[y] Antigua Visitors Guide
Antigua is a beautiful island in the Eastern Caribbean, south of Nevis, St. Kitts, St. Barts and St. Martin. Once known mostly for its Antigua Sailing Week, Antigua is now a true resort destination in the Caribbean. A perfect climate for vacation, the island has warm, steady winds, beautiful harbors, and a protective wall of coral reef surrounding it all. And when the beach turns dark, visitors and locals alike flock to the lively local bars, casinos, and outstanding resort restaurants. Antigua is about 14 miles long and 11 miles wide with Boggy Peak (1319 ft.) being the focal point. It’s a British protectorate and with its sister state, Barbuda forms one half of Antigua and Barbuda government. If the 365 beaches on Antigua are not enough to keep you content, Antigua offers plenty of action in and out of the water.
Most of the 365 beaches are on the Caribbean side. They are all open to the public and have different attributes, just be sure to get good directions before you go.
Dickenson Bay and Runaway Bay offer all the amenities of a resort beach experience. Fort James and Deep Bay are closest to St. John’s and Galley Bay attracts surfers and runners.
Southwest and South Coast
The beaches of the hilly southwest corner of Antigua are generally less developed than those further north. On the road that winds along this coast are Fryes Bay, Darkwood Beach, and the beaches around Johnson’s Point. Rendezvous Bay and especially Doigs Beach, both located on the central southern coast at Rendezvous Bay, are especially quiet beaches.
On the southeast corner of the island is the national park Half Moon Bay.
Underwater visibility ranges from 50 to 140 feet, and tropical marine plants and animals are diverse and plentiful here. Wrecks and reefs provide a great environment for divers. The most accessible wreck is the schooner Andes, not far out in Deep Bay, off the Five Islands Peninsula. Among the favorite sites are Green Island, Cades Reef, and Bird Island (a national park).
Big John’s Dive Antigua (268/462-3483; diveantigua.com)
Dockyard Divers (268/460-1178)
Antigua’s waters are full of marlin, wahoo, and tuna. Deep-sea fishing is a popular activity and the trips usually include lunch. Rates can run about $400 to $450 for a half-day, $600 to $750 for a full day, for up to six people.
Overdraft (268/464-4954 or 268/462-3112; antiguafishing.com)
Cedar Valley Golf Club (Friar’s Hill; 268/462-0161; cedarvalleygolf.ag), northeast of St. John’s, has a par-70, 6,157-yard, 18-hole course. Greens fees are $35; carts are $30.
Jolly Harbour Golf Course (Jolly Harbour; 268/463-8830 or 268/462-7771; jollyharbourantigua.com) is a par-71, 6,001-yard, 18-hole course with seven lakes adding to the challenge. Greens fees are $65 (including cart).
SAILING & SNORKELING
Jolly Roger cruises (268/462-2064), has a pirate ship replica with a pirate crew. Their Saturday night booze cruises with open bar and live bands are popular.
Kokomo Cats (268/462-7245; kokomocat.com) has several cruises.
Miguel’s Holiday Adventures (268/460-9978 or 268/723-7418) leaves every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday morning at 10 AM from the Hodges Bay jetty for snorkeling, rum punches, and lunch at Prickley Pear Island.
Shorty’s (268/462-6326) is a glass-bottom boat offering various snorkeling trips to Bird Island, as well as sunset cruises and lobster picnics.
Wadadli Cats (268/462-4792; wadadlicats.com) offers several cruises, including a circumnavigation of the island and snorkeling at Bird Island, on its four sleek catamarans, including the handsome Spirit of Antigua.
The most famous of Antigua’s attractions is the English Harbour, just south of Falmouth.
When the Royal Navy abandoned the station at English Harbour in 1889, it fell by the wayside. The Society of the Friends of English Harbour began restoring it in 1951 and it reopened as Nelson’s Dockyard, November 14, 1961. Within the compound are crafts shops, restaurants, and two restored 18th-century hotels, the Admiral’s Inn and the Copper & Lumber Store Hotel.
The Admiral’s House Museum (268/481-5022; antiguamusuems.com) displays ship models, a model of English Harbour, silver regatta trophies, maps, and prints.
Castaways (Jolly Harbour; 268/562-4445) is a beach bar-bistro with a thatched roof and an inexpensive menu of tapas with live music on occasion.
Lashings (Runaway Bay; 268/462-4438), is a fun place for happy hours, dancing, Tex-Mex and pizzas.
