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Antigua and Barbuda guide

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Antigua and Barbuda at a glance

ANTIGUA is a lively, busy island with some good value. It is easily accessible, with many international and regional connections and is a popular port of call for cruise ships (and consequently has good shopping). It has magnificent sand and beaches, in long strands and isolated coves, some with good beach bars. There are a small number of excellent and stylish hotels among a large stock of mid-price resorts and all-inclusives, and just a few smaller, independent places to stay. There are plenty of good villas. Activities include excellent sailing, some good restaurants, casinos (it is one of just a few islands with them) and a very interesting visible history in Nelson’s Dockyard and many forts.

BARBUDA is very quiet, with just a couple of expensive hotels and some very simple guest houses. It is a plane ride (and now ferry ride) beyond Antigua and has truly spectacular, barely developed beaches, some interesting nature and a very simple Caribbean life.

Most of the island’s population of 1,500 live in the capital Codrington, little more than a village, with is low-key ambience and sleepy pace of life.

Read about Antigua and Barbuda's history, population and politics in Island Essentials.

The Definitive Antigua and Barbuda Island Guide gives you independent reviews, listings, and information from top travel journalists and Caribbean specialists.

Best for:
Great sand beaches, sailing, soft adventure tours, visible history especially Nelson's Dockyard
What for:
Beach, Corporate & Incentives, Cricket, Cruise, Culture & Heritage, Family, Yacht Charters, Solo Travel, Weddings & Romance
Not for:
Eco, Camping, Hiking
How to get there:
Numerous direct flights from the UK, North America and other Caribbean islands
Top tip:
Try a short stay or day trip to nearby Montserrat

Antigua and Barbuda in depth

By James Henderson

About ANTIGUA and BARBUDA...

Antigua and Barbuda are like two sisters. They are visibly from the same stock but unalike in so many ways. Antigua is a gregarious, populous island, with a highly developed tourism industry, while Barbuda, just 30 miles to its north, is much quieter, laid-back even to the point of doziness. What they share is their appearance and setting, in the North-eastern Caribbean. They are set in a stunning blue sea, their skirts fringed with furls of fantastic pearl-white sand.

Their beaches are supreme. As coral-based islands, the sand is bright white and there is plenty of it, collecting in the curves of the islands’ whiplash coastline, pushing up superb beaches and reflecting the tropical sunlight underwater in spectacular shades of jade, turquoise and aquamarine. Not all the beaches are lively. There are always deserted stretches of sand to be found on Antigua where you can get away on your own. And if anything, Barbuda’s beaches are even finer. There are simply miles and miles and miles of perfect sand with barely any development.

Antigua is 108 square miles in size, on the map a splurge of promontories and peninsulas with spectacular bays in between them. The land is largely rolling hills on a limestone base (from reefs that grew to cover an original volcanic outcrop on the colliding crusts of the Caribbean and Atlantic tectonic plates). As a low lying island, it is mainly open land and has little forest. Due to its geographical position and its extraordinary natural harbours, Antigua has had strategic importance since the days of empire. In the 1700s it was a British naval base and the island simply bristled with forts and barracks. These are still visible around the coastline, and include Nelson’s Dockyard, the only restored Georgian naval repair station in the world. Inland the plantation history of the island is also clearly visible. Stone windmills, standing every few hundred yards on the high ground, run through the island like a leitmotif. The island retains its strategic value (it has had an American airbase since the Second World War), but in these more peaceable times it is because Antigua is one of the main hubs for arrival into the Caribbean, from Europe at least. And since the arrival of tourism in the Caribbean, the harbours and beaches have also taken on another use, as home to hotels. Over the years the island has settled largely for a mid-range product, in which many of the hotels have adopted an all-inclusive formula, but recently there has been a resurgence of style in Antigua, which has brought the island back a little into the consciousness of stylish travellers. Life is in change in other ways too.

After many years under the Bird family and the Antigua Labour Party, Antigua and Barbuda now has a new government in the United Progressive Party, led by Prime Minister, the Hon Winston Baldwin Spencer. There has been greater attention to public works, with improvements to the hospitals, roads and assistance for pensioners, but the changes have not been greeted with universal approval. After years of paying no Income Tax (Antiguans were taxed through goods and services), it has been recently introduced, affecting around a quarter of the population.

Antigua’s past as one of the most heavily defended places on earth, with soldiers and sailors manning fortresses to ward off invading armies, is now gone. But a few things remain the same. The island is still busy and a lynchpin in the area. Antigua is still one of the heartlands of Caribbean sailing, home to the region’s most famous sailing regatta, Antigua Race Week. Nowadays the coastal forts have been replaced by waterfront hotels, and the bars are just as busy with modern-day sailors. Instead of keeping people out, they are now welcoming them.

BARBUDA is almost completely undeveloped by comparison with Antigua, and though it is quite hard to imagine, the island has even better beaches than its larger sister. There is just one town (more of a village really), Codrington, on the lagoon, a huge stretch of inland water that is home to the largest colony of frigatebirds in the Caribbean. The best beaches are along the southern shore, where there are a couple of hotels, and in the west, which is relatively remote.

The island is just under 110 square miles, and unlike many of its volcanic neighbours it is comprised of limestone.

 

This Definitive Antigua Guide is maintained by a team of top travel writers and our own in-house team of Caribbean specialists.  The guide covers over sixty different aspects of the island and includes independent reviews about Antigua and Barbuda, its accommodation, things to do, places to seegetting around, how to get there and links to help your Antigua travel plans. 

Contributors include Jane Anderson, Deana Bellamy, Peter Ellegard, and Sara Macefield.  Picture editor, Holly Cocker.  Senior Picture Editor, Alexander Gray.

Or read our other island guides

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When to go and weather

Looking for inspiration?

  1. Visit Nelson's Dockyard, the oldest functioning naval facility in the world
  2. Party at Shirley Heights Lookout on Sunday at sunset followed by barbecue and live music
  3. Stay at the spectacular Jumby Bay
  4. Hop over to Barbuda for stunning beaches and excellent birdwatching
  5. Race a yacht to nearby Montserrat for the day

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