What to do in sun kissed Antigua
Want to know where Eric Clapton, Oprah and Giorgio Armani spend their vacations? Couple of weeks ago we decided to escape the cold East Coast winter and get a healthy dose of vitamin D in sun kissed Antigua. Home to many celebrities, it’s an island with peaceful beach towns, plenty of beautiful bays, white sands and turquoise waters and great spots for swimming, diving, fishing, sailing or any other water related activity.
Hanging out on the bach is fun, but make sure you include some of these spots in your Antigua visit. Experience the bustling local market, visit historical church that looks more like an inside of an old ship, pick your perfect beach or watch sunset from the most beautiful spot on the island. You can do as much or as little as you want, this is the island to relax. We put together our favorite places we suggest to visit and some useful Antigua travel tips.
Public Market in St Johns
One of the first places I visit in every new country, is a local market. It tells you so much about the place, local people, their culture and habits. Fridays and Saturdays are the busiest market days in St Johns, Antigua. Check out the mountains of bananas, limes, mangoes and pineapples, it’s fun to watch locals selling fruits and vegetables off their trucks. But don’t be fooled by idea of freshly picked local produce, many of the fruits and vegetables you see, comes from other islands like Dominical Republic. If you are lucky and visit the island in the right season, look for the Antigua black pineapple. It’s smaller in size but locals say it’s the sweetest pineapple in the world.
A laid back harbor town with some of Antigua’s best beaches all around. Right in between the capital St Johns and the party city English Harbor, it’s a good location to base your stay, there are several resorts, apartments for rent and quite a few good restaurants.
Between the busy Jolly Harbor beach and Darksand beach, you will find Ffryes beach, yes with double F. It’s a family friendly spot with calm waters, no tourist crowds and no amenities. As an added bonus right there on the beach is located Dennis Cocktail Bar that offers daily BBQ specials and tasty cocktails.
Next stop is English Harbor that’s famous for docking some of worlds biggest and most expensive yachts. Full of tanned, well dressed and surprisingly your people getting on and off their boats to enjoy the town. Having so many young travelers here, the town has a lively vibe and offers as well some nigh life.
For spectacular views on English Harbour and Falmouth Harbour head up the hill to the 18th century military ruins. Sundays on Shirley Heights are the best days for tourist entertainment. Busloads of visitors arrive to spend the afternoon listening to music, eating spicy barbecue, drinking cocktails and waiting for the sunset. It’s quite a romantic spot where to enjoy picnic below shade of the trees watching the sun setting over English Harbor. Unfortunately the only locals you see here are serving the food or playing drums, it’s a very touristic attraction. Admission to Sundays is EC$20. Want to avoid crowds? Go any other day but Sunday.
Half Moon Bay
In search for the best beach in Antigua, we drove to the east side of the island. It takes a little effort to get there, but it’s definitely a beautiful spot. Shaped like a half moon with crystal clear waters with waves that crash in the rocks that protect the bay. Unfortunately the beach has shrank here are you have to put your towel in the middle of bushes or be prepared to lay in wet sand. The sea is wavy here but it’s a favorite spot for body boarders, surfers and windsurfers.
St Johns Cathedral
This beautiful piece of Antigua’s history is definitely worth a visit. Originally built in 1681 it’s St Johns most prominent landmark. The unique interior makes it feel more like an old ship rather than a church. Still under reconstruction but for a small donation you can get a private tour.
Have enough reasons to visit Antigua? Then read these practical tips on how to get around the island, where to stay, eat and how much it’s going to cost you.
Car will give you the freedom to explore the island on your own. But be prepared for a very slow service at the car rental offices, don’t forget you are on the island time now. Driving is on the left side of the road and locals drive a little crazy. Additional expenses – you will have to get a local driving permit for 20$ and gas per gallon will cost you EC$12.50/ 6$ (as of February 2016).
This island will require lots of your dollars, everything is super expensive here. Antigua uses East Caribbean dollar, at the ATM’s you can withdraw both Caribbean and US dollars. Most places you can pay with both but prices in local currency are more advantageous. Credit cards are widely accepted.
Want to know where to have an excellent meal in Antigua? Out of all the super expensive places, there are 2 that stood out. One for the perfect and super romantic location, great for a special dinner or any important celebration – Sheer Rocks. And then a newcomer that surprised us not just with the quality of food but as well service, beautiful setting and the presentation of every single plate. Although not an economical eatery, this would be the place we would go back again and again – Jacqui O’s Beach House.
Prices in Antigua are high, an average main course in a restaurant will cost you $50-100ECD. Tips are often included in your bill as 10% service charge but if not, it’s custom to leave a 5% for a decent service or 10% for a good one.
Where to stay
Jolly Harbor and English Bay are places that offer the most action, plenty of restaurants and few party spots. If resorts with $800 + price tag per day is not for you, we suggest staying in this comfortable apartment.
Antigua uses US electricity plugs, official language is English although locals speak a dialect that’s almost impossible to understand. The high season runs from mid-December through April with hurricane season being from June to November. Try to visit in shoulder season when prices are better and there are less visitors.
Sun kissed Antigua
If beach is all you want, Antigua is a perfect sweet spot. If you are looking to learn more about locals and their culture, this island shows how distant are the two realities – tourists crowds and the life of locals. While there are many multi million dollar sailing vessels parked in Antigua ports and high end restaurants with Manhattan prices, the locals are living with a very low income. Roadside villages with simple homes, on weekends they gather around the public outdoor BBQ stands, drive roads with huge potholes but still have this big warm smile.
Have you been to Antigua? Tell us about your favorite spots.