What to do in Antigua – when not sailing!

Antigua is well known as the mecca of sailing in the Caribbean. But what’s there to do when off the boat? Ruth fills us in on her top tips.

By Ruth

NELSON’S DOCKYARD

Strictly speaking, it’s related to being on the water – but no trip to Antigua is complete without immersing yourself in the rich naval history of Nelson’s Dockyard in English Harbour. Granted UNESCO status in 2016, the dockyard is made up of a number of small museums and preserved buildings, giving visitors an insight into what life was like during its use during the 1700s. You’ll be spoilt for choice with the dockyard hitting the unique combination of genuinely offering something for everyone; whether it’s learning about Nelson’s less than favourable experiences on the island in the museum, enjoying a lazy day in the pool at the Admiral’s Inn Gunpowder Suites, or sampling some rum punches with a side of local folklore in the hills during a ‘rum in the ruins’ tour on a Friday night.

Don’t miss – book a ‘rum in the ruins’ tour for a Friday – entry includes a guided tour and two 10/10 rum punches.

SHIRLEY HEIGHTS

While pedants may claim that Shirley Heights should technically be considered part of Nelson’s Dockyard and English Harbour, it’s such an experience in itself that I think it deserves its own special mention. An old naval fort and lookout post built into the hills above English Harbour, every Sunday night at sundown it transforms into a steelpan and BBQ party.

The second to none food (special shoutout for the ribs), the lethal yet tasty rum punch and the sublime steel pan performance combines with the perfect view, leading to a truly wonderful and quintessentially Antiguan experience!

Don’t miss – getting there early to stake out a good table to appreciate the panoramic view of the sunset across the whole bay.

STINGRAY CITY

Again, even though you can only reach it by boat, stingray city is an absolute must-do during lay days. The tour leaves from the Northeast of the Island.

Unlike many similar ‘experiences’ – the stingrays are free to come and go – and arrive they do as soon as the boat reaches the reef! Although that’s possibly down to the copious amounts of food that’s available to feed them… Alongside the knowledgeable guides, it’s a truly unique experience watching them glide playfully next to you. The clear, warm waters of the reef are also perfect for snorkelling, with the shallow ridges attracting schools of colourful fish.

Upon returning to terra firma, you’re greeted with another rum punch – another hallmark of a quality Antiguan experience – and the opportunity to chat with the locals committed to preserving the reefs.

Don’t miss – popping along the coast the Devil’s Bridge National Park when you’re visiting this corner of the island

DIY JEEP SAFARI

With more than 350 beautiful beaches, it’s easy to forget that some of the most beautiful spots in Antigua are hidden inland. We’ve found that the best way to see these is by 4×4, with easy car hire, safe roads and unintimidating driving conditions making this a unique day out. Meander through the lush rainforest to the Wallings nature reserve at the Southwest of the Island, where you’ll enjoy a series of different trail routes catering for all abilities. The self-guided hikes culminate in panoramic 360-degree views of the Island atop Signal Hill, as well as a visit to the reservoir teeming with local wildlife and birds. Adrenaline junkies can then enjoy a ziplining canopy tour, before taking advance of your wheels to access some of the more remote beaches nearby for a cooling dip.

Don’t miss – after your hike, visit Darkwood beach to sample the conch fritters, before driving ten minutes North to Coco Beach. Here, you’ll be able to enjoy a massage on the near-empty beach, whose protective reef makes it the perfect spot for a mid-afternoon nap surrounded by beautiful shells.

EXPERIENCE ST. JOHN’S

It’s easy to forget that there’s more to historic Antigua than its naval past. A great way to experience this is to venture to the northwest of the Island, to the capital St John’s – best reached by bus. These lively people carrier style busses are not just a great way to chat with locals, but the constant shout of “bus stop” offers a tour of the more local side of the island. Once in St John’s, you can either venture down to the cruise ship port to stock up on all your Antigua themed nick-nacks, or visit the tiny yet excellent National museum where you can learn more about the rich history surrounding the island. Finish up with a walk through the beautiful wooden cathedral, before stopping for a Carib and a browse in the local market.

Don’t miss – a lunchtime stop at Roti King – best rotis on the island (a controversial view, but one I stand by!) – off the beaten track and full of Antiguan character.

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