After the British
settled the island in the 1600s, it was for
centuries little more than a giant sugar factory that produced sugar and rum to
send home. Around Antigua, the tall brick chimneys of a hundred deserted and
decaying sugar mills bear witness to that long colonial era. Today, though, it
is tourism that drives the country's economy; dozens of hotels and restaurants
have sprung up around the coastline, there's a smart airport, and a number of
outfits run boat and catamaran cruises and scuba-diving and snorkelling trips to
the island's fabulous coral reefs.
When To Go
Antigua's tropical climate makes it a year-round destination. The
weather is at its best during the high season, from mid-December to
mid-April, with rainfall low and the heat tempered by cooling trade winds. As you'd expect,
prices and crowds are at their peak during high season.
Things can get noticeably hotter during the summer and, particularly in
September and October, the humidity can be oppressive. September is also the
most threatening month for the annual hurricane season, which runs officially
from June 1 to October 31
Where To Go
If all you want to do is crash out on a beach
for a week or two, you'll find Antigua hard to beat. The island is dotted with
superb patches of sand - look out for Dickenson Bay
in the northwest,
Half Moon Bay
in the east and Rendezvous Beach
in the south - and,
while the nightlife is generally pretty quiet, there are plenty of great places
to eat and drink. But however lazy you're feeling, it's worth making the effort
to get out and see some of the country. The superbly restored naval dockyard and
the crumbling forts around English Harbour
and Shirley Heights
as impressive as any historic site in the West Indies, and there are lots of
other little nuggets to explore, including the capital, St John's
its tiny museum and colourful quayside, and the old sugar estate at Betty's
. And, if you're prepared to do a bit of walking, you'll find some
that will take you out to completely deserted parts of the
Antigua's sister island Barbuda
feels a world apart from its
increasingly developed neighbour, even though it's just fifteen minutes away by
plane. Despite its spectacular beaches and coral reefs, tourism is very low-key.
Even if you can only manage a day trip, you'll find it thoroughly repays the
effort involved in organizing a tour.
The island's unit of currency is the
Eastern Caribbean dollar (EC$)
, divided into 100 cents. It comes in
bills of US$100, $50, $20, $10 and $5 and coins of US$1, $0.50, $0.25, $0.10,
$0.05 and $0.01. The rate of exchange is fixed at EC$2.70 to US$1.
In tourist-related business, the US dollar
is often used
as an unofficial parallel currency, and you'll often find prices for hotels,
restaurants and car rental quoted in US dollars (a policy we have adopted in
this guide). Bear in mind, though, that you can always insist on paying in EC$
(and the exchange rate usually works out slightly in your favour).
If you are using US dollars or travellers' cheques to pay a
bill, check in advance whether your change will be given in the same currency
(it usually won't).
are generally Monday to Thursday 8am-2pm
and Friday 8am-4pm. Most of the banks are in St John's and include Antigua
Commercial Bank, Barclays, ABIB and Bank of Antigua. (The latter has a branch in
Nelson's Dockyard.) Bank of Antigua and ABIB in St John's are also open on
Most hotels and restaurants automatically add a service
of 10 percent and government tax
of 7 percent. It's always
worth asking if it's included in the quoted price or will be added on later.
Local time is GMT -4.
Most hotels provide a
in each room and local calls are normally inexpensive.
You'll also see phone booths all over the island, and these can be used for
local and international calls. Most of the booths take phonecards only, available at hotels,
post offices and some shops and supermarkets.
The country code
for Antigua is 268.
are located in English Harbour (Mon-Fri 8.30am-4pm), St
John's on Long Street (Mon-Fri 8.15am-4pm) and in Woods Centre (Mon-Thurs
8.30am-4pm, Fri 8.30am-5pm).
