At the northeastern curve of the West Indies, Antigua (an-TEE-ga) is one of 11 links in the chain of Leeward Islands. Christopher Columbus' first impression adequately describes this tropical paradise: “What beautiful lands the sun lights up in the distance.” The seascape alternates rocky coves with white, sunny beaches punctuated by gentle salt breezes. Thirty miles (48 km) north is the tiny coral island of Barbuda (bar-BEW-da), a haven for seabirds. The rocky volcanic islet of Redonda is an uninhabited dependency.
Antiguans are charming people, reserved but cordial. Their expressive English patois with its musical intonation enchants visitors. While engaged in daily affairs, the locals form a vivid tableau. Sitting around a warri board, taxi drivers play an ancient game while waiting for a fare. Dressed for school in distinctive uniforms that vary according to school and grade, Antiguan children add their smiles and colors to the scene. In equally vivid dress, members of Antigua's many steel bands parade during Carnival in St. John's, where the colorful activities contrast with the more traditionalist English atmosphere of the island's capital.
About Antigua and Barbuda
Christopher Columbus sighted Antigua in 1493, naming it after Santa Maria de la Antigua, a church in Seville, Spain. An attempt to colonize the island was not made until almost a century and a half later, perhaps due to the unwelcoming population of Carib Indians.
Antigua became a British possession in 1632, when English planters from nearby St. Kitts successfully settled the area despite Carib resistance. African slaves were imported to clear forests for the planting of tobacco, ginger, cotton and indigo. In 1666 French raiders claimed the island, but the Treaty of Breda in 1667 restored the land to the British.
In 1674 Sir Christopher Codrington, a former governor of Barbados, established the first large sugar plantation on Antigua. Codrington's accomplishments encouraged other landowners to become involved in the sugar industry, and by the early 1700s the landscape was dotted with some 170 sugar mills; the ruins of many of these structures can be seen throughout the island.
Codrington and his brother settled on Barbuda four years prior to cultivating sugar on Antigua. Ruins of the Codrington estate, Highland House, are on the island's highest point.
The economy suffered a severe blow when slavery was abolished in 1834, and a labor shortage ensued. Due to mounting pressure for a free trade market, sugar prices steadily declined and forced several plantations out of business. Three natural disasters in the mid-1800s—a hurricane, a fire and an earthquake—also contributed to the economic decline.
Antigua was granted status as an associated state of the United Kingdom as a result of the West Indies Act of 1967. This provision allowed Antigua to be self-governing with regard to internal matters, while the United Kingdom controlled defense and foreign affairs. On Nov. 1, 1981, Antigua graduated from its status as an Associated State of the British Commonwealth and became an independent country with Barbuda. The twin-island nation is governed by a prime minister and an upper and lower house of Parliament. Barbuda has often talked of secession, but remains for now with its own governing council.
Antigua's strategic position in the middle of the Antilles chain, as well as its natural harbors, made it the chief British naval base in the West Indies during the Napoleonic Wars and a prime U.S. base during World War II. The main sources of income for most islanders are tourism, light manufacturing and agriculture.
The main shopping district is in St. John's between Redcliffe and Newgate streets, but numerous other shops are concealed in alleys and lanes. Popular buys are imports, straw handicrafts and sea island and silk-screened cottons. Antigua's duty-free shopping includes French perfumes, cashmeres, English tweeds, Irish linen, tobacco, pipes, English bone china, Swiss watches, jewelry, crystal and cameras as well as children's clothing, accessories and toys. St. John's also has several jewelry stores where shoppers can find good buys on their favorite gemstones. Both locally produced rum and imported liquors sell at discounted prices. Cuban cigars are available here.
Situated on lower Redcliffe Street, Redcliffe Quay consists of a charming collage of shops overlooking the waterfront. The area, which was once a slave compound, harbored warehouses for area merchants after slavery was abolished in 1834. Traditional architecture is accented by narrow alleys and picturesque courtyards interspersed with quaint shops and restaurants.
Heritage Quay, at the foot of St. Mary's Street, contains a pier that accommodates cruise ships. Reggae and calypso bands occasionally perform at a small band shell, usually when cruise ships are in port. A modern complex, Heritage Quay provides a diverse selection of duty-free shopping for gemstones and handcrafted jewelry. Other shops feature apparel and accessories, fragrances and cosmetics, tobacco products, liquor and linens.
Local potters live and work at Sea View Farm Village, at the center of the island near Gunthorpes, where products range from primitive cooking pots, bowls and trays to figurines, vases, lamps and mugs.
