Have you ever been to Antigua and Barbuda or at least thought about visiting the islands one day? Here are some interesting facts to get you familiar with one of the Caribbean’s premier tourist destinations.
Antigua and Barbuda is a pure paradise that would steal you heart immediately upon arrival. This sovereign island country consists of two major islands separated by 39mi (63km) and several smaller islands located nearby (Great Bird, Green, Guiana, Long, Maiden, Prickly Pear, York Islands, Redonda) all lying between Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Sadly the Barbuda is uninhabitable after hurricane Irma destroyed the island completely in 2017. The are no people living on the island for the first time after 300 years. The population is about 97,120 (2019 est.) with most residents living on Antigua (97%). The largest city which is also the capitol and has biggest port is St. John’s. English is the official language.
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Antigua was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493 and later in 1632 colonized by Britain. The country joined West Indies Federation in 1958 and after its breakup became one of the West Indies Associated States in 1967. In 1981 Antigua and Barbuda was granted independence from the United Kingdom and became member of the Commonwealth accepting Elizabeth II as the country’s queen and head of state.
Antigua is one of the warmest Caribbean islands with constant tropical temperatures. The best time to visit Antigua is between mid-December and mid-April when it’s peak season. Next best option is arriving after peak season between May and July, just before the wet season from August to November begins. The islands generally experience low humidity and recurrent droughts and the temperature is usually in the mid-80s. The coolest period is between December and February.
The culture of Antigua is a mixture of West African and British influences. The national sport is cricket but football, boat racing and surfing are also popular. The calendar of events is pretty busy over the year. You can expect Super Yacht Challenge, Regattas, The Rohrman Triathlon, International Kite Festival, Mango Festival, Summer Carnival, and Independence Food Fair among others. The popular Antigua Sailing Week attracts locals and visitors from around the world.
Food in Antigua and Barbuda
The national dish is fungie which is a similar dish to Italian Polenta mostly made with cornmeal. Other local dishes are pepperpot, ducal, seasoned rice, sailfish and lobster from Barbuda. Most restaurants serve Mediterranean cuisine or typical American dishes. The places that stucked in my mind and I highly recommend are Sheer Rocks – award winning restaurant with Mediterranean inspired menu (the entire place is wow – check my other post about Antigua) and Ana’s on the Beach – mix of Mediterranean and Caribbean cuisine (with Italian bartender (hello Marco!) who will make your experience even better).
Like other Caribbean islands Antigua’s economy depends on tourism (80% of GDP). You will find there many luxury resorts fit for an ultra-high end travel destination. Also, investment banking and financial services make up an important part of the economy. There are major banks located on the island e.g. the Royal Bank of Canada and Scotiabank as well as PriceWaterhouseCoopers office. Fruits and vegetables, including citrus fruits, mangoes, and eggplants are now cultivated on the islands. Smaller part is manufacturing consisting of assembly of bedding, handcrafts and electronic components to be exported.
There are both public (buses) and privately run services (taxis) on the island. Unfortunately roads are not in the best condition (paved but very narrow and severely damaged) so it takes longer to get from one point to another. Also, driving is on the left-hand side and speed is limited to 40 mph (believe me, you will be unable to drive faster there). Don’t be discouraged by the road system as it is good enough and fairly easy to get around the island. Remember that buses do not stop at the airport or the northern tourist area. Plan your transportation ahead of time by booking a taxi or simply renting a car. Renting a car is the best way to discover the island. The cost is approximately $40-50 per day. Important thing to remember is that in addition to a valid driver’s license from your country of residence or an international driver’s license, a permit to drive in Antigua is required. Don’t worry, the rental agency will assist you with getting one. It costs about $20 and is valid for three months.
Where to stay
Depending on your agenda and financial means, Antigua offers a range of top end once-in-a-lifetime resorts to mid-range, family-friendly all-inclusive accommodations and handful of smaller hotels and guesthouses.
City of Saint John’s seems to be a good option for the first timers. It’s a center of tourism with a great selection of restaurants, shops, cafes and bars. Moreover, you will find most of the island’s historic landmarks and cultural attractions there. Also, those seeking nightlife would satisfy their needs.