Life (Nelson’s Dockyard, English Harbour; 268/562-2353), is a semi-enclosed wooden pier with 2-for-1 happy hours and live bands.
Mad Mongoose (Falmouth Harbour; 268/463-7900), is the closest thing to a sports bar with plenty of TV’s.
Mainbrace Pub (English Harbour; 268/460-1058), is a fish-n-chips spot for boaters.
Millers By The Sea (Fort James Beach; 268/462-9414), is a very crowded place for happy hour and live nightly entertainment.
Trappa’s (English Harbour; 268/562-3534), is a hipster hangout set in a virtual jungle of greenery serving great tapas.
Grand Princess Casino (Jolly Harbour; 268/562-9900)
King’s Casino (Heritage Quay, St. John’s; 268/462-1727)
St. James Club (Mamora Bay; 268/460-5000 or 800/345-0271)
Temperatures reach mid-70s in the winter and 80s in the summer with low humidity year-round. Annual rainfall averages only 45 inches, making it the sunniest of the Eastern Caribbean Islands, and the northeast trade winds are nearly constant.
Staying in Antigua: Antigua resorts, hotels
Antigua is a four-hour flight from New York or three-hour from Miami. American Airlines, Continental Airlines, Delta, US Air, and Air Canada all offer flights from North America to Antigua’s V.C. Bird International Airport. That’s one of the great things about Antigua: the large airport (it was built as a US World War Two airforce base) allows larger planes from mainland US and from Europe to land easily.
All-inclusive resorts have reduced restaurant business, but English Harbour and Dickenson Bay have many of the good restaurants outside of hotel dining rooms.
Dinner attire is a bit more formal here than on other Caribbean islands. Shorts are usually not acceptable, and a beachwear is never an option.
SHEER (CocoBay, Jolly Harbour; 268/562-2400), has a unique menu with unusual combinations that wow the palate. Try the foie gras and nori tortellini with sundried tomatoes or orange oxtails with plantain and ginger timbale.
ALBERTO‘S (Willoughby Bay; 268/460-3007) combines Italian, Asian, and French fare to deliver incredible dishes. The leek and Parmesan soufflé is fantastic, as are the veal medallions in the mushroom crust. Reservations are a must.
JULIAN’S ALFRESCO (Barrymore Beach Hotel, Runaway Bay; 268/562-1545) is not to be missed. Picture perfect views are just the beginning of great dining experience here. Specialties include fish-and-crab cakes with Thai red and green curry with sweet chili sauce and green onions, homemade chicken liver terrine finished with caramelized onions, herb-and-garlic-crusted snapper on passion fruit and lime beurre blanc, and lobster medallions with pineapple cilantro salsa and guava peppercorn coulis.
PAPA ZOUK (Gambles Terrace, St. John’s; 268/562-1284) serves seafood deep-fried or steamed with choice of such sauces as guava-pepper teriyaki or tomato-basil-coriander. Tangy Caribbean bouillabaisse and house-smoked tuna are house specialties. Credit cards are not accepted.
COMMISSIONER GRILL (St. John’s; 268/462-1883), is a more authentic local joint serving fresh fish and good meat and poultry dishes.
COCOS (Jolly Bay; 268/462-9700) has great Caribbean fare like mahi-mahi stuffed with crabmeat in a puff pastry with creole sauce. Reservations are essential at this prime sunset viewing location.
COCONUT GROVE (Siboney Beach Club, Dickenson Bay; 268/462-1538) at the Siboney Beach Club is an open-air French restaurant serving a great pan-seared snapper, and delicious medallions served with roasted sweet potato in a saffron white wine curry sauce.
ABRACADABRA (English Harbour; 268/460-1732 or 268/460-2701), is a bustling Italian restaurant with great food and a good wine list of lesser-known Italian wines. If there are musicians in the house, they’ll start playing toward the end of the night.
BAY HOUSE (Tradewinds Hotel, Dickenson Bay; 268/462-1223), has a mixed menu with everything from Thai to Italian, a great view and a fantastic outdoor terrace.
Antigua hotels and resorts
Antigua offers grand beach resorts, secluded hillside spots, and beautifully restored inns. St. John’s and Dickenson Bay and Five Islands Peninsula are the busier areas, and English Harbour has some of the best inns and restaurants.
