Antigua – The Land of Sea and Sun 2021

Antigua and Barbuda is an independent commonwealth country in the West Indies, which lies between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean sea. Barbuda is 63km away from Antigua, and both major islands are part of the lesser antillies and are roughly 17 degrees north of the equator. Antigua is 14 miles long and 11 miles wide; and it encompasses 108 square miles. For an English comparison it is smaller than the Isle of Wight in both size and population and any two points on the island can be reached within around 45 minutes maximum. We had seen pictures of the beautiful beaches here but were curious if photoshop was involved and indeed what else this beautiful island had to offer.

Our journey here from Dominica was a little ‘wacky races’; on a very small Winair plane which seated 16 people including the pilots. There were only two other passengers on the plane besides us and the trip took approximately 50 minutes.

The views we had from the plane, of Guadeloupe and approaching Antigua were absolutely stunning! This was probably one of the most scenic plane rides we had ever been on.

Landing into Antigua airport we had the usual anxiety of navigating health screening, immigration and baggage claim; however we needn’t have worried. We were the only two passengers who got off and we basically had the rather large VC Bird International airport all to ourselves! We went to health screening and filled in a form about our accommodation and showed our negative PCR tests, completed an immigration form which we handed in at passport control and away we went to baggage claim where our bags were waiting for us! The whole process from landing to leaving the airport took less than 10 minutes – result!

We were aware that due to the Covid pandemic, there was a curfew in place from 11pm until 5am, however their Covid figures were relatively low and we felt this was a safe option for us to continue our travels. All bars and restaurants were open with covid measures in place and we were excited to find some sort of normality following our rather isolated time in Dominica. We came via the Caricom Bubble again and therefore there were no isolation requirements but we were given a leaflet with who to call if we developed any symptoms.

We proceeded to our accommodation, which we had booked for the month; a covid approved guesthouse called Antigua Seaview in St Johns. We had booked a queen suite and chose the property due to the excellent reviews and location; from the reviews there was a local supermarket, we had self catering facilities and everything was in easy reach. Upon arrival the check in process was easy and our room was well furnished with air con and a fan and mosquito screens on the windows so they could be left open for a natural breeze. The shocking thing we both struggled with in the beginning was the fact our balcony was shared; we were very used to a balcony of the same size all of our own so having people walking past was something we found quite difficult to adjust to. Nevertheless there was a patio set and and a full size table and chairs we could use for our meals outside.

After unpacking we decided to make the most of our arrival day and head to Dickenson’s Bay hoping to see the late afternoon sunset. I hadn’t realised that I had previously seen pictures of the bay with the red phone box, but that was exactly where we found ourselves; the pictures didn’t lie, the beach was absolutely beautiful and those images of the bay were not photoshopped! We found a bar and restaurant called Ana’s and as luck would have it we arrived just in time for happy hour! The condition was however that whatever cocktail you ordered would end up pink! After a few rather nice pink cocktails we headed back and a little squiffy!

Unfortunately, within a couple of days of our arrival an 8pm curfew was announced with the closures of bars, and restaurants could only offer takeaway; this therefore was our only outing to a bar/restaurant for our entire time in Antigua! A couple of weeks after the 8pm curfew was announced this was reduced back to 6pm meaning we had to be back at our apartment before sunset. Due to this, understandably we will not be able to outline any recommendations for bars and restaurants. Whilst we were somewhat disappointed by the curfews we completely understood that the government were taking appropriate measures to safeguard the public after a spike in Covid 19 cases. We were also very grateful that our accommodation had full cooking facilities so we could self cater, especially with a supermarket very nearby.

Shopping

We were based in St John’s, not in the centre but more on the outskirts. We did visit the main town centre on a couple of occasions. What was a nice surprise for us was that we could get diet soft drinks, marmite and near enough all our food choices in Antigua; after nearly 2 month of struggling to find food we were familiar with this was really refreshing! St John’s is where the main supermarkets such as Epicurian are located; this had everything you could possibly need (except gravy granules which seemed to be in short supply!). Our local supermarket was called 1st Choice on Anchorage Road and was a short walk from our accommodation; whilst not as good as Epicurian it was good for stocking up on the essentials.

A popular shopping area in St Johns besides the Epicurian retail outlets was Heritage Quays; a popular stop for the cruise ships. We did some shopping around this area and managed to buy some shoes but in general the shops were very overpriced and more specialist; selling expensive jewellery and watches. If you leave the actual outlet there are a few more reasonably priced shops.

Transport

We did try the bus once from St John’s back to our accommodation; however we sat for nearly an hour waiting for the bus to fill up which was hot, sweaty and uncomfortable and did not feel particularly covid safe. Nigel did try our neighbour’s bike one day to go to the supermarket but given the fact nothing was particularly in close proximity we decided after a few days that we would hire a car. Whilst in Barbados we did use a company called Drive-a-Matic. We had no issues with their service and whilst car hire was more expensive here (around $40-45 a day) we were happy to go with the same company. We had no issues at all with the car hire; no hidden extras and no issues with delivery or return.

