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Antigua Travel Tips: Attractions, Weather, When to Go

Credit: Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority
We enjoyed touring Antigua (pronounced An-tig-ah) despite residents who were less friendly than most other islands.

It has one of the nicer shopping districts and downtowns of any of the eastern Caribbean islands we have visited.

The other reason why we liked it is because we love beaches. Antigua brags about having 365 beaches -- one for each day of the year. Cruise and resort visitors have plenty of options.

Antigua and its much smaller nearby neighbor of Barbuda rank 15th among the top 25 islands in total tourist visits. About twice as many people visit the island via cruise compared to stopovers, which is the average for the entire Caribbean.

Quick Tips

  • English Harbour is a major historical attraction.
  • Fort James Beach is a close option for cruise visitors.
  • March and April are the most popular months to visit.

    Antigua Attractions

    English Harbour
    English Harbour. Credit: Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority
    The cruise port of St. John’s is the biggest attraction on the island simply because so many people visit there by cruise. Besides the shopping district, other attractions in the city are St. John’s Cathedral, Heritage Quay and the Public Markets.

    Fort James on the northern tip of the bay has historic ruins and views of the sea and the city. It is right by the aptly named Fort James Beach. Cruise visitors can take a quick taxi ride to reach it.

    Antigua has one of the largest and most well-known historical attractions in the Caribbean at English Harbour. This former naval base, built for the British navy in the 1700s, is now part of Nelson's Dockyard National Park.

    The park covers 15 square miles and is the only Georgian dockyard left in the world. It still supports visiting yachts and other ships today. A nearby attraction is Shirley Heights, a former military fort that overlooks English Harbour.

    The site is a common shore excursion for cruise visitors. Hotel and resort visitors have several options for staying at or near English Harbour. Others will need to rent a car to get there.

    The historical Sea View Farm Village has displays of folk pottery available for purchase. Harmony Hall Art Gallery is the showplace of island art. The Museum of Antigua and Barbuda displays the island’s historical past.

    Beaches Near the Cruise Port

    We went to one called Fort James Beach about 10 minutes from downtown and the cruise port. A taxi driver found us leaving the ship, guessed we needed a ride and gave us a price that we accepted.

    We found out later that if we had walked farther out to the taxi stand, we could have negotiated a lower price. Fort James Beach turned out to be a nice, quiet expanse of white sand with many jet skis criss crossing over the cove in front of us. And the ruins of Fort James is a short walking distance away.

    Otherwise, major beaches are available at Runaway Bay and Dickenson Bay to the north. Options to the south include Deep Bay, Galley Bay, Hawksbill and Carlisle Bay.

    Resorts and Hotels

    Galley Bay Resort & Spa on the west coast of Antigua has 40 acres of tropical gardens between a bird sanctuary lagoon and a three-quarter mile beach. All guests are welcomed at the historic sugar mill reception and taken by golf cart to one of the 94 suites and cottages. More than three-quarters of the accommodations lie directly on the beach. The remaining accommodations are located in the gardens and have their own private splash pools.

    Sandals Grande Antigua is directly on the beach at Dickenson Bay. Amenities include four gourmet restaurants and five pools. The Rondoval Suites are set in tropical gardens and offer splash pools and private butler service. A one-bedroom ocean villa has 1,400 square feet of living space with private pools.

    Jumby Bay is set on a 300-acre private island two miles off the coast of Antigua. This secluded hideaway, accessible only by boat, has three white sand beaches.

    The Verandah Resort & Spa on the northeast coast has 30 beachfront acres with hiking trails and is bordered by Devil's Bridge National Park. Kayak, snorkel, windsurf or even swim in the tranquil waters of the resort's two reef-sheltered beaches.

    Cocobay on the west side of Antigua is a collection of pastel cottages atop a hillside that leads down to two white-sand beaches. The main all-inclusive restaurant Rafters provides breakfast, lunch and dinner, while Sheer Restaurant caters to the general public as well as in-house guests and is not part of the all-inclusive facilities.

    Halcyon Cove is on the shores of Dickenson Bay. Warri Pier is an la carte restaurant located on its own pier overlooking the ocean. After dinner, the Ciboney Lounge is available to experience traditional Antiguan culture, and the Lobby Bar has a range of music-based entertainment.

    Hawksbill is set in 37 acres of landscaped tropical gardens and offers a choice of four secluded beaches, including Antigua’s only clothing-optional beach. The resort’s accommodations include detached cottages set among the palms or looking out across the sea. For larger parties, the colonial-style Great House on the tip of the Hawksbill peninsula is a private suite with its own kitchen-bar, three bedrooms and panoramic sea views.

    St. James’s Club & Villas sits on a private 100-acre estate with ocean views and two white sand beaches. English Harbour, Nelson’s Dockyard and Shirley Heights are just a few minutes’ drive away. There are two beaches, four swimming pools and a kid’s club, as well as a variety of on-site activities. There also is a choice of four restaurants set either in the gardens, on the hillside or by the water’s edge. Cocktail bars and live music are available as well.

    Tourism / When to Go

    U.S. and Canadian stopover tourists require passports. Cruise visitors simply need to have their ship ID cards available when leaving the ship and returning.

    The most popular times to visit are March followed by April, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organization. The least popular times are September and then October during the peak of the Caribbean hurricane season.

    Antigua Weather

    Average summer temperatures are in the mid to upper 80s while average winter temperatures are in the mid 70s.

    The island averages about two inches of rain per month from January through April and again in June, according to the Antigua and Barbuda Meteorological Services.

    It has a brief rainy season in May that averages four inches of rain. It averages more than five inches from September through November.

    Currency / Tipping

    Official currency is the Eastern Caribbean Dollar, but U.S. currency and most major credit cards are accepted everywhere. We never had a problem paying with U.S. currency during any shopping.

    The suggested tipping amount is 10-15 percent, including taxi drivers. Some hotels and restaurants automatically add a service charge. Give 50 cents to $1 per bag for bellhops. The standard hotel tax on rooms is 8.5 percent.

    Culture / Geography

    The official language is English because of the island’s former status as an English territory.

    Tourism accounts for more than half of the total economy. The geography struck us as bare and dry, but we never gave it another thought after we reached the beach. The landscape is mostly low-lying limestone and coral islands, with some higher volcanic areas.

    Sources / More information

    Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas.

     > Category: Travel Tips   

    May 20, 2019

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