A Driving Tour of Antigua

A driving tour of Antigua shows off the islands varied landscapes and unique attractions By: Mark Rogers
Antigua has nearly 100 stone sugar mills that dot the island. // © 2011 Mark Rogers
Antigua has nearly 100 stone sugar mills that dot the island. // © 2011 Mark Rogers

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Antigua and Barbuda Department of Tourism
Antigua is famous for marketing itself as having 365 beaches -- one for every day of the year. Less known by the general public are its engaging attractions on dry land. During a recent visit to the island, I had the chance to discover some of Antigua's signature sights and get a glimpse of the local culture.

My guide for the afternoon was Alex Browne, from The Sticky Wicket Tour Company. According to Browne, it takes about 3Ω hours to make a complete circuit of the island.

A prime spot to take in a superlative view of Antigua is atop Shirley Heights Lookout, where visitors can gaze down on both the English and Falmouth harbors. On a clear day, they might even be able to make out the islands of Guadeloupe and Montserrat.

Shirley Heights Lookout is also famous for its Sunday dance party that begins at 4 p.m. The party draws an equal mix of visitors and locals who come for the music and barbecue. The event begins with a steel band performance before it kicks into gear around 7 p.m., when a live band plays soca, reggae and calypso tunes.

Clients can also dine here throughout the week at the Shirley Heights Lookout Restaurant and bar, which is housed in a restored 18th-century building.

It's an easy drive down from the Lookout to English Harbour and Nelson's Dockyard, which takes its name from Admiral Nelson. Nelson's Dockyard is now part of a designated national park, with restored 18th-century buildings, a museum, a yacht marina, shops and restaurants.

Antigua has close to 100 stone sugar mills dotted around the island. One of the most picturesque is the one located at Betty's Hope Sugar Plantation. This was the first large sugar plantation on Antigua, and it paved the way for the island to secure its fortunes on sugar production. While there's a small museum chronicling the techniques of sugar production, the real appeal of the site is the peaceful, natural setting.

Another natural treasure on the island is Indian Town National Park, a seaside setting that is thought to have once been an Arawak Indian camp. This can either be a quick stop or an opportunity for an afternoon picnic. Chief sights are the Devil's Bridge, a large, natural limestone arch, and the boreholes, which shoot geysers of water at high tide. There are usually a few vendors on site, selling soft drinks and souvenirs.

My favorite experience on Antigua is probably also one of the most low-key. I was surprised to learn that Antigua has numerous wild donkeys. Formerly domesticated, the donkeys have either wandered off or been abandoned and are now at risk of being run over by vehicles. The Antigua & Barbuda Humane Society has established a Donkey Sanctuary, where 80 of these animals are cared for. The facility can be visited by tourists who are allowed to interact and pet the animals. If your clients are animal lovers, they will find that a visit to the sanctuary can be a really heart-warming experience. There's even a program enabling visitors to adopt a donkey. The Donkey Sanctuary is located on the eastern side of the island, near Bethesda, and is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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