Caribbean Destination Series Part 3-Antigua & Barbuda


Antigua and Barbuda
Overview
Introduction

Antigua is still a popular vacation spot for travelers who could choose to vacation anywhere. So how does Antigua and Barbuda attract this well-heeled crowd? In the case of Antigua (pronounced an-TEE-gah), you start with what nature gave you: an abundance of sun and immaculate white sand. Then you add some of the most luxurious villas and exclusive resorts in the Caribbean, and you have a veritable magnet of attractions for any taste.

Antigua has smaller island dependencies, including Barbuda (pronounced bar-byou-dah), about 25 mi/40 km north of Antigua (more of a bird sanctuary than a lavish resort) and the uninhabited Redonda, 35 mi/56 km to the southwest.Antigua, however, still has some vacation hotels for travelers who aren’t as wealthy (more, actually, than its high-end neighbors, Anguilla and St. Barts). Antigua also has excellent golf courses, forested hills and beautiful offshore islands. It’s a favorite destination for yachters.Fort James has also become a popular historic site, in addition to Nelson’s Dockyard, the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda, Fort Barrington and Betty’s Hope Sugar Estate.

Must See or Do

Sights—The historic buildings of Nelson’s Dockyard National Park; browsing at the Public Market; the steel-pan bands that play at Shirley Heights on Sunday afternoons; sunsets at Fort James; a tour of Betty’s Hope Sugar Estate; the octagonal St. Peter’s Church in Parham.Museums—The portraits of King George III and Queen Caroline, as well as pre- and post-Columbian findings at the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda; the museum inside the former Admiral’s House at Nelson’s Dockyard.Memorable Meals—Antiguan-inspired Italian dishes at La Bussola; fine dining at Il Palio; pizza overlooking the sea at Mama Pasta.Late Night—Hang out with the locals at Trappa’s in English Harbour; party at Shirley’s Heights with a live band on Sundays; check out The Beach restaurant at Dickenson Bay on a Friday night; party with the best DJs at Abracadabra; take in a night of gambling at one of Antigua’s casinos.Walks—A short walk on the trail from English Harbour to Fort Berkeley for great views of the harbor; a visit to Barbuda’s highest point in the Highlands at 143 ft/43 m above sea level.
Especially for Kids—Collecting shells along the shoreline at Nonsuch Bay; bird-watching at the Frigate Bird Sanctuary in Barbuda, at Great Bird Island or near the lagoon at Darkwood Beach; snorkeling off the beach at Dickenson Bay.

Geography

The Antiguan terrain rises gently from the water and consists of rolling hills that were cleared for sugarcane fields. They still turn emerald-green during the rainy season, but at other times the island, which covers 108 sq mi/280 sq km, looks rather scruffy.The highest point on Antigua is Mount Obama (1,319 ft/402 m high). It will serve as the focal point of a new national park.The vegetation on Antigua isn’t boring, however. It consists of many different kinds of cacti, and along the beaches, you’ll find coconut, tamarind and sea-grape trees. There are flowering plants, often in profusion—hibiscus, oleander, bougainvillea and the bright red poinciana tree, also known as the flamboyant. The vegetation provides cover for crested hummingbirds and the yellow-breasted bananaquit.Barbuda, a flat coral island of 62 sq mi/100 sq km with a large lagoon on one side, has a tiny population and a slower pace. But it also has miles of beautiful pink- and white-sand beaches and excellent places for snorkeling.

History

The Siboney Indians originally inhabited Antigua and Barbuda and were succeeded by the Arawak. The Arawak, in turn, were forced out by the aggressive (and possibly cannibalistic) Caribs. Christopher Columbus named Antigua in 1493, but attempts by the Spanish and French to colonize the islands failed. They remained unsettled by Europeans until the 1630s, when the British established a colony on Antigua. Soon, sugar plantations powered by African slaves covered Antigua, and Barbuda was largely used to grow food for the workforce.Unlike many Caribbean islands, Antigua and Barbuda were not subjected to numerous changes of government in the colonial period. Except for a brief period of French rule, the English held control of the islands from the early 1600s until they achieved independence in 1981. With the decline of the sugar market and the abolition of slavery in 1834, the islands went into an economic decline. Though unproductive, the large plantations were not redistributed after slavery ended, as they were on many Caribbean islands. This helped create desperate conditions for the former slaves, which led to unrest in the early 1900s.Today, descendants of the slaves are the primary inhabitants of the island nation, and tourism has helped ease the economic hardships of some of the residents. Antigua and Barbuda remain part of the British Commonwealth. For many years, the Bird family has dominated the country’s politics. Vere Bird Sr. (known as “Papa Bird”), a powerful figure from the 1940s onward, was prime minister from 1981 until 1993, when his son, Lester Bird, succeeded him.The Bird family dynasty came to an end with the election of Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer and his “Sunshine Government” in 2004 Since then, the government announced an era for Antigua and Barbuda called “Government in the Sunshine.” Central to their mandate is the belief that the local populace must be trained in all levels of tourism.

Snapshot

The islands’ main attractions are relaxation, historical sights, deep-sea fishing, golf and tennis, sailing, scuba diving and snorkeling, windsurfing, beautiful beaches, bicycling, horseback riding, cricket, casinos and friendly people.If you enjoy excellent beaches, food and watersports—and aren’t on a strict budget—Antigua and Barbuda are for you. Don’t go to these islands if you’re looking for lush mountain scenery.

