ANTIGUA

Antigua is a diving and watersports paradise with white sands, hiking trails, forest-clad hills and excellent vantage points.

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Antigua Villa holiday guide

Antigua lies in the northern Caribbean to the east of the British Virgin Islands. It has been a favourite with sailors since Admiral Nelson used its natural harbours as a strategic base and safe haven within the West Indies, and Antigua holidays are as much about taking to the water as exploring the historic sites and forested hills. Coral reefs calm the ocean around Antigua, making this an ideal destination for diving and other water sports. White sand beaches line the coast including 1,500 metre Jolly Beach, and hiking trails take you to coastal viewpoints such as Shirley Heights.

Towns in Antigua

In the island’s capital, St. John’s, the waterfront area is dedicated to shopping. Duty-free stores line Heritage Quay, and the colonial buildings at Redcliffe Quay sell handicrafts and art. The baroque-style St. John’s Cathedral has domed, twin towers and a graveyard with tombstones dating back to the 17th century. The nearby Museum of Antigua and Barbuda, housed in a neoclassical courthouse, gives a potted history of the island and displays artefacts.

St. John's

Antigua Countryside

Beyond Antigua’s harbours and beaches the lowland interior is dotted with villages and small towns. In the south-western corner the landscape changes, rising to form rolling forest-clad hills known as the Shekerkley Mountains. The highest elevation point is Obama Peak at 401 metres. Hiking trails through the forest’s Royal palms, silk cotton, and cedar trees start from Fig Tree Drive. A two-hour walk leads to Wallings Reservoir, the site of a Victorian dam, and on to Signal Hill, once a lookout point for approaching ships.

View from Boggy Peak to Jolly Beach

History in Antigua

Antigua was a British colonial stronghold, heavily fortified to protect its lucrative sugar-cane industry. The success of the trade is evident in the island’s surviving 17th- and 18th-century architecture—built on the profits. The waterfront around Nelson’s Dockyard has some of the finest restored Georgian buildings in the Caribbean. A tour of the island also reveals colonial forts such as the Fort James, north of the capital, and former plantations. Old sugar estate Betty’s Hope has one of the only working sugar mills in the West Indies.

Old cannons at Fort James

Antigua nightlife and entertainment

The traditional way to end the weekend is by joining the Sunday evening party at Shirley Heights. Crowds gather at this restored military lookout to watch the sun set over English Harbour, then dance the night away to live music and DJs. It is a taste of what Carnival is like. This ten-day party, which begins in late July, sees bands, dancers, and floats parade through the streets. Antigua’s annual Sailing Week in April is another event that creates a party atmosphere all over the island.

Shirley Heights of English Harbour

Eating and drinking in Antigua

Enjoy spiny lobster, caught off sister-island Barbuda, grilled and drizzled with garlic butter at a casual beachside cafe, or cooked thermidor style at one of the elegant restaurants at Falmouth, English, or St. John’s Harbour. Ducana, a sweet potato, coconut, and spiced dumpling steamed and served with salted cod, is a typical Antiguan dish; as is ‘pepper pot’, a stew of mixed meats and vegetables cooked with onions, garlic, and hot peppers. Local drinks include Wadadli, the island’s lager, and Antiguan Smile, a rum-based cocktail with banana liqueur and pineapple juice.

Lobster half grilled with garlic and parsley butter

Nature in Antigua

On the Atlantic coast at Devil’s Bridge National Park the surf has carved out a natural arch in the limestone headland. Antigua’s sister island, Barbuda, has a shoreline of deserted, virgin beaches and is home to one of the world’s largest frigatebird colonies: small fishing boats carry you out into Codrington Lagoon, where thousands of them puff out their red chests while they rest on the branches of mangrove trees.

Male Great Frigatebird

Active pursuits in Antigua


Glass-bottomed boat trips leave from beaches including Dickenson Bay. Catamaran cruises circumnavigate Antigua, making stops for snorkelling at Green Island—an uninhabited cay off the east coast—then sail close to Nelson’s Dockyard. Dinghies are available for hire from water-sports concessions like those at Dickenson Bay, and yachts can be chartered from marinas including Jolly Harbour Marina. Inland, all-terrain vehicle safaris take you to lookout points and plantation ruins. A zip-line tour cuts through the canopies of tropical forest at Wallings.

Dickenson Bay

The Antigua Coast

There are supposedly 365 beaches on Antigua. Some are only accessible by boat or on foot, such as Rendezvous Bay on the south coast, an arc of sand secluded by hills and backed by forest. The long stretch of white sand at Dickenson Bay on the north-west coast has calm waters and is busy with vendors, watersports concessions, and beach bars. The waves are big enough for body surfing at undeveloped Half Moon Bay, a sweep of pink sand on the south-east coast. The waters around Antigua have good visibility and at dive sites such as Billy’s Grotto nurse sharks, lobster, and the occasional ray or turtle gather.

Golden beach