If Antigua doesn’t roll off your tongue when you talk about your next Caribbean vacation, settle into that armchair and do a bit of daydreaming with me. Think pearlescent beaches, clear cool waters, resorts that cling to cliffs and beaches, world-class dining and drinks, and sailing for days and days. Read this beginner’s guide to Antigua to get your vacation-planning juices in high gear.
Where: Antigua is an island in the West Indies, and the largest island in the country Antigua and Barbuda. Antigua and Barbuda are located between the islands of St. Kitt’s & Nevis and Montserrat in the Caribbean.
The name: Antigua means ancient in Spanish, but the indigenous name used in the pre-Columbian era was Wadadli. (Wadadli, by the way, is the locals’ favorite beer, served at most restaurants on the island.)
The currency: Antigua uses the Eastern Caribbean dollar, which has an approximate exchange rate of $0.37 to $1.00 U.S. dollar.
The best beaches: Trying to pick the best beaches in Antigua is a bit like trying to pick the best chocolate in a box of chocolates—they’re all great but slightly different.
The must-see attraction: Nelson’s Dockyard is understandably Antigua’s most famous attraction. The UNESCO World Heritage Site includes historic buildings dating to the founding of Antigua as an English colony. The Dockyards is named for British admiral Horatio Nelson, who was in charge of the Dockyards from 1784 to 1787. The Dockyards were populated by thousands of slaves who worked day and night loading and unloading the ships of the rum and sugar trades that centered on the Caribbean islands. Today, the area hosts yachting and sailing events.
Visit the Dockyard on a Friday when the Copper and Lumber Hotel hosts its amazing Friday Night Seafood Buffet. Locals, expats, and tourists alike attend this seafood extravaganza. Dishes range from crispy fried conch fritters, to rich seafood pasta, to the massive surf and turf, which includes a steak, half a lobster, and sides—all caught locally and cooked on-site as you watch. Sit outside under the stars, watching the sailboats and yachts docked at the marina as lights from the nearby hills flicker on the water. Early on in the evening, the event feels quiet and intimate, but as it gets later and the rum punch kicks in, the music gets louder and the dancing begins, making this event perfect for visitors of any age and taste.
Where to eat: Antigua is a choice destination for cheap eats and local seafood, but no visit to Antigua is complete until you spend a few hours at the gorgeous Sheer Rocks, located at Cocobay Resort on the Pacific coast of Antigua. The Antiguan coast and the Pacific Ocean make up the restaurant’s décor—a perfect accompaniment to the locally-inspired tapas and cocktails on offer here.
According to Executive Chef Simon Christey-French, “We get about 80% of our whole menu from the island.... I think the sort of secret of island living, especially Antigua, is using the most of what’s around you.” Sheer Rocks Owner, Alex Grimley agrees, “We buy fresh fish straight off the boat from the guy who caught it, line-caught only, hand-dived lobsters, hand-picked cockles. And if we can’t get it, we don’t import the next-best option.”
Those high-quality local ingredients translate into some of the best food on the island, from light-as-air, melt-in-your-mouth tuna carpaccio to tart and smoky burnt tomato crostinis. Sheer Rocks has dozens of ever-changing small plates to choose from, making it a real temptation to order enough calories for a year.
What to drink: Rum is the main alcoholic beverage on the island, which makes sense since it was the rum trade that built the island to what it is today. Everywhere you go in Antigua sugar mills still dot the hills, a reminder of the darker side of Antiguan history, since every sugar mill was the site of a slave-worked sugar plantation.
These days, only two of the sixty-six still-visible sugar mills on the island have been renovated to working order. You can see them at Betty's Hope in St. John, the site of Antigua’s first, and most important, large sugar plantation during this era, and now an open-air museum.
Rum is still distilled on Antigua, from molasses made with sugarcane grown on the island. Antiguan rum is less sweet than other rums and Antigua Distillery Limited, the largest distillery on the island, produces two high quality rums: Cavalier, which comes in light and dark, and English Harbour, which offers a 5- and a 10-year rum. These are high-quality rums, best sipped straight, so you won’t find them in many rum punches. If you want to really delve into rum-drinking, head to Antigua Distillery Limited to tour their facility and try their rums in their tasting room.
Rum punch is the essential drink on the island. And, the best rum punches in Antigua, according to just about everybody you ask, can be found at Papa Zouk, just outside of St. John’s. The overwhelming feeling you get when you walk into Papa Zouk is joy—from the food, the rum, the communal feel between diners and staff. Owned by German film producer Bert Kirchner, who has lived on the island for over twenty years, Papa Zouk has been celebrated throughout the Caribbean as one of the best rum shops not just in Antigua, but in the entire region.
Where to stay: Galley Bay Resort is our top choice for an Antiguan vacation. Guests stay in tastefully adorned cottages and rooms overlooking the aquamarine ocean or the hotel’s bird sanctuary. Enjoy dining at four on-site restaurants, beachfront yoga, a luxurious spa, hidden coves and pools, and a stunning adults-only resort that will satisfy your every desire.
Okay—that’s enough daydreaming. Get out there and book that trip! I’ll see you in Antigua.
Photo credit: Sheer Rocks
*All content provided in this blog is supplied by Akila McConnell and is for informational purposes only. Barclaycard makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information contained in the blog or found by following any link within this blog.
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