Known for its coral reef-lined beaches, rainforests and resorts, Antigua is a popular destination for Brits seeking sunshine. The nice thing about the Caribbean island is that you can do a lot — or just hang out on one of the 365 beaches! From zip-lining, to historical tours of Nelson’s Dockyard and Betty’s Hope to swimming with stingrays — there’s something everyone in the family will enjoy.
The beach is really only the beginning. My list below combines fun in the sun, activity sports and history.
1. Visit a beach
There are 365 in Antigua – one for every day of the year! They are all open to the public and you are allowed on each of them, even the beaches in front of the posh hotels. On the southeast is Half Moon Bay, considered one of the most beautiful in the world. Long Bay has calm waters and snorkeling all the way to the reef (Elite Island Resort’s Verandah is right around the corner). Valley Church Beach on the west is also Caribbean picture perfect.
Kid’s view: Swimming with Stingrays
We went to Stingray City and it was fun and exciting and one of my favourite things we did on our Caribbean holiday. At first I wasn’t sure about it, but I ended up enjoyed it very much. We went out on a small boat to a shallow part of the ocean and they gave us snorkeling equipment. The stingrays were actually very friendly and swam up to us. The man put the stinger in his mouth to show us they wouldn’t hurt us. You could feed the stingrays or the man would help you. It was AMAZING.
2. Swim with stingrays
This is a MUST DO. The 2-hour excursion starts with a briefing on how to handle the friendly Southern Stingrays. We learned how to do the “Stingray Shuffle” (so you don’t step on one). After a short speedboat ride out in the Atlantic, you stop at a floating pontoon near shallow water, which is roped off so you don’t swim into the coral reefs. The stingrays hear the boats and all swim over to be fed. The stingrays have nicknames like Sponge Bob and Coco. Experienced guides show you how to pet and feed the stingrays, who gather around your feet like excited puppies. Anyone who likes animals and wildlife will LOVE this activity.
3. Go snorkelling or scuba diving!
Antigua is almost completely surrounded by coral reefs making it ideal for snorkelling. The water stays around 80 F, so you don’t need a wet suit, and there are minimal currents, so the water stays clear. You might see turtles, dolphin fish, grouper, french angelfish, butterfly fish, surgeon fish, conch, starfish and coral reefs. There are several snorkeling options around the island, including Long Bay, Half Moon Bay, Green Island, Paradise Reef and Bird Island. Don’t touch the coral reef though, it is very sharp and can cut you.
4. Learn about slaves and sugar plantations
Generation of Antiguans worked at Betty’s Hope, a large-scale sugar plantation in Antigua. Making sugar was backbreaking work. Slaves imported from Africa had to work from 6 am to 5 pm in West Indies heat. It was an industry built on fear – the slaves were afraid of their master, and the masters were always on edge for fear of a rebellion. The slaves were eventually emancipated in 1834, but many stayed on as a low paid workforce. My 11-year-old daughter was fascinated by a replica of a 1769 advertisement for a new shipment of 94 “prime, healthy” Negros, which had 39 men, 15 boys, 24 women and 16 girls, poignantly illustrating the attitude at the time that slaves were merely cargo to be sold as profit. It’s a harrowing reminder of the past and an important part of Antigua’s history.
5. Visit Devil’s Bridge
Legend has it that slaves leapt to their death from this stunning natural rock creation formed from hundreds of years of waves crashing against the limestone rock. If you are brave – and not wearing flip-flops – walk over the bridge and admire the geysers, blowholes and giant crabs. Used as early as prehistoric times as a fishing spot, this natural rock formation was named for the myth that the devil claimed those who hurled themselves into the heaving waters far below.
6. Go zip-lining!
Thrill seekers and Tarzan-wannabes can get an adrenaline high riding the zip-lines above the Antiguan rainforest. There are four courses to choose from, based on 12 zip-lines, 4 suspension bridges, 2 Leaps of Faith and a challenge course. Kids as young as 4 can participate in the fun. It’s a bit cooler high up in the forest, but prepare to get hot and sweaty. Mosquitos come out at night, but you should be OK during the day. Afterwards you can browse in the gift shop, have a drink on the verandah and watch others from the viewing platform. Experienced guides harness you in (I’ve been to other ziplines don’t do this!) and it’s ACCT authorised, passing standards in installation, operation and inspection.
