Antigua, Leeward Islands
Along with the island of Barbuda, around thirty miles to its
north, the island of Antigua is an independent country in the Leeward Islands –
and a very popular stop-off for cruise ships touring the eastern Caribbean.
Your ship will probably deposit you at the cruise dock in St.
John’s, the island’s capital on the north west coast. There’s a tourist
information center just a hundred yards from the quay, heading into town, that
will give you plenty of information about the town and island. If you’d like to
learn a little more about the history of the island, and of St. John’s in
particular, you might like to drop into the local museum. It’s housed in the
old court buildings on Market Street, and contains exhibitions and information
about the development of Antigua and of neighboring Barbuda.
There’s a lot more to do in St. John’s than simply learn about
the island’s rich culture and history, though. The town is home to one of the
most flamboyant and exotic markets in the Caribbean, where you can buy
souvenirs of your visit as well as fantastic locally grown produce. Once you’ve
tasted super-fresh pineapple and banana grown within a few miles of the market
where it is sold the stuff you buy back home will never seem quite the same
There are interesting things to see and do outside of St.
John’s, too, although getting to them may require a bus or taxi ride – your
cruise line, possibly, will have organized transport around the island for you.
Southwards of St. John’s is Nelson’s Dockyard (there are quite a few of these
in the Caribbean) where the great English admiral was temporarily based. These
days it is no longer a naval dockyard but a well-equipped marina that attracts
sailors from across the region and the world. The internationally-famous
Antigua Race Week operates from here, seeing competition between sailing boats
in a huge variety of classes from tiny dinghies through catamarans to
ocean-going yachts. Shirley Heights, a section of elevated ground right outside
the dockyard, is a great place from which to look down and admire the
intricacies and activity of the marina below. It’s an especially useful vantage
point during Race Week.
If you would like to enjoy a little peace and quiet, you have a
number of options. You are unlikely ever to have problems finding a quiet – or
even deserted – beach on Antigua, though you may have to go a little way out of
St. John’s to guarantee success. Heading to the south side of the island can be
a good bet – most of the vacation resorts with their large numbers of guests
and private beaches are on the stretch of coastline immediately to the north of
St. John’s. Relaxing on the white sand of a completely deserted beach is one of
the great luxuries of a visit to Antigua. The weather comes pretty much
guaranteed. Apart from the odd tropical storm (of which you get plenty of
warning) the sunshine and temperature (hot, but pleasantly moderated by sea
breezes) remain constant throughout the year.
If you feel like a relaxing time that involves a little more
activity than simply lying in the sand drifting off to sleep, you could pay a
visit to Parham Harbour in the north of the island. This sleepy little village
is a wonderful place, dominated by the structure of St. Peter’s church. This
remarkable building, built in the nineteenth century, is octagonal in shape,
and built in an Italianate style – not quite what you’d expect in the
Caribbean, but entirely in line with Antigua’s habit of springing quiet,
low-key, pleasant surprises on its visitors.
One of these surprises – or is it really a surprise? – is the
quality of the food on offer. If your ship is docked overnight in St. John’s it
is highly recommended that you take the opportunity to eat out. In St. John’s
itself the Redcliffe Tavern is a fascinating building, decorated with artefacts
of an industrial past. The menu is a fusion of traditional and modern European
influences with contemporary Caribbean cuisine. The food is great, but, as in
so many places on Antigua, dining at the Redcliffe is worth the asking price
for the atmosphere alone. If you’re willing to travel a little further in
search of something even more special, try Alberto’s at Willoughby Bay. The
cuisine here is unashamedly Italian in origin. But, despite operating in one of
the most crowded of world-food marketplaces, Alberto’s has achieved
international recognition as a truly great place to enjoy Italian cuisine.
If you can, try to book a place on a cruise that spends a couple
of days or more in Antigua. There’s a whole world to be explored here, both on
the beaches and in the hinterland. So much in one small island!