Potpourri

Many of the streets outside the city in Antigua and Barbuda do not have names. Some villages have implemented a naming and numbering system, but this is still not the norm. The mail is delivered door-to-door by mail carriers who know exactly who lives where.The legendary blues guitarist Eric Clapton has built an enormous home on Antigua and may be spotted in the English Harbour area hanging out. It is said that he once forgot his wallet, and a small store owner in the area refused to offer him credit because he didn’t know who the celebrity was.The traditional way to start the day in Antigua and Barbuda is a cup of bush tea. This consists of actual leaves steeped in a cup of hot water that is covered and allowed to “draw.” Popular flavors are mint, lemongrass (locally called fever grass), and noo-noo balsam.The Antiguan Racer snake, considered the rarest snake in the world, can only be found on Great Bird Island, a speck of land off the northeast coast of Antigua. The Antiguan Racer Conservation Project is attempting to preserve the species in this uninhabited spot.Bananas are often called figs in Antigua. That’s why the road through the rain forest, which is lined with banana trees, is called Fig Tree Drive. (However, there are far more coconut trees than banana trees there today.)Although Barbudans have the right to own land in Antigua, Antiguans cannot take possession of land in Barbuda. As a matter of fact, no one can own land in Barbuda: All the land there is Crown land, and only Barbudans have the right to occupy it, through the local authority.A large number of Antiguans have never been to the sister islands, and there are some Barbudans who never go over to Antigua, though it is just a few minutes away by plane.There are more than 60 registered shipwrecks on and around Palaster Reef in Barbuda, reachable by a short boat ride.The uninhabited island of Redonda (30 mi/48 km southwest of Antigua) is part of the nation of Antigua and Barbuda. A man who claimed to be the King of Redonda, King Bob the Bald, lived in Canada but died in 2009. His successor is King Michael the Grey.The national game of warri involves moving beans around indentations on a wooden board in an attempt to capture your opponent’s beans. It requires considerable strategy.

See & Do
Sightseeing

Historical sights and idyllic nature spots form the islands’ major attractions, both on land and at sea. These are spread throughout the island and offer a taste of the ancient mixed with modern tranquility. The major historic attractions lie just outside the city at Fort James and on the opposite tip of Antigua at the restored Nelson’s Dockyard. The Frigate Bird Sanctuary in Barbuda is also worth experiencing.

Recreation

Whether you snuggle up to Southern stingrays or find off-road fun on a muddy quad adventure, you’ll have lots of options for making your trip to Antigua as fast-paced or laid-back as you desire. You can zipline across a rain forest, or hail a helicopter for a bird’s-eye view of neighboring Montserrat. There are plenty of fishing holes, deep-sea and fly, or you can spend some time connecting with Mother Nature on a tour narrated by some of her closest friends.Self-indulgence is no sin while you’re on vacation, so don’t forget to book a soothing massage to ease away whatever tensions existed in your “other life.” Explore secluded beaches on two or four legs, or put your scoring strength to the test with a game of golf or tennis. Save some strength for a Hash with the Harriers for a lively adventure.

Beaches

As you’ll be told over and over, Antigua is said to have 365 beaches, one for every day of the year. Unless you have that much time, you’ll need to be choosy. Possibly the most beautiful beach is the semicircular Half Moon Bay, east of Falmouth. (The north end of the beach, where the water is calmer, is the best place to swim.) Nonsuch Bay on the eastern shoreline is best for collecting shells. (A taxi ride from St. John’s will cost about US$25.) If it’s gorgeous sunsets you’re after, head for Runaway Beach or Fort James on the northwestern shore, about a US$10 taxi fare from St. John’s. It’s usually crowded with families, honeymooners and other vacationers.The mile of beach at Dickenson Bay is also popular and crowded, largely because of its proximity to St. John’s and the variety of watersports available. Along Dickenson Bay, you’ll also find the superbly situated Halcyon Cove and Buccaneer Cove, two very pretty beaches, both with a wide variety of amenities. Hawksbill Beach is also within close proximity to St. John’s and has the only resort with three of its own beaches, one of which is the only clothing-optional beach in Antigua.If you want to get away from the crowds, head south, away from the hotels on the north side. One of the nicest of the secluded southern beaches is Doigs Beach at Rendezvous Bay. (You either need a boat to get there or a four-wheel-drive vehicle. It is possible to hike in, but you’ll have to ask around to find your way. You can also take the trip on horseback from Spring Hill Riding Stables in Falmouth.) The water is calm, but there are no facilities for changing, and no food or drink is sold, so plan accordingly.Darkwood Beach on Cades Bay, also on the southern coast, backs up to a lagoon that is a nesting area for many wild birds. There’s also a rustic beach bar. Darkwood Beach is usually quiet and largely empty, except when cruise ships visit the island—it’s a favorite destination for passengers on shore excursions.If an idyllic, secluded spot is what you are after, try Turner’s Beach. If beach volleyball is your game, try Jolly Beach. There is usually a game under way, and newcomers are always welcome. There is a restaurant nearby for refreshments after the match.

Bird Watching

Off the northeast coast of Antigua, about 8 mi/13 km east of St. John’s, Great Bird Island is a breeding ground for the beautiful Red-billed Tropicbird. Day trips to the island for bird-watching (as well as snorkeling) are easily arranged in St. John’s. The island is also home to the endangered Antiguan Racer snake.The Frigate Bird Sanctuary on Barbuda is another great option, where there are hundreds of different kinds of birds to see in addition to the impressive frigate.

