Antigua is the place to be when cruising the leeward side of the Caribbean. This small island has grown to become one of cruiser’s favorite stops. A number of factors make this island stand out but the most obvious one has to be its beaches. Believe-it-or-not, Antigua has 365 powdery-soft white sandy beaches, one for every day of the year.
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Apart from beaches, this charming, laid-back island which is part of the nation of Antigua and Barbuda is known for its lush beauty, history and its easy-going people.
Given this unique combination of island features, it’s easy to see why it has won a spot in many hearts and soon to win yours too. There is probably never a dull moment in Antigua with the constant supply of things to do.
1. Antigua Cruise Port Area
Since this is a very popular cruise destination. Most major cruise lines such as Carnival, the Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises and Princess Cruises, cruise to the island regularly. The cruise port is found in St. John which is the capital city of Antigua. The dock there is large enough to accommodate four ships and soon to be more with the construction of a new pier that’s underway.
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Your ship is likely to dock at either Heritage or Radcliffe quay. The first thing that greets you once you disembark from your ship is the beautiful metallic island tunes, played tirelessly by an island band at the piers exit.
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Entering into the beautiful port area one is greeted by a burst of colorful buildings featuring lively outlets. The outlet’s host eateries, duty-free shopping malls, bars, and gift shops. This neatly organized port area with clean streets and plenty of amenities serves as a nice introduction to Antigua.
2. Touring the Town
While the aesthetically sanitized town is nice to explore, the town beyond gives you the authentic feel of Antigua. St. John has a nice laid back charming vibe to it. The town is neatly arranged in a grid-like manner so it’s easy to get around.
One of the greatest landmarks in the town is found up the hill where St. Johns Cathedral is located. A large west indies cathedral dubbed the most imposing cathedral of all, in the region.
Spanning 48 meters long and 14 meters wide the church is very large and has a 2500-seater capacity. It’s decorated by dark pine finishing’s on the inside and features two twin towers on the outside. Visi, and learn the centuries of history that lie within its walls.
After exiting the church go by the city square which features a bust statue of the first prime minister of Antigua. To its right is where you will find the town’s market. Visit the market for shopping and sample a few local dishes while at it.
3. Enjoying the Day at Nelson’s Dockyard
If you take the All Saints road from St. John it will take you to the most popular destination on the island called English Harbor. This harbor features the largest park in Antigua and the oldest continually working Georgian dockyard.
Nelson’s Dockyard built in the 18th century and perfectly restored overtime features the most beautiful marina. The place just boasts of history and old-world beauty. The charming Georgian style buildings on the marina host plenty of outlets such as eateries, shops, gift stores and more.
You can visit some of the park’s features such as the dockyard museum and the lookout points at the top of the lush mountainous backdrop. This park is accessible both by road and water. An admittance fee of about $8 is charged.
4. Look Out from Shirley Heights
One of the most popular places to visit in Antigua is Shirley Heights. A hike up the scenic mountain backdrop at English harbor will lead you to this lookout. Though a challenging hike, the reward is worth it.
Enjoy stunning vistas of the English harbor and island before you. Other than the views, people go for “Sunset Watching”. You don’t want to miss the sun setting just beyond the marina. The postcard-perfect view is surreal you have to see it, to believe it. It’s also a party hotspot on Sunday evenings.
5. Hercules in Antigua? Maybe…Find out at the Pillars of Hercules
One of the best ways to access the English harbor is by boat. Why? So, you can get a glimpse of the beautiful coastline on your way there. Some of the features you are likely to see on the coastline include the Pillars of Hercules. These beautifully weathered coastal rock walls imitate tall imposing Pillars that stand shoulder to shoulder. In a way, they look like soldiers guarding the harbor.
This picturesque view only adds to the beauty of the island. You can see this feature only via a boat trip or snorkeling adventure. It’s very hard to view it any other way as it’s inaccessible from land
6. Visit the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda
One of the best ways to learn about the History of Antigua is at the museums. The Museum of Antigua and Barbuda is located in St. John at the former courthouse which was built in 1747. Here you will see the history of Antigua come to life with detailed exhibits and curious artifact displays.
Another museum of interest is located at Dow’s Hill. This is a fort that has been turned into an interpretation area with a multimedia museum that showcases the island’s history from the original Indian inhabitants to British colonialism and to the present day.
7. Brush up on Your History at Antiguan Forts
Antigua’s rugged coastline is dotted with many forts. Reminiscent of the British colonial period. In the island’s attempt at defending itself, it erected several forts to take out any encroaching enemy from the sea. As a result, there are some pretty charming old forts still standing on the island to date. One of the most popular is Fort Berkely.
