Antigua Travel Guide

Mother Earth Travel > Antigua > Antigua Travel Guide > History

In many ways a throwback in time, yet geared to cater to the most savvy traveller, our capital city invites the explorer to visit its labyrinth of crisscrossed streets and alleyways. Absorb local color, shop for duty-free goods at Heritage Quay, browse the boutiques at Redcliffe Quay for clothing made from sea cotton. Then, try your luck at King's Casino or sample a West Indian meal from Hemingway's veranda on lower St. Mary's Street overlooking the harbour. Then, jump in a cab, a car, a boat, hop on a bus (hold on!) or rent a bike and head for a day at the beach. Any beach will do! According to local lore 'An-TEE-gah' boasts 365 pristine beaches, all minutes from our bustling capital and offshore financial center of St. John's.

For the most part, St. John's looks like what you'd expect from an island city of commerce. Colourful sun-bleached wooden shops and businesses line the litter-free, narrow streets, some refurbished and well-kept but most faded and old. Down-at-the-heels businesses are interspersed with newer construction which is built predominantly with hurricane-strength cement and designed with more an eye for function than aesthetics. With few exceptions, no building is taller than the Royal Palm trees.

If you're arriving by boat, step right onto the foot of town where no red tape will delay you. Cruise ships enter the port daily, with several ships scheduled every Thursday and Friday when the town simply overflows. What's a tropical city without vendors? You can't avoid the bazaar of friendly low-key merchants who are (for the most part) non-aggressive. Parking is almost non-existent since Prime Minister Lester Bird offered a duty-free concession of one car per Antiguan. But taxis proliferate and the drivers hustle. Don't worry about finding them, they'll find you. And, as far as capital cities go, you can walk the entire town, from the waterfront south to the National Cricket Stadium just outside the city, in about ten minutes. When you're downtown, you're only about 15 minutes from V. C. Bird International Airport.

Unlike some upscale neighboring islands like St. Barth's, there is little about Antigua that is terribly sophisticated. Yet, the island possesses an intangible magic, forever luring visitors back for more.

Beyond St. John's, a different tropical world reveals itself on this 108 square mile sparkle in the Caribbean's eye -- namely, the areas of Falmouth Harbour and English Harbour. To get there, you must head diagonally from St. John's south-east toward the coast for about forty minutes. There's never much traffic, but the roads are narrow and covered with potholes. You'll likely pass road construction crews comprised of men and women, toiling side-by-side. Don't be distraught if you're detoured, just do your best to spy a posted sign advertising a restaurant in the harbour area. These signs will be your guide as few roads are named or marked in Antigua. Along your drive, you'll encounter countless livestock roaming freely, including cattle, herds of goats, chickens and an occasional donkey or horse. Remember to drive on the left!

You'll know you're nearing your destination when the roads improve and you begin angling up a moderately steep hill. Once it flattens you'll gasp at the beautiful vista below. Your destination is the harbours dotted with dozens of boats at anchor. Falmouth and English Harbours are home to some of the world's most famous sailing vessels and motor yachts. After all, you're witnessing the staging grounds of one of the world's most prestigious and raucous yachting events, Antigua Sailing Week. Activities get under way during the end of May annually. It's impossible to lose your way here, as the two areas have only one primary street between them.

Take a stop in Falmouth and walk the docks to admire the mega yachts, check out the Antigua Yacht Club or pause for a bite of lunch. Past Falmouth the road ends abruptly at historic Nelson's Dockyard, which fringes English Harbour. This piece of living history is the world's only fully preserved Georgian Naval dockyard, dating back to the 18th century. Many buildings here are open to the public (self or guided tours) including two small inns, a museum, the Galley Bar and the Galley Boutique, restaurants, a tiny bakery (behind the museum), post office and more. Stop by the sail loft (A and F Sails) to peek at Franklin and his team of sailmakers at work. Nearby is the Antigua base for Sun Yacht Charters. You'll also happen upon more yacht related businesses catering to the boating community. Many yachts call these harbours home, but most are just passing through.

Ask anyone for directions to Shirley Heights, rising above the harbour area to the left (east). Here, you'll be treated to one of the most panoramic views available. Look for the ruins of a British fortress, and be sure to spot Montserrat and the Soufriere volcano, 30 miles south. You can savor the view over lunch or a refreshing beverage in the small restaurant there. If you're lucky enough to be visiting at sunset on a Thursday or Sunday evening, stay for the party! It's an Antiguan tradition to celebrate sunset with a jammin' raggae and rum barbecue. While these biweekly parties are comprised of 90 percent tourists, it's still not to be missed! Watch out, those rum punches turn what begins as a low key crowd into dancing fools!

Another significant area you won't want to miss is the Dickenson Bay stretch just north of town. The seas here are glassy and framed by powdery white beaches. It provides an idyllic setting for several sprawling resorts including Sandals. Residents of Antigua generally avoid this area, as it has become a tourist mecca. But, in all fairness, the beaches are fabulous and this is where you can get your fill of water sports. A romantic little open-air restaurant, Coconut Grove, rests on the beach here. You'll want to stop here, even if it's only for a tropical sip, or four.

You'll have the sense that time stands still when in Antigua. There's very little in the way of technology, no industry and little commerce. What you will take home with you is a sense of appreciation for a simpler life, splashed with beauty. A place where there's always time to smell the roses.

Mother Earth Travel > Antigua > Antigua Travel Guide > History