Boating & Sailing

This is a popular boating destination, and Antigua hosts several major sailing events annually, including Sailing Week, the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta and the RORC Caribbean 600. The Antigua Yacht Club organizes informal afternoon races during boating season, as well as a handful of other races with local appeal.If you want to get out on the water yourself, you can pick from a wide variety of daily cruises. Spend the day in good company at Prickly Pear Island on a tour that continues to be a favorite. Contact Miguel’s Desert Island Trips (US$85; phone 772-3213). Book with Wadadli Watersports for snorkeling cruises to Cades Reef or Great Bird Island (US$95-$110, phone 462-4792). For sunset cruises, contact Kokomo Cats (phone 562-3626).Adventure Antigua offers an informative ecotour of the offshore caves and islands, as well as trips to Stingray City, where visitors swim with southern rays. US$100-$170. Phone 726-6355.If you’d rather not sail with the masses, smaller, more-private excursions have become quite popular. Though more expensive, they give you more control of your excursion. Contact Captain Nash to arrange bookings. Phone 560-0014.In terms of windsurfing, Antigua is one of the Northern Hemisphere’s best-kept secrets, according to Peter Hart, the British windsurfing maven. To see what he’s talking about, visit Jabberwock Beach, the center of the sport in Antigua. Try Shorty’s Glass Bottom Boat (phone 462-6326), H2O Antigua next to the Lord Nelson Hotel (phone 562-3933) or Windsurfing Antigua Watersports (phone 773-9463 or 461-9463). Annual windsurfing events are held in January and July. You can rent a sailboard starting at about US$20 per hour or US$60 for the entire day.

Fishing

Try your hand at deep-sea fishing for some red snapper, barracuda or kingfish on a half-day or full-day fishing trip on the Obsession (phone 464-3174 or 462-3174). Expect to pay at least US$900 for a full day’s fishing for 12 people. If you’re feeling competitive, cast your line at the Antigua and Barbuda Annual Sport Fishing Tournament held in May.

Golf

Golfers will want to try out the island’s prize courses. The highly touted Cedar Valley Golf Club is located about 6 mi/10 km northeast of St. John’s. It’s a par-70 championship course with views of the northern coast (phone 462-0161). Greens fees are about US$48, and carts are US$42. Another option is Jolly Harbour Golf & Country Club, part of the Jolly Harbour Resort (phone 462-7771, ext 9). Expect to pay about US$50 in greens fees and US$40 for a cart.

Scuba & Snorkeling

There are a dozen dive sites off Antigua. The 80-year-old freighter Andes lies in just 20 ft/6 m of water in Deep Bay, near Royal Antiguan Hotel. Cades Reef (abundant colorful fish), off the southwest coast, and Stingray Bank (sea turtles, stingrays, coral), off the north coast, are home to a wide array of marine animals. You must be a certified diver and present your C card to rent equipment and go diving. Or you could take an introductory course with Dockyard Divers in Nelson’s Dockyard (they rent equipment, too). Their half-day beginner’s course is about US$120 (phone 460-1178). Jolly Dive offers a full certification package for US$499. Phone 462-8305.The calm waters right off the beach at Dickenson Bay are ideal for snorkeling. Or sail to Green Island on a catamaran for the best snorkeling in Antigua (about US$95 a person, through Wadadli Watersports, phone 462-4792).In the event of a diving emergency, the Divers Alert Network (DAN) will provide treatment advice and, if necessary, arrange for evacuation. Phone 919-684-8111 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              919-684-8111      end_of_the_skype_highlighting or 919-684-4326 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              919-684-4326      end_of_the_skype_highlighting. (Both lines connect to DAN’s headquarters in the U.S. and accept collect calls.) DAN also answers health-related questions about diving. For more information, phone 919-684-2948 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              919-684-2948      end_of_the_skype_highlighting or toll-free 800-326-3822 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              800-326-3822      end_of_the_skype_highlighting. http://www.diversalertnetwork.org.

Nightlife

Check the hotels—they usually have some form of entertainment, often a reggae, soca or steel band. Jazz musicians typically perform in local hotels and at Russell’s at Fort James.Rush Nightclub at Runaway Bay, which usually has a variety of themed parties, is popular with the university student crowd as well as locals. There is a casino and a restaurant downstairs, as well as live entertainment in the lounge on most weekends. The Beach Restaurant at Dickenson Bay is a Friday-night hotspot for locals and visitors. In Jolly Harbour, try Castaways, which features tapas, pub grub and popular international music. Mad Mongoose in Falmouth Harbor jumps with Rasta decor and a lively singles crowd and features a live band on Friday nights.The Coast Restaurant and Disco at Heritage Quay offers a variety of live bands and a choice of discos. It’s open every day and offers meals as well. King’s Casino is a popular spot Friday-Sunday for its regular lineup of good local bands. It’s usually quite a festive atmosphere throughout the weekend.Abracadabra in English Harbour attracts an energetic crowd with its popular lineup of DJs November-May. It also features local artist showings. C&C Wine Bar in Redcliffe Quay is a lively spot for hanging out, singing karaoke on Saturday, and sampling a selection of South African wines. It is right beside a vegetarian restaurant and steps away from the Australian Homemade.Adult entertainment is very popular in Antigua, at Diamond Ice on All Saints Road or a number of other spots that usually stay open late.Barbuda has an interesting little club called Lime, located in the boat-dock area. Live music and a livelier crowd make this a happy place to chill out.At last count, Antigua had a number of casinos, but they keep coming and going, so it’s best to check before you go. Grand Bay Casino is located at Dickenson Bay, and there is King’s Casino in Heritage Quay or Asot’s Arcade in the city. There are smaller casinos near the public market area of the city, but these are not advisable after hours.

Performing Arts

Performing arts are not highly cultivated in Antigua. Visiting dance companies and entertainers are sporadic. O’Grady’s Pub on Redcliffe Street features local spoken-word artists, but most locals simply go to the movies.

Spectator Sports

Cricket is a national obsession, and passionate spectators are always on hand to cheer the home team. Antiguan teams play against teams from most other Caribbean islands, as well as teams from around the world. The Antigua Recreation Ground is one of the best places in the region to watch the sport, but the massive Sir Viv Richards Stadium was built especially for World Cup. The cricket season runs January-July. Check with the tourist office for game times.Soccer (known as football in the Caribbean) stirs just as much passion among fans. The season begins in August with matches in the outlying villages and culminates in February with major games played at the Antigua Recreation Ground, where fans turn up in their team colors. Passionate supporters can become quite animated.
Auto racing is another major draw on the fenced 0.25-mi/0.4-km track on All Saints Road. Although the facilities are largely undeveloped, regional competitions have drawn participants and fans from major racing territories such as Trinidad and Puerto Rico.Horse racing is a popular pastime in Barbuda, with entertaining competitions held on most holidays. If you are a fan and plan to visit Barbuda, you may want to combine the two. Basketball and volleyball matches are played at the YMCA just outside the city or at the JSC Complex on Old Parham Road.If tennis is your game, be sure to check out Tennis Week at Curtain Bluff Hotel, held in May and November. The annual events draw top international competitors. At other times, you can play at Temo Sports, a racquet club open to the public in English Harbour (phone 460-1781). It offers tennis and squash, as well as a restaurant.

