Antigua and Barbuda holidaysThe sample prices are per person based on two people travelling!
ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA HOLIDAYS
English is the official language in Antigua and is used widely in the tourism and business industries. There are several local dialects that are also spoken on the island, but English is by far the most prolific tongue. Spanish is also becoming a popular language, especially since many of the migrants to the islands are Spanish-speaking.
The official currency is the East Caribbean dollar (EC$), which is divided into 100 cents. All major credit cards including Diners Club and American Express are accepted by most establishments, and ATMs are available at airports, shopping centres and in stores. Currency exchange can be done at large international banks, big hotels and even in some stores.
Citizens from countries which are members of the European Union are permitted entry into the country without a visa for a period of no longer than six months. The same can be said for citizens of the United Kingdom and former British Overseas Territories. All travellers to the region need to have a passport which is valid for at least six months.
The beauty of Antigua’s tropical climate is that it stays warm throughout most of the year. November to April is the driest and hottest period, with temperatures reaching highs of 31C°. Summer days are generally accompanied by gentle breezes which cool things down a bit. July to October marks the rainy season, with the island experiencing tropical storms and hurricanes. The best time to visit the region is on the edge of the dry season, in May or June, when temperatures begin to cool but the rain has not yet set in.
The country’s main gateway is VC Bird International Airport, which is located in the northeast of Antigua, 10 minutes’ drive from the city of St John’s. While the country does not have its own national airline, several international carries operate flights to the region, including British Airways and Delta, with regular, direct services from the UK.
Antigua does not have its own national carrier but there are several international airlines which make frequent trips to this destination, including major airlines like British Airways, Delta and Lufthansa. For more economical options, travellers can try Skyjet, which flies between London-Gatwick and St John’s, and Virgin Atlantic, which travels between London-Heathrow and St John’s. Additionally, Manchester is served by BMI. The average flight time between London and St John’s is about eight hours.
The islands of the Caribbean can become particularly packed during European holiday periods such as summer, Easter and Christmas, resulting in increased accommodation and flight prices. It is therefore advisable to make bookings far in advance to avoid disappointment and paying steep fees or to plan a trip in the shoulder months of May or June.
It is possible to reach Antigua by cruise ship. Antigua is a major sea port for many cruise ships coming from Europe, the Americas and Australia. The country’s main port is Heritage Quay in St John’s, from where overland transfers can be organised to other parts of the country.
Air travel is limited unless travellers are able to organise charters to small, private airports on the island. There is a large network of buses on the island but the bus system on Barbuda is not as advanced. Taxis are a great way of seeing the country but can become costly. Car hire is easy to organise, with both international and local rental companies on offer.
The only other public airport in the country aside from VC Bird International Airport is Codrington Airport, near Codrington on Barbuda Island. The airport is very small and thus only has one scheduled service. For travellers who would prefer to fly between islands but don’t have access to a charted plane, the only option is Carib Aviation, which has at least two flights a day - one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
There is a larger network of buses on Antigua than there is on Barbuda. Buses in Antigua are generally 15-seat minivans which are run by privately-owned companies. Most buses in Antigua run between St John’s Market Street and other smaller towns, and drivers tend to stick closely to schedules. Fares are cheap.
Taxis are readily available for hire, with most taxi drivers acting as tour guides as well as drivers. The rates are standard so there is no need for negotiation. Travellers will be able to recognise taxis by the ’H’ at the beginning of their number plates. Rates are significantly higher than bus fares.
Most of the international car hire companies are spoken for in Antigua, including Hertz, Avis, Budget and Europcar. Car rental can be organised prior to entering the country but there is no problem organising it on arrival as well. There are also some local rental companies which offer competitive rates. Most of the roads around the islands are of good quality and are able to withstand all types of weather.
Barbuda is Antigua’s less developed other half, but therein lies this island’s charm. Sitting just north of the main island, Barbuda is well known for its near empty, expansive beaches and untamed natural beauty. The quaint town of Codrington has a certain rustic charm but tourists will surely be won over by the island’s gorgeous coastline. Those travellers wanting to get away from the crowds should spend some time on Barbuda.
Half Moon Bay is certainly one of the most beautiful beaches on Antigua Island, and is situated in a region which boasts hundreds of beaches, this is no small feat. Just outside of Freetown Village, Half Moon Bay is most recognisable by its pink sands. While the bay is perfect for a few lazy days in the sun, there are also several water sports and activities on offer.
The little known and little visited island of Redonda, to the southwest of Antigua, provides a wonderful escape from the humdrum of everyday life on the main island. Practically deserted, the rocky island makes for an interesting and quiet daytrip. Home to several species of indigenous bird species, this island is also an avid birdwatcher’s paradise.
The capital, St John’s, on the main island is the first encounter of Antigua that most travellers will have. This quaint colonial town is filled with landmarks and historical buildings, making it the perfect place to start a sightseeing tour. It also plays host to several events throughout the year, including the annual carnival which takes place at the end of July.
