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Located in the sun-swept Caribbean belt, Antigua is a spectacular tourist retreat featuring gorgeous while sand beaches, colorful reefs, and a chilled-out feel that distinguishes this port from other more touristy and crowded cruise ports. The biggest of the British Leeward Islands cluster, Antigua has plenty to offer to visitors looking for just about everything under the sun.
 
Independent Antigua is now a part of Antigua and Barbuda. Its buzzing capital, St. John's, is still reminiscent of its colonial past, in the form of art and architecture.
 
This isn’t one of the rapidly growing tourist destinations. You won’t find swanky high rises and glitzy luxury resorts sparkling on the landscape. However, there’s plenty of shopping eating out, and local activities to soak in, other than the gorgeous natural beauty.
 
The capital city of St. John's is nestled on the striking northeast coast belt of Antigua. From this as the starting point, visitors can go about exploring the island. Darkwood, Driftwood, and Johnson's Point are beautiful beaches located to the south of the city.
 
Nestled at Pigeon Point, Nelson's Dockyard National Park makes for a nice family getaway.  Serene waters and alluring white sand welcome you to this laid back and idyllic attraction that is relatively free form the touristy hype.
 
Antigua is popular for its snorkeling and scuba diving facilities. There are plenty of hotspots for diving enthusiasts such as the vibrant reefs at Half Moon Bay.
 
Docking & Local Transportation
Cruise ships harbor at the Deepwater Harbor in Antigua, off just west of the capital city of St. John's. There are plenty of taxis and buses to ferry tourists all around the island.  The government regulates cab fares, so there’s no chance of being fleeced by taxi operators. For more adventurous travelers, motorcycles and scooters (available locally on hire) are always a nice way of navigating the island.
 
Getting around
Car hire: There are many car hire companies in Antigua, with booths at the airport. If you will be visiting Antigua’s remoter beaches there are some rough roads, so you may want to consider a four wheel drive.
 
Drivers need to purchase a local driving licence, cost EC$50/US$20. Car rental companies include Oakland Rent A Car(001 268 462 3021; oaklandrentacar.com), Dollar (001 268 462 0362; dollarantigua.com) and Tropical Rentals (001 268 562 5180; tropicalrentalsantigua.com).
 
Buses: Service run from the capital St John’s, but they are there primarily to serve locals, rather than hotel guests, and may not run to the places you want to go (i.e. the beaches). However, a regular service does run between St John’s and English Harbour.
 
Taxis: Alternatively, taxis are available all over the island and you should be able to book one through your hotel reception. In town, you can just stand and wait – someone will offer soon enough. Alternatively, the St John’s Taxi Association have a telephone number – 001 268 786 3578.
 
Things To See and Do
Former British colonies in the eastern Caribbean, Antigua and Barbuda boast some of the most ravishing beaches in the world. Antigua proudly proclaims it has "a beach for everyday of the year," and Barbuda, Antigua's sleepy sister island, is also blessed with some pristine stretches of pink-tinged sand sprinkled with chic resorts. Not surprisingly, many movie stars and moguls jet here to swim, surf, sun, and swoon on the dazzling shores.Antigua draws the majority of visitors. Many arrive at the cruise ship port in the colorful capital of St. John's where shopping, museums, and historic buildings are the prime draws. The island preserves its history as a strategic naval port. English Harbour, on the southeast coast, is home to Nelson's Dockyard National Park, a restored Georgian shipyard with surrounding nature trails and the ruins of historic forts. Peaceful Barbuda has less than 2% of the islands' combined population. Seclusion seekers and nature lovers cherish the tranquility, while birders love the fabled frigate sanctuary. Water sports abound on both islands; diving, swimming, fishing, sailing, and windsurfing are all popular, and golfers will find a couple of scenic courses to play on Antigua.
 