For fire, ambulance or police emergencies, dial 911 or 999
In restaurants it's customary to leave 5% beyond the regular
service charge added to your bill if you're pleased with the service. Taxi
drivers expect a 10% tip, porters and bellmen about $1 per bag. Maids are rarely
tipped, but if you think the service exemplary, figure $2 to $3 per night. Staff
at all-inclusives aren't supposed to be tipped unless they've truly gone out of
Throughout the Caribbean, incidents of petty theft are
increasing. Leave your valuables in the hotel safe-deposit box; don't leave them
unattended in your room, on a beach, or in a rental car. Also, the streets of
St. John's are fairly deserted at night, so it's not a good idea to wander about
Ambulance (PHONE: 268/462-0251). Fire (PHONE:268/462-0044).
Holberton Hospital (Hospital Rd., St. John's, Antigua. PHONE: 268/462-0251).
City Pharmacy (St. Mary's St., St. John's, Antigua. PHONE: 268/480-3314). Woods Pharmacy (Woods Centre, Friar's
Hill Rd., St. John's, Antigua. PHONE: 268/462-9287).
Police assistance (PHONE: 268/462-0125).
Antigua runs on 110 volts, allowing use of most small North American
appliances. Outlets are both two- and three-pronged, so bring an adapter.
There are plenty of flights
from the US and Canada. American Airlines generally offers the best
fares and has the most comprehensive schedule from the US to Antigua; all
of its flights connect either through Miami or San Juan, Puerto Rico. BWIA
flies nonstop to Antigua from New York City, Miami and Toronto, while
Continental has nonstop flights from Miami and Newark, New Jersey. Air Canada offers the best fares out
Most British and Irish visitors
to Antigua are on some form of package
tour that includes a charter flight direct to the island. Alternatively British
Airways, Virgin and BWIA fly from London, and you can find similar fares with
other carriers that require a stopover in the US. There are no direct flights
from Ireland to Antigua, but there are good connections via London or via New
York and Miami.
Visitors from Australia and New Zealand
will need to take a flight to
one of the main US gateway airports and pick up onward connections from there.
Generally the least expensive and most straightforward routes are via Miami,
from where there are regular flights to St John's.
For international flights the departure tax
is US$20 (EC$50), payable
at the airport when you leave.
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The main events in Antigua are the
and the April Sailling Week
, but there are
other events to distract you from the beach, including international cricket and
windsurfing tournaments, and a jazz festival. The tourist boards have full
details of all activities.
The main public holidays
celebrated throughout the
Caribbean, during which virtually all shops and offices close, are:
January 1 New Year's Day
May 1 Labour Day
Dec 25 Christmas Day
Dec 26 Boxing Day
Antigua also celebrates Caricom Day in early July, Carnival on
the first Monday and Tuesday of August, Independence Day on November 1
and United Nations Day in October.
Festivals and events
Red Stripe Cricket Competition tel 268/462-9090
Valentine's Day Regatta, Jolly Harbour tel 268/461-6324
Test cricket tel 268/462-9090
Classic Regatta tel 268/460-1799
Sailing Week tel 268/460-8872
Pro-Am Tennis Classic, Curtain Bluff Hotel tel 268/462-8400
Carnival tel 268/462-4707
Bridge Championship tel 268/462-1459
National Warri Championship tel 268/462-6317
Antiguan Craft Fair, Harmony Hall tel 268/460-4120
Nicholson's Annual Charter Yacht Show tel 268/460-153
Food and Drink
There are plenty of good eating
options on Antigua and, though prices are generally on the high side, there's
usually something to suit most budgets. Around most of the island, hotel and
restaurant menus aimed at tourists tend to offer familiar variations on
Euro-American style food, shunning local specialities - a real shame, as the
latter are invariably excellent and well worth trying if you get the chance.
Antiguan specialities include the fabulous ducana
solid hunk of grated sweet potato mixed with coconut and spices and steamed in a
banana leaf), pepperpot stew
with salt beef, pumpkin and okra, often
served with a cornmeal pudding known as fungi
, various types of
curry, salted codfish
, and souse
- cuts of pork marinated in lime
juice, onions, hot and sweet peppers and spices.
