Devil's Bridge, a natural rock arch on the island's east coast, is a must-see for visitors. // © 2015 Antigua and Barbuda Ministry of Tourism
Feature image (above): A hike to Shirley Heights is rewarded with beautiful views of English and Falmouth harbors. // © 2015 Antigua and Barbuda Ministry of Tourism
Antigua is a fascinating island, rich in history and ringed with fabulous beaches. The island is easy to access from the U.S., having a range of convenient flights from hubs throughout the Eastern Seaboard, making it possible to fly to Antigua in approximately 3.5 hours.
One of the joys of vacationing in Antigua is venturing out from the gated grounds of a resort and exploring the island. With a little strategic planning, it’s possible to create a full-day tour that takes in these seven major sites of the island.
A drive around Antigua will reveal scores of historic sugar mills; in fact, there are more than 100 remains of sugar mills, although only a small number have been restored.
The best one to visit is Betty’s Hope, dating back to 1651, making it the oldest sugar plantation on the island. The site has a small museum chronicling the history of sugar production on the island. A bonus is the herds of tame goats roaming the grounds, adding a bucolic touch.
Devil’s Bridge is a natural rock arch on Antigua’s east coast. This could be a quick stop on an island tour, mainly to see the blowholes spouting water high into the air. Travelers should take care, as the limestone rocks can be slippery with sea water.
Fort Barrington was a critical player in England’s 17th-century defense of Antigua. The fort is located high above Deep Bay, on Goat Hill. A hike up to the grounds of the fort rewards visitors with fantastic sea views.
Nelson’s Dockyard National Park
Georgian-style Nelson’s Dockyard dates back to the 1740s and was a prime player in the island’s defense. The dockyard is named after Antigua’s national hero, Admiral Horatio Nelson. Today, the dockyard is a social hub of the island, with restaurants, a museum, hotels, art galleries, shops and a marina.
Shirley Heights Lookout
Shirley Heights is a former lookout fort of the Royal Navy, 490 feet above Antigua’s English Harbor and Falmouth Harbor. Once travelers reach the top, they are rewarded by magnificent sea views and views of the boats in the harbors below.
There’s a restaurant at Shirley Heights, where the vistas match the cooking. On Sundays, Shirley Heights is the site of Antigua’s biggest weekly party, popular with both locals and visitors. At around 4 p.m., a steel band kicks off the festivities, which then segue into a Caribbean barbecue and a second wave of music supplied by a reggae band.
The festivities are enhanced with views of an awe-inspiring Caribbean sunset. Locals will tell visitors to try and glimpse the “green flash,” when part of the sun briefly changes color as it disappears below the horizon.
Much like the famous attraction on Grand Cayman, Antigua has its own Stingray City. Visitors arrive by boat at an offshore coral reef, where they take a dip surrounded by friendly stingrays that they can feed by hand. Friendly as they are, don’t attempt to lift the stingrays out of the water, since this can frighten them into defensive action.
St. John’s is the capital port city of the island, dating back to 1632. The city provides perfect conditions for a walking tour, with options to see the baroque-style St. John's Cathedral, built in 1720; the city’s Botanical Garden; Museum of Antigua and Barbuda; and Fort James, which was built to repel invaders venturing into St. John’s harbor. The area also offers plenty of options for shopping and dining, including duty-free shops.