Money

Antigua uses the Eastern Caribbean Dollar (XCD) which averages at 3.75 dollars to the Pound at the time of writing. Many places did take card payments especially the bigger shops but smaller shops only took cash payments. There were ATM’s located all over the island usually in or near supermarkets. We had no issues with getting any cash out.

Beaches

There is no question that Antigua has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. White sand and turquiose seas are every sun lovers idea of heaven. For us we aren’t big swimmers but we do love snorkelling; therefore whilst some of the beaches were no doubt picture perfect they weren’t always the best for swimming and snorkelling. Below is an outline of the main beaches we visited:

Dickenson’s Bay

We had seen pictures of Dickensen’s bay before coming without even realising where it was! the most iconic image from here is the red phone box against the amazing white sand and sea views. Within the bay you will find a large Sandals resort and a few beach bars and apartments. Picture perfect is how we would describe here however the swimming was not up to much; visibility was poor, we literally could not see our hands in fron tof our faces underwater, and maybe because of the time of year there was seaweed wrapping around our legs which is really uncomfortable, especially when you can’t see it. This is not ideal for snorkelling or even swimming but it is a great place to sit on a lounger with a cocktail and to pretend to read a book whilst really just watching the world go by.

Half Moon Bay

Located on the South East of the Island Half Moon Bay really is a lovely place to spend an afternoon; you can get drinks and food as a takeaway from the restaurant there and there are outdoor picnic tables to use. We spent an amazing afternoon here and whilst a little wavy in places if you go to the far left of the bay it is a lot calmer and snorkelling is possible with crystal clear water. It was a beautiful spot and very popular with tourists and locals alike.

Galleon Beach

This was our overall favourite beach; not because of its looks although it was very inviting, but because we snorkelled on several occasions with turtles here. In addition there are also two shipwrecks to explore. It is not easy to find the shipwrecks but if you head to the far left of the beach and swim directly across from the last chalet you have a good chance of finding them. This was our most visited and favourite beach because of the snorkelling and our love of turtles! If you swam to the far right of the beach there was also really good snorkelling by the jetty.

Pidgeon Beach/Falmouth Bay

Located very near English Harbour this beach is accessible by a small road and easy to miss. It is a very popular beach especially at weekends with locals and tourists alike. The swimming here was ok but the snorkelling not so great due to poor visibility. It was better near the pier on the far left but it became too shallow to continue. There are trees here for shade and plenty of parking.

Long Bay

Despite its’ description the bay is not all that long and one end is taken up by a private resort; however this was a nice beach with a coral reef just a short distance off the shore. Unfortunately when we visited it was a little choppy in the sea so we were unable to venture that far out; however there was some good fish spots by the rocks on the far right. There were no toilets or any food or drink outlets so if you come here bring your own food and drink.

Deep Bay

Deep Bay was another beach we found towards the end of our time in Antigua and is a long stretch of beach with crystal clear water. The attraction for us here was that there is a shipwreck to explore by the small island called the Andes Shipwreck. We visited here in the hope of reaching the shipwreck; unfortunately the sea conditions and risks from the rather erratic jet ski riders were enough to make us turn back. There was however an amazing coral garden just to the right by the rocks.

Hawksbill Bay

Hawksbill is located to the North West of the island before you reach St Johns. This was most notable due to the ‘rat’ shaped island visible from the beach. The snorkelling here was good but it was a little shallow in places. Swimming may be difficult in certain areas of the beach due to the low sea levels late afternoon and the possibility of catching your legs and feet on the rocks.

This is just a small selection of the beaches we visited but with 366 to choose from these were our most memorable.

Other Places of Interest

Nelson’s Dockyard

The dockyard and marina are a part of the UNESCO World Heritage site which incorporates the naval dockyard. It is named after Admiral Nelson who lived here from 1784-1787 and visitors can explore the old buildings and the marina for a fee of $15 US per person. Due to the fact it is also a working marina we were able to see the super yachts and discovered this is also the home to the sailing events such as the annual Antigua Sailing Week held. We spent a nice afternoon here just chilling and looking around but there were also bars and some food outlets available as well as some shops.

Shirley Heights

Also part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Shirley Heights is home to some of the best views in Antigua. Usually on a sunday there is food and drink and live music; however due to the covid restrictions this wasn’t happening, so we had to make do with the view instead! not too shabby. It costs $15 if you go on the Sunday when the entertainment is on or free just to visit. The views are of English Harbour and Falmouth Harbour and it is especially nice to visit around sunset.

Fig Tree Drive

We read mixed reviews about Fig Tree Drive, mainly about the conditions of the roads around there but decided to visit anyway and the roads were actually better than most of the island. The main thing we had noticed from our stay in St John’s was the lack of nature which had been diluted by the developments of hotels etc; we hardly saw any wildlife at all at our apartment except for 1 tree frog and a hummingbird or two, which was disappointing. Fig Tree Drive is the place to go if you want to get a feel of nature and a more ‘jungly’ experience. Here the main place to visit for us was the art gallery; a little paradise in amongst the trees. If you are expecting the Tate you would be sorely mistaken but instead there were pieces of art from local artists many of which we really liked but had no room on our travels to purchase. Its a lovely spot so if youre passing pop by and say hello to Sallie, an artist who runs the gallery.

