The island (an-tee-ga) has warm, steady winds, a coastline of safe harbors, and a protective wall of coral reef. In 1784 Admiral Horatio Nelson established Great Britain’s most important Caribbean base there. Now centuries later those trade winds fuel one of the world’s foremost maritime events- Sailing Week. Now in its 40th year it took place April 29-May 5th, 2007, while I was visiting the island. Antigua was also the home to the quarter finals of the Cricket World Cup, held a few weeks before my arrival. Yachting and cricket are the island’s national sports.
The full name of the country is Antigua and Barbuda. Since Barbuda (which I did not visit) is a very small (1/2 square mile) island 27 miles north of Antigua and is primarily a Frigate bird sanctuary, plus a few hotels and lots of reefs and shipwrecks, I will heretofore refer to the country as Antigua. The town of Codrington contains most of the 1,500 people residing on the island. The Codrington’s were granted the island in 1691 by the British Crown for the price of “one fat sheep a year.” Antigua annexed the island in 1834. In 1872 the lease expired- probably because they ran out of fat sheep.
The coral reefs now attract snorkelers and scuba divers and the 365 beaches (I must trust the Tourist Board’s count as I stopped at 145) attract 700,000 cruise visitors and 230,000 tourists. For those of you who are geographically challenged Antigua is located in the middle of the Leeward Island’s in the Eastern Caribbean; 17 degrees north of the equator. To the south are the islands of Montserrat and Guadeloupe; to the north and west are Nevis, St. Kitts, St. Bart’s & St. Martin. The island of Antigua is about 14 miles long and 11 miles wide, with a population of around 70,000. Its capital is St. John (30,000 population) which is home port to the cruise ships stopping at the island. Temperatures range from the mid-seventies in the winter to the mid-eighties in the summer. Annual rainfall averages about 45 inches. The four days I was there it rained every day, usually for one to two minutes. The trade winds keep the humidity low year-round. The US dollar is accepted everywhere and by everyone. I never had to convert to the Eastern Caribbean Dollar.
What To See:
St John’s Cathedral- originally constructed in 1683; replaced in 1745 and destroyed in an earthquake in 1843. This reincarnation was built in 1845. The Museum of Antigua & Barbuda- Built in 1750 it displays Arawak & colonial artifacts.
Public Market & Heritage Craft Market- Open every Friday & Saturday morning.
English Harbor-The historic district; 15 square miles of Nelson’s Dockyard National Park which was once the base for the British Navy. It was closed in 1889 but has been restored as the only Georgian dockyard in the world. Many of the aforementioned Sailing Week vessels are docked here.
Dow’s Hill Interpretation Centre, located in the Nelson’s Dockyard National Park, presents an historic overview of Antigua’s past. From Shirley Heights one can see English Harbor and beyond. There are fortifications, barracks and powder magazines.
I went there on Sunday afternoon for the barbeque, rum punch, steel band & reggae music. The Sea View Farm Village is the center of the clay pottery cottage industry. The Antigua Rainforest Canopy Tour is a unique ecotour through lush rainforest. One goes along a double wire through the forest and above the trees. At Stingray City one can feed and swim with Southern Stingrays. I did not try either of the last two adventures. I wanted to visit the rum distillery that produces English Harbor 5 year old Rum, but they did not offer tours. I also skipped the Kings Casino in St. John, since gambling holds no interest for me. I would have loved to have been on Antigua at the end of July and early August when the 50th year of Carnival took place.
Where to Stay: I stayed at Blue Waters, a luxury resort on the north shore, five miles from the airport, with 77 deluxe beach front rooms, suites and villas. I chose the all-inclusive package which included all meals, afternoon tea, all drinks and non-motorized water sports. There are three pools, two restaurants, a fitness center, tennis court, spa and the friendliest staff at any resort I have ever visited. Many of the guests had been there before and were warmly greeted by name. Since the area was a former British colony many guests were from the UK. I had dinner with Tony Randall, whose father purchased the resort in 1984, when it had 45 rooms, at the new (January 2006) Cove International Cuisine Restaurant a few hundred feet outside the hotel. In 1998, after an extensive refurbishment, the resort had grown to its present size.
On the property, but separated from the other buildings is The Rock Cottage, a 4/5 bedroom villa which was named “Best Waterfront Villa in the World”. By the time you read this the Cove Residences will have been completed. These 24 junior suites and four 3 bedroom penthouses are being sold as a “buy to let” investment with the owners entitled to be in residence 6 weeks a year. Blue Waters will rent out the properties the rest of the year on a 50/50 basis in partnership with their owners.
There will be a path from Blue Waters to the Villas and restaurant, and owners will have full use of the hotel facilities. Blue Waters was the 2006 Virgin Holidays “Best Hotel in the Caribbean”.
I also visited Curtain Bluff on the southern shore. This 73 room luxury resort is also an all-inclusive. I came to view their wine list which has 22,000 bottles in temperature controlled cellars. Octogenarian owner Howard Hulford bought this property 50 years ago and he was one of the people responsible for starting Sailing Week.
Sandals Grande Antigua- This 5 Star Diamond resort was named World’s most romantic Resort for the 8th year. There are 193 rooms, plus an all-suite 180 room Mediterranean Village.
Jolly Beach Resort- All-inclusive 462 room resort on the southwest side of the island.
Jumby Bay is a 300 acre private island formerly owned by the family that founded Banfi Vintners. It is located two miles north of Antigua. There are 40 refurbished suites and 11 villas and it is also an all-inclusive.
Where To Eat:
Le Bistro French Restaurant- Caribbean/French haute cuisine.
The Pavilion- 8,000 bottles of wine at this Continental formal stand-alone restaurant. Tie & jacket for men. Blue Waters has the Palm & Vyviens where guests eat their meals. They also welcome non-guests. Palm is open-air with a garden terrace and features a sumptuous buffet or a la carte menu. Vyviens is more formal and serves dinner only in an air-conditioned upstairs room. The two restaurants have different chefs. I mentioned the Cove in the preceding paragraph. It opened at the end of 2005 & serves modern European cuisine in an open air terrace setting.
I found the people living on the island extremely friendly to visitors. Maybe that is because tourism is the major industry on the island. I always felt safe and welcome.