A Singles Holiday in Antigua

My first trip to Antigua was a 10 day singles holiday, in a hotel at Jolly Harbour. Arrival was at the island's single airport, VC Bird Airport, named after the first prime minister, following independence, in 1981.

Jolly Harbour

The hotel itself came in at acceptable - a three star with an outdoor restaurant that was reminiscent of a holiday camp - wooden communal bench tables.

Most days, I walked down to the beach, at Jolly Harbour, to spend my time idling. The little port is one of several on Antigua which serve yachties. There is a web of small canals here (it used to be a swamp), where the boats ply back and forth. It's an interesting stroll. This is a view taken from the helicopter when I went to Montserrat, for the day. (It wasn't all idling.) You can see the harbour, the hotel, the golf course and the supermarket!

The beach was prettier then that it is now, and much quieter. ( Antigua, with Barbuda. has 365 beautiful beaches - so they say.) There were still plenty of beach bars, but the sand is exceptionally gorgeous, powdery white. Wandering down to the point, watching the seabirds on the rocks, is rewarding. I'm also on the look out for snakes, as I've read that the Antiguan racer is among the rarest snakes in the world. I'm not sure I really want to see one. And, no doubt, they're sensible enough to hide up in the hills.

St John's, the Capital of Antigua

It was a singles holiday. I spent most of the time on the beach. But I did get about a little. The capital city, St. John's. is home to 22000 people. It has a deep harbour, which can accommodate large cruise ships, so sadly (or not, depending on your point of view) it’s a thriving cruise ship port. It's also where the ferry departs for Barbuda, so I'm back here for a later trip. It's not the prettiest town from the sea, the the white baroque cathedral dominates. The church is in its third incarnation (fire and earthquake put paid to its predecessors) and its dedicated to St John, of course. There's also a little fortress, Fort James, at the entrance to the harbour, dwarfed by a mountain of container boxes.

St John's is one of the larger Caribbean metropolises, with plenty of shopping malls, as well as boutiques throughout the city, selling designer jewellery and high end goods. Fortunately, there’s also still plenty of Caribbean colour, with bright wooden buildings, markets and locals wearing Rasta hats.

There are also several museums, the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, mostly for cricket matches, a tiny Botanical Garden and the (slightly crumbling) Government House. V.C Bird has cropped up again too. There's a bust of him in the middle of town.

English Harbour and Falmouth Bay

English Harbour, on the south-eastern coast, is perhaps the most famous of the harbours on Antigua. It's a good place to visit on a day cruise. This pretty and well protected bay provides protected shelter, during violent storms and became a naval base not long after England acquired colonial British Antigua and Barbuda in 1632. It was a good place from which to keep an eye on the French navy and 'chase ye pirates'.

It is also the only harbour in the region large enough to repair big ships. It's the site of the restored 'Nelson's Dockyard'. It's named of course, (but not till the 1950s) after Admiral Nelson. Horatio Nelson, a major figure in Antigua history, arrived in the late eighteenth century, as the captain of the H.M.S Boreas, sent to Antigua to enforce British laws in the colonies. However, he got into rather too much trouble with the locals, when he tried to implement the Navigation Acts. These prohibited trade with the newly formed United States of America and most of the merchants in Antigua depended upon American trade. It put his career back a few years. The former Admiral’s House now contains the Dockyard Museum.

Round the corner is Falmouth Bay, yet another harbour. This one is where the rich and famous hang out.

Betty’s Hope

As with much of the Caribbean, Antigua rapidly developed as a profitable sugar colony. The only two surviving structures of the first large sugar plantation on Antigua are two restored and picturesque sugar mills. These have been incorporated into an open air museum at Betty’s Hope. The plantation was owned by the Codrington family who led the first British settlers.

Devil's Bridge

Another must see, on my tourist itinerary, is Devil's Bridge, a natural rock arch, near a village with the great name of Willikies. Here, as well as the arch, are natural blowholes, shooting up water and spray powered by waves from the Atlantic Ocean.

Hug a Sting Ray

I joined in with a boat trip to Stingray City. It seems compulsory now for tropical tourist areas to have these interactive ray sessions on the reef, where the fish are enticed with regular squid feedings. The rays burrow into the sand and then launch themselves against your body. They’re surprisingly velvety soft, but it’s also a strange tickly sensation. There’s much squealing. I can’t help thinking about naturalist Steve Irwin, who was killed by a ray. However, I’m told that the southern rays are so friendly that they’re known as the puppy dogs of the sea and love to be affectionate.

