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Beyond the Beach: The Ultimate Travel Guide to Antigua

Antigua is famous for its 365 unspoiled beaches—but as insiders know, those white sands are merely a gateway to a land fertile in culture, fine dining, and superyacht sailing regattas

Ringed with coral reefs and lapped by balmy waters, Antigua is one of two major islands that make up the Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda. And, although your first impression may be of a plethora of pristine beaches—in fact, one for every day of the year—a true travel guide to Antigua encompasses so much more.

Read on to find out why classic sloops hailing from far and wide sail here, how the richness of the island’s terrain is matched only by its heritage, and what to know about investing in the region—property enquiries during 2020 have soared, aided by the country’s unique visa-free access to more than 160 nations and its low COVID-19 infection rates.

Immersed in Wilderness

Covering just 108 square miles (281 sq km), Antigua’s has an abundance of wildlife and fauna—such as the red mangrove, a coastal shrub defined by its knotty roots—which grows on its east coast. “The mangroves are a hugely important part of the ecosystem, well protected from overfishing, pollution, or development. That’s why you still find areas of Antigua that are completely untouched,” says Justin White, director of sales at Anchor Antigua Realty.

Bird s eye view of Nelson's Dockyard surrounding mountains coves and aqua blue water of the island of Antigua
Great Bird Island—a 20-acre (8 ha) islet best known for its coral reefs—is a wildlife haven for many endangered creatures, such as tropical birds and whistling ducks. Image: Alamy

Mercers Creek Bay, on the northeast side of the island, is a secure habitat for southern stingrays and, from January to April, don’t miss the opportunity to book a boat charter to view humpback whales during their migration season. In June through October, the private island of Jumby Bay, two miles off the coast of Antigua, offers glimpses of the hawksbill turtle’s nesting season. Here, the female turtles make their annual pilgrimage to lay their eggs, and are protected by the world’s longest running research program for the critically endangered species.

To truly experience the area’s terrain, Carolyn Addison, head of product at experiential travel company Black Tomato, recommends an aerial tour of Montserrat. Once bustling, the island is now dominated by the active Soufrière Hills volcano that rises 3,000 feet (914 m) above sea level and regularly emits avalanches of hot ash, smoke, and steam.

Soufriere hills volcano, Montserrat, British Overseas Territory, West Indies, Caribbean,
After more than three centuries of silence, the Soufrière Hills volcano in Montserrat starting smoking again in 1995, and is now one of the most closely monitored active volcanoes in the world. Image: Alamy

“Taking in Antigua by helicopter shows the true expanse of its biodiversity, from the lush green jungles and kaleidoscopic coral reefs to the active volcano,” she says. “It provides a completely different perspective.”

Island Cuisine

Jumby Bay Island resort’s 28 luxury suites and villas are sparsely peppered across the private island, providing guests with space and seclusion. Its fine dining restaurant, The Estate House, offers a contemporary take on Caribbean cuisine, from fresh lobster to mahi-mahi pulled straight from the sea.

For a European twist, the smoked marlin carpaccio with passion fruit and pink peppercorn salad at nearby French establishment Le Bistro in Hodges Bay demands to be sampled. And if you’d like to experience eating like a local, Addison recommends an authentic Antiguan breakfast of saltfish and Johnny cakes, as well as the hearty local specialty of goat water stew.

The Estate House at Jumby Bay Island
The Estate House at Jumby Bay Island features an airy courtyard lounge space that links the dining areas, with lush tropical plants and works by local artists.

Historic Intrigue

Antigua was once at the center of the Caribbean sugar trade and the hallmarks of colonial rule remain visible. Betty’s Hope sugar plantation was one of the island’s earliest settlements and dates back to 1651. Its fully restored sugar mill tower, complete with sails, is one of around 112 that still dot the countryside.

Today, the island is prized for its authentic Caribbean-style architecture, where ocean-fronted luxury villas feature yawning balconies, large open doors, and spacious interiors, which allow the cool Atlantic breeze to blow through. “Antigua’s unique blend of eco-tourism, historical tourism, and Caribbean architecture typifies the lifestyle on the island,” says White.