Half Moon Bay, Antigua
At the southeastern end of Antigua, tranquil Half Moon Bay is fringed by one of Antigua's best beaches. Protected by a reef, this idyllic crescent of fine white sand and azure sea, backed by natural foliage, offers excellent snorkeling on calm days. When the wind is up, the surf can be rough. A small restaurant serves snacks just off the beach. Southeast coast, Antigua

St. John's, Antigua
St John's, the capital city and cruise ship port of Antigua and Barbuda, is a kaleidoscope of candy-hued colonial cottages and market stalls piled high with tropical fruits and flowers. Looming above the skyline are the white neo-Baroque towers of St. John's Cathedral, one of the city's major attractions. For an overview of the island's history, many first-time visitors head to the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda in the 18th century former Court House. Shopping is also excellent in St. John's. Duty-free shops abound at Heritage Quay, souvenir stalls beckon from touristy Redcliffe Quay, and the lively harborside public markets are the place to be on Fridays and Saturdays. For city and harbor views visit the ruins of 18th century Fort James and Fort Barrington, built to protect St. John's from the French.
 
 St. John's Cathedral, Antigua
A city landmark, St. John' Cathedral, topped by Baroque-style towers, has experienced many reincarnations. Originally consecrated as a wooden structure in 1683, the Anglican cathedral was rebuilt from stone in 1745, then again in 1847 after earthquakes struck. Local lore states the carved figures of St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist at the iron entrance gate originally adorned the masts of one of Napoleon's ships.
Address: Church Lane, St. John's

Museum of Antigua and Barbuda
The Museum of Antigua and Barbuda traces the history of these islands from their geological origins to political independence in 1981. Housed in the museum is a full-scale replica of an Arawak dwelling, as well as portraits of Sir Joshua Reynolds, King George III, and Queen Caroline. The museum is located in the former 18th-century Courthouse in St John's. Address: Long Street, St. John's

Dockyard National Park, Antigua
One of Antigua's most popular attractions, Nelson's Dockyard National Park, in English Harbour, is home to Antigua's former 18th-century British Naval Dockyard as well as restored historic buildings and some of the island's best nature trails. The restored marina with beautiful old stone warehouses encompasses hotels, restaurants, shops, galleries, and museums. Both the Admiral's House Museum and Dockyard Museum trace the site's history from the 17th century to the present. After touring the Dockyard, visitors can enjoy panoramic island views from the ruins of Fort Shirley, perched on the hilltop at Shirley Heights, or Fort Berkeley, at the west entrance to the harbor. The park is also home to 18th century Clarence House, originally built for the future King William IV, as well as the Dow's Hill Interpretation Centre, along the Lookout Trail near Shirley Heights. Address: English Harbour, Official site: www.nationalparksantigua.com

Dickenson Bay, Antigua
 In the far north of Antigua, Dickenson Bay is one of the most popular tourist destinations on the island. Fronted by a long stretch of white sand beach lined with resorts and alfresco restaurants, the bay is great for swimming and offers the spectrum of water sports. Activity booths are sprinkled along the beach. The bay is also the hub for Antigua's windsurfing scene.
 
Indian Town National Park, Antigua
Along the rugged northeast coast, the dramatic scenery of Indian Town National Park features some rewarding hikes and excellent birding. More than 36 avian species roost in the park among the acacia trees, while the eastern point of the park is believed to have been an Arawak campsite. The park also encompasses the natural limestone Devil's Bridge sculpted over the centuries by the pounding surf. At high tide, waves force geysers of water through blowholes in the nearby rock.
Address: Northeast shore, Antigua, Official site: www.nationalparksantigua.com

Fig Tree Drive
Along Antigua's southern coast, Fig Tree Drive winds through rainforest, farmlands, and fishing villages. This picturesque drive offers a glimpse of local life. Banana trees (called "figs" by the locals), mango trees, and coconut palms dot the landscape, as well as the ruins of sugar mills. Look for the roadside stands selling fresh-picked fruit. Along the route, the Fig Tree Studio Art Gallery sells vibrant local art and zipline rainforest tours are nearby.
 
17 Mile Beach, Barbuda
Those who stroll Barbuda's 17 Mile Beach, will probably never see a more ravishing stretch of sand, nor another footprint. Lapped by pale aqua seas, this stunning stretch of pink-tinged sand separates the Barbuda lagoon from the Caribbean sea, and pleases even the most hardened beach connoisseurs. Facilities are few, if non-existent so visitors should bring their own supplies.
 
Frigate Bird Sanctuary, Barbuda
Barbuda's Frigate Bird Sanctuary is a haven for birders. Accessible only by boat, the bird sanctuary lies in Barbuda's northwest lagoon and is home to one of the Caribbean's largest nesting colonies of frigate birds. These large sea birds are known for their bright red gullets and one-and-a-half meter wingspan. The reserve also attracts about 150 other species of birds such as herons, cormorants, and pelicans.
 
