Antigua

Direct, non-stop flights from Europe and North America together with great beaches, watersports and safe swimming make this island ideal for introducing children to the Caribbean. English Harbour is particularly picturesque, with yachts filling a historic bay that has been a popular staging post for centuries. Nelson's Dockyard and ruined forts are overlooked by the old battery on Shirley Heights, now better known for Sunday jump-ups, reggae and steel bands. Antigua, with about 108 sq miles, is the largest of the Leewards, and also one of the most popular. Its dependencies are nearby Barbuda and Redonda. The island is low-lying and composed of volcanic rock, coral and limestone. There is nothing spectacular about its landscape, although the rolling hills and flowering trees are pretty. The coastline however, curving into coves and graceful harbours with 365 soft white-sand beaches fringed with palm trees, is among the most attractive in the West Indies. Some 30 miles to the north of Antigua, the coral island of Barbuda is attractive for hikers, nature lovers, cyclists and beachcombers.

Getting there

Antigua has excellent comunications by air with Europe and North America as well as with neighbouring islands, making Antigua ideal for a two-centre holiday or the starting point for more protracted island hopping. It is not so easy to get there by sea, other than on a cruise ship or cargo boat, as there are no formal ferry links except to the sister island of Barbuda.

Getting around

Renting a
car
is probably the best way to see the islands' sights, as the bus service is inadequate, but be aware that roads are very bumpy and narrow and speed bumps are poorly marked. Finding your way around is not easy, there are no road signs and street names are rarely in evidence.
Cycling
is not very interesting. There are car hire companies in St John's and some at the airport, most will pick you up. Be careful with one-way streets in St John's. At night people do not always dim their headlights and watch out for pedestrians.
Minivans
(shared taxis) go to some parts of the island (for example Old Road) from the West End bus terminal by the market in St John's.
Buses
serve the southern part of the island but not the north, so there are no buses to the airport.

St John's

Built around the largest of the natural harbours is St John's, the capital, formerly guarded by Fort Barrington and Fort James either side of the entrance to the harbour. The town is a mixture of the old and the new, with a few historical sites. Some of the old buildings in St John's, including the
Anglican cathedral
, have been damaged several times by earthquakes, the last one in 1974. A cathedral in St John's was first built in 1683, but replaced in 1745 and then again in 1843 after an earthquake, at which time it was built of stone. Its twin towers can be seen from all over St John's. It has a wonderfully cool interior lined with pitch pine timber. The
Antigua Recreation Ground
alongside the cathedral contains what was the main cricket pitch, used for Test matches, but this was replaced by a new ground for the 2007 Cricket World Cup. There are still some run-down parts but the cruise ship docks area has been developed for tourism: boutiques, duty-free shops and restaurants compete for custom. Most activity now takes place around the two quay developments:
Redcliff Quay
is a picturesque area of restored historical buildings now full of souvenir shops;
Heritage Quay
is a duty-free shopping complex with a casino, strategically placed to catch cruise ship visitors. When a cruise ship is in dock many passengers come ashore and it becomes very crowded. There is a vendors' mall next to Heritage Quay, selling souvenirs.

The
Museum of Antigua and Barbuda
, www.antigua museums.org, at the former courthouse is worth a visit, both to see the exhibition of pre-Columbian and colonial archaeology and anthropology of Antigua, and for the courthouse building itself, first erected in 1750, damaged by earthquakes in 1843 and 1974, but now r
estored. There is also Viv Richards' cricket bat, with which he scored the fastest century. The
Historical and Archaeological Society
(
HAS
) based at the museum publishes
an
interesting newsletter. They also organize field trips. The
Environment Awareness Group
is also here and there's an interesting gift shop with locally made items.

West of St John's are the ruins of
Fort Barrington
, on a promontory at Goat Hill overlooking Deep Bay and the entrance to St John's Harbour. It was erected by Governor Burt, who gave up active duty in 1780 suffering from psychiatric disorders; a stone he placed in one of the walls at the fort describes him grandly as 'Imperator and Gubernator' of the Carib Islands. The previous fortifications saw the most action in Antigua's history, with the French and English battling for possession in the 17th century. At the other side of the harbour are the ruins of
Fort James
, from where you can get a good view of St John's. There was originally a fort on this site dating from 1675, but most now dates from 1749. To get there, head north out of St John's, turn west by
Barrymore Hotel
to the sea, then follow the road parallel to the beach to the end.

