Antigua and Barbuda
Part of the Leeward Islands, in the eastern Caribbean. Antigua and Barbuda are known for their natural beauty, sublime turquoise waters, and an interesting history that dates back hundreds of years. Antigua is the larger of the two islands and where the capital, St. John's is located. It is just 14 miles long and 11 miles wide, encompassing 108 square miles. About 30 miles north, is Barbuda, which is just 68 square miles. Both islands offer you the idyllic powdery sand beaches of your dreams and you would have to spend exactly one year here if you were to visit a new beach every day. Two islands for the price of one, yet both are very distinct.
Antigua is a gem of an island with a fantastic array of places to stay and things to do when you are not lounging away on a beach or indulging in one of the many excellent spas you will find here. Aside from the usual activities in and on the water, you will find a multitude of things to keep you busy from hiking and zip lining in the rainforest to learning more about the history of the islands by visiting the Antigua and Barbuda Museum and the UNESCO World Heritage Site at English Harbour. When it comes to food, there is a wide array of beach-side eateries to world-class cuisine. While Antigua is perfectly suited for any type of traveler, Barbuda is for your traveler looking to get away from it all.
Sadly, Barbuda took a direct hit from hurricane Irma in September 2017 and the island's infrastructure was 95% devastated. At that time, all 1600 or so of the people living here were evacuated, leaving the island empty. Since then, about 1300 people have returned to the island and they are slowly but surely rebuilding. The island is open for business and there is a real opportunity here for travelers who want to experience ecotourism while contributing to a local population's economy. This is a place where going on a vacation is all you need to do to be doing a very good thing, Tourism really matters here and learning about the issues the Barbudans are currently facing is important. There are a couple of hotels and quite a few guesthouses and cottages to stay at. We truly admire the Barbudans for their resilience and steadfastness in holding on to their way of life. Learn more here and here.
Barbuda's Frigate Bird Sanctuary is likely the best thing about these two islands if you are a nature lover. This special reserve is home to the largest colony of Frigate Birds in the western hemisphere. The birds migrate between the Galapagos and the Caribbean islands during the varying their various mating seasons with some birds even living here full-time. The males put on a spectacular show in their quest for a mate and if you go between September and April you should be able to witness this truly incredible sight. December is said to be the best month, and while this is high season, if you stay on Barbuda, you won't notice. In addition to the Frigates, there are more than a 150 other species of birds on the island making this a birder's paradise.
One of Antigua's most popular tourist attractions is Nelson's Dockyard National Park in English Harbour and it is the only UNESCO Heritage site in the country. The restored marina is a former 19th-century British Naval Dockyard and is the only continuously operating Georgian-era dockyard in the world. Both the Admiral's House Museum and Dockyard Museum take you through the history of the site from the 17th century to present day. In learning more of the history here, a visit to see the ruins at Fort Shirley is not only interesting, it provides the best place for beautiful panoramic views of the island.
When surrounded by the beautiful waters of the Caribbean, exploring underneath the water is just about a given. Both Antigua and Barbuda are almost completely surrounded by well-preserved coral reefs, walls, and shipwrecks making them an excellent for enjoying diving and snorkeling. In Jolly Harbour on Antigua, you can rent a "blue boat" for two which is kind of like a cross between a small pontoon and a sea-doo with a motor that will get you up to 25 mph of zipping around and doing a self-guided snorkel adventure. Fun as can be and also one of the best ways to view Antigua.
Barbuda's underwater world is a bit different. While there are some notable sites close to Antigua, the reefs all around the Barbuda contain so many shipwrecks many of them have yet to be explored. One of the best spots, from the magnificent 11-Mile Beach on Barbuda you can explore the reef just off shore. This absolutely stunning stretch of land separates the Barbuda Lagoon from the Caribbean and was one of the only things to be enhanced as a result of the hurricane. Here you can enjoy the seclusion of this unspoiled natural environment with its pristine waters, exquisitely tinted-pink white sand and revel in the serenity of Barbuda.
When To Go
Obviously, the best time to go to Antigua and Barbuda is when there is no chance of a hurricane arriving while you are there. You can check the status of storms at the National Hurricane Center and if all looks good, go in the off-season when you will enjoy far less crowds in Antigua and can save a bit of money toward your next vacation. If you are planning to stay in Barbuda, anytime of the year is a great time to go as, once again, you are doing a great thing by showing up. The high season in Antigua runs from December through April and hurricanes are a possibility from June until the end of November.
Antigua & Barbuda have a number of special events that are very popular during the year. Sailing is a very big deal here and the main event is Sailing Week, which usually takes place toward the end of April. Check out the Festivals and Events link for more information.
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