Martello Tower, Barbuda
On the beach at River, a few miles south of the village, Martello Tower (River Fort), was built by the British in the early 19th century on the site of a previous fort that was probably constructed by the Spanish. Today the thick stone walls and gun platform of this small defensive fort are mostly intact, and the ruins are attached to the remains of the previous fort. The tower is the highest building in Barbuda and an important landmark on the island.
 
Darby Sink Cave, Barbuda
The Darby Sink Cave, caused by dissolution of the limestone, is one of Barbuda's most intriguing natural features. Although it is often described as a cave, the site is actually a sinkhole more than 100 meters in diameter. In contrast to the dry surrounding brush, the lush vegetation flourishing inside resembles a rainforest with ferns, tall palmetto palms, and thick lianas lacing around the tree trunks. Many birds can be spotted amid the foliage. Dripping water has also created stalagmites under the overhang.
 
The Museum of Antigua and Barbuda (268/462-1469), housed at the junction of Market and Church Streets is a nice place to get a flavor of the local history. Here you can learn about Antigua's plight for independence, which it gained from Britain in 1981. You can also learn about the geographical history of the island and its earliest settlers, the Arawaks. The museum is open daily from 8:30am to 4pm, and donations are greatly appreciated.
 
If you have a few hours in Antigua, head to Nelson's Dockyard National Park. A refurbished naval dockyard that offers a peek into the 18century naval life is the main attraction here. It is open to visitors daily from 8am to 6pm.
 
St. John's Cathedral (268/461-0082) is a fascinating downtown attraction for its intriguing architecture. Erected in 1683, the cathedral has been rebuilt three times as a result of earthquakes. There are small neighborhood sidewalk cafes in the area, where you can enjoy a fine cup of brew post noon.
 
The English Harbor leading up to Shirley Heights is a nice hike trail for people who love covering a place on foot. The walk commences at Hotel Galleon Beach and concludes at a hill, which offers a breathtakingly beautiful view of the cerulean Caribbean waters.
 
Fountain Cavern National Park
Close to Shoal Bay, the Fountain Cavern is a natural and cultural wonder, and Anguilla's top archaeological site. Two freshwater pools and many Amerindian petroglyphs lie 15 meters underground in a cave. The most significant of these is a tall stalagmite carved in the shape of "Jocahu", the supreme God of the Taino Indians. The Fountain is thought to have been a major regional worship site and a place of pilgrimage for Amerindians.
 
The Valley
The small, rambling Valley is Anguilla's capital and the geographic, commercial, and political center of the island. A good place to start a tour is the Anguilla National Trust with exhibits on the island's natural and cultural history. Stop by and pick up a map for the free self-guided Anguilla Heritage Tour as well as information on birding and walking tours. One of the main tourist attractions on the Heritage Trail is Wallblake House, a plantation home built in 1787. A fine example of island stonework, Warden's Place, is a former cotton and sugar plantation great house, built by slaves in the 1790s. The restored structure now houses a restaurant and its 200-year-old rock oven is still used to prepare food. For many years, the cotton grown on Anguilla for import to England was ginned in the Old Factory. Some of the original ginning machinery is intact and on display here, and this is also the site of the Anguilla Tourist Office. Art lovers will enjoy the Savannah Art Gallery and Loblolly Gallery, in historic Rose Cottage. Both galleries showcase contemporary Caribbean art, while World Art & Antiques Gallery offers a variety of collections from around the world. For beautiful views over the city and Anguilla head to the top of Crocus Hill, the highest point on the island.
 