Jolly Harbour, on the island's southwest coast, boasts an array of restaurants and shops overlooking a picturesque marina. Many of the shops feature beachwear, jewelry, perfume and souvenirs. Visitors also can make arrangements for boat charters, car rentals and diving excursions.
Nelson's Dockyard in English Harbour also accommodates an extensive marketplace. Restaurants and shops are tucked away in the restored buildings of what was once the headquarters of the British Royal Navy.
Some shops have extended hours, but stores are generally open Mon.-Sat. 8-noon and 1-5. Many shops are open on Sundays when cruise ships are in port. Banking hours are Mon.-Thurs. 8-2, Fri. 8-4.
Food and Drink
West Indian cookery, influenced by the English, graces most tables. Favorite local dishes include salted codfish, curry conch and souse, or pickled pork. Fungi, a type of polenta made with cornmeal and okra, is often served with pepperpot stew. Ducana dumplings are a favorite dessert, a mixture of grated sweet potato and coconut steamed in a banana leaf. A large portion of Antiguan food is imported, and resort-area restaurants feature American, Continental, French and Italian cuisine. Many eateries close during the summer months. In season, lobsters are caught daily off the coast of both Antigua and Barbuda. Locally grown fruits and vegetables include herbs, eddoes, papayas, breadfruit, coconuts, ginger, pumpkins, soursop, okra, sugarcane, sweet potatoes, mangoes and Antigua's famous black pineapples.
Sports and Amusements
Antigua is known as a sailor's paradise, and is a popular mooring spot for a variety of vessels, including luxury yachts. At most hotels and at English Harbour, you can charter yachts and other types of sailing vessels with trained crews for an afternoon or for longer island-hopping excursions. Smaller vessels also are available for rent.
Yachts, schooners and gaffers converge on English Harbour in mid-April for the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta, a celebration of traditional artisanship. Events include races, a heritage festival and the Concours d'Elegance show and competition. Antigua Sailing Week, considered by some to be the world's warm-water sailing regatta, generally is held the last Sunday in April through the first Saturday in May. The island also hosts the 7-day Antigua Charter Yacht Show in early December.
The coastline of Antigua is indented with beautiful bays and some 365 coral beaches, many accessible only by boat. Swimmers, shell collectors and sunbathers need never visit the same beach more than once in a year. Those planning beach outings are advised to carry insect repellent; no-see-ums can be a nuisance on the leeward side of the island, especially at dusk.
The beaches on the northwest coast are frequented by tourists due to the high concentration of resorts in the area. Popular northwest coast beaches include Dickenson Bay, a pretty white-sand beach bordered by several hotels and restaurants. Water sports enthusiasts will appreciate the multitude of operators offering rental equipment for windsurfing. The bay also is a departure point for glass-bottom boat and catamaran excursions.
The gentle surf at Runaway Beach also is perfect for water sports, especially children's activities. Visitors can rent floats, kayaks, windsurfers and sailboats. Water skiing also can be arranged. Landlubbers can explore the area on horseback.
The coral reefs and the remains of shipwrecks, where many multicolored fish gather, make snorkeling and scuba diving popular; many dive operators on the island provide equipment and lessons. In Deep Bay, snorkelers and divers can explore a sunken ship, The Andes. The stately ruins of Fort Barrington rise high above the picturesque beach area bordering the bay. A path leads to the top of the fort; the hike can be strenuous, and only those in good physical condition should attempt it. Hikers who make the trek to the top will be rewarded with striking views of St. John's Harbour.
Half Moon Bay, in Half Moon Bay National Park on Antigua's southeast coast, derives its name from the coastline's shape. The crescent-shaped beach, enhanced by azure waters and cool breezes, is perfect for a pleasant stroll. Visitors like to climb the rocks at the north end of the shore. Surf conditions vary due to the bay's shape; visitors can experience crashing waves that present excellent opportunities for body surfing or gentle ripples ideal for swimming.
Darkwood Beach is situated on the island's southwest coast. The white-sand beach, surrounded by a hilly landscape, is punctuated by sailboats docked in crystal-blue water. Beach chairs can be rented at a small snack area, and shelters covered with palm fronds provide respite from the sun. On a clear day, visitors can see the island of Montserrat looming on the horizon. Morris Bay, off Antigua's south coast, is the site of the Curtain Bluff Resort. In this tranquil, secluded setting adorned by sweeping palms, a prominent bluff rises majestically from the sea.
Deep-sea fishing trips for marlin, wahoo, kingfish, shark and barracuda may be chartered out of Falmouth Harbour. Fishing tournaments are held every Labour Day and Whit Monday.