Shopping

St. John’s has great shopping, including duty-free shops in Heritage Quay that offer English crystal, china and liqueurs, Antiguan rum, beautiful locally designed silk-screened material, local pottery, Haitian wood carvings and other handicrafts. Other popular souvenirs include local hot sauces and jam made from black pineapples and other fruits. Susie’s Hot Sauce, the preferred local brand, has won several awards and been featured all over the world.For a unique souvenir, you might want to visit the post office in St. John’s to buy some of the nation’s attractive stamps. Bargaining in stores is not an accepted practice (but street vendors are almost always willing to negotiate). Most vendors are also not keen on cash refunds for purchases returned after a change of heart.Heritage Quay in St. John’s is a popular waterfront complex with street vendors and duty-free shops carrying clothing, perfumes, jewelry, linens, china, local artworks, liqueurs and gift items. Be prepared to encounter huge crowds at Heritage Quay when the cruise ships are in port—which is often.Nearby Redcliffe Quay has fewer tourists and a variety of shops and restaurants. The restored Georgian-era buildings were once storehouses for sugar and spices bound for England and the U.S. Goldsmitty is a great stop for unique, locally crafted fine jewelry. And if you love maps, a must-visit in Antigua is the Map Shop on St. Mary’s Street in St. John’s.A favorite place to purchase artisan originals is the Antigua and Barbuda Craft Market on Market Street at the West Bus Station. They have a wide assortment of original paintings, Caribbean flags, beach apparel, woodcarvings, leather bags, straw hats and purses, as well as an array of locally made soaps. A center of the island’s art community, Harmony Hall, on Brown’s Bay (part of Nonsuch Bay), was once a sugar mill. It now houses galleries of local arts and crafts—and also offers a restaurant and bar with panoramic views.The stores in Jolly Harbour offer some interesting finds, although they tend to be pricey. It’s worth a look if you have some extra time and want something different. Made in Antigua, which only sells locally produced items, is worth a visit. There are also some stores in English Harbour worth browsing, if you have the time to take a drive out there. Unique jewelry can be found in Falmouth at Polish scrimshander Michael Strzalkowski’s gallery. Both places offer options for lunch, so you can plan to spend a few hours.Sidewalk vendors outside the city normally carry an array of local fruits, depending on what’s in season, and mangoes can be found on just about every corner in the late summer months. Vendors can also be found on most of the popular beaches, with a variety of crafts and colorful sarongs, as well as an assortment of colorful jewelry.At Coolidge, just north of the airport, you can watch local potters work in a ceramics workshop called New Pottery. The wares are inexpensive, with a variety of choices (phone 562-1264). Another excellent place to find handcrafted pottery is Sea View Farm Village, the center of Antigua’s folk-pottery industry. The traditional designs produced there are modeled after ones that date back to the 1800s, when slaves began crafting vessels from local clay. Be sure to ask about getting a miniature coal pot as a souvenir. (This is a traditional Antiguan clay pot used for cooking.)Shopping Hours: Generally Monday-Friday 8:30 or 9 am-5 or 5:30 pm and Saturday 8:30 am-1 or 3 pm. Many stores in Heritage Quay and a few of the surrounding businesses stay open later on Saturday and open again on Sunday when cruise ships are in port.

Dining
Dining Overview

Most of the better restaurants are in the hotels, but many local spots have excellent food (generally a combination of Caribbean and Continental cuisine but usually more spicy and flavorful than either). West Indian dishes include pepper pot, a spicy, thick stew; fungee, a cornmeal and okra pudding; goat water (hot goat stew); and ducana, another pudding, made of grated sweet potatoes, raisins, coconut, sugar and spices, boiled in a banana leaf. Antigua also has excellent seafood restaurants that specialize in red snapper and spiny Caribbean lobster (sometimes called langouste).Try local fruits and vegetables, including pawpaw (papaya), christophine (a large boiled squash), breadfruit (which is cooked and served as a vegetable), black pineapple (it’s smaller and sweeter than Hawaiian pineapple) and green fig (unripe banana, which must be cooked before eating). U.S. fast-food chains have infiltrated—Kentucky Fried Chicken, in particular, is well-represented in St. John’s. But if you’d rather try some West Indian fast food, pick up a roti, a mixture of curried vegetables and sometimes chicken, wrapped in a type of flatbread. The local Sunshine ice cream is also delicious and available in most grocery stores. There is also locally made yogurt, in a variety of types, and different types of cheese. The Yao products can be found in most major supermarkets.On Barbuda, the choices are limited: Expensive restaurants can be found in the island’s upscale resorts, or you can choose from a few more moderately priced eateries that are independent of the hotels.In general, breakfast is served in the early morning, about 7-8 am. Lunch is often the largest meal of the day, usually eaten around noon. Dinners, the most formal meal of the day, tend to be lighter and are usually served 7-9 pm. On Sunday, locals often eat one large afternoon meal that serves as both lunch and dinner.Prices at most restaurants are comparable to those in major U.S. cities, and many menus give prices in both U.S. dollars and the local currency. Expect to pay within these guidelines for a meal for one, not including drinks, tax or tip: $ = less than US$10 (EC$26); $$ = US$10-$20 (EC$26-$52); $$$ = US$21-$50 (EC$53-$132); and $$$$ = more than US$50 (EC$132).

