What do Oprah Winfrey, Eric Clapton, and Giorgio Armani all have in common? They each have winter homes on the island of Antigua.
As you can see in the picture above, with that type of natural beauty, it’s obvious why the rich and famous come to this beautiful island nestled in the eastern Caribbean. But the good news is that you don’t have to be a millionaire to visit – it’s a perfect destination for everyone.
The island is 281 sq. km (108 sq mi) and has a population of around 88,000. The great explorer Christopher Columbus himself is who named the island on his second voyage in 1492 – “Antigua” means “ancient” in Spanish.
Part One: Getting there (and getting around once you arrive)
In the city of St. John’s is V.C. Bird International Airport, which is the only public airport on the island and where you will be flying into. The major airlines that have flights to/from Antigua are: Delta, American Airlines, US Airways, United, Virgin Atlantic, and British Airways.
Once your plane arrives, there are around a dozen places to rent a car. But as someone who has visited the island, my recommendation would probably be to get around by taxi and tour buses instead. Why? Because the roads are rough, the drivers aren’t the best, and you don’t want to pay for damage to a rental car. But make sure you have cash on hand, because the taxis probably won’t accept credit cards.
Part Two: Choosing a hotel or resort
So which hotel is best? Well, the answer depends on what you’re looking for. There are dozens of places to stay, ranging from affordable to high-end luxury hotels. As examples, here are two places that Fodor’s recommends:
- Siboney Beach Club – On the corner of Dickenson Bay, this is a lower cost option. There are no TVs in the aging rooms – but then again – with a beautiful beach why would you want to watch TV?
- Curtain Bluff – For a luxury hotel (with a high-price) then you may wish to consider this resort, which is also ranked 5 stars by Trip Advisor. There are tons of activities on the property, ranging from tennis courts to scuba diving.
In addition to pricing, you also will want to take into account what amenities are nearby your hotel.
Part Three: Things To Do
1. The Beaches
First and foremost, the beaches are where you should be spending the majority of your time. Their motto is “365 beaches, 1 for every day of the year” so there are plenty of them for you to visit!
It’s hard to pick out the “best” because they’re all so stunning, but if you read reviews online you will see that the Galley Bay Beach is perhaps the most famous. It’s on the western side of the island. Sea turtles are often known to lay their eggs there and many say this beach has the best surfing waves on the island.
Another noteworthy beach that should be on your list is Stingray City, where you can swim with real stingrays!
2. Historical Sites
The island has a rich history – you can view buildings and other historical sites spanning several centuries.
Among the top spots on your list should be Nelson’s Dockyard National Park, which offers some of the most stunning views in all of Antigua.
Betty’s Hope in St. John’s is a sugar plantation, founded in 1674, that was operated by slaves. It has been setup as an historical site and is definitely worth checking out. While you’re in St. Johns, Fort Barrington is another must-see attraction, as it was built by the British in 1779 for protection against the French. So you can understand the history better, before you see any of the historical sites it might be wise to visit the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda (also in St. Johns) so you can learn all about the island.
If you’re up for some shopping, there are plenty of places to go. According to the island’s official website, “the best deals are to be found at Heritage and Redcliffe Quays.”
The local currency is the East Caribbean dollar (XCD). To give you an idea of the currency conversion, about 1 XCD = 2.7 USD. Credit card acceptance will be limited to Visa and MasterCard (sometimes American Express) at the larger retailers and restaurants. If you plan on paying with a plastic, a no foreign transaction fee credit card might be a good idea to avoid the costs of currency conversion.
However at the smaller and independent merchants, credit cards won’t be accepted and you will need to have paper currency available. Many will accept US dollars too, so don’t feel the need to convert all of your money to the local currency.
4. Natural Landmarks
The beaches aren’t the only natural landmarks to see!
Devil’s Bridge is the name given to natural limestone arches which were formed through erosion from the saltwater. Although it may look beautiful, it has a dark history as it is rumored to be the location of mass suicides by slaves centuries ago.
Mount Obama (which was named after President Obama in 2009) is the highest peak on the island. It is located on the southwest side and will require an hour hike or so to reach the highest location.
Mike reviews the best hotel credit card offers on his website, CreditCardForum.com. Even though he specializes in hotel credit cards, you will also find see him analyzing travel and airline cards, too. He’s been to Antigua once and is looking forward to another visit in the future.