I’m sure many of us have dreamed of holidays in the tropics… gorgeous sun drenched skies, white sandy beaches, crystal blue waters, palm trees overhead and a cocktail in hand…
I have long wanted to go to the Caribbean, and one idyllic destination is Antigua and Barbuda, a twin island nation lying between the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean, with year round sunshine and just a 7½ hour direct flight from London. With my son now an older teen, the time is coming for when he won’t want to go on holiday with his old mum and step-dad; it means that we as a couple, won’t be tied to school holidays when it comes to vacation time – we’ll be able to travel in the off season (and cheaper!) months like September and October, which is pretty handy, since my birthday falls in September!
If you know me, you’ll know that I can’t do “sitting on a beach doing nothing all day“. Sure, I can soak up the rays with the best of them for a day or two during a holiday, but then I’ll be getting itchy feet (and nothing to do with the soft sand between my toes!) and will want to be out and about exploring the country which we have chosen to visit. When we’ve spent a lot of hard earned cash to go on holiday, we want to make sure we make the most of the time we have! I’ve put together a list of 7 things to do in Antigua and Barbuda, which I’ll be able to call upon when we one day get there…
Before the you read the list, why not check out the video below? With the steel drums playing and the gorgeous scenes from the islands, can’t you just picture yourself there?!
Antigua and Barbuda are surrounded by coral reefs and shipwrecks, and if there is one thing high up on my bucket list, it is to go snorkelling in tropical waters! Cades Reef is one of the island’s best known sites, and part of it has been contained in a designated underwater park. You can head out on a cruise and be taken to this off-shore reef where you will see an array of marine life include rays, barracudas, moray eels and reef sharks.
2. Get back to nature
It doesn’t matter where I go in the world, I will always seek out flora and fauna, and in Antigua and Barbuda, there is plenty to explore. As well as the sea and sands, there are also lush rainforests, where you can go on walking tours, hiking trails and even zip-line through the canopy! Or you could visit the Frigate Bird Sanctuary (on Barbuda) which is one of the largest in the world with over 5,000 frigate birds inhabiting Codrington Lagoon. With a wingspan of 4 – 5 feet and the males having bright red throat pouches which they blow up like a balloon, I bet these birds are a sight to be seen! You can also go on a 4×4 Island Safari of Antigua, with packages including land and sea tours, with tour guides who will knowledgeably point everything out for you – food and drink is often included. Don’t forget the sun cream and your camera!
3. Explore the History
When we go on holiday we do love to explore the culture and history, making visits to landmarks and museums. St. John’s in the capital of Antigua, and it’s here you will find the white boroque towers of St. John’s Cathedral, built in 1845, (having been destroyed twice before in 1683 and 1745). If you arrived to the island by boat, it will be one of the first things you see. You can also spend an hour or so in the small Museum of Antigua where you will discover all about the effect the Arawaks and Caribs had on the island. Displays include ancient tools and artefacts, shells, various flora and fauna and the island’s naval and slavery history.
Nelson’s Dockyard is Antigua’s most prized historic possession. It is a monument to the past, named after Admiral Horatio Nelson, who lived in the Dockyard from 1784 through 1787. During the 18th century it was the only harbour in the Eastern Caribbean large enough for safe naval ship repairs. Nelson’s Dockyard is located in English Harbour there is a small entry fee which includes entrance to all sites including Dow’s Hill and Shirley Heights. The 18th and 19th century buildings are homes to shops, hotels and businesses, and forts dot the landscape, which are accessible by hiking trails.
Shock, horror, I’m not the biggest fan of shopping, but I do like to buy a few things when on holiday to take home to remind me of our travels. This does not mean tacky souvenirs, but could be a piece of arts or crafts made locally, a bottle of booze, or ahem, a fridge magnet (the one souvenir I do allow myself to buy!)
St. John’s is the home to two duty free shopping areas, as well as several malls and markets. English Harbour is also full of shopping opportunities. You’ll find plenty of things to spend your dollars on, including jewellery, clothing, gifts, and homewares – and don’t forget to buy a bottle of locally aged Antiguan rum! Zemi Art Gallery is one that stands out as I’ve been researching the different shopping ops in Antigua & Barbuda, selling hand crafted items, clothing and gorgeous art work.
