Antigua has been a favorite of sailors ever since Columbus’ day. In the 1630s the Brits hunkered down in one of the land’s many natural harbors, a bay on the southeast coast that they named (surprise!) “English Harbour” and the huge naval facility they built there in the 1700s is now part of Nelson’s Dockyard National Park. With its well-maintained historic warehouses and mansions, old cannons and maritime stuff and antique everythings, this World Heritage Site also has great shops, restaurants, and even a sweet little 17th century hotel, the Admiral’s Inn. Yachties and non-yachties alike flock to the Dockyard, whose pubs throw great parties every night, with the best bashes on Sundays.
Given its pedigree and its extraordinarily scalloped coastline, which makes for exactly 365 beaches, Antigua boasts more than its share of great hotels. These include not just traditional a la carte resorts, but an unusually large number of luxurious all-inclusives run by small companies. Among them are Galley Bay Resort and Spa, the St. James’s Club Resort & Villas, boutique-style Carlisle Bay (its Escapes Weeks wellness packages are tops), Curtain Bluff (whose vast and comprehensive wine cellar is one of the wonders of the Caribbean), and Jumby Bay, A Rosewood Resort, occupying its own private island. There’s also a Sandals Grande Antigua as well as some more moderately priced resorts.
Companies like Viator offer day-trips to Frigate Bird Sanctuary at Wa-Omoni Beach Park on little-sister island Barbuda, home to huge frigate birds, aka man o’ war birds. Best time to go is October through March, when the males, eager to make whoopee, inflate the big red pouches on their necks in order to attract females (it seems to work). Best souvenirs? Old prints and antique maps in The Map Shop in St. Johns and the Museum Restoration Gift Shop at Nelsons Dockyard.
BEST TIME TO GO: November through May
FUN FACT: Antigua’s undulating coastline results in exactly 365 beaches
GETTING THERE: Delta flies from Atlanta and New York (JFK) to Antigua
ENTRY DOCUMENTS: Valid passport
CURRENCY: Eastern Caribbean dollar
MUST-TRY LOCAL FOOD: Wadadli Pale Lager, brewed by the Antigua Brewery
BEST BUYS: Harmony Hall, near Freetown, sells locally made batiks, paintings, pottery, and jewelry
INFORMATION PLEASE: Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority—antigua-barbuda.org