During the winter season (Dec-April) it's best to make
reservations at many of the places recommended - and, if you've got your heart
set on a special place, arrange it a couple of days in advance if you can. As
, some restaurants quote their prices in EC$, others in US$,
others in both. We've followed their practice, using whichever currency a
particular restaurant quotes. Government tax of 8.5 percent is always added to
the bill and, particularly at the pricier places, a 10 percent service charge is
, restaurants are low-key places with quiet
trade. If you're coming on a day-trip package your meal will normally be
arranged for you, but if you're making your own arrangements give as much
advance notice as you can so that they can get the ingredients in.
Antigua's first people
were the nomadic Ciboney, originally from present-day Venezuela, whose earliest
traces on the island date from around 3100 BC. By the early years AD the Ciboney
had been replaced by Arawak-speaking Amerindians
from the same region.
The first European sighting of Antigua came in 1493 when Columbus
sailed close by, naming the island Santa Maria la Antigua. The island remained
uninhabited for over a century until, in 1624, the first British
in the West Indies was established on the island of St Kitts, and
the British laid claim to nearby Antigua and Barbuda. Within a decade, settlers
at Falmouth on the south coast had experimented with a number of crops before
settling on sugar
, which was to guarantee the island its future wealth.
For the next two hundred years, sugar was to remain the country's dominant
industry, bringing enormous wealth to the planters
Unlike most of Britain's West Indian colonies, Antigua remained British
throughout the colonial era. This was due, in large part, to the massive
fortifications built around it, the major ones at places like Shirley Heights on
the south coast.
As the centuries passed, conditions for the slaves who worked the plantations
improved very slowly. Even after the abolition of slavery in 1834, many were
obliged to continue to labour at the sugar estates, for wages that were
insufficient to provide even the miserly levels of food, housing and care
formerly offered under slavery.
Gradually, though, free villages
began to emerge at places like
Liberta, Jennings and Bendals, often based around Moravian or Methodist churches
or on land reluctantly sold by the planters to a group of former slaves. Slowly
a few Antiguans scratched together sufficient money to set up their own
businesses - shops, taverns and tiny cottage industries. An embryonic black
middle class was in the making. Nonetheless, economic progress on the island was
extremely slow. By World War II, life for the vast majority of Antiguans was
still extremely tough, with widespread poverty across the island.
After the war, Antigua continued to be administered by Britain, but gradually
the island's politicians were given authority for the running of their country.
Slowly, the national economy began to take strides forward, assisted by the
development of tourism. By the elections of 1980 all parties considered that,
politically and economically, the country was sufficiently mature for full
independence and the flag of an independent Antigua and Barbuda
finally raised in November 1981.
Best Of Antigua
An appealing stretch of white sand
with good snorkelling around the reef just offshore.Nelson's Dockyard
Once a busy Georgian dockyard, now an intriguing living
museum.Long Street, St John's
The place to view some
colourful old buildings and catch an entertaining game of cricket
Spectacular Palm Beach is just one of the
highlights of this delightfully secluded island.St John's
You'll find great West Indian food at local places like Home
Ten raucous days full of colourful
costumes, steel-drum bands and lots of dancing.
Speedy and inexpensive buses
and minibuses run to certain parts of the island, particularly between St John's and
English Harbour on the south coast and along the west coast between St John's
and Old Road, although none goes to the big tourist area of Dickenson Bay and
If you want to tour around, you're invariably better
off renting a car
for a couple of days, though rental prices are fairly
high, starting at around US$40 per day, US$250 per week. You'll have to buy a
local driving licence for US$20 (valid for three months and sold by all of the
car hire firms). Reliable firms include: Avis (tel 268/462-2840), Budget (tel
268/462-3009), Dollar (tel 268/462-0362), Hertz (tel 268/462-4114), Oakland (tel
268/462-3021) and Thrifty (tel 268/462-9532).
We recommend renting a car and just driving around the island. Signs are not very helpful, but try using restaurant signs to move around, for example to get to English Harbor area follow Colombo signs.
