I flew into VC Bird Airport located in St. John’s, the capital of the island nation after idolizing the beautiful, crystal clear waters as I flew from San Juan, Puerto Rico. I exited the small American Eagle plane and was immediately immersed with the friendliness of the airport employees and the comfortable warm temperatures of Antigua. The message called out to me that ‘It’s Island Time.’
The first time I flew to Antigua was May of 2008. I stayed at a private home with some family friends on the Atlantic side of the island in a town called Wilikies. Wilikies is a small town that has its own small grocery store, an ice cream and snack shop and a small clothing shop. The ice cream and snack shop is a popular hangout where locals sit on the grass or the wooden patio and listen to music into the night. As you drive on the one way streets through the small towns of Antigua, you will see men and women walking along the streets and children playing sports and games in the grass while hearing the sounds of local bands playing on the radio inside some houses. The houses are generally painted with bright colors, such as yellow, pink, orange and sky blue.
While I was there during my two week stay, I met many wonderful people from all over the world, mainly from Europe and Australia. I met a wonderful family that lived full time in Antigua that lived a few houses away from us originally from France. With them was a young girl from the eastern part of Russia just south of Japan, who was staying with them for a few months. I met a young couple, one from Germany and the other from Latvia. It is not uncommon to meet individuals from other parts of the world in Antigua because the island is very popular amongst the Europeans. Most of the flights in and out of VC Bird airport are from Heathrow Airport in London.
To travel to Antigua, there are usually connecting flights when you land in Miami or San Juan. From there, you take a smaller plane that takes you directly to the island. American Airlines, for example flies from JFK Airport into San Juan with total time travel at approximately 3 ½ hours. To travel to Barbuda, you must first fly to Antigua, and then take a ferry over to Barbuda. Barbuda has a population of less than 1,000 with some of the most private and beautiful beaches in the world. Barbuda is home to the famous Frigate Bird Sanctuary which contains of 170 species of birds. The chicks hatch late in the year!
There is a lot to do for such a small island. First, there are exactly 365 beaches, one for each day of the year. Also, all beaches are public, no matter where they are located! The great majority of the beaches are located on the Caribbean side. If you visit the northwest coast of Antigua at Dickenson Bay, if you look out toward to sparkling blue waters, you can see the volcano called Montserrat. About a thousand people live around the volcano on its small island! Fryes Bay is located on the southwest corner of the island, whose beaches are hillier and generally less developed than those around St. John’s. St. John’s is located in the northern part of the island.
Antigua is home to one of the top ten most beautiful beaches in the world. Half Moon Bay is located about fifteen minutes away by car from Wilikies. It is now a National Park and is one of the cleanest beaches on the island because it is so private. Another beach called Long Bay is a fun place for people and their families to visit. The beach is protected by a reef and there are a few hotels close by to stay at! Water sports are offered at this beach, which include kayaking, jet skiing, waterskiing, snorkeling, and scuba diving.
The average year long temperature of Antigua is mid eighties. It tends to be humid in the summer and just a few degrees cooler in the winter months. I would suggest bringing a lightweight jacket and a pair of light blue jeans if you are going out at night during the winter months. It usually rains at night and at times periodically during the day, but not often. Sometimes you will look outside and it will be down pouring, and then as little as ten to fifteen minutes later, there will be plenty of sunshine. The best time to visit is October through April.
Antigua has many unique things to offer. First, on the eastern side of the island outside of Wilikies is Sting Ray city where you get the amazing opportunity to be up close and personal with small stingrays and be able swim with them. Before you board the boat to visit the stingrays, you can see many animals like monkeys, parrots, parakeets, iguanas and love birds. Shirley Heights on the south side of the island hosts a BBQ once a week where you can sit and watch the amazing views from its mountain top while listening to local bands and the laughter of the people. There is a large cricket stadium in the center of the island that hosts international games throughout the year. Antigua has a strong devotion to cricket; the sport is played almost anywhere at anytime. The professional games are often watched by the local’s on TV. Other places to visit include the rainforests where you can do the canopy tours on the western part of the island, English Harbor and Harmony Hall.
St. John’s is home to many of the island’s historical sites. If you are interested in the history of the island, check out the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda located in the Colonial Court House. St. John’s offers a lot of shopping opportunities that shops where you can buy souvenirs and selected name brand stores like Ralph Lauren.
Besides staying at a private, home there are many wonderful hotels on the island. Sandal’s Resort is located close by to St. John’s. Some amazing hotels with a number of amenities include but are not limited to: the Admiral’s Inn, Grand Royal Antiguan Beach Resort, Long Bay Hotel, Occidental Grand Pineapple Beach and the St. James’s Club.
The food in Antigua is exceptional. When I was staying at a private house, I was served a wonderfully prepared meal that was both filling and satisfying. I would have a hearty bowl of oatmeal with fruit that included plantains. For lunch and dinner I would have soup, chicken, salad and rice. The island is famous for their ‘Black Pineapple,’ the sweetest pineapple in the world. I tried it with vanilla ice cream and it was delicious! The island is also known for its Rum Punch and its famous Susie’s Hot Sauce.
Some amazing restaurants on the island that I would recommend are the Admirals Inn at Nelson’s Dockyard, the Commissioners, Harmony Hall where I had the best goat cheese salad, Hemingway’s Caribbean Café and Shirley Heights, which is an awesome place to visit at night. For nightlife, the most popular European style club is called Abracadabra. The club is a huge hit during New Year’s Eve.
There are many wonderful animals to see on the island, either as you are driving or walking along the roads and paths. Some animals that you may see include mongoose, dogs, cats, cows, goats, donkeys, chickens, and exotic birds. All the animals on the island are well taken cared of. Many of the locals own farms where they raise their own animals.
Here are some important traveling tips: Antigua accepts USD, but its currency is EC, or the Eastern Caribbean dollar. The exchange rate is approximately US$1.00 = EC $2.60. Besides traveling by plane, cruise ships often stop at St. John’s, Antigua. During daylight savings time, Antigua is one hour ahead of EST; otherwise there is no time difference. Appropriate attire can be informal, but mostly conservative. Dress appropriately when dining out and visiting the casinos. Beach attire is generally inappropriate while shopping and walking around St. John’s and most towns.