The Museum of Antigua and Barbuda in St John’s is an interesting stop on a tour of Antigua Island’s main town. Housing a detailed catalogue of the country’s history, the museum is certainly the place to go for anyone wanting to learn more about the region. There are many interesting artefacts and memorabilia on display but interestingly enough, the museum building is an artefact in itself. Built in 1750, this structure is the oldest on the island.
For a look first hand at the island’s colonial history, tourists should make a turn at the former sugar plantation of Betty’s Hope. Steeped in history, Betty’s Hope has been the home of several different groups of people, including slaves who were brought over from Africa to work on the plantations. Today, visitors to the site can explore the inner workings of the plantation, from the windmill to the can-crushing machines. There is also a helpful museum which provides more information about the site’s history.
St John’s Cathedral, which sits atop a hill overlooking the capital, is not only one of the most impressive landmarks in the country, but it provides a great view of the island. It has undergone several reconstructions after natural disasters threatened to bring it down for good. The current version was built in 1845 and remains an important part of the St John’s landscape.
The Antigua rainforest is probably the most beautiful natural environment and is home to several different fauna, including many indigenous species of bird. The highlight for most travellers to the rainforest is the exhilarating canopy tours which are offered by several companies. Why see the forest from the ground up when you can get the most spectacular bird’s eye view?
The best party on Antigua is held every Sunday night at the island’s most famous lookout, Shirley Heights. The party takes place to celebrate the start of each new week and has been happening for over 20 years. Attracting large crowds - with some people arriving early in the afternoon to reserve a space - the Shirley Heights party is the place to be at the end of the weekend.
The island also has several bars in its resorts and Falmouth and English Harbour which are frequented by locals and tourists alike. The best part about these bars is that most of them are in unusual settings like forts, ancient buildings, hilltops and beaches. This makes the Antigua party experience all the more enjoyable, with some establishments even offering live music, DJs and karaoke.
During the winter months, the area with the most energy is Dockyard Drive, an Antigua stretch of road which leads to Nelson’s Dockyard. St John’s most popular areas are the beachfront, where bars stay open for as long as customers are around, and Redcliffe Quay, which has a similar policy.
Travellers lucky enough to be in the region around the end of July will inevitably become a part of the Antigua Carnival, held in St John’s. Harking back to the celebration of the abolition of slavery, this festival not only offers a good time but forms an important part of the island’s history. Parades take over the streets, parties go on for days, locals don vibrant and colourful costumes, and fun is had by all.
While the islands don’t boast world class restaurants or cuisine, dining out can still be a pleasant experience. There are a range of fares on offer, especially in the upmarket hotels, but it is generally the unique environments in which restaurants are set and the views of the island which make the experience a great one rather than the food.
There are a few local delicacies which should be tried before leaving the islands. The national dish is pepperpot (vegetable meat stew), which is generally served over fungie (dumplings made from cornmeal and okra). Ducana is another local dish which is a sweet potato dumpling made with coconut and an array of spices. These dumplings are served with chop up (mashed eggplant, fish and okra).
Another of Antigua’s specialities is delicious fresh seafood, which is no surprise considering the country’s large coastline. Seafood dishes which appear on virtually every local menu are lobster and red snapper. Seafood is so popular in the region that there is even an annual seafood festival at Urlings Wharf in July which showcases the talents of local seafood chefs.
Those with a sweet tooth can indulge in local confectionary, from peanut brittle to fudge. If you tire of the local fare, most of the large hotels serve international cuisine, from Chinese to Italian. Sunday lunch is considered special by locals, who often gather for a family meal after church.
There are also several local drinks which are worth a try. Cavalier Rum, an Antiguan brew, is popular among both locals and tourists, as is Wadadli, the locally brewed beer. Non alcoholic delights include Ting, which is a refreshing, sparking grapefruit drink.
Antigua has hundreds of beaches, with a different one for every day of the year, which means travellers can have their pick. Most travellers rate Half Moon Beach, with its pink sands and clear blue waters, as the most beautiful on the island, while Dutchman’s Bay Beach is the best for water and adventure sports. Another popular stretch of sand is Dickenson Bay, a northwestern beach with soft sand and calm waters.
Antigua is renowned for its sailing and snorkelling tours and with a coastline as vast, this is no surprise. What could be more romantic than setting off into the Caribbean on a sunset cruise for two? Many companies organise yacht trips which depart from Falmouth Harbour and set sail for the Cades reef where a perfect view of the sunset can be seen. It is also easy to find your own private beach, with Antigua boasting 365 beaches.
Antigua has several destinations which are great for families, especially those travelling with young children. The best family beach by far is Pigeon Beach, as the tides are tame and there is a newly constructed play park for kids who tire of playing in the sand. Stingray City is a great place for kids to snorkel with these tame creatures.
Unsurprisingly, most of the adventure activities in Antigua are water related. The country’s vast coastline lends itself to a myriad of exciting excursions in the sea. Whether it’s wind- and kite-surfing in Dutchman’s Bay or Carlisle Bay Beach for snorkelling and scuba diving, the options are endless.