The beach bar at the Verandah Resort and Spa, Antigua
Landing in Antigua is one of our favourite moments. Dropping down through broken cloud on the final approach. Noticing the sea getting lighter, turning from dark olive to bright turquoise. Catching a first glimpse of the island, the palm trees, the beaches, yachts moored in quiet bays, the white roofs. Cabin crew seats for landing. Holidays ahoy!
Antigua is part of the Lesser Antilles of the eastern Caribbean. The first thing you’ll learn about the island is that it has 365 beaches, one for each day of the year. They’re dotted around one of the most intricate coastlines in the Caribbean, interspersed with peaceful bays and dramatic rocky headlands, often fringed with coral reefs. And all of this on an island that is only 108 square miles, making it just the right size to explore. It’s one of our all-time favourite holiday destinations.
The beach bar at the Verandah Resort and Spa, Antigua
If you’re looking for a retreat offering maximum rest and relaxation, Antigua has you covered, lathered in fact, in sunscreen and luxury. It specialises in high-quality, all-inclusive resorts that cater to your every whim, so you can lie back on the beach with a good book and a cocktail and let the stresses of life evaporate in the warm Caribbean sun. Being in the eastern Caribbean, Antigua is blessed with gentle trade wind breezes that feel just right. And if you’re feeling slightly more energetic, take your pick from activities like tennis, golf and a variety of watersports, before settling in for a night of great food and entertainment. Who could blame anyone for staying in that all-inclusive cocoon? But you’d be missing out on so much more that this beautiful island has to offer.
Driving around Antigua. A delight around every corner.
The best way to explore Antigua is to hire a car and head out. You can be anywhere on the island in under an hour, the rental cost is reasonable (starting at £50 a day), the roads are generally good (with the occasional pothole and speed bump) and other drivers courteous. Driving on the left makes it even easier for visiting Brits.
As you drive around, make sure you stop off at some of the local cafes and bars for refreshments and a chat, or at one of the numerous roadside fruit stalls. The fruit is the sweetest you’ll taste anywhere, especially the famous Antigua Black pineapple or local yellow plums. Everywhere you go you’ll find Instagram-worthy moments, whether driving through small villages of picturesque houses, exploring rugged coastline landmarks such as the spectacular natural rock arch Devils Bridge, or stumbling upon sweeping stretches of cool white sand, like Valley Church Beach in the west.
If anyone knows a better place to learn to sail, please let us know.
There’s plenty of adventure to be found while you’re out and about, and unsurprisingly much of it’s based on water. Sailing is massive in Antigua, from the annual regatta that draws the best yachts in the world to the small clubs teaching the basics. One of the best is the National Sailing Academy which offers a variety of courses and also funds free lessons for local school children.
The Pillars of Hercules
We’ll be covering diving in another blog post, but a peek underwater is a must. If you’re not a diver, the sea around Antigua is perfect for a gentle snorkel. There’s lots to see in the warm, clear waters but if you want to try something a little more exciting Skylork offer snorkelling trips with a difference. Leaving from Galleon Beach in Freeman’s Bay, you’ll use a battery powered scooter to propel you through the water, helping you discover more of the brightly coloured marine animals that surround you. The trip also includes a visit to the Pillars of Hercules; a unique geological structure on a difficult to reach headland. Back inland, don’t forget to explore Antigua’s interior too, where you’ll find hiking paths, mountain biking trails and zip lines.
St John’s, Antigua by Luigi Rosa, Wikimedia Commons BY-SA2.0
Antigua and Barbuda’s cosmopolitan capital St John’s is definitely worth a visit. Established in the 1600s, it’s one of the oldest towns in the Caribbean. Finding your way around using the grid system of roads is fairly straightforward, although they were laid down in 1722 and are a bit narrow for cars, which gives the whole place a bit of character!