Local & Regional

Catherine’s Cafe
Situated right on the water at Antigua Slipway in Nelson’s Dockyard, this prized local haunt serves up much more than what is on its delectably short menu. Favorites include moules marinara, crepes, salads, quiches and good wines and espresso coffee. However, the atmosphere is what continues to attract the eclectic clientele. Daily except Tuesday for lunch; Wednesday and Friday for dinner also. Closed in September. $$. Most major credit cards. Freeman’s Bay, English Harbour, Antigua and Barbuda. Phone 460-5050. http://www.antiguanice.com/v2/client.php?id=564.

Home Restaurant
Chef Carl Thomas captivates locals and visitors alike with his own version of Caribbean haute cuisine. This local Antiguan, together with his German wife, Rita, have moved into Carl’s boyhood house and are raising the bar for island diners. The Carib gumbo and grilled duck breast with ginger plum sauce are just a few of the recommended choices. Tuesday-Saturday for dinner. Reservations recommended. $$$. Most major credit cards. Gambles Terrace, St. John’s, Antigua and Barbuda. Phone 461-7651.

La Bussola
An elegant spot for exceptional fine dining beside the beach in Runaway Bay. The attractive setting and excellent service offer the ideal backdrop for unique menu creations that use Antiguan flavors, including fresh pastas and seafood, baby octopus and a tasty broccoli soup. The dark hot-chocolate cake is a standout for dessert. Open daily for dinner, Wednesday-Sunday for lunch also. Reservations recommended. $$$-$$$$. Runaway Bay, St. John’s, Antigua and Barbuda. Phone 562-1545. http://www.labussolarestaurant.net.

Shirley Heights Lookout
A restaurant in a restored 18th-century battery building set high on a hill with a commanding view of English Harbour, this is the place to be on Sunday afternoons: An outdoor barbecue and a steel-band concert are followed by a reggae band. It’s also an elegant spot for dinner. Specialties include seafood and traditional West Indian dishes. Daily for lunch and dinner. Reservations recommended. $$$. Most major credit cards. Shirley Heights, Antigua and Barbuda. Phone 460-1785 or 728-0636.

Cuisines
Fusion

Harmony Hall Restaurant and Sugar Mill Bar
Antigua’s premier fine-dining destination overlooks Nonsuch Bay and serves Italian and Mediterranean fare with Caribbean accents. The bar is located in a historic sugar mill, adjacent to the upscale, terraced dining area. An excellent art gallery attracts legions of visitors on its own. Lunch guests may take a trip to Green Island for US$10. Open November-May only. Daily except Tuesday for lunch, Friday and Saturday for dinner also. Reservations strongly recommended. $$$-$$$$. Brown’s Bay, Antigua and Barbuda. Phone 460-4120. http://www.harmonyhallantigua.com.

Italian

Abracadabra
This chic Italian dining room consistently serves up pasta and a variety of seafood dishes to perfection. Lunches are served next door to the dining room, and late-night dancing under the stars is popular. Monday-Saturday for lunch and dinner. $$$. Most major credit cards. Main Road, English Harbour, Antigua and Barbuda. Phone 460-2701 for dinner; 463-8083 for lunch. http://www.theabracadabra.com.

Il Palio
For that special occasion, romantic interlude or just a fine-dining experience, this dining room in the Sandals Resort & Spa has an open kitchen and an antipasto bar. Sample the beef carpaccio, clams on linguini, or jumbo shrimp Provencale while gazing at the waterfront. Diners must first purchase an evening pass for the resort, which allows them to enjoy the resort’s other facilities but does not include a room. Daily for dinner. Reservations required. Evening attire. $$$$. Most major credit cards. Dickenson Bay, Antigua and Barbuda. Phone 462-4135.

Mama Pasta
Perhaps the best-kept secret is hidden on Long Bay at this charming little restaurant that serves a signature spicy Rasta Pasta along with a variety of other pasta creations and the best pizza on the island. The view of the beach adds to the serenity of this spot. Daily except Tuesday. Closed the first two weeks of August. $$. Most major credit cards. Phone 722-5503.

Continental

Le Bistro
This upscale restaurant offers French, Italian and local menu items, as well as a fine selection of wines, in an elegant setting. Tuesday-Sunday for dinner. Reservations recommended. $$$-$$$$. Most major credit cards. Hodges Bay, Antigua and Barbuda. Phone 268-462-3881. http://www.lebistro-antigua.com.

Seafood

Hemingways Caribbean Cafe
This bar and restaurant located in the heart of St. John’s is tourist-friendly and in a location ideal for those visiting for a day or those staying in Antigua a while. Hemingways offers seafood dishes for lunch and dinner, including local lobster. You can enjoy the creole cuisine in the evenings along with a pineapple daiquiri made from local pineapple and rum. Monday-Saturday for breakfast, lunch and dinner. $$$. Most major credit cards. Phone 462-2763. http://www.hemingwayantigua.com.

Steak Houses

Peter’s BBQ Steakhouse
Dig in to your choice of cuts at this spot in Jolly Harbour. The best steaks are prepared by Peter, along with a selection of French-bread sandwiches. There is also a tasty Antiguan breakfast. Seafood is also a treat. Monday-Saturday for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. $$-$$$. Most major credit cards. Phone 462-6026. http://www.caribbeanhighlights.com/peters.

