Travel & Leisure

Antigua and Barbuda: Sun, Sea, and History

By Nathalie De Grandmont


Known for its inviting waters and its hundreds of beautiful beaches, the archipelago of Antigua and Barbuda is home to natural areas teeming with life and offers a blend of cultures just waiting to be discovered.

At the eastern edge of the Caribbean Sea, the islands of Antigua and Barbuda form an independent state that was under British control for more than three centuries—from 1632 to 1967. Renowned for its luxury hotels and resorts, the small country boasts beaches that are often de- scribed as some of the Caribbean’s most romantic. Because the island of Barbuda is much smaller and more untamed than its neighbour 40 kilo- metres (25 miles) south of it, most visitors head to Antigua. There’s certainly a lot to do there, both along the coast and inland.

Many visitors go up to the north- east coast first to admire the amazing natural rock arch at Devil’s Bridge National Park, where the waves of the Atlantic rush in dramatically, creating jets several metres high. Nature lovers can make their way to the village of Seatons for a short ride to Laviscount Island, home to unspoiled nature and an animal sanctuary where native turtles and many Aldabra giant tortoises are rehabilitated. It’s a unique opportunity to interact with these fascinating creatures, many of which are a hundred years old.

A few kilometres away, Betty’s Hope, once a plantation, and its windmills dating back to the 18th century tell the story of the island’s former role as a major sugar producer.

Off the Beaten Track

To explore the west coast and the is- land’s interior, try one of the guided excursions offered by Salty Dogs Adventures. On a two-seater all-terrain vehicle (and driving on the left!), you’ll roam the countryside, passing through several charming villages.

Along the way, the ubiquitous Anglican churches recall the British influence. As a bonus, you’ll have the chance to venture into the heart of the mountains and the tropical forest for breathtaking views of nearby islands (such as Montserrat), followed by a lovely break on the beach at Rendezvous Bay.

On the Waterfront

In the south, Antigua has two spectacular bays, Falmouth Harbour and English Harbour; the latter is where the British established one of their major Caribbean naval bases, under the command of the famous Vice- Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson. Desig- nated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Nelson’s Dockyard, including the for- mer warehouses, the marina, and the admiral’s residence (now a museum), is a vivid reminder of Antigua’s rich maritime history. The area, which is always bustling, is home to a number of restaurants and shops.

Over the years, the various protected bays around Antigua have become a sailing enthusiast’s paradise. Many vacationers take the opportunity to try sailing, especially at the St. James’s, one of the largest clubs on the island. Others choose catamaran cruises to make the most of the crystal-clear waters and to admire the famous Pillars of Hercules, which wind and water have sculpted naturally into the cliff face near English Harbour and Galleon Beach. Every year, Antigua hosts a number of major regattas, mostly during Sailing Week, which takes place this year from April 27 to May 3. This celebration of the sea and the local culture includes sea outings, concerts, and other activities around Nelson’s Dockyard marina, among other places.

Rhythms and Flavours With a Kick

For those who want to do some shopping or make some tasty discoveries, nothing beats a stop in the capital, Saint John’s. Heritage Quay and the nearby streets are full of duty-free shops, while the covered market abounds with spices, hot sauces, and tropical fruits and vegetables.

To learn to cook a few Caribbean specialties, drop by Nicole’s Table. Nicole is a passionate islander who gives lessons on how to cook local foods such as banana beignets, rice and beans, pineapple salsa, and plantain chips, plus her own version of jerk chicken. You’ll find that these dishes taste even better if you enjoy them on the terrace while admiring the neighbouring islands of Nevis and Montserrat.

A different treat awaits you on Fig Tree Drive at the Vintage Tea House, which offers its version of an English tea—including sandwiches, jams, and cakes made with local products—in a tropical-forest setting. Those who enjoy spirits will want to try the local rum—English Harbour—or visit the Antilles Stillhouse distillery, which produces a pastis and artisanal gins made from herbs and fruit grown on the island.

To end your stay on a high note, swing by the old Shirley Heights fortress, which offers an exceptional panorama of English Harbour and Falmouth Harbour. On Thursday and Sunday nights in winter, everyone gathers at sunset for a barbecue and music performed by a live band. Amid this blend of upbeat music, exotic flavours, and high spirits, the rays of the setting sun are not the only thing heating up the mood.

If You Go

Getting there: Air Canada and Sunwing offer direct flights from Montreal and Toronto all winter. Westjet flies there via Toronto.

For a romantic getaway, a good choice is the Royalton Antigua, an elegant all-inclusive resort known for its spa, pool, and villas on stilts.

For a long stay or a trip with the whole family, the St. James’s Club & Villas has rooms and villas with kitchenette, as well as a sailing club, a tennis court, and many activities.

To find out more and to make plans, go to