COCOS (268/460-2626/462 9700; www.cocoshotel.com), has 14 spacious suites with private balconies – equipped with a hammock – looking over the Caribbean. Bedrooms have king-sized beds, fridge, coffee maker and fan. Bathrooms are large with double sinks and the unique showers open onto the sea. (Photo to right)
CARLISLE BAY (St. Mary’s; 268/484-000; carlisle-bay.com) is a boutique hotel with a soothing, beautiful interior of white and earth tones and washed wood. Gorgeous furnishings, every thinkable amenity, and incredible views make this one of the hottest new spots on the island. The restaurants are pan-Asian and a waterfront grill. There are nine tennis courts, a pool, gym, spa, beach, dive shop, snorkeling, boating, three bars, a library, and the internet.
DICKENSON BAY COTTAGES (Marble Hill; 268/462-4940; dickensonbaycottages.com), is a small hillside complex with 11 units overlooking the Dickenson Bay. The villa-style, two-story buildings have a few larger units with two bedrooms upstairs and large verandahs overlooking the ocean. Resort guests have beach privileges at Halcyon Cove, a five-minute walk, and can visit the neighboring resorts for entertainment and restaurants. There is a pool on site.
SIBONEY BEACH CLUB (Dickenson Bay; siboneybeachclub.com; 268/462-0806 or 800/533-0234), has 12 suites, each with a small bedroom, kitchen, living room, and patio or balcony. Rooms have CD players with music and fine rattan furnishings. A TV is available upon request. Siboney has a restaurant, pool, beach, and bar.
SUNSAIL CLUB COLONNA (Hodges Bay; sunsail.com; 268/462-6263 or 800/327-2276) is known for its sailing and windsurfing schools. The use of all sailing and windsurfing equipment is free of charge, as are group lessons. There is a great free form pool on-site, two beaches, two restaurants, a spa, salon, tennis, and children’s programs. Most meals are included.
GRAND PINEAPPLE BEACH (Long Bay; eliteislandresorts.com; 268/463-2006; 800/345-0356), is slightly off the beaten path, but the beautiful landscape and views make this all-inclusive hotel worth looking into. There are four bars – the piano bar is beautiful and the hillside Outhouse Bar is perfect for sunsets. The pool has bridges and a waterfall. There are three restaurants, four tennis courts, two pools, gym, beach, snorkeling, windsurfing, boating, waterskiing, fishing, croquet, horseshoes, volleyball, a nightclub, shops, children’s programs and cable TV.
JUMBY BAY (Long Island; jumbybayresort.com; 268/462-6000; 800/767-3966, VERY EXPENSIVE), which was once the place to be on Antigua, playing host to many celebrities, has recently undergone major renovations to return to its original glory by Rosewood Resorts. Jumby is now one of the most expensive resorts in the Caribbean – and it shows. Rooms feature polished teak trimmings and hand-carved mahogany four-poster beds and a few have indoor-outdoor bathrooms. They offer many activities on the beach, like snorkeling and windsurfing, or biking along nature trails. There are two restaurants, three tennis courts, putting green, pool, gym, spa, croquet, and free airport transfers. (Photo on right.)
ADMIRAL’S INN (English Harbour; admiralsantigua.com; 268/460-1027 or 800/223-5695) is a restored warehouse at the Nelson Dockyard. The rooms upstairs in the main building have beautiful timber ceilings, hardwood floors and brick walls and a view of the harbor. In order to bypass the crowds, take the complimentary shuttle to nearby beaches. They have a restaurant and bar at the inn.
JOLLY BEACH RESORT (Jolly Harbour; jollybeachresort.com; 268/462-0061 or 866/905-6559), maybe a bit dilapidated in areas, but the great beach, good restaurants, and activities make it a great value. The super discounted rooms are way too small, although they still have an ocean view. There is a huge pool, a shopping village, five restaurants, four tennis courts, two pools, fitness classes, gym, hot tub, beach, dive shop, snorkeling, windsurfing, boating, waterskiing, seven bars, nightclub, recreation room, and children’s programs.
HAWKSBILL BEACH HOTEL (Five Islands; 268/462-0301 or 800/223-6510), sits on 37 acres of gorgeous grounds, with the lobby and dining room on a bluff with fantastic views of the sea. The rooms are nice and the gingerbread-trim cottages have the partial ocean view- to- mostly garden-view rooms, which are a good value. The hotel has two restaurants, a tennis court, a pool, spa, four beaches, free snorkeling, windsurfing, and boating, two bars, and shops.