “There are quite a few favourites of ours.” The first, though, involves all of the cornerstones of excitement – speed, heights and a spectacular setting. She explains: “For an adrenaline kick, go zip-lining in the rainforest – there are ten zip-lines and a number of rope challenges to conquer.”
Praveen also recommends this high-flying sport, saying: “You can go zip-lining in the rainforest of the island, passing by gorgeous trees, rocks and gorges! Choose your pick from the variety of zip-lines available, and take the leap of faith as the zip-lining takes you over suspension bridges, vertical descents and hop between treetops!”
Sightseeing tours with a twist
Whilst milling around the quaint Spanish-colonial architecture of Antigua’s towns may not strike you as a particularly blood-pumping activity, there are many ways to get a rush whilst taking in some of the country’s important ancient sites. “Drive an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) on a guided safari tour”, Linda suggests. Companies such as Island Routes will help you to explore hidden coves, drive through rolling hills at high speed, skid through the sand and see beautiful harbours and areas such as Nelson’s Dockyard along the way.
Linda also comments that “a Segway tour can be fun” – giving you more of a close-up, hands-on experience of the environment whilst also providing you with a new skill. Simply use the power of balance to navigate your way around the streets of Antigua, or join a guided group with the Segway Tours of Antigua, who lead tours through the west coast’s 17th century forts, the historic St. John’s city, Dickenson Bay beach and many other sites, stopping off for beach picnics and ‘freestyle’ periods.
If you’re more of a laid back explorer, Linda recommends that you “saddle up for a beach and surf horseback riding experience”. Antigua is the perfect getaway for those who are new to surfing and want to give the sport a try in the most terrific of surroundings. Head to the south east of the island for the best waves, where you can expect swells of around 2-4 feet off the shore of beaches such as Turtle Bay. There are also occasionally swells in the west, which bring great surfing to Galley Bay and Sand Haven, which are just south of the famous Dickenson Bay.
If you’re more of a land-bearing being, why not consider a tranquil horse ride along Antigua’s coast? At the Springhill Riding Club, you can take out a horse and trot along the beaches around the town of Falmouth and even explore the fascinating English Harbour. They say:
“Our most popular ride is an hour’s gentle trek around our beautiful valley, with a wonderful splashy wade through the water in Falmouth Bay – cool with great views, and photo ops.” Whilst this is far from hair-raising, it is a great way to add something different to the day.
Antigua is renowned for being one of the best destinations for watersports in the Caribbean, and with such gloriously warm waters you’ll find it difficult to resist dipping your toes into its brilliant aquatic activities. Whether you’d like to try your hand at windsurfing, kitesurfing or paddle boarding, 4oKnots offers quality tuition in Nonsuch Bay. Linda comments that “stand-up paddle boarding is quite a challenge”, but with this school you will have all the latest equipment and expert tuition at your disposal to excel at your chosen sport. Kitesurfing is a real adrenaline rush, as you practically fly through the air dipping the board in and out of the water. Windsurfing is a matter of balance, making you feel truly at one with the waves as you soar across the sea. Stand-up paddle boarding is a more leisurely affair, which Praveen notes is “perfect for beginners, who don’t want to opt for an action-packed adventure activity but want to enjoy a thrill at the same time.”
Alternatively, if you’re looking to explore a wider variety of marine locations in Antigua, why not consider a boat-based pursuit? Linda recommends kayaking through the mangroves, a unique ecosystem, of shrubs lining the waters in dense thickets providing a home to numerous beautiful birds. Antigua Paddles provide kayaking excursions around the North Sound Marine Park and to an uninhabited island, where you can look out for turtles, skimming ballyhoo baitfish, starfish and birdlife. Kayaking allows you to reach those tiny islands that few other people visit – the perfect choice for those who like to get off the beaten track.
Antigua, like many Caribbean islands, is thriving with unique animal species, from the seas and sands to the skies. The Antiguan racer, for example, is one of the rarest snakes in the world. Spotting Antigua’s most interesting animals can be either a leisurely affair or something slightly more interactive – In Barbuda you can take a relaxing stroll around the Frigate Bird Sanctuary, the largest frigate colony in the Western Hemisphere, where around 100,000 impressive birds that have travelled from the Galapagos islands reside.
However, Linda suggests that the slightly more intensive activity of “getting up close and personal with stingrays is an amazing wildlife experience.” Amy agrees, saying that a high point of her holiday to Antigua was swimming with stingrays at Stingray City, which offers snorkelling adventures with these curious creatures. They claim that their Southern Rays are the brightest in the Caribbean, very friendly and gentle. Interact with the rays before diving along vibrant coral reefs and finally enjoying a complimentary rum punch.
In reality, to chill or to seek a thrill is not a choice you have to make here. As Amy points out, “Antigua is an island made for anyone to wants to both relax and explore.” Here, you can spend the morning on a speedboat and the afternoon sunning yourself on the sand. So, whatever kind of traveller you consider yourself to be, Antigua certainly offers the best of both worlds.
Image Credit: Wemissedthebus