Restored windmill at Betty's Hope
Sugar mill towers, such as the restored one at former plantation Betty’s Hope, were used to crush cane between rollers to extract the juice. Image: Alamy

Buoyed by the island’s Citizenship by Investment program, unique tax benefits, and international airport, Antigua’s property market has experienced solid growth for the past decade, adds White. “I’ve seen an increase in interest in Antigua and Barbuda from the international community, specifically for luxury properties that offer resort-like living,” says White.

“The yachting community is a cornerstone of Antiguan lifestyle and we have marinas that can accommodate large boats—more so than the rest of the Caribbean. When coupled with the island’s modernized, yet old-style harbor, it’s a real draw.”

Antigua Yacht Club Marina
Yachting enthusiasts need look no further than the full-service marina at the Antigua Yacht Club, located in Falmouth Harbour. Image: Alamy

Almost every property on the island benefits from an ocean view, says White. But he encourages those looking for something off the beaten track to go higher up on the island. Here lie some of Antigua’s most stunning natural spots, surrounded by bramble bush, cacti, and manchineel plants. This unspoiled appeal has drawn a number of celebrities to the area and, notably, musician Eric Clapton has a home here.

Tally Ho!

For an authentic slice of Antigua, little can beat the easygoing farmers’ markets and pastel-hued waterfront residences found in St. John’s, the island’s capital city.

Heritage Quay is a hub of designer boutiques, but it is English Harbour, the main naval base established by Lord Nelson on the opposite side of the island, that remains a vibrant focus of island life. It hosts the Antigua Charter Yacht Meeting each December at Nelson’s Dockyard marina, itself an area of cultural interest, and together forms part of Nelson’s Dockyard National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Dockyard Museum, Nelsons Dockyard English Harbour Antigua
The Nelson's Dockyard Museum is housed in the original officers’ quarters and displays a number of Nelson’s belongings, including his tea caddy and famous telescope. Image: Alamy

Nearby you’ll find the beautifully restored Clarence House, once the home of King William IV, and Shirley Heights, a former military lookout and gun battery, which offers the best sunset views on the island—rivaled only by Pinching Bay. On the climb up, look out for the wellness pools of Mermaid Gardens, two geographic limestone land forms carved by the sea, and the Pillars of Hercules, a rock formation eroded by wind and crashing waves.

To the east, the limestone Devil’s Bridge also makes for a spectacular sight when the Atlantic Ocean sprays through a smattering of natural blowholes. For the true nautical experience, however, a rum punch at Cloggy’s in Antigua Yacht Club is where old world meets new. “It’s one of the best sailor’s bars in the world,” says White.

On the Market

A Luxurious Villa Near English Harbour

The outdoor deck of an Antiguan home
The wraparound terrace of this home maximizes its incredible ocean views and looks onto its landscaped tropical garden and large swimming pool, which features a poolside dining space.

Known as Tiger Lily, this beautiful home is located on the southern coast of Antigua, a short distance from English Harbour, and is on the market with Anchor Antigua Realty. Featuring breathtaking 180-degree views, a south-facing aspect, and cooling trade winds all year round, the four-bedroom property is arranged over two levels and features a warm, inviting family room that flows out onto the spacious veranda and outdoor dining space.

aerial view of a oceanfront estate
Overlooking the clean and calming waters of the North Sound and Atlantic, the quiet inlets and beautiful bays that stretch below this house can be explored by kayak, sailing, swimming or snorkeling.

Designed by renowned Antiguan architect Andrew Goodenough, this waterfront villa—also on the market with Anchor Antigua Realty—is situated in the tranquil private community known as The Peninsula. The four-bedroom, six-bath home is arranged over 6,000 square feet (557 sq m) and its many terraces overlook the waters of the North Sound, where you can see flying fish, sea turtles, and the occasional stingray passing in the surrounding sea.

Banner image: Bird’s-eye view of Nelson’s Dockyard. Alamy