Antigua and Barbuda: Main Sights
Life is a beach
Antigua is renowned for its beautiful beaches, sailing, cricket, idyllic climate and its laid back West Indian culture. Antigua has a lot more to offer visitors who wish to leave the hotels and beaches and explore the island. Here is a selection of Antiguan and Barbudan sightseeing highlights.
The capital of Antigua, population 31,000. It has a unique charm with its colourful concoction of attractive old wooden and stone buildings, some beautifully restored others in a poor state. Dominated by the white Boroque towers of St. John's Cathedral rebuilt in 1845 after the first two buildings were destroyed by hurricanes and earthquakes in 1683 and 1745. The Museum of Antigua and Barbuda housed in the colonial Georgian Court House has interesting collections of Arawak and colonial artefacts and has replicas of an Arawak house and models of a sugar plantation. Friday and Saturday mornings are Farmers Market days, a lively hub of colourful stalls selling produce, local folk craft, clothes and material. The cruise ships berth at Heritage Quay, forget bargain hunting when the ships are in. Heritage Quay and Redcliffe Quay are the centres for duty free stores, souvenirs and jewellery shops. Two hours may be sufficient time to visit St. John's although you may be tempted to return as there are a number of excellent restaurants and bars.
Nelson's Dockyard National Park
Antigua's historic heart is English Harbour, one of the finest natural harbours in the Caribbean, chosen by the British Royal Navy as a secure base during the Napoleonic Wars. It is the site of Nelson's Dockyard built in 1745, abandoned in 1889 following Antigua's economic decline and strategic importance to the British Crown. In 1961 the Dockyard was officially re-opened as an active dockyard and is the only working Georgian marina in the world. The old naval buildings have been converted into yachting and tourist attractions, and today small inns, restaurants, cafes, bars, shops and a museum dedicated to Antigua's maritime history are popular with visitors. Entry to Nelson's Dockyard is ECD 13, which includes admission to Fort Shirley and the Shirley Heights, free for children under 12.
Overlooks English Harbour. It is the site of the largest concentration of 18th century military ruins. Accessed from the village of English Harbour, you will come to Clarence House, the Georgian home built in 1787 for Prince William later to become King William IV. Further on you will arrive at The Inn at English Harbour and Galleon Beach. A gun platform at Block House looks down at Indian Creek and Standfast Point Peninsula where you will see Eric Clapton's enormous house. At the top of Shirley Heights are the ruins of Fort Shirley and a restored gatehouse which is now an excellent bar and restaurant called “The Lookout”, a great place for superb views over the dockyard and harbour. Away out to sea are views of the islands of Montserrat and Guadeloupe. On Sundays at The Lookout, join the fun with a seafood BBQ, rum punches and lots of lively steel bands and party music. There is no cover charge.
Fig Tree Drive
A most picturesque drive on a good road along the low central plain up into the ancient volcanic hills of the Parish of St. Mary, south west of Antigua. The drive from Old Road at Carlyle Bay to Swetes is 5 miles passing through an area of lush vegetation and rainforest, rising steeply into the hills with Fig Tree Hill and Boggy Peak, Antigua's highest point at 1,319 feet in the distance. Along the way are groves of bananas, which the Antiguan's call ‘figs’, mangos, coconuts and black pineapples, a local delicacy. Stop at a roadside stall to buy fruit and enjoy a freshly made juice. You will also see the remains of sugar mills and small colourful churches. Leaving Fig Tree Drive the road passes the flat interior and ends at Parnham Harbour to the north or you can detour to Betty's Hope and Potworks Dam.
Antigua's first sugar plantation built by Christopher Codrington in 1674 and named after his daughter. A decline in the industry caused its closure in the 1950's. Although most of the estate is in ruins, one of the two stone windmills, the North Mill, has been restored to working condition and is now open to the public. The museum at the visitor centre traces the history of sugar on Antigua. Continue eastwards to Indian Town, the site of the first Arawak settlement, and visit the caves and tunnels at Indian Town Point which are believed to stretch to Guadeloupe.