Fort Berkeley is a small fort at the English harbor’s entrance which was meant to protect the harbor. Hike up to the fort and take in breathtaking vistas of the sea and the Yacht-spotted marina.
Another fort is Fort Barrington which is located at the top of Goat’s Hill. A brief hike with the companion of goats takes you to the fort. Enjoy great views, learn some history and reenact the old days in this spectacular place.
You can also check out Fort James, found north of St. John. It features several guns that stare menacingly into the harbor. It’s a great site to tour and learn about the history of the island. Capture sunset vistas of the ocean beyond and snap away.
8. Experience the Sea’s Raw Power at Devil’s Bridge
On the remote northeastern region of Antigua island lies one of the most beautiful attractions, the Devil’s Bridge. A bridge formed from thousands of years of wave action against a limestone rock formed by millions of years of reef formation.
The choppy Atlantic wave action has relentlessly beat against Antigua’s northeastern coast forming an arch on the rugged rock. The Bridge features blow holes and geysers that continue to amaze every traveler to visit the place.
It makes for a stunning view and gives a glimpse of the sea’s raw power. However, walking on the bridge is not advised, since the wet limestone surface is slippery.
It is believed that the bridge got its name from the mass suicide of slaves that took place there in the olden days. Locals believed the devil was there to harvest souls.
The area is very remote and not much else to see or do, except shop a bit from the vendors at the place. You can pass by there on your way to long-beach, about 8minutes away (by car).
9. Get Down and Under with Snorkeling
Caribbean’s favorable water conditions always make it perfect for underwater activities such as snorkeling and Antigua doesn’t disappoint. Surrounded by a ring of coral reefs and featuring calm warm waters with good visibility; the island offers great snorkeling.
Luckily, on this island, you can snorkel right from the beach or take a boat ride to far off spots. Some great offshore snorkeling spots include Cades reef, Andes and great bird island.
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Get down and under and enjoy the soothing experience that is snorkeling. Marine life is in plenty and you are likely to catch a glimpse of schools of fish, groupers, stingrays, blue tang, and spotted eagle rays. Or even some barracudas and the hawksbill turtle.
10. Fly Through the Jungle on a Zipline
A better chunk of Antigua is lush rainforest. You can explore and get a grasp of this tropical heaven with a bird’s eye-view flying and zooming over the forest’s canopy. The zip line course on the island runs from 52 feet to 348 feet long, divided over six zip lines and two platforms. Enjoy a two-and-a-half-hour thrill through the course’s six zip lines and a brief stop at the hidden tree house that looks like Tarzan’s home.
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11. Pet a Sting Ray
One of the most popular Activities in Antigua is Sting Ray City. A sandbar found in a coral reef off of a sleepy fishing village known as Seatons. Sting Ray city is privately owned and boasts of the friendliest stingrays in the Caribbean and they just might be telling the truth.
A quick boat ride to the place draws dozens of them to the wooden dock platforms. Enter the water which is usually about 5 feet deep and an experience of a lifetime commences. The harmless brown southern stingrays, that have associated the sound of boat engines with feeding time rush to the place and brush by you graciously as they swim about looking for food.
A waterproof pouch for your phone and valuables is essential for tours like this.
Hold, touch and pause for a photo with one of these gentle creatures. Afterward, you can go snorkel in the nearby reef where you will see more marine life.
12. Travel Back to the Sugar Years at Betty’s Hope
Visit the ruins and remains of one of the largest sugar plantations of Antigua, known as Betty’s Hope. It is located on the eastern side of the island amid rolling hills. Currently, only two windmills and a still house remain to tell the story of the plantation which was founded in the 1650’s.
Betty’s Hope which has been restored as a tribute to the slaves who worked in it also features a small museum inside the information center. The Museum displays a well-researched history of the place together with artifacts. Visit, learn and enjoy beautiful views of the sea in the horizon.
13. Beach Break
Life’s a beach is not just a favorite saying in Antigua, it’s practically true. The small island features wide stretches of soft white sandy beaches all along its coastline. Antigua island boasts 365 beaches, one for every day of the year. With all this postcard-perfect beaches it’s difficult to pick a favorite, maybe try 10 favorites.
Depending on your needs, finding a beach in Antigua is the easiest thing. Some of the nearest beaches to the cruise port are Dickenson Bay, Fort James and Valley Church beaches. Others popular beaches include Hawksbill beach, Long Bay beach, Pigeon Point, Galleon beach, and more.