Fort Barrington

Fort Barrington can be accessed from the entrance to Deep Bay and is a great viewpoint with the remainders of the old fort which you can explore. We had a lunch up here and enjoyed the panoramic views. It is a steep climb up and because of scree, care should be taken; nevertheless the views are worth it!

Devils Bridge

Devils Bridge is located in the rugged east coast of the island and is a result of natural rock formation following thousands of years of the Atlantic Sea crashing against the rocks. This has formed a natural arch and at present you can walk over this (although it can be slippery and care should be taken as you are likely to get wet!). We enjoyed the visit here and ventured across the bridge. It was refreshing to see the rugged coastline rather than just the calm seas.

Boat Trip to Prickly Pear Island

We had read about Prickly Pear and tried to see if we could access it from Hodges Bay where it was visible; unfortunately this was not possible. We could not even access the beach due to the hotel complex which blocked any entrance to the beach. We were delighted to discover therefore that Conduit’s Signature Tours were running day trips across to the island. Organised with Barry and Claire we had a great afternoon with Captain Sean visiting the island. This was clearest snorkelling we did; however it was quite shallow in places so we needed to be careful; nevertheless the island is a little slice of heaven and for the most part we had it all to ourselves.

Cricket

As Nigel is a cricket fan, (see our blog on Barbados if you didn’t already know this) he was hoping to bump into Viv Richards whilst in Antigua, being as it’s a very small island, and his favourite bar/restaurant was known by everyone. It never happened, so he consoled himself with a visit to the house Viv grew up in, now known as Sir Vivian Richards Street, and I believe is where his parents still live, and Antigua’s newest Cricket Stadium, the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium. What an honour to have streets and stadiums named after you whilst you are still alive! Such things are usually reserved for dead, legendary figures, but the Master Blaster, King Viv, has such a high status in his own country they made an exception.

Leaving Antigua – PCR Testing

Towards the end of our trip we had to decide our onward travel and organise the dreaded PCR test. Given our previously experiences we were hoping for a smoother process this time. Luckily it was; we attended St John’s Medical Centre (more like a hospital than a medical centre), booked in, paid for and got our appointment for 72 hours before departure. We were shocked to hear that this was at 5.30am! We trundled to our appointment and were shocked to discover that there were already 38 people in front of us despite arriving at 5.20am! The testing started at 6 and we were out of there by 6.45 so all in all it was a quick process. We received our results by midnight that night. It cost us $100 US each for the Antigen test but if you needed the full PCR that was $200; the most expensive we had come across yet!

Special Mention – Rosemary

It wouldn’t be right to complete this blog without mentioning our neighbour at Antigua Seaview and soon to become friend, Rosemary. Living on the same floor we became friends with Rosemary and spent the majority of time with her at weekends when she was not working and sharing evening meals. Rosemary developed a love of snorkelling with us and went from only going in the shallow to venturing into deeper waters looking for turtles and shipwrecks! We even shared car hire expenses and she went beyond the call of duty to take us to our pre-departure PCR test at 5.30am! Rosemary was great company and really enriched our time on the island especially given our restrictions with curfews – Thank you for your great company and we hope to keep in touch and at some point to catch up with you again in the future.

Final Thoughts

Antigua certainly is as described, as seen on every car license plate in the country – the land of Sea and Sun! We found on the island some of the most gorgeous beaches we have ever seen and loved our snorkelling experiences here….but….for us we struggled with the lack of other things to do; the island is all about beaches but if you take that away there is very little else to do. We certainly enjoyed our time here and completely appreciate the covid measures in place including the curfew and closing of bars and restaurants, but that meant that we missed out on perhaps some of the culture the island has to offer. Coming from a nature island such as Dominica we couldn’t help but think the nature had been somewhat diluted due to the development of houses, industrial estates, shopping centres and hotels and we missed being in touch with nature; however our trip to Fig Tree Lane showed that this was actually available on the island, albeit in hugely reduced amounts, and our drives up the South West coast with mountains and lush greenery certainly gave us some relief.

In terms of the island itself however we could definitely see the attraction for beach lovers and sun worshippers; for a short break from the 9-5 for a couple of weeks this is an ideal place to unwind. Our friends got married here and we could see why they would pick such a lovely destination. We even tried to visit the beach they got married on and the resort but alas we weren’t able to access them. According to locals and all guides every beach in Antigua is public; very much like Barbados. What we were disappointed at however was that although they are technically, and officially public, hotels restrict access often having to ask security if you can access the beach. This was unlike Barbados where there were always public access footpaths. We had an uncomfortable experience in Hodges Bay when we tried to access the beach and were followed by security the whole time in quite an intimidating manner; we certainly didn’t feel welcome as non residents. Despite this we had no regrets about our choice to visit here and enjoyed the month we spent. Now however it was time to move on to our next destination – Costa Rica via Miami!

Carol & Nigel xx

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