In March of this year, I went to Antigua for the first time and I absolutely loved it.
I first spent three nights at Verandah Resort and Spa. It was a wonderful resort with many activities that are all part of the all-inclusive package. I was able to try many activities I normally would not have the opportunity to try here in the prairies, such as wind-surfing, stand-up paddle boards, and sailing a catamaran. I was terrible at all of these but that was certainly not the fault of Andrew, the extremely patient and capable instructor. The service from the rest of the staff was excellent, and the food was very good. I loved that the accommodations are mainly duplexes, because it feels more like private residences or cabins than a hotel complex.
This resort would suit couples and families alike. There is a kids club and playground, and the beach is fairly shallow, making it a good choice for the families who were there with their children. However, the resort didn’t seem overrun with children, which is often a concern for those without children. The property is spread out so it never felt crowded. The size and layout of the property mean it’s not ideal for those with mobility issues, because it’s very hilly and there is a lot of walking from place to place. There are golf-cart shuttles to transport guests around the property, but anyone with a wheelchair would likely find getting around the resort a challenge. There are also many other resorts on the island to choose from.
It would take perhaps two hours to drive around the entire island, so it’s easy to see many of the local attractions. I found it very easy to explore the island by foot in St. John’s (although the uneven cobble-stone streets and narrow sidewalks made that challenging at times), and by taxi and local bus throughout the rest of the island. The bus is very inexpensive, about a dollar Canadian per person, and the busses are essentially oversized mini-vans. The only word of caution is that the bus service doesn’t appear to operate on a specific schedule and busses seem to leave the stations in St. John’s only when they’re full, so sometimes you have to wait for a while and people at stops outside of the city are often passed by.
Nelson’s Dockyard is a restored historical site that still functions as a port as well as a tourist attraction with restaurants and shops, and the only ATM I found outside of St. John’s. There is a laid-back marina area nearby with more shops and restaurants. Shirley Heights is not too far away and is a worth a visit for the beautiful views. There are many tours offered, such as coastal cruises to view the sunset and sea turtles, snorkelling, zip-lining. Devil’s Bridge is about a 15-minute hike from Verandah Resort and offers stunning scenery of seaside cliffs. My favourite excursion was to Sting Ray City, only about 5 minutes from Verandah Resort and about 20 minutes from St. John’s. It was a lot of fun to get in water with the sting rays. It was a little unnerving the first time one brushed against my legs, but I quickly got used to these gentle creatures and even got to feed them and hold one.
By far, the best thing about Antigua is the people. They are so friendly, welcoming and helpful. Almost everyone greets you on the street. Twice, someone chased us down to let us know they had given incorrect directions, and two teenagers even escorted us right to our destination (without asking for a tip!). At the cruise ship pier, hundreds of taxi drivers and tour guides congregate and offer tours to everyone passing by, but I found a simple “No, thanks” was sufficient and usually elicited a reply of “Have a good time in Antigua”, unlike in some destinations. An important thing to keep in mind is that it is considered rude in Antigua if you don’t greet a person with a hello or ask how they are before continuing with your request. I think we could probably all benefit by having a short friendly chat instead of just demanding service.
Another valuable tip is to carry sufficient cash in Antigua. Major hotel and resorts accept debit and credit, but many places accept cash only, especially smaller restaurants and shops as well as local craft vendors. US dollars and Eastern Caribbean dollars are widely accepted; Canadian dollars are accepted in some places but US or ECD are preferred. There are several banks in the capital city of St. John’s, including Scotiabank, RBC and CIBC, and it is easy to access money using a Canadian bank card. However, ATMs are virtually non-existent on the rest of the island and don’t always work with foreign cards. I learned the lesson about cash and ATMs the hard way. I was foolishly unprepared and did not have enough ECD when it came time to pay the bill at a restaurant that didn’t accept debit, credit or Canadian cash. After attempting unsuccessfully to get money from the only ATM at Nelson’s Dockyard, and asking in vain for help at several restaurants, a complete stranger on the street kindly came to my rescue. He traded my Canadian money for the equivalent in ECD. Try finding someone willing to do that for you at home!
The weather is warm year-round in Antigua and quite windy, so it doesn’t always feel stiflingly hot and you’re almost guaranteed to have nice weather. However, the sun is very hot and burns skin quite quickly. I also found that out the hard way.
I would highly recommend Antigua to anyone looking for a new destination to explore this winter. Just don’t forget to take plenty of sunscreen!