Kid’s view: Ziplining
We went ziplining in the rainforest in Antigua. We all had a great time (even my mum and dad) and it was very easy. The only challenge was conquering our fears! It was different from going to the beach and there was a variety of thing to do – from 12 ziplines (with a surprise) to an obstacle course.
7. Check out Nelson’s Dockyard
Nestled in English Harbour, this dockyard was named after Horacio Nelson, who was there for a few years before he returned to Europe and won the battle of Trafalgar. It’s a great example of a Georgian dockyard, and is still used today. Now a national park, you can visit Nelson’s Dockyard Museum. There’s a lot to do there including shops, numerous places to have lunch, including Copper and Lumber. Soon you will also get to visit Clarence House, where Princess Margaret spent her honeymoon (amongst the paparazzi).
8. Admire the views from Shirley Heights & Blockhouse
Included in your National Park fee you can visit the high grounds where General Shirley (governor at the time) oversaw the Heights military complex. Kids will love the old cannons and ruins. Now the area offers some of the best views from Antigua. On a clear day, you can see Guadalupe and Montserrat from Blockhouse and Shirley Heights offers views of English Bay. On Sundays, many gather on Shirley Heights for a street party with steel pan, reggae and Soca music and local food.
Kid’s view: D-Boat
If you go to Antigua you should DEFINITELY spend the day on the D-Boat, it was the best thing ever! They have a water trampoline, a water slide that goes right into the ocean, a rope swing and more. I love the “blob” – where you sit at the end of an inflatable and someone jumps on it and makes you fly into the air. You get lunch and endless drinks. You can also go swimming and snorkeling (you can borrow their stuff) and we went on a mini boat ride to Maiden Island where you could go snorkeling with really cool fish and find giant, really, REALLY nice conch shells which were pink inside. The trip to D-Boat was my favourite part of our trip to Antigua.
9. Spend the day on D-Boat
Kids will love this water amusement center built on a 140-foot refurbished oil tanker, which was decommissioned in 1972. The experience offers a wide range of water activities, including a 25-foot inflatable water slide, water trampoline, 3 Tarzan swings, 3 diving platforms and more. There’s a certified lifeguard on duty, parents can sit back with a drink and watch kids have the times of their lives. The boat is moored near Maiden Island, and offers stunning views of the exclusive Jumby Bay. The day includes a ferry ride from Shell Beach, lunch, snacks and a snorkeling excursion. Easily combined with a Stingray City trip (they’ll come and pick you up at the boat and take you back).
10. Get a hair wrap!
Teens and tweens will love getting braids or a hair wrap, if for no other reason than to show all their friends when they get back!
11. Buy local crafts and souvenirs
Souvenir stalls selling crafts and trinkets are everywhere – it’s one of the ways locals make money and a fun way to bring home your own memento from Antigua. We especially liked the seed jewelry made from wild tamarind and mimosa trees. The seeds are boiled, dried and strung in intricate designs.
12. Learn the lingo
If you ask nicely, locals may let you in on their private language — Antiguan English. Each Caribbean Island has it’s own dialect, which shortens words to make them their own. Ask “Wa Guan?” (what’s going on?) and you might get the response “Mi kool” or the Rastafarian “Me irie”. Wha you sayin? Chek you latah! Ya man.
IF YOU GO:
Elite Island Resorts Their collection of Caribbean resorts includes St James’s Club and Verandah, both family resorts in Antigua.
Virgin Holidays Three flights a week from Gatwick, roughly 7.5 – 8 hours each way. Leave London mid-morning and be paddle boarding on the Caribbean by the afternoon.
Antigua and Barbuda Tourist Board The beach is just the beginning! Visit their site for more suggestions for activities on Antigua and Barbuda.
We were guests of Elite Islands Resorts, Virgin Holidays and Antigua and Barbuda. As always, my opinions, and that of my stroppy preteens and teen, are our own.