When thinking about things to do in Antigua, most people immediately start picturing gorgeous, white sand beaches, palm trees and an endless refill of piña coladas or daiquiris while laying lazily in the sun.
If you go on a trip Antigua, you will realize that there’s much more to this tiny island than meets the eye. It surely caught me by surprise, and in a wholly positive way. My Antigua holidays were nothing short of perfect.
As soon as you will arrive in this tiny Caribbean gem, you will be met by its sunny, friendly and incredibly welcoming people. Billboards around the island greet visitors with a massive “Welcome to Paradise” – rightly so, because anybody who spends a few days is absolutely charmed by Antigua beaches, and finds an incredible variety of things to do on the island, making it a perfect holiday destination.
Sure enough I made the most of my trip. This post aims at providing a few tips on things to do to in Antigua to make the most of your holidays. But before doing that, I shall share a few facts about this beautiful country.
The Best Things To Do In Antigua And Barbuda
Learn about its history (and culture)
Antigua and Barbuda is a twin-islands nation in the heart of the Caribbean. No more than 100000 people live in the archipelago, whose capital is the colorful and lively Saint John’s. Barbuda was severely affected by Hurricane Irma in September 2017, resulting in all its inhabitants being evacuated to Antigua, which on the other hand was hardly affected: Antigua beaches haven’t suffered any damages.
The English settled in Antigua in 1632 and in Barbuda in 1684: slaves were brought in from Africa to be used on the sugar plantations, with slavery finally being abolished in 1834. Antigua and Barbuda became independent on 1 November 1981, remaining part of the Commonwealth of Nations. Antigua has a rich history, and as I will explain in this post, one of the top things to do is learning about it.
The national sport is cricket – there are fields across the island, and a state of the art stadium too. Another beloved sport is sailing, with Antigua sailing week attracting lots of locals as well as tourists from all over the world.
Get to know the people in Antigua
If there’s one thing you will love during your time in Antigua, that’s the people. I think it is hard to beat the welcoming vibe, the genuine friendliness and the smiles of Antigua. Anywhere you visit people are nothing but nice to you, always keen for a chat, always helpful. A friend and I noticed how, whenever we said “thank you” the locals would reply “you’re welcome.” Such a small, simple thing that truly makes a difference.
To read more about my experience in Cuba, read this post.
The majority of people in Antigua are of African descent (around 95%); and around 80% are Christians, one thing which is reflected in the many colorful (and some really antique) churches scattered around the island. I recommend visiting the churches, though it’s not always easy to find them open.
Listen to the languages
The official language of Antigua is English– though one of the first things I noticed after arriving is that among themselves locals speak Antiguan Creole. Around 10% of Antiguans also speak Spanish. As everyone speaks English, getting to talk to the locals is very easy, and in fact it’s one of the nicest things to do.
Enjoy the amazing Antigua beaches
I know what a good beach looks like: I grew up in Sardinia! So take my word for it – Antigua beaches are beautiful. Imagine sand as white and soft as it gets; add thick vegetation as a backdrop and clear, turquoise waters, and it’s easy to get the picture.
What’s best is that Antigua beaches are empty! It is a real treat to have the beach all to yourself.
The following are only some of beaches that should not be missed when visiting Antigua:
Darkwood beach: this is one of the best beaches in Antigua, often swept by the strong winds thus making it a favorite for those who like wind surfing or kite surfing.
Turners beach: among Antigua beaches, this is pure tropical perfection. There are a few restaurants right on the beach, where to enjoy the famous Caribbean food and atmosphere.
Rendezvous bay: considered one of the best beaches in Antigua, this pristine beach is located on the south coast of the island and it can only be reached on a four-wheel drive.
Morris bay: among Antigua beaches, I’d say this is a hidden gem where it not for the fact that it is super easily accessible. I can’t explain why there was literally nobody there when I went, but the complete lack of people surely was no deterrent to my full enjoyment. The beach is located opposite Old Road village.
Long bay: among the best beaches in Antigua there’s the one that I went to every day, as that’s where the resort where I stayed is located. The beach is small, the incredibly white and soft, and the vegetation is thick all around. There are a few boats docked on the beach, and if you happen to go see the sunrise you will see locals enjoying an early morning swim.
Snorkel and kayak on the reef
Antigua is famous for its clear waters, so one of the ultimate things to do in Antigua is to kayak through the mangroves and then snorkel to admire the beautiful marine life.
Practice water sports
With such gorgeous waters, Antigua is a great location for water sports. Windsurfing and kite surfing are popular on the island. There are also some great diving spots. I would have loved to go diving during my Antigua holidays, especially after having tried it in the Maldives for the first time, but unfortunately I didn’t have time to do it.
