ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA TRAVEL GUIDE
Blessed with 365 beaches, Antigua offers you a different beach every day of the year. If privacy is a requisite, you’ll find it is waiting for you on soft white sand looking over turquoise blue waves. If you enjoy action, numerous water sports are sure to keep you busy.
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ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA QUICK FACTS
Capital: Saint John's
Currency: East Caribbean dollar (XCD)
Area: 443 sq km
Population: 96 286 (2018)
Language: English (official), Antiguan and Barbudan Creole
Religion: 73.2% Protestant (21.5% Anglican), 19.6% Other
Electricity: 230V/60Hz (UK plug)
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ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA
ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
- 1 November, Independence Day
- 9 December, National Heroes’ Day
- 26 December, Boxing Day
Also, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Whit Monday, and Carnival Monday and Tuesday.
FESTIVALS IN ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA
Independence Festival - Antigua gained total independence on November 1st 1981. The festival consists of a week of celebration, competitions, parades, expos and food fairs.
Antigua Carnival - (late July and August) It is dedicated to the day of the abolition of slavery on the Islands in 1834. Grand processions in carnival costumes, parades, and parties with music in the style of Calypso are held throughout the country for 10 days.
BEST TIME TO VISIT ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA
The best time to visit the Caribbean is generally considered to be December to April, when it’s slightly cooler (particularly in the northern Caribbean), drier and less humid, and tourists flock to escape the northern winter. May to November can be soggy, with hurricanes possible from July to October – though these are rare in the far south.
- High Season (Dec–Apr) - People fleeing the northern hemisphere winter arrive in droves and prices peak. This is the Caribbean's driest time and can be cool the northern islands.
- Shoulder (May–Jun & Nov) - The weather is good, rains are moderate throughout. Reduced visitor numbers and the best mix of affordable rates and good weather. makes this an ideal time to visit the Caribbean.
- Low Season (Jul–Oct) - Hurricane season; the odds of being caught are small, but tropical storms are like abound. During this time room prices can be half or less than in high season and you will find eastern Caribbean’s beaches good for surfing.
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
HIKING & CYCLING IN ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA
Outdoor activities in Antigua and Barbuda are best enjoyed during the drier months from December to April but are generally accessible throughout the year.
BEACH OPTIONS IN ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA
Although you can visit the stunning beaches of Antigua and Barbuda at any time of the year, the dry season from December to April is by far better.
SURFING IN ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA
Antigua and Barbuda are not the best of surfing destinations, but they do get some pretty good surf from November to February. The best beach is Turtle Bay.
KITESURF IN ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA
The windy kitesurfing season in Antigua and Barbuda is from December to May, with some fantastically beautiful and diverse spots.
For more details on kite surfing in Antigua and Barbuda expand this section!
HEALTH RISKS IN ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA
Be aware of possible health risks in
Antigua and Barbuda
Zika Virus - Zika is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. Zika can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus. Infection during pregnancy can cause certain birth defects. There is no vaccine or medicine for Zika.
Dengue - Dengue is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. About one in four people infected with dengue will get sick. For people who get sick with dengue, symptoms can be mild or severe.
ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA TRAVEL COSTS
The Caribbean is not cheap, but there are ways to get the most bang for your buck with a little forward planning and some savvy choices
Budget less than US$150 Room away from the beach: under US$100, Meal at a locally popular restaurant: US$10, Ride local buses: US$3
Midrange US$150–300 Double room in the action: US$200, Visit parks and beaches that are free, rent bikes or snorkel for US$10 per day Rental car for exploring: US$40 to US$60 a day.
Top end over US$300 - Beautiful rooms at the best resorts in high season: US$400 and over, Activities in beautiful places: US$100 and up, World-renowned meals: US$100 per person and more.
ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA TRAVEL TIPS
Here are some of the best ways to save money:
- Travel in groups Bring your friends and other couples along with you and rent a villa.
- Book far in advance For high season deals.
- Book at the last minute For incredible deals as hotels dump empty rooms.
- Follow the divers They demand great value near beautiful waters.
- Ride buses and ferries You meet folks and may have an adventure.
- Live like a local Save money while having a more authentic visit.
- Travel in low season Prices can drop 40% or more.