If you just want to make the odd excursion or short
trip, it can be cheaper to hire taxis
, identifiable by the H on their
number plates and easy to find in St John's, Nelson's Dockyard or at the
airport. Elsewhere you'll often need to call or ask your hotel to arrange for
one. Try West Bus Station Taxis (tel 268/462-5190) or Antigua Reliable (tel
268/460-5353). Fares are regulated but there are no meters, so be sure to agree
on a price before you get into the car.
By bike and motorcycle
Since Antigua is so small, and there are few steep
inclines, it is ideal cycling
territory, and bikes can be rented for
around US$15 per day, US$70 a week. Hiring a scooter or motorcycle
just as much fun - prices normally start at around US$30 per day, US$150 a week
(plus US$20 for the local driving permit) - and can be a fantastic way of
touring around, though you'll need to watch out for madcap drivers on the main
roads. Rental agents for both bikes and motorcycles include Cycle Krazy, St
Mary's Street in St John's (tel 268/462-9253), Paradise Boat Sales at Jolly
Harbour (tel 268/460-7125) and Shipwreck in Parham (tel 268/464-7771; they
deliver to your hotel, so cost a little more).
With its magnificent and often deserted
beaches, its spectacular coral reefs and its rare colony of frigate birds, the
nation's other inhabited island, Barbuda
- 48km to the north of Antigua -
is a definite highlight of any visit to Antigua. Don't expect the same
facilities as on Antigua; accommodation
options are limited, you'll need
to bring your own snorkelling or diving gear, and you'll find that schedules -
whether for taxis, boats or meals - tend to drift. This is all, of course, very
much part of the island's attraction.
Half the size of its better-known neighbour, Barbuda
separately from Antigua and was only reluctantly coerced into joining the nation
during the run-up to independence in 1981. The island is very much the poor
neighbour in terms of financial resources, and its development has been slow;
tourism has had only a minor impact, and fishing and farming remain the
principal occupations of the tiny population of 1500, most of whom live in the
small capital, Codrington
Away from the beaches, the island is less fetching, mostly low-level scrub of
cacti, bush, small trees and the distinctive century plants; for most of the
year it is extremely arid and unwelcoming. There are a couple of exceptions: in
the island suddenly bursts to life, with a fabulous grove
of coconut palms springing out of the sandy soil (and providing a useful source
of export revenue), while in parts of the interior, government projects are
reclaiming land from the bush to grow peanuts and sweet potatoes, also for the
export market. For the most part, though, the island is left to the scrub, the
elusive wild boar and deer and a multitude of birds - 170 species at last count.
The tiny and now uninhabited volcanic rock known as Redonda
56km to the southwest of Barbuda, is occasionally visited by yachters - though
with no sheltered anchorage, the landing is a difficult one. There is no regular
service to the island, nor anywhere to stay save for a few ruined mining
The only scheduled flights
to Barbuda are from
Antigua on Carib Aviation (tel 268/462-3147 or 3452; UK tel 01895/450710, US tel
646/336-7600). They offer four flights a day from the main airport in Antigua
(leaving at 7am, 8am, 9am and 5pm, returning thirty minutes later in each case)
and charge US$50 round-trip. The planes take twenty minutes. More excitingly,
the journey can be made by boat
, although the cost of the four-hour
crossing from St John's to River Landing on Barbuda's south coast tends to be
pretty exorbitant at around US$150 one-way. A handful of local boat operators
run occasional trips (try Foster Hopkins on 268/460-0212 or Byron Askie on
Taking a day tour
to the island is the best way to guarantee getting
both a driver and a boat operator to take you to the bird sanctuary. Both
DJ Forwarders (tel 268/464-3228 or 773-9766) and Jenny's Tours (tel
268/461-9361) will organize a carefully packaged day tour for US$150, including
flights, pick-up at Barbuda airport, a jeep tour of the island, lunch and a boat
visit to the bird sanctuary. Your driver will also leave you on the beach for as
long as you want - just remember to take a bottle of water. Occasional day tours
by boat are run by Ecoseatours (tel 268/463-0275) and Adventure Antigua (tel
268/560-4672 or 727-3261), both of which run fast boats to the Barbudan beaches
in an hour and a half for snorkelling and beach cruising. Costs are around
US$120 per person.