5. Relax in paradise
You’ve worked hard for your holiday, so take some time out from all that adventure and shopping by treating yourself to some time at a spa. Relax and rejuvenate yourself in paradise at one of the local spas which provide many treatments including massage, reflexology and reiki. I can’t think of anything more relaxing than receiving one of these treatments, with the backdrop of the sea and sand, and the warm winds gently blowing around me!
If sport and fitness is the way you relax, there are plenty of opportunities on the islands with running , cycling, golf and gyms. And don’t forget the nations favourite: cricket!
6. Eat, Drink & Be Merry
When travelling abroad it makes sense to try the local cuisine, and perhaps step outside of your comfort zone and try new foods! As an island nation, you can’t visit Antigua and Barbuda without sampling seafood – lobster, red snapper, conch, mahi mahi, shrimp… I know that those would be high on my list of foods to try out. Caribbean food is often spicy, and you’ll always find a bottle of hot sauce on the table to spice things up even more. You can also buy bottles of ‘Susie’s Hot Sauce‘ (made with Scotch Bonnet peppers) to flavour your food the Antiguan way, back at home when your holiday is but a memory!
As well as seafood, you will be able to enjoy Caribbean fayre, including local dishes like fungee – cornmeal and okra dumplings; pepperpot – hearty vegetable stew with salted meat; Roti – patties filled with curried potatoes, chicken or beef; callaloo – dark green vegetable often served as soup; Johnny cakes – a kind of doughnut, usually served as breakfast. Then there is the street food – jerk chicken, grilled corn on the cob, roti and more. And you must also try Antigua black pineapple, which is one of the sweetest in the world! Tips are generally 10-15% and an 8.5% government tax is also added.
Wadadli is a very popular local beer, and you can’t visit Antigua and Barbuda without sampling the rum – some of the best in the world are made here, including English Harbour Light rum and English Harbour Five Year Old. If you’re after a soft drink, then try one of the fresh juices – mango, pineapple, passion fruit, raspberry, coconut… or maybe a ginger beer (available as alcoholic and non-alcoholic) or a local fizzy drink, Mauby, made with sugar and tree bark and popular across the Caribbean. Drinking age in Antigua and Barbuda is 18.
Enjoy the nightlife at one of the many bars and nightclubs, and if you fancy your chances, there are casinos where you can play the slots, blackjack, roulette and poker. The casinos provide more than just a flutter with lady luck, with restaurants and live music. Speaking of music, there’s everything from jazz and blues to reggae and steel bands, the islands come alive at night!
7. Visit the beach
With 365 beaches – one for every day of the year – it would be rude not to spend a day here and there during a holiday on the beach! With expanses of white sand, crystal clear aquamarine waters, lush greenery, seashells, sunshine and warm trade winds, just looking at the photographs from Antigua and Barbuda’s Facebook page feels like it would be heaven on earth! Some of the best beaches are Half Moon Bay, Dickenson’s Bay, Turner’s Beach, Fryes Beach, Darkwood Beach, and there’s even pink sand beaches on Barbuda. Get to this island from Antigua by catching a 1 hour 45 minute boat ride across the water.
You can lie back and let the sunshine envelop you, you can head into the water to swim or snorkle, enjoy watersports, or grab a drink and a snack from one of the beach bars. Seriously.. heaven!
Now, I’ve only touched upon 7 things to do in Antigua and Barbuda, but I could have carried on writing… there are loads more that the islands have to offer!
And if you want to get even more out of your holiday, have a flick through the calendar below, filled with all the different festivities and events happening on the islands. Oh how I would love to visit at Carnival time – what a colourful celebration that looks to be!
If you are looking to visit the islands, why not check out the special offers here? With many resorts and locations to choose from, the hardest part is going to be picking which one to stay in – I love the sound of Grand Pineapple Beach… I think I’m going to have to book a holiday to Antigua and Barbuda sooner rather than later!