Antigua’s abundance of beaches, coupled with year-round sun, rolling hills, lush rainforests and fresh seafood, make it the perfect place to slow down the pace. By Tamsin Wressell
There are a total of 365 beaches on Antigua – one for each day of the year. Dickenson Bay, in the northwest, is one of the most popular beaches for families and children, with its powdery sand and calm waters. Ffryes Beach in the west has barbecue facilities and a beach bar and restaurant, but being cut off from the mainland by a lagoon, tends to draw in fewer crowds. Rendezvous Beach, meanwhile, on the south side is the most isolated of the beaches, accessible by boat or foot along a track.
Given its number of beaches and with the island encircled by coral reefs, snorkelling and diving are great activities to try out here. The waters are typically calm with no current in the shallow waters, making it ideal for beginners. Cades Reef, off the south coast, is one of the most popular places to dive.
On land, a nature trail from English Harbour takes you up through forest to Shirley Heights Lookout, giving panoramic views over the harbour below. On Thursday and Sunday evenings, rum punch is served alongside live steel and reggae music.
In late April, the annual Antigua Sailing Week takes place, bringing a carnival-like atmosphere to the capital, St John’s – visit during this time for live music and views of the world-famous regatta. St John’s is a pretty and vibrant capital, with brightly hued houses – head here for the Heritage Market, shops, bars and restaurants.
Where to eat
Traditional cuisine in Antigua tends to be centred around Creole dishes – conch fritters, roti, ducana and jerk chicken are some of the most popular foods. There’s also places to eat offering international cuisine that tend to have European influences. St John’s has a bunch of harbourside restaurants, plus the Heritage Market, selling fresh produce such as sweet black pineapples, custard apples, mangoes and avocados. Try Commissioner Grill on Redcliffe Street for Antiguan dishes, The Admiral’s Inn at Nelson’s Dockyard for harbour views or Papa Zouk for the island’s biggest selection of rums.
On the coastal road from St John’s to English Harbour, there are raw bars along the beaches that serve up freshly-caught seafood including spiny lobster and oysters. Beachlimerz by Fort James has a mix of seafood dishes, served up to a soundtrack of steel drum, and is a popular choice. Elsewhere, between the rainforest, farmland and groves of bananas, coconut and mango, there are small villages that tend to have their own fruit stands.
The Shirley Heights Lookout is a great option for combining views of the island with a local breakfast of mackerel, okra and johnny cakes, while Sheer Rocks at Cocobay Resort on Ffryes Beach has a beautiful cliffside setting overlooking the sea.
Where to stay
Much like other destinations, accommodation in Antigua varies – there are family-friendly resorts, all-inclusive hotels, smaller, boutique places and cottages. The beachfront hotels tend to be the most popular choice, with options ranging from lively, large resorts with a schedule of activities, to smaller intimate lodges. However, the shorelines aren’t entirely stacked with places to stay, giving some breathing room in between. Verandah Resort & Spa in Long Bay is an all-inclusive option sprawled along the coastline, with a focus on sustainability. The wooden villas have sea views and there’s a mix of watersports available. Cocobay Resort at Johnsons Point is an adults-only option, with infinity pools overlooking the sea. Dian Bay Resort & Spa, meanwhile, is one of the few upmarket options owned and run by local people.
Beyond the beach locations, you can find a scattering of eco lodges and resorts in the surrounding lush hills and rainforests that provide an entirely different experience and landscape. The accommodation inland tends to be cheaper and more stripped back. The Inn at English Harbour has its own sand beach, but is also set amid 10 acres of woodland. The self-catered Tropical Garden Cottage is one of the most inland accommodation options, set in All Saints.