I had tried yoga only one ages ago, but when I saw it was on offer at my resort, I decided to give it another try. One of the nicest things to do in Antigua is learning the best Pranayama yoga practices, which helps relax the mind and the body.
Chase the Race (or just go sailing)
Chase the Race is one of the most fun things to do in Antigua during sailing week. Every day a beautiful catamaran sets to sail to follow the regatta, going on the open waters and offering passengers a wonderful experience at the seas, with plenty of opportunities to snorkel, and eat and drink on board.
But… I admit I didn’t do this one. Those who read my blog know that I love swimming, I love the ocean, I go diving, snorkeling and all. One thing I can’t do, though, is sailing. I have tried to sail in Panama and it didn’t go quite well. I thought I’d spare myself the suffering, and spare my friends (who went to Chase the Race) the worry of seeing me in agony for sea sickness. Those who went said it was an incredible experience, so I thought I’d share it with you.
Hike (yes, hike!)
Antigua is hardly known as a hiking destination, yet there’s various good trails around the island.
You can go on a short and sweet hike that offers impressive coastal views with a local group called Wadadli Trail Blazers and walk all the way from English Harbor to Shirley Heights.
All along the trail, the views were splendid. Antigua has a beautiful rugged coastline in points, and during the dry season the landscape can be very barren: small cactus plants scattered along the trail, their colorful flowers bright against the otherwise brown land. Once at Shirley Heights, the view is absolutely breathtaking.
To book your guided hiking tour, click here.
Enjoy the sunset from Shirley Heights…
Speaking of Shirley Heights, one of the unmissable things to do in Antigua is going there to enjoy what may well be one of the most beautiful sunsets in the world. Every Sunday the local restaurant (Shirley Heights Lookout) throws a massive party with live music and a barbecue.
Make sure to arrive at around 5:00 pm, and you will get immediately immersed in the festive atmosphere: imagine a multitude of people drinking, talking, dancing to the tunes and just having a good time.
… and sunrise at the beach
When jet-lag hits, make the most of it! Make sure to head to the beach early in the morning to enjoy the fabulous light. You will see locals swimming in the calm sea, and a bunch of birds flying around announcing the day is about to start. It was definitely worth it.
Go zip lining
My first zip lining experience was in Mexico. Since then, I became addicted, and I do it whenever I have a chance. I tried it in Argentina and other places. So of course when I learned about the Antigua Rainforest Zipline Tours I knew I had to go. Flying from one tree to the other in the thick rainforest is a thrilling experience. It is not scary: the guides make everyone feel safe and comfortable all the times.
You can book your ziplining tour in Antigua here.
Visit Devils’ Bridge
In Indian Town and not far from The Verandah and Pineapple Beach Club, Devil’s Bridge is one of the unmissable places to visit in Antigua. It is a splendid natural bridge at the head of Indian Creek, with blow-holes through which water sprouts high and fast. According to legend, the devil lives down there and if two eggs are thrown in the water to boil, the devil will give back one and keep the other.
Go to Betty’s Hope and visit all the forts
Sugar mills are scattered all around the island, reminding visitors in Antigua that the island was one, enormous sugar cane plantation at some point in history. Most of the mills are in ruins nowadays, but the ones at Betty’s Hope are perfectly kept.
The estate was granted to Christopher Codrington in 1674 and the family owned it for more than 250 years. It costs $2 USD to visit the twin mill towers, one of them perfectly restored.
Another great place to visit to discover more about Antigua rich history is Naval’s Dockyard, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You should also make it a point to visit Antigua’s many forts, such as Fort Barrington or Fort Berkeley.
If you have a car, you can easily get to the forts scattered around the island. Otherwise, book your guided tour here.
Visit Antigua’s Donkey Sanctuary
Antigua Humane Society gives shelter to more than 150 donkeys in its Bethseda sanctuary. There are many neglected donkeys around the island, and here they find a safe haven, with food, medical care, water and love.
I am a big supporter of animal rights and responsible tourism, so it goes without saying that I recommend it. There is no admission fee but donations are welcome.
Explore St. John’s
The capital of Antigua is absolutely lovely, and I am glad I insisted on visiting during my trip. It is a colorful city, full of character and with a friendly vibe: I went with a friend and wherever we went people welcomed us with a smile.
Among the places of interest in St. John’s there’s the Cathedral, originally built in 1683, replaced in 1745 and rebuilt in 1843 after an earthquake. At the moment, the Cathedral is undergoing restoration works so I could not visit the interiors.
Other things to do in Antigua’s capital are visiting the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda, which provides great insights into the history of the city; going to the colorful local market and eating the delicious street food.
For a guided tour of St. John, click here.
Try the taste of the Caribe
Oh, and about the food! Most people who go to Antigua stay at resorts and end up eating international food all the time, at most venturing for a Caribbean style barbecue. It’s a pity! Food in Antigua is delicious: a combination of local and international ingredients; full of flavor and with just the right amount of spice.
