Antigua Is the Caribbean’s Best Kept Secret. Go. Then Shut Your Trap.

An easier, quicker trip to paradise there is not

April 25, 2016 9:00 am

Fifteen minutes after cabbing out of Antigua’s V.C. Bird International Airport, I’m beachside at the 17-acre Blue Waters Resort, a rumtini in hand.

“Have you been to the Caribbean before?”

That’s Gina, the resort’s extremely friendly assistant GM, prodding me gently as she hands over a cold towel.

“Well, I’ve been to Barbados—”

She laughs. “Oh, everyone’s been to Barbados.”

The point here? When we speak of the Caribbean islands, Antigua is the seemingly quiet middle child too often lost and forgotten in a particularly large (and loud) family.

The island is not Cuba or Jamaica (or Barbados), and it’s happy not to be. There’s little in the way of glitz or flash: this is beachfront comfort, a place to relax with a fascinating history and now, a nascent interest in becoming more than just a secretly great place to visit.

Let’s help them find their way. Here are six reasons to visit Antigua, stat:

It’s easier to get there than ever
First, before you book anything, it’s pronounced “An-TEE-ga.” One half of twin island country Antigua and Barbuda, it has long been a reliable mainstay for British tourists, both before and after the country’s independence from the Queen in 1981. Still, until late last year, flights weren’t that easy to come by for U.S. travelers — that happened this past winter, when JetBlue started direct flights from New York. Fortunately, it was worth the wait. The airline’s new Getaways packages offers a particularly wide range of air + hotel programs to the island.

Rock Cottage

This one resort is ridiculously peaceful
“No spring break. No wild parties.” On its face, Blue Waters Resort is a beautiful beachfront resort that could invite the unwanted college crowd. But it doesn’t. As the resort GM Anderson Howard told us during our visit, Blue Waters is not the place for beach dance parties and 24-hour bacchanalia. The place is best suited for couples — I even witnessed two weddings during my brief stay there, both taking place on a gazebo jutting out into the ocean.

The grounds house beachfront suites, multi-bedroom villas and penthouses designed for large groups or families. But the A-lister space you want: room 914 at Rock Cottage. It’s the most secluded villa, has a gigantic private terrace (actually, two), a separate kitchen, its own plunge pool and a dock. It’s like owning your own beachfront mansion. They’ll even post security at night to keep out the, ahem, curious guests.

The Cove

When you’re feeling social, Blue Waters keeps you relaxed but occupied. I had a massage, sailed on a catamaran, toured some uninhabited islands, ate at three different on-site restaurants (the upscale French fusion at The Cove was a highlight), kayaked and spent more than a few hours imbibing tropical cocktails at Carolyn’s, a beachfront bar with an adjoining pool. (Note: if you don’t have access to your own infinity pool, there are both family and adults-only swim holes throughout the property).

Devil’s Bridge

You can sightsee in a couple of days, then relax
The island is only 108 square miles and home to a little more than 80,000 residents. I booked a local tour for the day and visited the main city of St. John’s on another afternoon … after which, the sightseeing was pretty much finished. What you’re really here for are the beaches: as our local cab driver told us, “We have 365 of them, one for each day of the year.”

There are a few must-sees: the local market in St. John’s for fresh food, a few locals-approved eateries like the beachfront Smiling Harry’s (featuring a wonderful view of Half Moon Bay) or the rooftop charms of Hemingways; Nelson’s Dockyard (a National Park and historic site) is good for shopping and superyacht-gazing, there’s a natural arch/cove called Devil’s Bridge that’s both beautiful and terrifying (the history of the area in particular) and also old sugarcane plantations like Betty’s Hope.

There are also a few casinos on the island. I found them rather depressing, but they exist. Your call. Like sports? Besides sailing, there’s pretty much anything you want on the island, be it ziplining, golf or windsurfing. If you’re more of a spectator, cricket is your game.  

The climate is great
Hurricanes? Don’t worry about ‘em. Explains the GM friend: “Unless it’s a name storm, you’re only going to get rain for an hour. With not much land mass, it’s not much of a problem.” The island averages about 39 inches of rainfall per year, with most of that coming between September and November. As for temps: it was mid-80s and relatively low humidity during our time there in early winter … which isn’t that different from the country’s average of of 80.6 F.

It’s the perfect time to go
For starters, now is the beginning of Antigua Sailing Week, a yacht regatta at Nelson’s Dockyard (April 22-30). Later in the year, there’s a 10-day, calypso-and-parade-filled Carnival (August), a rare time when the island transforms into revelry and bad hangovers.

Finally, the island is home to our favorite Caribbean rum
English Harbour. The 5-Year. It’s about $13 local. Your rumtini is fine with something else; this one you drink on the rocks or neat and watch the 6:30 sunset. Sips like a bourbon.

Great for a perfectly quiet moment.


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