Pictures don’t do the Caribbean justice. No matter how many times I venture south for the idyllic crystal blue water, I still get just as excited as a little child on Christmas morning when I step off the plane and feel the warm salty breeze. Usually the excitement is due to the fact the winter sweater needed when my journey began is causing me to sweat bullets, and I can’t wait to cool off on a beach, but I digress.
I recently had the chance to spend a few days in Antigua, and with 365 white sand beaches, one for each day of the year, I think I’ve found my favorite spot in the Caribbean thus far! Along with Barbuda, Antigua, once a key Caribbean base for Great Britain, is now an independent state within the Commonwealth.
While the 108-square-mile island of Antigua may seem small compared to it’s neighboring Caribbean islands, it certainly packs a big punch when it comes to its numerous sights and activities for guests of all ages. Offering year-round mild temperatures, a stretch of pristine coral reefs, tropical rainforests, and constant trade winds for sailors, the island offers both peace for those seeking restorative relaxation and adventure for those who aren’t the lay-on-the-beach-drink-in-hand type.
While on Antigua, it was refreshing to find I felt safe during my travels. With that in mind, exploring the gorgeous island should become a top priority during your visit. Here are 9 activities to fill your time while vacationing in Antigua.
Swimming With Stingrays
Sting Ray City offers a memorable experience for anyone who has entertained the idea of swimming with Stingrays. The guides are fantastic and fully explain how your time will be spent while you’re out with the underwater creatures. The journey begins on a boat ride out to a shallow pool with a white sand bottom where the stingrays feed. According to Stingray City, the southern ray “is known as the puppy dog of the sea, always looking for attention and a snack.” Not deterred by the shuffling feet around the sand bar, these playful creatures seem drawn to humans. Everyone gets the chance to safely appreciate the graceful beauty of stingrays up close, and it is here you can have the chance to pet and even feed the southern ray.
With so many beaches to choose from, diverse aquatic life, and plentiful tropical marine plants, Antigua is a snorkeler’s paradise. Both Antigua and Barbuda are almost completely surrounded by coral reefs and shipwrecks. The coral shelfs on the southern and eastern coasts of Antigua provide excellent conditions for spectacular snorkeling.
Perhaps one of Antigua’s best-known offshore snorkeling sites is the two mile Cades Reef, which can be accessed by glass bottom boats. Snorkel with a crew or on your own. Another popular destination is the wreck of the Andes, a three-masted merchant ship that sank in 1905 and now rests in less than thirty feet of water.
There are many opportunities to Kayak around Antigua. Stingray City offers fantastic kayaking around the mangroves allowing you to experience the magic and beauty of Antigua’s tropical ecosystem. A prominent plant in Antigua and Barbua, the mangroves prevent erosion of land by the sea and are nurseries for many kinds of fish and sea creatures. They also make a fantastic home for wild life. While Kayaking make sure to take in your spectacular surroundings and spot marine life such as sea turtles, starfish, and upside down jellyfish.
One splendid way to explore the lush green forests and beautiful beaches is on horseback. For those looking to get away from the more touristy areas and venture into the serenity the island offers, horseback riding is one way to do it. Depending on your excursion, you’ll explore some of the many beaches found surrounding Antigua, or be able to take in the tropical wildlife within the forests on the island.
You might be as surprised as I was to learn Antigua offers zip lining experiences within the island’s tropical rain forests. Antigua Rainforest Zipline Tours give guests a chance to experience 16 thrilling zip lines, 3 aerial walk way bridges, 2 tree houses, 2 ‘Leap of Faith’ vertical descents, 9 elements of challenge course & 3 unique combination tours. Zipping through the rain forests gives adventurers a new perspective on the beauty of the island.
Besides horseback riding, another fantastic way to explore this island is by a buggy tour. After paying a small fee ($20) for an Antigua and Barbuda driving license, individuals will be licensed to drive around the island for three months. On the buggy tour, guests will explore Wallings Dam and Forest, Historic Fort George, and take a slow drive back through Fig Tree Drive to West Coast Village. The buggy tour gives people a chance to navigate through terrain and scenic landscapes unseen by most other visitors to the island.
Dine at Papa Zouk
Sitting just outside the city of St. John’s, a big favorite amongst tourists and locals alike is Papa Zouk. A rustic creole style seafood restaurant with an authentic Caribbean vibe, Papa Zouk was voted the #1 rum bar by the Caribbean Journal. Papa Zouk offers perhaps the freshest seafood dishes you’ll find on the island. Because the restaurant is too small to store seafood, many of the dishes you’ll find are made with seafood obtained from the fish market’s literal catch of the day.
Enjoy Sailing Week
For those who would rather take in the beauty of the island from the sea, sailing week is the perfect time to enjoy the plethora of watercraft which seem to take over Antigua’s coast. The Sailing Week itself consists of racing over five days with a variety of coastal courses around the buoys in the deep blue Caribbean Sea off Antigua’s south coast. Over 100 yachts participate every year ranging in size from 24 feet to over 100 feet. Sailing week is not just a showcase of yachts. Spectators can find bareboats, race charter boats, small cruisers, sport boats, multihulls and performance racing and cruising boats participating in all the festivities.
Day Trip to Barbuda
Known for its Pink Sand Beaches, Barbuda lies 27 miles north of Antigua. Easily accessible by a 90 minute Ferry ride in nearly all weather conditions, Barbuda makes for the perfect day trip excursion. Barbuda hosts the famous Codrington Lagoon National Park which supports the world’s largest colonies of frigate birds as well as other indigenous animals including wild boar, red-footed tortoises, and a variety of sea turtles. With as many as 73 charted shipwrecks and coral reefs, Barbuda is a snorkeler’s and diver’s paradise.
Antigua truly offers something for everyone. Whether you are an adventurer, drink-in-hand-sunbather extraordinaire, or foodie looking to indulge in fresh seafood, these nine activities just scratch the surface of the many wonders this glorious island offers visitors.
Have you been to Antigua? I would love to hear about the fun times you had on your vacation to the island. Leave them in the comments below!