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Antigua: Paradise at the Right Price

by Travelbag on 15 January 2020, 16:01PM

Antigua

Antigua is small and astonishingly pretty, with a lush, hilly interior fringed by idyllic white sand beaches. Famously, it has 365 of them – all public, all free – so you’re spoilt for choice, no matter how long you stay. Development here is low-rise and low key, with no ugly blocks or out-of-character towers, making it one of the best islands in the Caribbean for uninterrupted sea views. Plus, with average temperatures of 28 degrees, Antigua enjoys a tropical climate without getting too hot. Sounds like Heaven, right? Thankfully, in Antigua, Heaven doesn’t need to cost the Earth. On this stunning island, as Joanna Booth explains, you can find the best value in the Caribbean.

 

Low-cost Caribbean

Below my feet is the perfect curve of Galleon Beach, backed by a forest of yacht masts in English Harbour. Across Deep Bay, the sun stains the sky behind the Shekerley Mountains a deep, flamingo pink, and in the distance, I can make out Montserrat. As views go, this one feels priceless. So paying $10 to enjoy it – with a rum punch in my hand and the sound of a steel pan band in my ears – seems pretty reasonable.

The Sunday night parties at Shirley Heights have become legendary in Antigua for good reason. Locals and visitors mingle happily at this restored gun battery, perched nearly 500feet above sea level. There’s a barbecue and free-flowing drinks while the sun sets, then around 7pm the party gets serious, with the steel pan sounds swapped for more up-tempo soca, reggae and calypso. Wear flat shoes – the historic cobbles were designed for hobnail boots rather than stilettos, but you’ll want to dance all the same.

You’d think paradise like this would come at a premium, but prices on the ground are surprisingly reasonable. In 2019, the Post Office Travel Money Long Haul Holiday Report, carried out in tandem with Travelbag, found that Antigua is the cheapest island in the Caribbean for nightlife and eating out. So there’s no need to hold back once you’re on holiday.

It’s easy to eat well and cheaply in the capital, St John’s, from the locals’ favourite pizza spot Big Banana to Roti King, where you can get a traditional curry wrap and a beer for just a few bucks. Even in upmarket English Harbour, Trappas Restaurant has made its name with generous portions and affordable prices. For almost dangerously good-value rum cocktails, there’s Kon Tiki Bar – a floating shack with a thatched roof – that sits just offshore in Dickenson Bay dispensing drinks from 11am until the last punter makes their unsteady way to shore.

St John's

 

Where to Stay in Antigua

Antigua has some outstanding luxury hotels. If you want to treat yourself, check out the sleek but character-filled Blue Waters, which hosted Prince Harry when he visited the island. Or make tracks for the five-star Curtain Bluff on the south coast.   

But there are plenty of options at the more moderate end of the market, too. Adults-only, all-inclusive Hawksbill by Rex Resorts has simple but charming rooms set on four beautiful stretches of sand – one of which is the only clothing-optional beach on the island, if you want that all-over tan. Meanwhile, Starfish Jolly Beach Resort is a large and lively all-inclusive option on one of Antigua’s best beaches, with heaps of facilities to keep everyone entertained. Wherever you choose, nearly all of the island’s beachfront hotels offer kayaking, surfing, stand-up paddle-boarding and the like as part of their package, so you can really make the most of the balmy Caribbean Sea without breaking the bank.

Antigua views

 

Beyond the Beaches

While Antigua’s gorgeous shores make it tempting to fly-and-flop, there’s plenty to explore beyond the hotel. Car hire is relatively inexpensive, and driving on the left means Brits find negotiating the roads a no-brainer. If nothing else, having a car will allow you to try out a few of those 365 beaches, from lively Dickenson Bay and Pigeon Point to the more secluded shores on the island’s south coast, including Carlisle Bay and unspoilt Darkwood Beach. Head to Fort James beach and you’ll probably find an impromptu game of beach cricket you can join in with – this is where local legend Sir Viv Richards grew up playing, and the tradition continues today.

You won’t find much car traffic in Antigua, but you do need to keep your eyes peeled while driving – the many wild donkeys on the island don’t always abide by the rules of the road. Pet and feed these gentle creatures for free at the Antigua Donkey Sanctuary, where 150 have been given a good home. These beasts of burden are a legacy of the island’s sugar industry, once used for carrying cane and to power mills, but now many of their descendants roam at will. With its twin stumpy windmills – one full restored – Betty’s Hope Sugar Plantation is also free to visit, and gives a short introduction to the historic sugar trade, from the production processes to the dark side of this slave-reliant industry.

Antigua’s foremost historic site is Nelson’s Dockyard, the only continuously operating Georgian naval base in the world. Follow in the hero of Trafalgar’s footsteps for just $8, and explore this handsome spot where the colonial buildings have been sensitively redeveloped with shops, restaurants and a museum, alongside the sleek yachts that call the protected English Harbour home. It’s safe to say it’s an improvement on its original state. Admiral Nelson called it an ‘infernal hole’ and a ‘vile spot’ while he was stationed there in the 1780s, but today’s visitors are more positive, and the significance of the dockyard was recognised in 2016 when it was granted UNESCO World Heritage status.

Zip-lining in the jungle

For more high-adrenaline activities, head inland. Zooming through the rainforest canopy on a network of zip wires is thrilling but not too extreme. If you’re about to balk at ‘The Screamer’, the 300-foot-high, 300-foot-long fastest run of them all, the guides will remind you that a four-year-old and a 99-year-old have made the journey safely.

And while many of Antigua’s finest things come for free, it’s worth splashing out – quite literally – on a boat trip. You won’t regret spending a little when you dive off the back of a catamaran and snorkel among coral, bright fish and even the occasional turtle or stingray, or when you relax on board with the trade winds ruffling your hair as you top up your tan. For the ultimate in glamour, charter a skippered sailing yacht and hop along the coast, casting anchor in secluded bays to swim. Watching the sunset over Champagne and canapés, you may even see a dolphin or two splashing past. You don’t have to spend much in Antigua to feel very rich indeed.

 

Take a look at our budget-friendly holidays to Antigua. Or, if you can’t quite make up your mind, find out which Caribbean island is best for you.

Looking for more holiday inspiration? Flick through the latest edition of our Escape magazine.


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