Golf enthusiasts have two 18-hole courses on which to chase birdies: Cedar Valley Golf Club, (268) 462-0161; and Jolly Harbour Golf Course, (268) 462-7771. Tennis courts are available at most hotels, and tournaments held throughout the year attract many professionals. Men's and women's singles and doubles matches take place along with matches that pit amateurs against the pros. Antigua Tennis Week is held at Curtain Bluff Resort in early May.
As in other English West Indian islands, cricket is the national obsession, and Antigua is home to some of the world's best cricketers. A stadium for World Cup Cricket is named for one of the island's cricket legends, Sir Vivian Richards. Tournaments between local district teams can be seen across the island on weekends. Spectators also enjoy netball (a women's game similar to basketball, only the hoop has no backboard), basketball, soccer and Thoroughbred racing in season.
Carnival is the island's most spectacular event. Inspired by the splendor of Queen Elizabeth's coronation and the desire for a yearly festival symbolizing freedom, the Antigua and Barbuda Tourist Board instituted the Antigua Carnival. Beginning the last week in July, Carnival commemorates the Antiguan people's emancipation in 1834.
For 10 days, culminating the first Monday and Tuesday in August, Carnival throngs revel from early evening until dawn to the pulsating strains of steel and brass band music. Holiday visitors join the community in the traditional “jump up,” a kaleidoscope of singing, dancing and laughter from the early morning hours until the sun is high in the sky. Carnival City, in the Recreation Grounds at St. John's, presents talented entertainers amid magnificent sets.
Shirley Heights Lookout, which offers a spectacular view of English Harbour, is the site of 6 hours of nonstop entertainment on Sunday beginning at 4 p.m. Visitors have the opportunity to mingle with residents, enjoy succulent barbecue and dance to the beat of reggae and steel bands. The island has a few small nightclubs, and year-round nightlife opportunities range from an evening at the theater to gambling in a casino or strolling on a beach.
Three-hour and all-day sightseeing cruises along Antigua's coast depart from Dickenson Bay and Heritage Quay. Catamaran cruises and eco-tours often include stops for snorkeling and swimming. Many other types of boat trips are available, including cocktail, barbecue and glass-bottom boat cruises. For more information inquire at your hotel, the Antigua and Barbuda Department of Tourism in St. John's at the Government Complex on Queen Elizabeth Highway, or the information booths at V.C. Bird International Airport, St. John's Harbor and Heritage Quay pier.
Fig Tree Drive in southwestern Antigua winds inland through terrain similar to a rain forest and takes about 1 hour to explore by private car. Although this scenic drive is a bit bumpy, visitors are rewarded with views of old sugar mills and lush vegetation. Such tropical fruits as mangoes, oranges, guavas, pineapples, bananas and soursop grow alongside the road. Don't expect to see any figs—in Antigua, fig is the word for banana. Fig Tree Drive residents sell fruits and vegetables from stands in front of their homes. The road leading to Fig Tree Hill provides breathtaking views of fertile valleys and magnificent 1,320-foot (402-m) Mount Obama.
From Green Castle Hill, south of St. John's between Jennings and Emanuel, visitors can survey the island's interior plain and a volcanic formation; accessible via an uphill hike, it is recommended only for experienced hikers or with a local guide.
Allow about a day to drive the coastal routes, taking time along the way to explore Nelson's Dockyard in English Harbour, the small fishing villages and such coastal archeological sites as Indian Creek and Mill Reef.
An excellent opportunity to mingle with Antiguans is at Heritage Market near “The Bridge” on Market Street in southern St. John's. At this open-air market, you can bargain for fresh fish, fruits, vegetables and spices or simply enjoy the stimulating, colorful atmosphere. Local arts and crafts are featured in an adjacent complex. The market is open daily.
Another way to grasp the nature of the island and its people is to watch a game of warri. This ancient betting game is played on a board with 14 holes and a handful of seeds. Originally brought from Africa with the slave trade, it has remained a favorite pastime.
Air and sea excursions travel north to Barbuda, a sparsely populated coral island lined with white and pink sand beaches that run for miles. Reefs harbor tropical fish and lobster while hiding nearly 100 sunken wrecks. Barbuda's interior, notable for its wildlife, includes a large natural frigate bird sanctuary, said to be the largest in the Western Hemisphere.
The only monument on Barbuda is the Martello Tower; although its origins are unknown, its design and location suggest that it was a lighthouse. Caves near Two Foot Bay have sheltered Barbudans for centuries—even during the 2004 hurricanes. Dark Cave is home to a species of blind shrimp found in only two places in the world. There are a few guest houses in the main village of Codrington, which is named for the family who leased the island from the British Crown for “one fat pig per year if asked.” Today most of the population lives here, leaving the rest of the island unspoiled.