The southwest

Fig Tree Drive
between Old Road and the Catholic church on the road going north from
Liberta, is a steep, winding road, through mountainous rainforest. It is greener and more
scenic than most of the island, but the rainforest is scanty and incomparable with islands like Dominica. If travelling by bicycle make sure you go
down
Fig Tree Drive from the All Saints to Liberta road, heading towards Old Road; the hill is very steep.

Boggy Peak
, in the southwest, is the highest point on the island and from the top you can get wonderful views over to Guadeloupe, St Kitts, Nevis and Montserrat. It is a good walk up, or you can take a car. From Urlings walk (or take minibus) just over half a mile in the direction of Old Town. There is a clear track on the left (ask the bus driver to drop you off there) which is very straight then ascends quite steeply. When you get to the top, walk round the fence surrounding the Cable & Wireless buildings to get a good view in all directions. It takes over an hour to walk up (signs say it is a private road) and you are advised not to wander around alone.

English Harbour and Nelson's Dockyard

On the other side of the island from St John's is
English Harbour
, which has become one of the world's most attractive yachting centres and is now a 'hot spot' at night for tourists. Here Nelson's Dockyard, the hub of English maritime power in the region, has been restored and is one of the most interesting historical monuments in the West Indies. It is the only existing Georgian naval dockyard in the world and was designated a national park in 1985. Nelson served in Antigua as a young man for almost three years, and visited it again in 1805, during his long chase of Villeneuve which was to end with the Battle of Trafalgar.The
Nelson's Dockyard Museum
has been renovated to give the complete history of this famous Georgian Naval Yard and the story of famous English Harbour. See
Admiral's Inn
, with its boat and mast yard, slipway and pillars still standing, but which suffered earthquake damage in the 19th century. The
Copper and Lumber Store
is now a hotel, bar and restaurant. On the quay are three large capstans, showing signs of wear and tear. Boat charters can be arranged from here; also a 20- to 30-minute cruise round the historic dock- yard for US$6 on
Horatio
, from outside the
Copper and Lumber Store
, depending on seasonal demand. A footpath leads round the bay to
Fort Berkeley
at the harbour mouth, well grazed by goats, and wonderful views. Near the dockyard,
Clarence House
still stands where the future King of England, William IV, stayed when he served as a midshipman.

At
Shirley Heights
, overlooking English Harbour, are the ruins of fortifications built in the 18th century, with a wonderful view. Some buildings, like officers' quarters, are still standing, restored but roofless, which give an idea of their former grandeur. At the lookout point, or
Battery
, at the south end is a bar and restaurant. On Sunday a steel band plays 1600-1900, followed by reggae 1900-2200, very loud and popular. There are barbecued burgers, chicken, ribs and salad available. It is usually full of tourists, often packed, and later on the crowd can be drunk and rowdy.
Great George Fort
, on Monk's Hill, above Falmouth Harbour (a 30-minute walk from the village of Liberta, and from Cobb's Cross near English Harbour) is less well preserved.

The northeast

If you have a car, try taking the road out to the airport from St John's, now called the Sir George H Walter Highway. Do not enter the airport, but take the right fork which runs alongside it. After about 1½ miles take a right turn down a small road to
St George's Church
, on Fitches Creek Bay, built in 1687 in a beautiful location, and with interesting
gravestones. From there, it may be possible to follow the rough road (only by 4WD) round
the coast to
Parham
, which was the first British settlement on the island and has an attractive and unusual octagonal church,
St Peter's
, which dates from the 1840s, surrounded by flamboyant trees. From Parham go due south and then east at the petrol station through Pares to Willikies. On this road, just past Pares village, is a sign to
Betty's Hope
, tells the story of life on a sugar plantation, a ruined sugar estate built in 1650 and owned by the Codrington family 1674-1944. Restoration was carried out by the Antigua Museum in St John's, it was officially opened
in 1995 and is well worth a visit. One of the twin windmills can sometimes be seen working.

