Antigua, the largest of the English-speaking Leeward Islands in the eastern Caribbean, measures about 22 by 18 km and encompasses about 275 square km. Antigua is also the name of a nation that includes two other islands: Barbuda, about 50 km due north, a flat coral island only 174 square km in area; and the tiny (1.5 square km) uninhabited island of Redonda, now a nature preserve and bird sanctuary.
Down in the southwestern corner of Antigua is Boggy Peak (4,020 metres), which sounds like a contradiction in terms but is the name of the highest point. The capital of this small nation, which is home to some 68,000 people, is St John’s, on Antigua.
NELSON HATED IT, MILLIONAIRES LOVE IT
Well, for one thing it has a remarkable history. In 1784 the then unknown but now legendary Admiral Horatio Nelson decided that the island, with its warm, steady winds, its lacy coastline indented with safe harbours, bays and inlets, and its protective rim of coral reef almost encircling the island, would be the perfect place to hide a fleet and so he established what became Great Britain’s most important Caribbean base. He was not happy here. Nelson, poor man, hated the place, calling it an ‘infernal hole’, declaring English Harbour ‘vile’ and decrying the uncouth and unpatriotic behaviour of the English inhabitants. The mosquitoes plagued him and he succumbed to the fever during his three-year stay, before finally escaping back to England with an expat English wife whom he married in Nevis.
Little could Nelson imagine that over 200 years later the same characteristics that attracted the Royal Navy would make Antigua and Barbuda one of the Caribbean’s favourite tourist destinations, ranked as Best Island for Celeb Spotting by Caribbean Travel & Life magazine. Eric Clapton and Giorgio Armani own properties here, Keith Richards and Posh and Becks have holidayed here, and each April the Sailing Week attracts American tycoons such as Bill Gates, along with droves of Hollywood stars.
EXPLORE, ADV ENTURE AND ROMANCE
As well as the beaches, inlets and almost constant balmy northeast trade winds, the temperature fluctuates only mildly from the mid-20s Celsius in winter to the low 30s in summer. Annual rainfall averages only 114 cm, making it the sunniest of the eastern Caribbean Islands, with low humidity all year round. Its romantic, with lots of secret places, and hence the most popular destination for weddings in the last two years, and there are said to be 365 white and pink sand beaches, one for every day of the year.
For tourists with a taste for culture and history, there are the charms of St John’s itself, with its narrow streets and heavy stone cathedral; the restored Georgian warehouses and working marina of Nelson’s Dockyard; and English Harbour, now the centre of a national park crossed by walking trails along the hilltop battlements.
Active holidaymakers have other delights in store. The expansive, winding coastline is where trekkers can encounter a wealth of secluded, powdery soft beaches. Snorkellers and scuba divers home in on the wonderful coral reefs. During Sailing Week, you can watch, sign up as a deck hand or of course join in the sailing yourself. Explore the underground caves at Indian Town, rumoured to extend all the way to Guadeloupe.
There’s an annual carnival, mouth-watering Caribbean food, the largest casino in the eastern Caribbean, duty-free shopping, natural wonders including rainforest, the Frigate Bird Sanctuary and Devil’s Bridge and much more. Accommodation ranges from the budget to the ultra-chic, super-luxurious Carlisle Bay, where prices start from £416 per night for a double room.
BEST TIME TO GO
Mercifully low, in spite of the glories the islands have to offer. The rugged terrain makes overdevelopment unlikely and the roads, where they exist, are charmingly bad; many of the scores of beaches are unreachable by road. So here’s a paradise that looks like staying so for a while yet. The best time to go is during Sailing Week, but be sure to book well ahead.
Author Harish Kohli is an adventurer, explorer and a travel expert for the Caribbean Holidays. His AwimAway.com, is the best place to look for Caribbean holidays. Here you can find luxury tours to Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao and holidays to the Caribbean Islands. AwimAway.com (www.awimaway.com) is UK-based and promotes low-footprint adventure and experiential holidays.