Security
Personal Safety

Generally, the most tourists have to worry about are petty theft and pickpocketing or purse snatching, particularly on busy cruise-ship days or at events such as Carnival and cricket. Unforutunately, however, violent crime involving tourists has been on the rise.To counter this increase, additional police officers have been assigned to patrol beach areas frequented by tourists. Neighborhood Watch groups have also been vigilant, particularly in the Dockyard area. The police also are usually visible in the Redcliffe and Heritage Quay areas and waterfront shopping areas in St. John’s on days when cruise ships are in port. Check with your hotel’s front-desk personnel or concierge regarding what areas may be unsafe for visitors.Visitors should always exercise common sense: Don’t venture into deserted areas or beaches alone, especially at night; lock your car and stow valuables in either a room safe or with hotel security; and don’t leave belongings unattended at the beach or in other public areas. Don’t flash large sums of money in public or wear expensive watches and jewelry to the beach. Wrap an article of clothing around personal items to make them less conspicuous while you go swimming.A few areas on the outskirts of the city are not recommended for visitors. These include Gray’s Farm, Green Bay, Hatton, Point and Villa.For the latest information, contact your country’s travel-advisory agency.

Health

The Mount St. John’s Medical Centre is a 185-room facility in St. John’s, Antigua, with modern equipment and trained specialists (phone 484-2700; http://www.msjmc.org). Most major U.S. insurance providers are accepted; check with yours before traveling to verify coverage. Medical Surgical Associates, a private facility just outside the Woods Mall in St. John’s, was founded by a former chief surgeon with the government and has a number of private specialists (phone 481-5200).Another private hospital, Adelin Clinic, also offers many services. If there isn’t a doctor on hand, one can be paged for emergencies. It is wise to call ahead first (phone 462-0866). In addition, there are a number of competent private physicians and dentists who can handle emergencies.There is one health-care center in Barbuda: Hanna Thomas Hospital. There is a doctor on duty during the day and on call at night for emergencies, as well as a nurse always on duty. Should serious illness occur that cannot be treated on the island, the patient is flown to Antigua for care.The public water is processed and safe to drink, though many visitors prefer bottled water. There are no specific precautions to take regarding food—just use some discretion in choosing a place to eat. A hepatitis vaccination is recommended, and be sure to take along sunscreen and insect repellent. Don’t forget a comfortable pair of walking shoes. In an emergency, phone 911 or 999.Watch out for the poisonous manchineel tree. It bears small fruit that should never be eaten, and it is also advisable to not stand beneath the tree while it is raining. (The runoff can cause skin to itch terribly and to blister.)In addition, while swimming, keep an eye out for the nearly transparent jellyfish, which can irritate skin, although the effects are seldom toxic. When swimming at less-frequented beaches, particularly those with a lot of stones underwater, watch for sea urchins. These are covered in barbs that you could step on.For the latest information, contact your country’s health-advisory agency.

Dos & Don’ts

Do book far in advance if you’re visiting during Carnival in late July or during Sailing Week in April.Do ask whether a price is being quoted in U.S. or Eastern Caribbean dollars: Both are widely accepted, but they are not equal in value.Do consider the hostels as an alternative to the expense of regular hotels, especially if you are younger or on a tight budget.Do be aware that, at 17 degrees above the equator, the sun is very strong—even on cloudy days. Always wear sunscreen and a hat.Do try to see a cricket match at the Recreation Grounds in St. John’s or one of the fields outside of the city (games are often held on weekends, January-July). Cricket is big on Antigua: Viv Richards, a world-famous Antiguan player, even has a street named after him in St. John’s and was named a national hero—not to mention a title: He is now Sir Vivian.Do try Wadadli, the local beer (it’s brewed under German guidelines). Also try the local light rum, Cavalier.The best way to stay on track when driving from St. John’s to English Harbour is to follow the hand-painted signs that advertise English Harbour restaurants.Do hire a guide to go caving on Barbuda—the stalactites, stalagmites and fossils are exceptional.Don’t waste water. Antigua lacks groundwater, so drinking water is either collected from rainfall or processed through a desalination plant at Crabbs. Many hotels have desalination plants.Do consider taking a catamaran all the way around Antigua.Do dance to the ubiquitous soca music.

Hotels
Hotel Overview

Antigua and Barbuda strangely lack the presence of the large American chain hotels, but this does not prevent the tiny nation from offering the widest selection of accommodations of any destination in the Leeward Islands.Accommodations on Antigua range from the most exclusive in the Caribbean to more basic hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, villas, condos and locally run inns. Almost all the properties are well-managed and clean, but be careful about location—some places are quite remote. That’s fine for isolation, but bear in mind that when you’re lodging half an hour from St. John’s, you can run up quite a taxi bill (US$35 to get to town isn’t unusual). Check to see if the hotel offers a shuttle.Although many hotels on Antigua are all-inclusive (room, meals, drinks, recreation, taxes and gratuities included in a set price), don’t expect transportation to and from the airport to be included.Located off Antigua’s northeast coast, Long Island is devoted to the elite Jumby Bay Island Resort. Following some financial problems and legal entanglements, the resort got back on its feet when wealthy island residents, including TV-personality Robin Leach, purchased the property. The revived resort caters to the posh set, charging up to US$14,000 per night, and comes with the all-inclusive amenities you expect at that price. In addition to well-heeled humans, Long Island is home to hawksbill turtles that nest on the beach at Pastere Bay June-November.Lodgings are extremely limited on Barbuda, so book ahead. There are only a couple of hotels and a few luxury resorts. Barbuda does have guesthouses and cottages available at considerably lower rates. Some offer only the most basic lodging and services, and others are equipped with cable television, a kitchen and air-conditioning.