GETTING AROUND ANTIGUA & BARBUDA
- Boat Bumpy 90-minute catamaran rides operated by Barbuda Express link St John’s with the River Wharf Landing in southern Barbuda. Boats leave at 9am (noon Sunday) and return from Barbuda at 3:45pm (2:30pm Sunday). There is no service on Mondays.
- Bus Antigua’s ‘public’ transportation is operated by private minivans that travel along the main roads. Buses to the south and west leave from the West Bus Station opposite the Public Market in St John’s, buses to the north and the east leave from the East Bus Station on Independence Ave. Barbuda has no buses.
- Car Rental companies can all issue the compulsory local drivers’ license for US$20, which is valid on both islands. Driving is on the left, the steering wheel is on the right.
Taxi Taxis are plentiful and fares are government-regulated. On Antigua, the one-way trip from St John’s to English Harbour, for instance, costs US$24. Private island tours are charged at about US$24 per hour for up to four people with a two-hour minimum. On Barbuda, taxis wait at the ferry dock, but you may prefer to prearrange a transfer or an island tour through your hotel or the Barbuda tourist office.
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA
On Antigua, life is a beach. Its corrugated coasts cradle scores of perfect little strands lapped by beguiling blue water, while the sheltered bays have provided refuge for everyone from Admiral Nelson to pirates and yachties. If you can tear yourself away from that towel, you’ll discover that there’s a distinct English accent to this classic Caribbean island with its narrow roads, candy-coloured villages and fine historic sights.
If life on Antigua is a beach, Barbuda is a beach: one smooth, pink-tinged strand hemming the reef-filled waters. Birds, especially the huffing and puffing frigates, greatly outnumber residents on this perfect Caribbean dream island.
ONE WEEK (This itinerary focuses on Antigua with day trips to Barbuda and Montserrat)
- St John’s, Antigua Start with the colourful capital of St John’s, stopping by the Public Market for great photo ops and pineapples.
- Valley Church Beach Pick this or any of the other sparkling beaches between Jolly Harbour and Old Road Town and top it with a leisurely lunch and rum-punch sundowners at a funky beach bar.
- Signal Hill Work off all those lobster dinners by exploring Antigua’s rich eco-diversity on foot. The trek up Signal Hill is among the most rewarding.
- English Harbour Flash back to colonial times at the still-working Georgian marina at Nelson’s Dockyard, then hit Happy Hour at the Mad Mongoose and wrap up with dinner at locally adored Trappas.
- Shirley Heights Head up the hill above English Harbour for wildly popular Sunday afternoon BBQ parties and stunning views of sea, sunset and sails as a steel-band plays its gentle rhythms.
- Barbuda Escape – by boat or by helicopter – to this still virtually untouched island paradise with its footprint-free beaches and squawking frigate bird colony.
- Montserrat See how this ‘modern-day Pompeii’ is recovering from the 1995 volcano eruption that left two-thirds of the island covered by ash and debris. A scenic flight over the ‘Exclusion Zone’ is ideal to fully comprehend the extent of the devastation.
(more location details are available in the above map)
Antigua’s capital, ST JOHN'S, is tucked into a sheltered bay, about 5 miles west of the airport. Most hotels and resorts cluster north of here along Dickinson Bay and south in historic English Harbour. The best beaches hem the west coast between Jolly Harbour and Old Road Town. The wind-swept east is sparsely settled and has only a few beaches.
Intriguingly tatty, St.John's, is worth a spin for its cafes, restaurants, shops, cute museum and bustling market. The town all but shuts down at night and Sundays. North of here, the middle market of Antigua’s holidaymakers finds fun in the sun along Dickenson Bay, which has good swimming and plenty of aquatic activities.
Sparsely populated EASTERN ANTIGUA gets few visitors. There's plenty to keep you pondering Antigua’s colonial past while poking around the stone windmills straddling a quiet hill south of Pares, off the road to Long Bay where you will find the Great House and the distillery of Betty’s Hope, the island’s first sugar plantation, built in 1674. Continuing east, you’ll soon reach the turnoff to Seatons, home of Stingray City Antigua, where you can feed and swim with friendly stingrays and snorkel around a coral reef. Just before Long Bay itself, a rough 1-mile dirt road (better with a 4WD) veers off to Devil’s Bridge (near Willikies, Long Bay), a windswept bluff ringed by rugged cliffs shaped by the relentless crashing of powerful waves. If the tide is right, you can see the powerful blowhole at the far end in action. Views from the bluff are especially dramatic at sunset.