There were also a few bars. Maybe more than a few.

Antigua again

Flying visits again, to Antigua, when I'm Tall Ship Cruising. Then back again, from Saba and Statia, via St Kitts, so I can visit Barbuda. The ferry leaves from St John's and Antigua fills the skyline for much of the journey. Just time to visit Ocean Point and Hodges Bay - more glorious soft white, (if small), beaches, before another wistful departure.

(Read more about Antigua and Barbuda here.)

A Brief History of Antigua and Barbuda

  • Antigua was first settled by the Ciboney. Native American hunter-gatherers around 3100 BC. They were followed by the pre-Columbian Arawak-speaking Saladoids and then the Caribs. Antigua is known as Waladli (or ‘Our Own) by the native population, but was named Antigua (Spanish for ancient) by Christopher Columbus, after an icon in Seville Cathedral, "Santa Maria de la Antigua" - St. Mary of the Old Cathedral. Apparently, he made a vow to name many islands after aspects of St Mary that year.
  • Barbuda is Spanish for 'bearded'. It's thought it might refer either to the male inhabitants of the island, or the bearded fig trees found there.
  • Antigua was colonised by the British, from St Kitts, and became Britain's 'Gateway to the Caribbean' in 1632. Barbuda followed, in 1678. Christopher Codrington settled on Barbuda in 1685 and was handed control of the island. at this point the island was known as Dulcina. Tobacco and then sugar was grown, on both, worked by a large population of slaves transported from West Africa, who soon vastly outnumbered the European settlers.
  • After prolonged wrangling both internal and external. Antigua and Barbuda gained full independence on 1 November 1981; Vere Bird became prime minister of the new country.

Facts and Factoids

  • Antigua and Barbuda consists of two major inhabited islands, Antigua and Barbuda, and a number of smaller islands. including Redonda, Guiana Island, Bird Island, and Long Island
  • Antigua measures around 108 square miles (280 square km). It is mostly low and undulating, but in the west there are volcanic rocks that rise to 1,330 feet (405 metres). There are no rivers.
  • Barbuda, formerly called Dulcina, sits 25 miles (40 km) north of Antigua. It is a flat coral limestone island and it receives less rainfall than Antigua. Codrington is the only settlement and it sits on a lagoon to the west.
  • Redonda is an uninhabited volcanic rock, home to many seabirds. Redonda means round. Apparently, this tiny island is actually its own kingdom with its own king. A Montserratian trader called Shiellin announced this (he was the king, he said) in 1865. The island is inaccessible except by boat in the right sea conditions. It's actually closer to both Monserrat and St Kitts, than to Antigua.
  • The economy relies largely on tourism and the country is trying to position itself as a luxury Caribbean escape.
  • However, there's been a more recent income stream, as tech companies vie for addresses using the country's internet domain -.ai
  • Barbuda also exports a lot of fish, especially lobster.
  • The permanent population is approximately 100,000, with 97% residing in Antigua.
  • St. John's, Antigua, is the country's capital, major city, and largest port.
  • Mount Obama is the highest point. The name was changed from Boogy Peak (sometimes written Boggy) on 4 August 2009, when it was renamed after Barack Obama, who has his birthday on this day. The former title, Boogy Peak, came about because slave masters told the slave stories about the Boogie Man who took spirits and lived on the mountains. Their attempts to dissuade escapees weren't always successful.
  • Fungie, pronounced foon-jee is the national dish. It's cornmeal with a vegetable mash, sauce and saltfish (usually).

What To See on Antigua and Barbuda?

  • This is an economy that is very dependent on tourism, especially in Barbuda.
  • The climate, again, especially in Barbuda, is classified as tropical marine, which means that there is little seasonal temperature variation. In January and February, the coolest months, the average daily high temperature is 27 °C (81 °F), while in July and August, the warmest months, the average daily high is 30 °C (86 °F).
  •  Antigua and Barbuda claims, conveniently, to have 365 beaches, many of them beautiful. Barbuda's coast is virtually lined with beaches. 'Pink sand' and karst rock formations are found on both. Water sports abound and Stingray City is a popular excursion from Antigua. Antigua is also home to historical sites, most notably Nelson's Dockyard and old sugar mills.
  • Barbuda’s Codrington Lagoon National Park has the largest frigate bird colony in the western hemisphere. More than 2500 roost in the mangroves every year. The best time to visit is mating season, from September to April.
  • Read about my trips to Antigua here and cruising when I called into Antigua here.
  • Read about my visit to Barbuda here.

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