After Willikies the road is signed to the
Pineapple Beach Club
at Long Bay, but before you get there, take a right turn down a small road, which deteriorates to a bumpy track, to
Devil's Bridge
at Indian Town Point (look for signs for the Verandah). The area on the Atlantic coast is a national park where rough waves have carved out the bridge and made blowholes, not easily visible at first, but quite impressive when the spray breaks through. There's a good view of Long Bay and the headland.

Beaches and activities

The government is to implement plans to protect and develop facilities on 14 beaches with restrooms and shops. The nearest beach to St John's is
Fort James
which can be pleasant, with its palm trees and a popular bar-restaurant. However, it gets crowded at weekends, and at times it becomes rough and so has a milky appearance, lots of weed and is not good for swimming. Further north, but better, are
Dickenson Bay/Runaway Bay
, adjacent long stretches of white sand, separated by a small promontory. Dickenson Bay is wall-to-wall, low-rise hotels, with watersports outlets, bars and restaurants on the beach. The sea is calm and perfect for children, with roped off areas to ensure safety from motor craft. Much of the southern beach has been eroded by storms and there are some ruined beach houses at that end.
Soldier's Bay
, next to the
Blue Waters Hotel
; is shallow and picturesque. Instead of following the sign, park your car in the hotel car park, which has shade, walk left across the property, climb through the hole in the fence and in about three minutes you are there. Also good is
Deep Bay
which, like most beaches, can only be reached by taxi or car. There are several nice beaches on the peninsula west of St John's.

On
Trafalgar Beach
condominiums have been built on the rocks overlooking the small, sheltered bay. If you go through Five Islands village you come to
Galley Bay
, a secluded and unspoilt hotel beach which is popular with locals and joggers at sunset. The four
Hawksbill
beaches at the end of the peninsula are crescent shaped, very scenic and unspoilt. Hotel guests tend to use the second beach, leaving the other three empty. Take drinks to the furthest one (clothes optional, secluded and pleasant) as there are no facilities and you may have the place to yourself. Heading south from St John's, you pass the marina at Jolly Harbour, where there is a beach and large hotel development, before reaching
Dark Wood Beach
and
Cades Bay
on the road to Old Road round the southwest coast. Both have a bar and restaurant. Near English Harbour is
Galleon Beach
, which is splendid, water taxi from English Harbour, US$1.10. It has an excellent hotel and restaurant. There is a cave on
Windward Beach
, near English Harbour, which is good for a moonlight bonfire (go in a group, not just as a couple). Follow the road past the Antigua Yacht Club leading to Pigeon Beach and turn left to Windward Beach on a bumpy track, best with a 4WD. At
Half Moon Bay
, in the east there is plenty of room on a lovely long, white-sand beach; the waves can be rough in the centre of the bay, but the water is calm at the north end.
Harry's Bar
serves very local food and cold drinks, but does not open regular hours.

Diving

Diving is mostly shallow, up to 60 ft, except below
Shirley Heights
, where dives are up to 110 ft, or
Sunken Rock
, with a depth of 120 ft and where the cleft rock formation gives the impression of a cave dive. Popular sites are
Cades Reef
, which runs for 2½ miles along the leeward side of the island and is an underwater park;
Sandy Island Reef
, covered with several types of coral and only 30 ft to 50 ft deep;
Horseshoe Reef
,
Barracuda Alley
and
Little Bird Island
. There are also some wrecks to explore, including the
Andes
, in 20 ft of water in Deep Bay, but others have disappeared in hurricanes. At
Pasture Bay
, on Long Island, the hawksbill turtle lays its eggs from late May to December. The
Environmental Awareness Group
(
EAG
), organizes turtle watches.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
Products in this Region

St Lucia & Dominica Handbook

Lush, tropical landscapes define this area of the Caribbean. From the low-key and traditional...

Barbados Handbook

Barbados offers the ideal Caribbean holiday. Whether you're seeking some serious relaxation in the...

Trinidad & Tobago Handbook

Trinidad & Tobago offer a fantastically cosmopolitan mix of cultures. From dancing to calypsoes at...
PDF Downloads

  No PDFs currently available

Digital Products

Available NOW!
Read more...