Facts
Geostats

Passport/Visa Requirements: All U.S. citizens must have a passport when traveling by air to or from Bermuda, Canada, the Caribbean, Central and South America and Mexico. Citizens of Canada, Mexico and the British Overseas Territory of Bermuda also must have a passport or other designated secure document to enter the U.S.Passports are required for land crossings at the Canadian and Mexican borders with the U.S. and for cruise passengers returning to the U.S. from Mexico, the Caribbean, Canada or Bermuda.Return/onward ticket and sufficient funds are required. A departure tax of EC$70 is payable at the airport. Reconfirm travel document requirements with your carrier before departure.Population: 84,522.Languages: English, often spoken with a Caribbean patois.Predominant Religions: Christian (Anglican).Time Zone: 4 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (-4 GMT). Daylight Saving Time is not observed.Voltage Requirements: 110 volts in some hotels and 220 volts everywhere else; 60 cycles. Ask when you book whether you’ll need to take a converter.Telephone Codes: 268, country code;

Money
Currency Exchange

ATMs are common in tourist areas but only dispense local currency. Credit cards are commonly accepted in stores, hotels and restaurants but not at smaller establishments; be sure to carry some cash with you. Both Eastern Caribbean dollars and U.S. dollars are accepted most everywhere.You’ll find banks in St. John’s, Jolly Harbour, Woods Mall and at Nelson’s Dockyard National Park, near the pier in English Harbour. St. John’s has many branches of international banks in addition to the local banks. Normal bank hours are Monday-Thursday 8 am-2 pm and Friday 8 am-4 pm. The Bank of Nova Scotia at Woods Mall and Bank of Antigua are open on Saturdays until noon.

Taxes

The Antigua & Barbuda Sales Tax (ABST) replaced consumption tax, the hotel tax and the telecommunications tax. It is calculated at 15% and is already included in the displayed cost of goods.

Tipping

A 10% service charge is normally included in the hotel bill. Tip taxi drivers 10%. Porters get EC$1-$2 (US$0.50-$1) per bag. Most hotels and restaurants include a 10% service charge in your bill; additional gratuities for outstanding service are appreciated but not required.

Weather

Temperatures are usually warm in Antigua and Barbuda. Daytime readings range 75-80 F/25-30 C and nights about 10 degrees F/5 degrees C cooler. It’s often sunny and arid with a pleasant breeze blowing. The island is the driest in the eastern Caribbean, with an average annual rainfall of about 45 in/114 cm. During the dry season (roughly January-April), brown is the predominant landscape color. Residents might suffer from the droughts, but for visitors, the low rainfall and constant easterly breezes create one of the most pleasant climates in the West Indies. An exception is hurricane season (July-November), when it’s cloudier, hotter and more humid. However, unless there’s actually a hurricane in the neighborhood, even that season can be pleasant, and prices are more reasonable then.

What to Wear

Dress is mostly informal, but it’s advisable to take some formal clothing if you intend to dine at some of the fancier restaurants, since some do have strict dress codes. If you plan to stay on the beach until sunset, it is advisable to have insect repellent and clothing that doesn’t leave a lot of skin exposed. Short pants are acceptable for men and women for breakfast and lunch, but only in the more casual restaurants for dinner.If you wish to attend a church service, most men wear long sleeved shirts and ties, while women traditionally wear dresses or skirts.In December and January, the evenings can get a bit chilly, so you might want to take a light sweater. Business attire usually means a jacket and tie for men, and a business suit, pants or skirt for women.Most residents wear sandals year-round. Sneakers are not popular, particularly with women. Barefoot is the usual way to go on the beach, but you may wish to protect your feet with appropriate rubber-soled shoes, particularly if you are venturing into the water at one of the less-frequented beaches.

Communication
Telephone

There are pay phones that use coins, calling cards and credit cards, but these are often not maintained, as mobile phones have become more prominent. Coin phones supplied by the local telephone authority, APUA, are limited to local calls. Private companies offer prepaid calling cards for other phone booths; credit-card booths, though not as numerous, are distinctively marked.Local calls, including ones to Barbuda, do not require area codes. Most people rely heavily on cellular phones, and the signal is generally good, except in the most remote areas. Some of the cellular services allow for roaming, but if you prefer to have a local phone, this can be arranged.

Internet Access

Internet access is available throughout the island, within hotels and in Internet cafes. You can also purchase prepaid Internet cards for use on Antigua Computer Technology’s network. Some hotels offer Internet access as a free service, but others bill for it. The rate at cafes in the city is usually quite low and generally is charged per hour. There are open Wi-Fi zones set up at certain locations, including the airport. The Coast and Island Beehive offers free access in Heritage Quay.Internet access in Barbuda is available at the Internet cafe in Codrington Village.

Mail & Package Services

The main post office in St. John’s is on High Street, just opposite Heritage Quay. Monday-Friday 8 am-noon and 1-4 pm. Its service is generally reliable, and for important parcels, the postal service offers an express service. FedEx and DHL also have offices in the city. Finding parking in the city can be quite a challenge, though, particularly when there are cruise ships in port. There is a branch of the post office just outside the city at Woods Mall on Friars Hill Road.

Newspapers & Magazines

There are two daily newspapers: The Daily Observer and The Antigua Sun. Both generally carry the same information, although politics have been known to color the content. Caribarena.com carries online news coverage.Visitors’ guides are available at all major ports, and Life in Antigua, the official tourist publication of the Antigua Hotel and Tourist Association, is available in most hotel rooms. The Food & Drink guide is an informative publication featuring eateries of every type. In addition, there is a locally produced, free magazine called Business Focus, which features Antiguan business personalities.

Transportation
Air

V.C. Bird International Airport (ANU) on Antigua is about 4 mi/6 km northeast of St. John’s (about a 15-minute drive). Barbuda has Codrington Airport (BBQ) at the south end of the island, about 3 mi/5 km from Dulcina.Both regional and international airlines can be found along one strip in the main VC Bird airport terminal. Standard security restrictions apply. You will be required to remove shoes and scan laptops and carry-on luggage. The lines for departure can be quite long when there are several international flights on the ground (particularly on the weekends), so it is advisable to get to the airport early.Departure tax is not collected by the airlines at check-in, and must be paid at a small kiosk located just before the departure entrance.There is an information desk at the airport operated by the Tourism Department. Phone 460-9398. Additional information and assistance can be obtained by calling Antigua Airport Services at 462-0528.
Because Antigua is the hub of LIAT’s service throughout the Caribbean, there are numerous flights to other islands (phone 480-5601). Winair flies from Antigua to Codrington, Barbuda, twice daily for about US$95 round-trip (phone 562-7686; toll-free 866-466-0410 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              866-466-0410      end_of_the_skype_highlighting). Several companies offer air-and-land day-trip excursions from Antigua to Barbuda. The Coco Point Lodge on Barbuda has its own airport and air service.