A full-day excursion to Barbuda by air includes a tour of the Frigate Bird Sanctuary and Codrington as well as a picnic lunch with rum punch. Most hotels will make arrangements for the Barbuda day tour, which should be planned at least 24 hours in advance. Note: Barbuda was devastated in the 2017 hurricane season. The birds have returned to the sanctuary, but most other previous inhabitants have not.
Eco-tours to Long Island and the Jumby Bay resort offer a rare glimpse of the hawksbill turtle, one of the most endangered sea turtles in the Caribbean. A stretch of sand known as Hawksbill Beach is one of the largest breeding grounds. Turtle watches are organized during nesting season from June to October.
Flights to Montserrat, the island paradise devastated by volcanic eruptions since 1995, depart four to six times daily from V.C. Bird International Airport via FlyMontserrat.
Direct service to V.C. Bird International Airport, 6 miles (10 km) from St. John's, is provided from Atlanta, Charlotte, Miami, New York City and Newark; carriers include American Airlines, Caribbean Airlines, Delta and United Airlines. LIAT offers nonstop flights to Antigua from San Juan, Puerto Rico. Many cruise ships include Antigua on their regular itineraries.
You can drive rented cars over most of Antigua's roads; however, use caution due to left-hand driving. Be on the lookout for the occasional goat wandering across the road. The primary roads are navigable, but potholes are common—and so are “sleeping policemen” (the Antiguan nickname for speed bumps). Although most of the island's roads are not marked, most hotels and the Antigua and Barbuda Department of Tourism provide a map that is easy to follow.
Signs throughout Antigua show arrows pointing toward major resorts and attractions: These can assist in determining direction. If you are planning to drive through St. John's, be sure to obtain a good map; even though most of the streets are well-marked, many of them are one-way.
Presentation of a valid U.S. license and $20 entitles you to a driver's license good for 90 days. Hertz in St. John's offers rental car discounts to AAA members; phone the office at the airport, (268) 481-4440. Taxis are readily available at major resorts and are plentiful throughout St. John's. Fares from the airport to hotels are listed at the airport, and range from $15 to $40 for four passengers and their luggage, depending upon the destination; for all other excursions round-trip fares are charged. Be sure to ask if fares are quoted in U.S. dollars or the local E.C. currency.
Area280 sq km (108 sq mi.).
Highest Point405 m (1,320 ft.), Mount Obama.
Lowest PointSea level, Caribbean Sea.
Time Zone(s)Atlantic Standard.
LanguageEnglish and an English patois.
GovernmentIndependent. Member of the British Commonwealth of Nations.
CurrencyEastern Caribbean (E.C.) dollar. $1 U.S. = 2.7 E.C. dollars. U.S. currency is widely accepted.
Electricity110 volts AC and 220 volts AC, 60 cycles; voltage and current vary with location.
MINIMUM AGE FOR DRIVERS21-25, depending on the rental car agency. Local license ($20 U.S.) required, valid for 90 days; drive on left.
Minimum Age For Gambling18.
Seat Belt/Child Restraint LawsSeat belts are required for all passengers. Children under 10 must ride in the back seat.
HolidaysJan. 1; Good Friday; Easter Monday; Labour Day, May (1st Mon.); Whit Monday, May or June (8th Mon. after Easter); Carnival, Aug. (1st Mon. and Tues.); Independence Day, Nov. 1; National Heroes Day, Dec. 9; Christmas, Dec. 25; Boxing Day, Dec. 26.
TaxesAn 12.5 percent room tax and 10-15 percent service charge are added to most hotel bills. Departure tax is $51 U.S. and is usually included in airline ticket prices.
ImmigrationPassport or proof of U.S. citizenship and a return or onward ticket is required. No visa needed for stays up to 6 months. The U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security requires all U.S. citizens returning from the Caribbean to present a valid passport.
PHONING THE ISLANDSTo call Antigua and Barbuda from the U.S. or Canada, dial 1 + 268 + the 7-digit local number.
Further Information Antigua and Barbuda Department of Tourism 3 Dag Hammarskjold Plaza 305 E. 47th St., Suite 6A New York, NY 10017. Phone:(646)215-6035 or (888)268-4227
Antigua and Barbuda Department of Tourism, St. John's Government Complex Queen Elizabeth Highway St. John's, ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA . Phone:(268)462-0480
Antigua And Barbuda, ATG
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