We thought we’d take a trip and see what the buzz about Antigua is all about.
The waves quickly make their way up the beach, getting closer with every hour to where we have set ourselves up on beach beds. It is not long before they stop right at our feet, tempting us to go in. The wind blows over a sweet smell from the Neem trees that makes me think of camomile and jasmine. A score of Carib Grackles continue tweeting all around us – consistent enough to fall into a lull and sweet enough to sooth like a song. It is our third day in Antigua – one of our five best locations to visit in 2022 – and I can safely say we have taken to the island. My friends and I did have a few obstacles before now. Firstly, before even getting here, we had to navigate finding where to stay in a group of three. Antigua is an island that caters first and foremost to couples. This means that many hotels, restaurant and activity organisers tend to make their offerings in pairs. Travelling in an odd number, we found that for most things we wanted to do we would have to pay quite a bit more for a phantom fourth. In the end we settled on an Airbnb with stunning views in Boon’s Point, near Dickenson’s Bay. Every morning I wake up at 6am (part jetlag, part excitement) and walk the 40 mins to the beach for an early morning coffee as a reward for my efforts. The rest of the day, I will spend lounged on the beach, Wadadli beer in hand (named after the original name of the island before Columbus got there), contemplating my choice from the lunch menu.
The other great obstacle that gripped us even before we arrived was transportation. We rented a car on advice from a friend who has spent a lot of time in Antigua. This same friend warned us about the bad roads and advised that we get an SUV. This part we did not heed. In our little Kia, we hoped to take on the island. Only 20 hours into the trip, we hit the curb of a pothole-ridden and poorly signed road in St. Johns and popped our tire so badly that I was convinced the violent sound of deflating air was actually the fire hydrant in front of us gushing out with water. Luckily, there was an auto repair shop 200m away. Our lovely Airbnb actually provided us with a taxi driver, King David, who made himself available to us for the entirety of the trip. We’d already rented the car so decided to only use him at night (the roads are completely unlit and the rum punches are strong). If I could do it over again, I would stick to a taxi driver for the entire trip. Another obstacle has been the wind. A popular sailing location, Antigua’s winds can prove a little disruptive to a calm day at the beach. The only beach we didn’t have a mild gales blowing sand in our faces is here, Half Moon Bay. It is the most picturesque beach we have seen so far – and what I don’t know yet is that it is the most relaxed and sublime day I will have on the island.
Half Moon Bay is home to Beach Bum Bar, the only restaurant on the cove. We came to the bay specifically for the lobster they serve and we are not at all disappointed. While thoroughly enjoying my own food, I couldn’t help but peek at the plates of the others at the restaurant and I am still keen to try the burger which looks like it was so good that it must be unholy. The beach itself is a wonder and the calm of the ocean in the bay makes for such a lovely swim. It is also a fun place to wander around. I spent the afternoon climbing the rocks on the left of the bay and letting the waves crash violently against me for respite from the scorch of the sun.
On our first day, we arrived in the evening and made our way to Papa Zouk, which came highly recommended but is also known to have been visited by celebrities, recently including Jourdan Dunn and her partner, Dion Hamilton. I am still dreaming of the food at Papa Zouk and the rest of my trip is spent measuring everything else against the simple brilliance of their menu. We shared the grilled red snapper that they are famous for and I ordered a local dish called the bouillabaisse, which is essentially a peppery seafood soup.
Obstacles aside, we settle into a trip characterised by long beach days exploring Turner’s, Ffrye’s and Darkwood Bay, followed by sunset at Sheer Rocks – which is better for its cocktails than its food. Other days, we spend at Dickenson’s Bay where every adventure – from swimming with sea turtle to deep see fishing for marlin is on offer. At lunch we stroll over to Casa Roots for the most refined meals on the island. Or, we head over to Pigeon Point Beach and swim amongst the sailing boats before going to Catherine’s Café for lunch and live music. By the evening, the music is so compelling that everyone is dancing and making plans to continue the night down the road at English Harbour.
The pinnacle (quite literally) of our entire trip was Shirley Heights. We were told to come here by a friend and the experience I had makes me say now that she is a true friend indeed. We walked the steep 40 minutes to the peak with several taxis stopping by us with their passengers to comment on the impressiveness of our efforts. Once we reached the spot, we are greeted by the sound of skilled steelpan drummers playing everything 80s throwback to Reggae. The view from the top is of English Harbour, studded all over with sailing boats and super yachts. The barbeque blows the most hunger-inducing smell our way and there is a small market of local makers and sellers. We are each pulled in the direction of these several enticements and cannot seem to choose between the view, the music, the food and the trinkets. The night evolves into a fever of dance when the steelpan band allows the live band to take over and deliver their Reggae renditions. The sense of exhilaration is incomparable and I cannot describe the energy at the peak of Shirley Heights. If I didn’t already know that this happened every Sunday during the Antiguan season, I would have told you that it was a once-in-a-life time event.
However, the best part of Antigua is entirely clear and undisputed to my mind. It is the people. I do not know if it is because this is predominantly a tourist economy or because the island air comes with a sprinkle of cheer and jolly in it but I have never met a more welcoming and open people. From the stranger that drove past when we popped our tire and helped us fix it despite being late for work to the man I met at Shirley Heights who spent an hour giving me sage relationship advice, my experience of Antiguans has given me the sense that they treat even strangers like family.
Leaving Antigua, I hope that this is ‘see you later’ and not ‘goodbye’.