Bus

Privately owned buses (minivans) provide transportation around Antigua, but there is no set schedule, and few buses run after the evening rush hour or on Sunday unless there are festivals and events in the city. The buses are used far more by Antiguans than by visitors, so they provide a close-up view of island life.From St. John’s, buses to the eastern part of the island leave from the East Bus Station; the others leave from the West Bus Station, near the Public Market. Fees vary according to the length of your trip (EC$2-$8) but the driver can tell you what you owe if you tell him where you’re going. Pay as you board.There is no bus service on Barbuda.

Car

Rental cars are plentiful on Antigua. Most agencies are located outside the city, near the airport and in English Harbour. Rates start at US$55 per day. You must have a valid driver’s license and pay about US$20 for a temporary local license. The rental car agency can assist you in obtaining one.
Roads are generally good but filled with many potholes, and few of the smaller roads are marked outside the city, so be sure to get a detailed map from the rental agency. (It’s easy to get lost.) Driving is on the left.
On Barbuda, rental cars are available, but be prepared for rougher, dustier roads and few directional signs.

Ferry

There is a scheduled ferry service between Antigua and Barbuda called The Barbuda Express (phone 560-7989 or 764-2291). Round trip is US$80. Those wishing to sail to Barbuda can charter a boat or join one of the excursion cruises offered by several operators on Antigua. Barbuda is about two hours away from Antigua by boat.

Ship

Cruise ships call at Antigua: The larger ships dock at Heritage Quay (a large, duty-free shopping center) and Redcliffe Quay in St. John’s. An information booth is located inside Heritage Quay, and the main office of the Antigua and Barbuda Tourist Board is one block away at the corner of Nevis Street and Friendly Alley. When there isn’t sufficient space at the ports in the heart of the city, cruise ships dock at Deepwater Harbour. Smaller, windjammer-style boats visit English Harbour, docking a five-minute walk from Nelson’s Dockyard National Park. Larger yachts dock at Falmouth and English harbors, as well as in Jolly Harbour.

Taxi

Taxis are not metered, and drivers can be quite creative in their pricing, so agree on a price before getting in the cab. Drivers are required to carry a rate card—rates quoted are for up to four people in the taxi, and they tend to be high. (For example, the 7-mi/10-km ride from St. John’s to English Harbour costs US$25.) Rates are usually quoted in U.S. dollars, but be sure to confirm the currency before getting in the cab. Taxi drivers also serve as island guides (a four-hour tour for four people runs US$70-$80). For taxis in Barbuda, phone 562-7066 or phone the Barbuda Tourism Office at 460-0604 to arrange a car and driver.

Other

Mountain bicycles can be rented for about US$35 a day from H2O Antigua (phone 562-3933) or from Bike Plus for US$17 per day (phone 462-2453). Mopeds and motorcycles are not generally available for rent, but a few small companies offer scooters. Quads are the latest craze, and these can also be rented.Bicycles can also be rented in Barbuda from GMW Bikes.

For More Information

Tourist OfficesAntigua and Barbuda Department of Tourism, Nevis Street and Friendly Alley, St. John’s, Antigua. Phone 462-0480. Fax 462-2483.Antigua and Barbuda EmbassiesCanada: High Commission for the Countries of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, 130 Albert St., Suite 700, Ottawa, ON, K1P 5G4. Phone 613-236-8952 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              613-236-8952      end_of_the_skype_highlighting. Fax 613-236-3042.U.S.: Embassy of Antigua and Barbuda, 3216 New Mexico Ave. N.W., Washington, DC 20016. Phone 202-362-5122 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              202-362-5122      end_of_the_skype_highlighting. Fax 202-362-5225.U.K.: Antiguan Embassy, 15 Thayer St., London W1M 5 LD, England. Phone 44-207-486-7073. Fax 44-207-486-9970.Foreign Embassies Serving AntiguaCanada: Canada is represented by its High Commission in Barbados: Bishop’s Court Hill, St. Michael, Bridgetown. Phone 246-429-3550. Fax 246-429-3780.U.S.: U.S. Consular Agent, Suite 2, Jasmine Court, Friars Hill Road, Antigua. Phone 463-6531 or 726-6531. Fax 460-1569. Assistance is also available from the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Bridgetown, Barbados. Phone 246-227-4193 or 246-227-4000 after hours.

Events
Calendar

The country rings in the New Year with fireworks, chiming bells and champagne parties at Nelson’s Dockyard and elsewhere. January also brings the start of the all-important cricket season (but you’ll find games going on year-round).Sailing races and regattas also take place throughout the year, though Sailing Week in early April and late May is one of the biggest annual events. It’s considered one of the top regattas in the world, and it draws yachts and revelers from afar. The Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta is held in April and follows Sailing Week as one of the biggest events on the island.Barbuda’s version of Carnival, called Caribana, gets going in mid-May and early June, but the Antigua Carnival doesn’t come around until late July and early August. Antigua’s festival is associated with the abolition of slavery on 1 August 1834, when freed slaves took to the streets to sing, dance and exult in their freedom. Today’s Antiguans celebrate by doing the same.The nation’s Independence Day is marked on 1 November, when there are parades and other forms of merriment.The Ministry of Tourism maintains a comprehensive events calendar on its Web site, http://www.antigua-barbuda.org.

NORTHSTAR Travel Media, LLC. ©2010 All rights reserved. 

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