When I visited St. John’s I was attracted by one of the many small stands in the street. A lovely woman was pouring the biggest portion of pork stew and rice and beans on a plate for a customer, and it looked yummy. He (like all people in Antigua!) was so kind and welcoming that he insisted I had a bite off his plate, and that convinced me to order a full portion.
As I gorged down the food, the owner explained that she had been in the catering industry for a long time but that she decided to open her own place because she was tired of serving tourists with panini and international food: she wants them to try the local specialties. She has a point, for sure! So, make sure to try local food as it is one of the best things to do in Antigua.
Drink all the delicious cocktails
No trip to Antigua can be called such without a good amount of cocktails. As any other Caribbean island, Antigua produces great rum so it goes without saying that the best drinks are all rum based. Rum punch is the most common cocktail, but I’d say that the daiquiris (mango or strawberry) are great too. Having a good cocktail is one of the things to do in Antigua.
Join a choir workshop
Possibly among the most fun things to do in Antigua there is enrolling a choir workshop. I have always liked singing, but never thought about pursuing this. When I saw that Elite Island Resorts offered a choir workshop to its guests, I didn’t think about it twice.
Every day, for two hours each time, I attended a choir class led by celebrity vocal coach Mike King along with 25 other guests. The penultimate night of my stay, we had a performance. It was one of the most exhilarating, uplifting experiences of my life – so beneficial to my mind and soul that I want to pursue it at home as well. Here’s a short video of one of the songs we performed – the video is courtesy of Joe Allam.
Relax in one of the fabulous resorts
Antigua is packed with excellent accommodation options that suit all budgets. There are small traditional inns as well as gorgeous all inclusive resorts, which are a perfect solution for those who visit Antigua who are in need of some relaxing time. Here’s a blurb about some of the best resorts in Antigua:
- Pineapple Beach Club: located in Long Bay, it is an adults only resort with nice, comfortable rooms and a bunch of restaurants and bars to pick from, from casual to smart dining.
- The Verandah Resort and Spa: a massive resort with beautiful cottages with Caribbean style decor, all having sea views. It is very eco-friendly.
- St. James’s Club & Villas: famous for its exceptional service, its main perks are the two beautiful beaches and a wide range of water sports on offer for guests.
- Galley Bay Resort and Spa: the most intimate of the four, located on a gorgeous white sand beach; there’s also a beautiful spa.
If you think that staying in a resort is among the ultimate things to do in Antigua, go check my post on the best resorts on the island.
Practical Information To Plan Your Trip
When to visit Antigua
Antigua gets two seasons: dry and wet. Needless to say, it rains a lot in the wet season, and I would advise against booking your holidays between August and October, when there’s a higher risk of hurricane. December to April mark the dry season, and are thus high season. July and August are great months to visit for cultural events (it’s when the carnival takes place). I visited in May, for sailing week, and the weather was pleasant, mostly sunny, with the occasional short and strong showers.
Getting to and around Antigua
Antigua holidays are easy to organize as the country airport is served by many international airlines, such as American Airlines, United Airlines, Air Canada, Delta, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic. There are direct flights to many cities in the US, to London Gatwick and even to Milan Malpensa in Italy.
Once on the island, most people get a shuttle to their resort and join a guided tour to explore a bit. Yet, driving around aimlessly is a lot of fun: that’s how you will stumble upon forts such as Fort Barrington or Fort Berkeley; and why I recommend renting a car or joining a guided tour.
As in most former British colonies, driving in Antigua is on the left (or shall I say wrong?) side. Renting a car isn’t just one of the ways to get around: it’s also much cheaper than joining a guided tour, especially if the costs can be shared among several people. In order to rent a car, you will need a valid driving license, which will be used to issue a temporary license typically valid for 90 days.
The driving on the left shouldn’t be of concern. There is a bit of traffic in the capital, but locals are used to tourists looking lost and confused and in fact will often stop you to offer directions and help. Outside the city, there really aren’t many cars at all – just a lot of speed bumps, pigs and donkeys roaming freely: so drive slowly!
Make sure to read my post A Guide To Renting A Car In Antigua.
Currency in Antigua
The local currency is the East Caribbean Dollar (XCD). The exchange rat is $1 USD to $2.7 East Caribbean Dollars. Locals commonly use the word “dollars” to refer to XCD, which will cause you a lot of confusion. Don’t be outraged when you get asked to pay $10 XCD for a meal in the streets of St.John’s – it’s actually less than $4 USD!
Legal Disclaimer: I visited Antigua for the #lovenantiguabarbuda campaign hosted by Antigua and Barbuda and Elite Islands Resorts. Many thanks go to Traverse Events for putting together an amazing trip.