A short drive south of St John’s, JOLLY HARBOUR is a busy marina and dockside condominium village with a supermarket, ATM, pharmacy and a few restaurants and bars. South of here, the coastal road winds past some of Antigua’s best beaches, which are popular with locals on weekends - but otherwise often deserted. Down in CADES BAY, the road passes a pineapple farm before cutting through rainforest as Fig Tree Dr which culminates in Swetes. From here, you’re back in St John’s in 20 minutes.
Nowhere does Antigua flaunt its maritime heritage more than in ENGLISH HARBOUR. It sits on two sheltered bays, Falmouth Bay and English Harbour, where salty boats and ritzy yachts bob in the water. The era when the British Navy was based here is still encapsulated in the beautifully restored Nelson’s Dockyards, the island’s top historical attraction.
Barbuda’s only village, sleepy CODRINGTON, is home to most residents and the minuscule airport. It’s about 3.5 miles north of the ferry landing on the eastern edge of the lagoon with its famous frigate bird colony.
There is no such thing as a bad beach in Barbuda. All of them are hypnotic strips of pristine powdery white sand perfect for strolling, swimming, chilling and picnicking. The longest one is 17-Mile-Beach, also known as Palm Beach, which stretches along the western side of the narrow strip of land hemming in Codrington Lagoon. Coco Point in the south, next to the eponymous luxury resort, is just as sublime.
WHAT TO PACK FOR ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA
The Caribbean islands are casual, so bring light, comfy clothes: a bathing suit, T-shirt and shorts will be your wardrobe. Add long pants or a dress for nights out.
Sun hat Buying at home ensures a better fit.
Quick-dry towel A small one, for when the whim to swim hits.
Flashlight For night-time reading, blackouts.
Resealable bags / Drybags Essential for keeping things (cameras, air tickets, passports) dry on boat trips.
Snorkelling mask with corrective lenses Suddenly, reefs are in focus!
WHAT TO EAT IN ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA
Look out for:
Pepperpot - Antigua’s national dish is a hearty stew blending meat and vegetables, such as okra, spinach, eggplant, squash and potatoes. It’s often served with fungi, which are not mushrooms but cornmeal patties or dumplings.
Black pineapple - The local pineapple was first introduced by the Arawaks and is smaller than your garden variety. It’s known as ‘black’ because it’s at its sweetest when kind of dark green. It grows primarily on the southwest coast, near Cades Bay.
Rock lobster - This hulking crustacean has a succulent tail but no claws and is best served grilled. (And you’ll be forgiven if after a few rum punches you’re humming a tune by the B-52s while digging in.)
The following dishes can be found across the Caribbean:
Callaloo - A creamy thick soup or stew blending a variety of vegetables (eg spinach, kale, onions, carrots, eggplant, garlic, okra) with coconut milk and sometimes crab or ham. The base can be spinach-like.
Roti - Fiery chutney sets off the curried chicken, beef, conch or vegetable fillings in these burrito-like flat-bread wraps.
Conch - Look for farm-raised versions as conch in the wild are endangered. This large pink mollusk is cooked with onion and spices in a stew, fried up as fritters, or sliced raw and served with a lime marinade.
Take time to meet the locals by doing what they do – you’ll enjoy a more affordable and authentic experience.
Eat at lunch wagons or stalls. The local fare is cheap and often incredibly good.
Drop by a local bar – often the de facto community center. Besides a drink, you’ll get all sorts of useful – or wonderfully frivolous – advice.
Look for community fish fries or barbecues in the Eastern Caribbean.
WHERE TO STAY IN ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA
Antigua is expensive and besides a few guesthouses and moderately priced properties, resort-type complexes (often all-inclusive) dominate the market. Overnighting on Barbuda means either more or less roughing it in a basic guesthouse in or around Codrington or forking over megabucks for a luxury abode. The combined tax and service charge is 20.5%.