Antigua loves to proclaim that it has 365 beaches, one for every day of the year, and indeed some of the most idyllic beaches in the world can be found here. Yet Antigua holidays are about so much more than beaches. Venture a little inland, and you will find a wealth of magical scenery, original rainforests, quaint colonial villages and towns, just crying out to be explored.
In fact, the great attraction of Antigua holidays is that you can genuinely choose the style of holiday that truly appeals to you -- once you tear yourself away from the beach, activities like hiking, kayaking and sailing -- especially sailing -- are all at your fingertips on this compact island. There are coral reefs for snorkelling and diving, a wealth of bird species for birdwatchers, and delightful shopping in places like the capital St John's. The carefree and happy lifestyle of the real islanders -- away from the glitz and glamour -- and the friendliness and courtesy you encounter everywhere, mean you can hardly fail to return from your holiday truly relaxed and refreshed.
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When to Go?
When is the best time to travel? is always the first question asked about the Caribbean. For Antigua, the usual answer -- particularly from the weather point of view -- is mid-December to mid-April. This is the high season, when humidity indeed is at its lowest, though prices are at their highest.
Most people want to avoid the hurricane season, which is officially identified as 1st June to 31st October, peaking in September -- even if there is no actual hurricane, this can be the stickiest and most uncomfortable time. However, if you're willing to take the risk, July-August is carnival time in Antigua, when the whole island is filled with Caribbean song, dance and celebration. If you really want to experience the authentic local culture, this is the time to be there -- and you can get the best bargains during this time as well.
Food for the Journey:
Whether you are there in carnival season or not, to experience the real Antigua you may want to sample the local fare. The big hotel restaurants tend to stick to the more bland, tourist-friendly type of meal, and to find authentic local food you may need to go further inland. You could even try the roadside food stands, which are perfectly safe.
Eastern Caribbean dollar
Weather in Antigua
Highly-flavoured dishes you might enjoy include goatwater stew, consisting of morsels of tender goat meat in a delicately-seasoned broth, or pepperpot, a beef and vegetable stew which is spicier than goatwater. Salted codfish sautéed with peppers, onions and garlic is delicious paired with foongee, a cornmeal mixture, and with chop-up, a mash of pumpkin, okra and spinach, and jerk chicken, marinated in spices and slow-cooked, is an Antiguan staple, though originally imported from Jamaica. Try souse, which is pickled pig trotters in a clear soup, flavoured with peppers, garlic and onions and served cold.
There is too much in Antigua for you to be able to see everything in a couple of weeks, so what you must see depends on your particular interests. The best-known attraction is Nelson's Dockyard National Park -- it may be where everyone goes, but it's well worth seeing, with the lovely old stone warehouses on the restored marina converted into restaurants, galleries, shops and museums, as well as featuring superb nature trails. From here you can ascend Shirley Heights, to marvel at one of the most panoramic views on the island.
One of the best ways to enjoy the island scenery is to drive along Fig Tree Drive, which follows the southern coast -- fig trees are what Antiguans call banana trees, and there are plenty along the route, which winds through lush rainforests, and past picturesque fishing villages with brightly painted houses. Hiring a vehicle for a few days is quite easy, but if you prefer to explore on foot, there is some wonderful hiking through the spectacular scenery of the Indian Town National Park, along the rugged north-east coast. Here you can see one of the island's most dramatic natural spectacles, the Devil's Bridge, carved out over the centuries by the lashing of the waves.
You can of course spend your whole holiday enjoying the enchanting beaches -- Dickenson's Bay in the north-west, the best if you are a family with children; beautiful Half Moon Bay, with white-gold sand fringed with luxuriant vegetation; Johnson's Point near Jolly Harbour, where you can see shoals of brightly coloured fish, and may even have the beach to yourself. But Antigua offers so much more, and this may be your chance to splash out on something new, or something you've always longed to do. Once you've seen all that's on offer, you may well find your holiday just isn't long enough.