This is beach country! Located in the Caribbean British Leeward Islands, Antigua, Barbuda, and Redonda, all make up the single nation of Antigua & Barbuda. Antigua alone, being the largest of the British Leewards, claims upward of 300 beaches with plenty of room to bask in the sun, swim, dive, sail, and more. There are reefs and wrecks abound, for underwater exploration, as well as many sites on shore, for those less inclined to the water.
Between the capitol, St. John’s, and the next biggest town, English Harbor, you’ll find shopping, food and drink, galleries, and interesting colonial-era sites to enjoy. Redcliffe Quay in St. John’s is home to an array of West Indian restaurants and shops peddling art and other local wares, while the renovated Nelson’s Dockyard (an 18th century British naval base named for Admiral Horatio Nelson) is only one of English Harbor’s many historical attractions. For a little “less civilized” entertainment, Shirley Heights is the site of a weekly bender that attracts lots of locals and plenty of tourists. Perched precariously atop a cliff overlooking English Harbor, hundreds of feet below, the spot was once a lookout for marauders. These days it’s used every Sunday for a barbecue, rum punch, and reggae party. Who knows how many stumbling revelers have come close to that cliff’s edge!
Elsewhere on the island are Betty Hope’s Sugar Plantation–the first major sugar cane plantation on the Antigua, which played an important role in the development of the island’s once fruitful position in the sugar market (now you can see a renovated example of the many decaying stone sugar mills that dot the island, as well as the original still house); and beautiful Fig Tree Drive–a rough roadway escape into the volcanic hills of Antigua, through lush rainforest and banana (locals call them “figs”), coconut, and mango groves.
At a little under half the size of Antigua, Barbuda is the second biggest island in the Antigua archipelago. Only a 20-minute flight (3-hour boat ride) from the more bustling Antigua, its population is so small, one could easily mistake it for a deserted island. There is one town on Barbuda, called Codrington, and many pink sand beaches with opportunities for world-class birding, diving, fishing, and relaxing. The few resorts on Barbuda are exclusive and expensive, and the local residences are spare (about half the permanent homes were destroyed in Hurricane Luis in 1995), which make for a place of extreme solitude and beauty for the traveler in need of rest.
The smallest of the Antiguan island chain, Redonda is an uninhabited, 1,000-foot-high rocky outcropping, about 30 miles southwest of Antigua. Anchoring at Redonda is difficult, as the surrounding waters are quite deep and the ocean floor there is very rocky. There are a few birds (such as the burrowing owl), goats, and other animals on Redonda, which is maintained as protected parkland by the Antiguan government, but the last semi-permanent human activity there–an American aluminum phosphate mine–closed its doors in 1914. Currently, the most exciting thing associated with the island is the long-running claim of royal ownership (of the “Kingdom of Redonda”) that began in 1865, when Matthew Shiell “claimed” Redonda for his son Philippe, who was succeeded by the poet John Gawsworth. Gawsworth, subsequently appointed many of his literary contemporaries as dukes and duchesses of his kingdom. The current “king” lives in Sussex, United Kingdom, and has likely never laid eyes on his empire.
AntiguaThe best (and busiest) time to go to Antigua is during the (NH) winter: December through February. The daily highs average around 81°F, and the skies are typically clear. The island remains a popular tourist destination well into spring, but by June it starts heating up significantly. July and August are the hottest months, with average highs reaching the 90°F mark.
Antigua is a relatively dry island, though the months of September through November are considered the rainy season. As in the rest of the region, rogue storms can arrive very randomly and leave just as suddenly as they came, no matter what time of year.
Antigua, Barbuda and Rodonda Information
Government: Constitutional monarchy within the British Commonwealth
Square Miles: Antigua, 108 sq mi (280 sq km); Barbuda, 62 sq mi (161 sq km)
Capitol: St John’s
Official Languages: English and English-based patois
Religion: Anglican Church (about 50%), Roman Catholic, Moravian
Major products/industries: Tourism, agriculture, fishing, light manufacturing