Wallblake House
One of the main attractions on the Anguilla Heritage Tour, Wallblake House, is a plantation home built in 1787 by sugar planter, Will Blake (Wallblake is probably a corruption of his name). It's one of the few plantation houses in the Caribbean where the entire complex of buildings including the kitchen, stable, and slave quarters have survived almost intact. The spacious rooms contain interesting exhibits illustrating Anguilla's history. Address: Wallblake Road, The Valley Official site: http://wallblake.ai/

Heritage Collection Museum
History buffs and visitors who want to learn about Anguilla will love the Heritage Collection Museum. Anguillian artifacts, early 20th-century photographs, old postage stamps, and important documents trace the island's history from the days of the Taino to the present. The museum's curator, Colville Petty, is an authority on Anguilla's history and an author on the subject. Address: Across from East End Pond
Official site: http://www.offshore.com.ai/heritage/
 
Anguillita, Sandy, and Prickly Pear Islands
Anguilla's offshore islands of Anguillita, Sandy, and Prickly Pear are popular day trips for scuba divers and snorkelers. Anguillita offers mini walls and caves where divers often see barracudas, nurse sharks, stingrays, eels, and turtles. Popular Prickly Pear can be packed when boatloads of visitors arrive from nearby St. Martin/St. Maarten, and castaways love Sandy Island, a tiny sliver of sand with a few coconut palms and excellent snorkeling in its aqua lagoon. Trips to Sandy Island and Prickly Pear depart from the pier at Sandy Ground. Official site: http://www.mysandyisland.com/
 
Beaches
Antigua has plenty of beaches to keep tourists busy. Johnson's Point, is not touristy and crowded, but offers gorgeous panoramic views. The tropical fish found here is often the highlight for visitors. Carlisle Bay, a fine expanse of beach complemented with palm trees and perfect white sand is another popular beach getaway. Half Moon Bay, two miles south of Freetown Village, is great for surfing and action packed windsurfing sessions.
 
Shoal Bay East
Shoal Bay East is a broad and long sweep of radiant white sand that beach connoisseurs consider to be Anguilla's premier strand. Ideal for swimming and snorkeling, the waters offer some of Anguilla's best coral gardens inhabited by hundreds of tiny iridescent fish.
 
Rendezvous Bay Beach
Rendezvous Bay is a dazzling four-kilometer crescent of powdery sand and luminous sea. Calm and shallow, this peaceful stretch of coast is great for families with small children. Sunbathers, swimmers, and shell collectors will also be impressed.
 
Meads Bay Beach
One of the most popular beaches on the island's west end, Meads Bay presents a stunning one-and-a-half kilometer stretch of white sand beach with clear, calm waters for swimming. Luxury villas and resorts are sprinkled along here as well as some excellent restaurants. Near the turn off to Meads Bay, stop by Cheddie's Art Studio to see the driftwood carvings of local artist, Cheddie Richardson.
 
Eating Out
For a bit of old-fashioned British charm, complete with an atmospheric dark-wood bar, try the lobster or pumpkin soup at the 17th-century hotel Admiral's Inn, in English Harbour. Splurge at East, in St John's, the most gastronomically sophisticated restaurant on Antigua, with a menu inspired by the best of Asian cuisine. The popular Sticky Wicket in Coolidge serves up good, stick-to-your-ribs West Indian fare (including ribs) while you watch a match next door at the Stanford Cricket Grounds.
 
Julian's (268/562-1545), the in-house restaurant of Barrymore’s Beach Hotel is popular for its flavorsome broths, chicken preps, and succulent lamb dishes. The ambiance is relaxed yet vibrant. Colombo's Restaurant (268/460-1452) whips up great Italian fare. You won’t be disappointed with their signature pasta and sea food delicacies.
 
Casino hopping is the much sought after nightlife activity here Ribbit Night Club (268/462-7996) is the hip and happening nightclub in town for the most avid party buffs. The live reggae music is the highlight here. Fort James Beach is the place to go to for open air partying. Miller's by the Sea (268/462-9414) is good for live performances.
 
Shopping
Go bargain hunting at St. Mary's Street or High Street in downtown St. You can pick up a variety of local goods, including pots, headgear, artificial jewelry, and more. Noreen Phillips (268/462-3127) features reasonably priced apparel and accessories. For some good old duty free buys, go to Heritage Quay, at St. John's Harbor. There are over forty stores retailing everything from artifacts to clothes.
 
Most of Antigua's shops are clustered on St. Mary's Street or High Street in St. John's. Some stores are open Monday to Saturday from 8:30am to noon and 1 to 4pm, but this varies greatly from place to place -- Antiguan shopkeepers are an independent lot. Many of them close at noon on Thursday.
 
