From the likes of the exclusive Jumby Bay to the utterly charming Inn at English Harbour, Antigua’s Hotels stand out for their unique blend of Caribbean appeal and high levels of service which cater for their guests’ every whim. With this in mind, and an array of rum cocktails on tap by your private pool, what could possibly be better beyond your idyllic abode? Our specialist, Poppy, endeavoured to find out…
Nature lovers flock to St Lucia, divers and windsurfers to Grand Cayman, but a certain crowd will always be drawn to Antigua, and not only in order to flop on its wide selection of beaches. With the exciting proposal of a whole week away in paradise, I was determined to find out why.
Driving round the island I was astonished by the contrast of scenery which varies enormously from the more level north of the island with its lush canopies of rainforest to the mountainous south. To the east, Nonsuch bay is ideal for those inclined to partake in sailing, kitesurfing, windsurfing and all forms of active water sports, snorkeling and surfing. The bay, a two square mile area of enclosed water, is protected from the open sea by a barrier reef and is graced by consistently gentle trade winds year-round.
West coast, on the Caribbean Sea, an adventure awaited me on my first day in the form of the ‘Reef riders’ snorkeling tour. Kitted out with our life jackets we bravely captained our individual speedboats and departed from the beautiful Jolly Harbour for an exhilarating 2h30 min tour with our expert guide Tigger. Baywatch eat your heart out! With stunning scenery, snorkeling at Cade’s reef and joyriding empty bays this was one of the most fun activities I have ever enjoyed on vacation!
After all the excitement it was time for some R&R so we headed to ‘Dennis’’, a bay house bar and restaurant with a bohemian feel in the most laid back setting on the beach. We devoured Dennis’ fish specials of lobster, tapilar, shrimp and red snapper before taking a dip in the turquoise waters below, virgin mojito in hand.
Day two took us further along the south coast to the yachting paradise of English harbor where the Royal Navy established its base of operations for the area during the eighteenth century. With lots of restaurants to choose from, our incredibly knowledgeable guide Joel had a special place on his list, Trappas restaurant, within walking distance of the harbor and which his family has been visiting for generations. All starters and mains on the menu are priced the same and with an incredibly relaxed atmosphere we all felt instantly at home and indulged in homemade hummus, ceviche, grilled fish and their famous breaded calamari as well as delicious west Indian curries and steak. Trappas have an excellent selection of European and New World wines and, of course, we were presented with a selection of dark rums to aid the digestion!
After spending the afternoon visiting the nearby hotels, we hastened to catch our ride up to Shirley Heights just before sunset. I had high expectations, and not just for the views from 490 feet high. One of the most popular attractions on the island, and once a military lookout, the little bar and restaurant has been hosting a local party every Sunday night for the last three decades. Greeted by the most charismatic of steel bands (I was treated to a dance with the 85-year-old conductor during his performance), we mingled with the entertaining crown which included local multigenerational families, little tots dancing around until giddy, completely charmed tourists and even a Premier league footballer! An occasion to get in touch with the soul of the island whilst dancing the night away under the stars.
The following morning it was time for an adrenaline rush, Zip lining above the rainforest! The Antigua Rain Forest Canopy tour provides safe and exciting adventures in the trees for all ages. Immersed in the lush forests and the incredible array of vegetation below, not only did I get over my fear of heights but have developed a love for this incredibly fun activity which is ideal for the whole family.
After an action packed morning, we headed back up north, passing through the St John’s area with its quaint local churches painted fuchsia pink and fruit sellers galore. After a swim at Dickenson Bay and in need of refreshments, we were informed of a local ‘secret’ at the coconut grove area of the bay (also signposted on a surf board), the ‘Kon Tiki floating bar’! With the option of swimming the 300 m out to this (which I was eager to do) or to be accompanied by boat by shy local fisherman ‘Little’, our group was welcomed onto the raft by its South African owner and with delight we took in the views of Nevis and St Kitts before being presented with a hearty local rum punch. After a couple of hours of floating it was time for lunch, just a hop, skip and a jump away to ‘Ana’s on the beach’, a lovely restaurant in the most suggestive of settings proposing delicious scallops and tartars as well as pasta and grilled chicken.
After an afternoon of visiting hotels in the area and a quick swim, once again, Joel had the most magical of places in mind for our soirée a little further down the coast by Fort St James. Beachlimerz, twinkling with fairy lights is set on the historic fort James beach, hidden by palm trees and with views of pelicans diving into the water for their catch. We were entertained by the charismatic owner Barry, a septuagenarian singer the highlight of whose 1970’s musical tour in the UK was serenading Margaret Thatcher. We particularly enjoyed the ‘Shark bites’ starters, delicious Mahi Mahi and Red Snapper mains and passionfruit cocktails.
To sum up, venturing out of your hotel and off the beaten track in Antigua is not only the best way to get to know the local cuisine and stay active but also gives insight into the local culture of these most welcoming and charming people. No doubt I will be returning to see Barry, Little and Tigger very soon!