FALMOUTH AND ENGLISH HARBOUR
An essential stop on any visit to Antigua,
the picturesque area around Falmouth
and English Harbour
island's south coast holds some of the most important and interesting historical
remains in the Caribbean and is now the region's leading yachting centre. The
chief attraction is the eighteenth-century Nelson's Dockyard
, which was
the key facility for the British navy that once ruled the waves in the area.
Today it's a living museum where visiting yachts are still cleaned, supplied and
chartered. Nearby are several ruined forts as well as an abundance of attractive
colonial buildings on the waterfront, several converted into hotels and
Across the harbour from the dockyard, there
is further evidence of the colonial past at Shirley Heights
, where more
ruined forts, gun batteries and an old cemetery hold a commanding position over
The area also has a handful of spots off the
beaten path that repay a trip, including the massive military complex at
Great Fort George
, high in the hills above Falmouth
, and the
wonderful Rendezvous Bay
- outstanding in an area with a paucity of good
beaches - a short boat ride or less than an hour's hike from Falmouth.
A car is invaluable for touring around this
area of the south coast. There are frequent buses
between St John's and
English Harbour, handy if you just want to explore Nelson's Dockyard, but to get
up to Shirley Heights you'll certainly need your own transport or a taxi.
FROM RUNAWAY BAY TO HALF MOON BAY
North of St John's, Runaway Bay
constitute the island's main tourist strip, with a couple
of excellent beaches, a host of good hotels and restaurants, and plenty of
action. Continuing clockwise round the island brings you to its Atlantic side,
where the jagged coastline offers plenty of inlets, bays and swamps but, with a
couple of noteworthy exceptions, rather less impressive beaches. Tourist
facilities on this side of the island are much less developed, but there are
several places of interest. Betty's Hope
is a restored sugar plantation;
offers one of the most dramatic landscapes on the island;
at picturesque Half Moon Bay
you can scramble along a vertiginous
clifftop path above the pounding Atlantic; and at the delightful Harmony
you can relax from your exertions with an excellent lunch and a boat
ride to Green Island.
With a population of around 30,000 - nearly half the
island's total - bustling ST JOHN'S
is Antigua's capital and only city.
No one could accuse it of being the prettiest city in the West Indies, but it
does have a certain immediate charm and, in the centre, there are plenty of
attractive old wooden and stone buildings - some of them superbly renovated,
others in a perilous state of near-collapse - among the less appealing modern
development. It'll only take you a couple of hours to see everything, but you'll
probably want to come back for at least one evening to take advantage of some
As all of the main places of interest in
St John's are close together, the easiest way to see the place is on foot.
You should certainly make your way to Redcliffe Quay
- where the
waterfront and its colonial buildings have been attractively restored - as well
as the tiny National Museum
, which offers a well-presented rundown on
the country's history and culture. If you've got time, take a stroll through
some of the old streets, and check out the city's twin-towered cathedral
perched on top of Newgate Street. Redcliffe Quay and nearby Heritage Quay
are the best places to eat, drink and shop for souvenirs, though you'll probably
want to avoid them if the cruise ships are in, when the steel drums come out to
play "Hot, Hot, Hot" and the area almost disappears beneath a scrum of duty-free
Tourism makes a firm impression on
Antigua's west coast
, with hotels dotted at regular intervals between
the little fishing village of Old Road
in the south and the capital, St
John's. Two features dominate the area: a series of lovely beaches, with
probably the pick of the bunch for swimming, snorkelling and
beachcombing, and a glowering range of hills known as the Shekerley
in the southwest, offering the chance for a climb and some
panoramic views. The lush and thickly wooded Fig Tree Hill
on the edge of
the range is as scenic a spot as you'll find, and you can take a variety of
inland to see a side of Antigua overlooked by the vast majority of
tourists. Due west of St John's, the Five Islands
peninsula holds several
hotels, some good beaches and the substantial ruins of the eighteenth-century