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But if you are looking for remote, beautiful beaches then try Darkwood beach, Half Moon Bay or Carlisle beach. Whichever you pick, rest assured you will enjoy the perfect beach day all other things held constant.
14. Drink Wadadli
Drinks of all fruity flavors flow in plenty in the Caribbean and Antigua is not left behind, with a couple of its own originals as well. While catching your breath in one of the island’s many watering holes, try Wadadli beer.
Named after the local’s nickname for the island which means “our own” this beer is originally brewed in the island and is a local’s favorite. Try this light, sweet tasting lager while chatting up a local. You will love their genuine friendliness and helpfulness.
15. Eat Conch and Fungi (Fungee)
When in Rome, do as the Romans do. This is true for food as well. Skip eating aboard the ship and go on a local flavor tour. Where else will you get to taste authentic Antiguan flavors?
Take a look at local restaurants you can experience when the cruise ship is in port.
Most of the island’s dishes are inspired by seafood and naturally grown crops on the island. Crops such as white sweet potatoes, corn, black pineapples and lots of spices. The local’s staple food is a corn paste dough called funji (foonjee) made of water and cornmeal, served with conch.
Another popular dish is a Ducana made from grated sweet potatoes with plenty of spices and sugar, steamed in banana leaves. Of course, grilled lobster and conch salads are other island specialties.
16. Shop Lavender Jade
Antigua is filled with shopping spots and one remarkable thing about the island is the easy-going nature of the locals. They are not pushy sellers. Visit the local market in St John and shop for everything starting with the rare lavender-jade stone made jewelry that is common on the island.
Buy some wooden masks to spice up your home’s décor. Try the brightly colored cushions and fabrics. Shop for Antiguan style clothing, handbags, hats, pottery, wood carvings, artwork, spices, and fruits.
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Or get jewelry, watches and other touristy gifts from duty-free shops at the port such as Diamonds International, which is one of the first shops you will see in Heritage quay port area.
17. Take an Aqua Fitness Class
Try something out of the ordinary, have something to write home about like an aqua fitness class on the shores of Elite island resort. The aqua physical class starts with a brief warm-up then up on the floating pads you go. Burn some fat as you struggle to maintain control before you fall into the crystal-clear warm water. This 40minutes work out is great and much fun, there will be laughter all around.
18. Go on a Catamaran Ride
Charter a luxury catamaran ride on a tour around the island’s coastlines. Most tour operators offering this package will take you on a fun sea party with lunch provided and a snorkel break at one of the top snorkel spots.
They will also take you to some of the greatest features of the island before taking you back to the starting point. This is a nice way to spend a couple of hours on the island on your cruise vacation. Hit a beach near the ship or go shopping, if back early enough.
19. Tour of the Island
Antigua is a small island that is 14 miles long and 10 miles wide which makes it possible to tour the entire island in a day. Want to see every part of this beautiful place? Then take up an island tour via a Jeep, ATV bike or even shorter tours on horseback.
The tours will take you through the town, into the lush rainforest to some of the main island attractions like betty’s hope, devil’s bride, fort Barrington and more. Afterward, you might be provided with lunch or dropped off a beach for a few moments of pure bliss.
20. Helicopter Tour of Island and Nearby Abandoned Montserrat Island
Or splurge a little by taking a tour of the island on Helicopter. The highlight of this tour is flying above the volcano at nearby Monserrat island and having a view of the exclusion zone of the island.
This is a cordoned off region to anyone after half the island was completely destroyed by the successive volcanos of 1995 to 2004. The capital city of Plymouth which was wiped away looks like a modern-day Pompeii buried deep in volcanic ash and pumice.
How about a relaxing sunset cruise of Antigua? Find out more here.
Ready for Antigua?
Now that you know all the fun you can spoil yourself with while visiting Antigua, start planning for your cruise trip there. Things to do on this island are endless including going on an island food tour, trying out the resorts, attending cultural dances and events.
Antigua experiences typical tropical weather where it’s hot and humid all throughout the year. The best time to visit the island is from May to November which is the island’s off-season. This is, however, a hurricane season so you should get professional advice from a weather department. Peak season on the island runs from December to April, here is where the prices soar.
But all in all, the trip will probably be worth the cost anyway. Thus, plan well and book things in advance to reap off from early discounts.
That’s all from us, have a blast in Antigua!! Happy Cruising!!