Look closely, and you’ll see buildings from each era of the town’s history. Towering above St. John’s is the magnificent Cathedral of St John The Divine, a structure dating from 1845, replacing two others built in 1681 and 1745. Just around the corner, Government House is a magnificent 200-year-old Colonial-style building and the residence of Governor General Sir Rodney Williams, currently under renovation. A few blocks west, the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda is housed in the former St John’s Courthouse, believed to be the oldest building in town. Here you can learn about the history of Antigua from its volcanic formation to independence from the UK in 1981 – or find out more in our previous feature on Antigua’s history and heritage.
As you’d expect for somewhere with 365 beaches, there’s one with your name on it. You’ll soon be scouring the map and spotting names like Jabberwock Beach and Dutchman’s Bay, and whether you prefer secluded stretches of sand or bustling resort beaches with all amenities on hand, you’ll soon find your perfect spot.
For a sense of reward, try somewhere like Rendezvous Bay. To reach the beach here you have to hike, and when it first comes into view it feels like you’re discovering it for the first time. Antigua also has beaches that are geared towards families, beaches you can only access by boat, and beaches with waters ideal for windsurfing or snorkelling. And of course, depending on where you are, you’ll be able to catch the perfect sunset or sunrise.
We asked Michelle Richards, our duty manager at VC Bird airport if the thing about a beach for every day of the year was true. “When counting beaches they probably counted Barbuda, and perhaps a few uninhabited islands dotted around the coast,” she said, “but yes, I believe there really are that many beaches.” For a great sunset-watching spot, Michelle recommended Darkwood Beach on Half Hyde Bay, just to the south of Jolly Harbour. It didn’t disappoint.
Anne and Lynn
Onboard a recent flight to Antigua was flight service manager Lynn Sutherby, who has been to Antigua many times in her career, and Anna Oliver who joined our cabin crew team a year ago and was on her first visit to the island. We spoke to them both on their return.
“Antigua is safe and relaxed, and there’s always something to do. Our airport team here are amazing, and I’ve made many friends over the years,” said Lynn, “The people here are super friendly, and it has amazing beaches, what more could you ask for? Jolly Beach is my favourite, but there are also lots of hidden gems to discover. A day trip to Prickly Pear Island should also be on your list”.
“As it was my first time on the island, I wanted to experience as much as possible,” said Anna. “I started off the adventure with an evening meal at Sheer Rocks in Cocobay Resort. When we arrived the sun was setting, so we sat down by the infinity pool and took in the stunning views of the white sandy beaches. I had the seafood which was delicious, and the staff were all very friendly – I would definitely recommend a visit!
“The next day I had the incredible experience of swimming with stingrays and snorkelling over the nearby reef. We then stopped for lunch at ‘Ana’s on the Beach‘ in Dickenson Bay, and from there we noticed a small floating bar out to sea. After waving at them for a few minutes, a boat came and rowed us out to it where we enjoyed cocktails and music. What I loved about Antigua is the stress-free feel of the island; nothing is rushed. The Antiguan people will go out of their way to help you and make you feel at home. I love how unspoiled the island is, full of green trees and beaches for miles on end! Antigua has won a place in my heart, and I will definitely be going back again!”
Antigua is famous for its hospitality and warm welcomes and nowhere is that more evident than our lovely team at the airport. They know they’re the first and last people you’ll see on your visit to the island, so from the second you step off the aircraft into the new shiny terminal building (to be greeted by a local steel band) our duty manager Michelle is determined you’ll be treated as friends. She works alongside her colleague Bernard Ho, and together they manage a team of around 18 people from Despatch Services Antigua who look after our three flights a week.
For up to the minute news, views and hot travel tips, follow the Antigua and Barbuda tourist board’s ongoing campaign #whatcoollookslike and #LoveAntiguaBarbuda on all your favourite social media channels.
Choosing a Caribbean island for your hard-earned holiday is a big decision. With Antigua, you can’t go wrong. Just make sure you book a window seat to enjoy that spectacular landing!
Virgin Atlantic operates flights to Antigua from London Gatwick.