Duty-free items include English woolens and linens. You can also purchase Antiguan goods: local pottery, straw work, rum, floppy foldable hats, shell curios, and hand-printed fabrics. If you're in St. John's on a Saturday morning, visit the fruit and vegetable market at the south end of Market Street. The juicy Antiguan black pineapple alone is worth the trip.
 
One prime hunting ground in St. John's is the Redcliffe Quay waterfront on the southern edge of town, where nearly three dozen boutiques are housed in former warehouses set around tree-shaded, landscaped courtyards. Our favorite is A Thousand Flowers (tel. 268/462-4264), which sells linens, all-natural fiber, rayon, and other fabrics.
 
At the Gazebo (tel. 268/460-2776), expect a little bit of everything, from a mass of south-of-the-border pottery to Indonesian wood items, and (our favorite) stunning blue-glaze plates. Additional Redcliffe Quay shops include Isis (tel. 268/462-4602) for unique Egyptian jewelry, cotton gowns, handicrafts, inlaid marquetry work, and Afghan jewelry. It's often worth checking out the Goldsmitty (tel. 268/462-4601; www.goldsmitty.com), where precious stones are set in unique, exquisite creations of 14- and 18-karat gold.
 
Noreen Phillips, Redcliffe Quay (tel. 268/462-3127; www.noreenphillips.com), an entity entirely based in Antigua, is one of the island's major fashion outlets. Cruise-ship passengers beeline here for both casual wear and beaded glitzy dress clothes. Exotic Antigua, Radcliffe Quay, St. Mary's Street (tel. 268/562-1288), specializes in Caribbean-made gifts and clothing, including T-shirts and casual wear, and handicrafts.
 
At Lipstick, Heritage Quay (tel. 268/562-1133), you can browse a daunting array of cosmetics and perfumes, some of them locally made, many of the others imported from the U.S., Britain, and France. Shoul's Chief Store, St. Mary's Street at Market Street (tel. 268/462-1140), is an all-purpose department store selling fabric, appliances, souvenirs (more than 300 kinds), and general merchandise.
 
Heritage Quay, Antigua's premier shopping-and-entertainment complex, is a well-maintained neighborhood close to the cruise-ship piers that features some 40 duty-free shops and an arcade for local artists and artisans. Its restaurants and food court offer a range of cuisines and views of St. John's Harbour. Many shops are open all day, at least from 9am to 5:30pm Monday to Saturday, and later, including on Sunday, if there's a cruise ship in port.
 
Tucked away within Heritage Quay are a number of shops. The Camera Shop (tel. 268/462-3619), a Kodak distributor and photofinisher, sells sunglasses, film, and brand-name cameras. Fashiondock (tel. 268/462-9672) is known for its duty-free Prada, Moschino, and Gucci accessories, plus other Italian styles. Sunseekers (tel. 268/462-4523) carries the largest collection of duty-free swimwear in the Caribbean. Colombian Emeralds (tel. 268/462-3462) is the world's biggest retailer of these gemstones. Abbott's Jewelry (tel. 268/462-3107) sells the best selection of watches on Antigua, plus china and crystal. Nick Maley, a makeup artist who worked on Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, founded Island Arts, upstairs at Heritage Quay (tel. 268/462-2787). You can purchase his own fine-art reproductions or browse through everything from low-cost prints to works by artists exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
 
Rain Boutique, Lower St. Mary's (tel. 268/462-0118), sells casual clothes, formal wear, hats, scarves, shoes, jewelry, and handbags.
 
At Falmouth Harbour, Seahorse Studios & Gift Shop (tel. 268/460-1457) specializes in batiks, T-shirts, signs, and table linens. Its affiliated branch at English Harbour, Seahorse Art Gallery (tel. 268/460-1457), sells paintings, engravings, and watercolors, with lots of emphasis on seascapes.
 
The best for last: Head for Harmony Hall, in Brown's Bay Mill, near Freetown (tel. 268/460-4120), following the signs along the road to Freetown and Half Moon Bay. This restored 1843 plantation house and sugar mill overlooking Nonsuch Bay is ideal for a lunch stopover, a shopping expedition, even an overnight. It displays an excellent selection of Caribbean arts and crafts. Lunch is served daily from noon to 3:30pm, featuring Green Island lobster, flying fish, and other specialties. Sunday is barbecue day.

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