Dickenson Bay is a great place for those seeking to relax in a semi-busy area. The beach is considered one of most beautiful and popular ones in Antigua. There are regular and all-inclusive resorts and restaurants lining this mile-long stretch powdery white sand beach. You will find there aquatic activities including snorkeling, surfing, jet skiing, and kayaking. Also, it is a perfect spot for Instagrammers since Dickenson Bay is a home to the iconic red phone booth located on the beach. This is also where I stayed during my visit in Antigua. I highly recommend this place. I have a different post with more details and attractions here.
Saint Mary, set on the west coast, is a good option for families with kids. Beautiful pristine beaches make this spot a great place for swimmers and other watersports fans. For hikers I suggest to explore the Greencastle Hill, one of the tallest hills in the country, which offers incredible panoramic views.
If you are on a budget Runaway Beach is a top choice. The beach stretches about 2 km and offers scenic views. It’s the best place to relax far away from crowds. You will find there a nice selection of apartments, chalets and good-value hotels.
What to do in Antigua and Barbuda
Did you know that there are 365 beaches in Antigua to explore? Which means you have one beach to visit for every day of the year. During a short trip it is impossible to see all of them but there are some that you should absolutely check out like Love Beach with its white sand, Deep Bay and its hilltop ruins, stunning Half Moon Bay (perfect for surfing), Dickenson Bay with the best bar on the water, popular Galleon Beach below famous Shirley Heights, Coco Beach with delicious Sheer Rocks restaurant nearby which are only a few of the best beaches on this fascinating island.
Dickenson Bay Half Moon Bay Long Bay Valley Church Beach
- Shirley Heights Lookout
When you google Antigua and Barbuda the first photo that will show up will most likely be from this place. This is absolutely one of the top attractions and no trip to the island is complete without watching sunset over the historic English Harbour. You will find there a nice restaurant and bar in a rustic, yet exquisite environment. Every Sunday they throw parties with life music, BBQ and drinks but if you want to avoid crowds then quieter Thursday parties would be a better option.
- Dickenson Bay
Breathtaking beach with nice resorts (including Sandals) and fabulous restaurants and bars. I highly recommend visiting Kon Tiki Bar and Grill located on the water. There is a small boat that will transport you to the bar in a minute. The best time to visit is, of course, right before sunset! Also, don’t miss the photo opportunity with famous red phone booth on the beach. You can’t miss it when taking a nice relaxing walk along the shore.
Kon Tiki Bar With the owner of Kon Tiki Bar
- Horseback Riding tour on the beach (and in the water)
Whether you are experienced horse rider or first timer you can arrange a fascinating horseback ride on the beach. There are plenty guided tours that will take you to explore history and culture of Antigua. Depending on the tour you might see Fort James featuring 18th century cannons and fabulous views of St. John Harbour and even cool off in the refreshing Caribbean Sea waters (for those who can swim).
- Explore Devil’s Bridge
Very popular and scenic destination where you will observe Atlantic Ocean waves crashing the Limestone rock in the North-East coast. Those harsh waves have formed the bridge and several blowholes over the course of centuries. The park also offers some hikes and excellent birding.
- Stingray City
Incredible face to face experience with hundreds of friendly stingrays in a crystal clear water. It takes about five minutes by speedboat to ride off the island’s east coast and hit the shallow pool with sandy bottom and even some tropical reef.
Get more details on their official site: http://www.stingraycityantigua.com/index.html
Latest Travel Advisory 2021 – travel protocols for guests coming for vacation
The situation with the pandemic is constantly changing so are the regulations. I will summarize what is required to safely travel to Antigua and Barbuda but do not forget to double check the information while planning a trip.
- Before arriving on the island visitors must have a negative COVID-19 RT-PCR (real time polymerase chain reaction) test for SARS-CoV-2 taken within seven days of their flight (this includes passengers in transit). Children below the age of 12 years are not required to take a COVID-19 RT-PCR test.
- Face masks in public spaces are mandatory throughout Antigua and Barbuda and social distancing protocols must be adhered to.
- All visitors must complete a Health Declaration Form and will be subject to screening and temperature checks by Port Health Authorities upon arrival.
- Passengers with symptoms of COVID-19 may be isolated as determined by the Health Authorities.