Harmony Hall and Green Island
Harmony Hall, Brown’s Bay is located near the lovely Half Moon Bay. It is a restored plantation house and sugar mill dating back to 1843. The alfresco Mediterranean Restaurant with a bar located in the converted sugar mill has magnificent views of the splendid Nonsuch Bay. Harmony Hall is the centre for the Antiguan arts community and home to a renowned art gallery exhibiting works by local and international artists. The Antiguan Artists Exhibition and the Craft Fair are both held at Harmony Hall annually in November. It has a gift shop, a pool for visitors to use and reasonably priced charming cottages to rent. Open daily from 10.00am. Pre-booking recommended for Friday and Saturday evening dining. There are boat trips departing daily for Green Island.
The Five Islands Peninsula so named for five rocks which jut from the sea, lies due west of St. John's. The interest is in the bays, beaches and resorts on the north and west coasts. Deep Bay is a lovely sandy beach with protected waters for swimming where the Royal Antiguan Hotel sits above the beach. The wreck of the Andes can still be seen with its mast visible above the water. The wreck is excellent for snorkelling but not so good for diving as the pitch cargo it was carrying still oozes from the bottom. On Goat Hill overlooking the Bay are the ruins of Fort Barrington built in the 1650's by the British to protect St. John's Harbour, later captured by the French in 1666. Just around the point from Deep Bay is Hawksbill Bay, named after a large rock in the bay in the shape of a Hawksbill turtle's head. Hawksbill Bay has four lovely beaches, one of which is reserved for nudists. The Hawksbill Beach Resort attracts the more mature visitor.
Long Bay and Devils Bridge
On the east side of Antigua, Long Bay has clear blue waters and a white sandy beach protected by an extensive reef close to shore. An excellent bay for reef snorkelling and diving. Popular also with local kids who love to play beach cricket at one end of the beach. Two exclusive resorts lie at either end of the bay as well as a couple of great beach bars. Leaving Long Bay it is a short drive and a minutes walk to Devil's Bridge at Indian Town Point. The arch was formed by Atlantic wave erosion of the limestone cliff. At high tide the rollers crash over the rocks forcing geysers to erupt from blow holes in the rocks. A spectacular sight.
Great Bird Island
Take a glass bottom boat trip from Dickenson Bay to Great Bird Island and have a bird’s eye view of the amazing marine life and coral reefs below.
A desert island 30 miles (48km) north of Antigua reached by local boat in 3 hours and by the “Barbuda Express” in 90 minutes. It takes 20 minutes by light aircraft which is the more reliable and cheapest way to get there. Barbuda is half the size of Antigua with its population of 1,250 mainly centred in Codrington its capital. In 1680 Christopher Codrington was granted a lease to settle in Barbuda as well as the ‘right to wreckage’ (salvage of cargo). Barbuda's economy was based on wreck salvage from the hundreds of ships that had foundered on the surrounding coral reefs, agriculture, and supplying slaves for the sugar plantations in Antigua. The island has beautiful often deserted beaches, mostly scrub in the interior where wild boar and white-tailed deer are legally hunted. In the south west you will find extensive coconut plantations. The main attractions apart from the beaches are the wonderful coral reefs, perfect for snorkelling and diving (bring your own equipment). Visit the Codrington Lagoon, sanctuary to the largest colony of frigate birds in the world and over 170 species of native and migratory birds, including the pelican, egret and cormorant. To see the frigate birds you will have to hire a boat from the main pier at Codrington for USD 50. Explore huge caves at Two Foot Bay on the north eastern side of the island which have been naturally carved into the low cliffs, thought to have sheltered the Taino and Carib Indians before the arrival of Europeans. You will find cave drawings and unusual cave stalactites and stalagmites. Climb to the top of The Highlands, Barbuda’s highest point, for the views. There is a limited amount of accommodation on Barbuda. Coco Point Resort is the only resort still operating, but for self-catering try Nedd’s Guest House, above a grocery store near the airport, it has four rooms each with fan, private bath and a communal kitchen and Palm Tree Guest House which is slightly larger. The most popular eating places are the Art Cafe and the Green Door Tavern where they serve ling fish, liver, tripe and goat water, a popular drink made from sea moss. The main nightly hangout is the Lagoon Cafe offering simple, inexpensive meals, including steamed grouper, curried chicken with peas and rice. Occasionally they have a live band. Getting around Barbuda is by local taxi charging around USD 20 per hour or tours organised by locals. There is no public transport and walking on the dirt roads for any distance is impractical.