Skip the Glitz in Antigua

1. Where to Stay

The Stoneyhill Studio Apartments are among the island's best inexpensive, non-resort properties.Photo: Courtesy of Typically Tropical Villas

Avoid the crowds of the resort-heavy areas at the Stoneyhill Studio Apartments (from $95; three-night minimum), made up of three simply furnished cottages, with kitchens and a shared pool, tucked away on the island’s quiet southwestern side. You’ll need to rent a 4x4 to navigate the dirt track leading here, but the individual verandas overlooking two beaches and rolling hills are a worthy payoff.

Stay in view of Giorgio Armani’s villa without paying premium prices at the Galley Bay Cottages (starting at $155), a handful of charmingly shabby, West Indian–style wooden homes that catch nice breezes from their hilltop positions but are only a three-minute walk from the beach. All cottages offer kitchens and views of the Caribbean, but book the two-bedroom Spice Cottage for the most space.

Find the beach right outside your front door at the Catamaran Hotel (from $170), where the second-floor rooms feature four-poster beds and better views of the sea and nearby marina. The fourteen brightly decorated rooms do have small kitchens, but there’s also a fine selection of restaurants a few minutes away in English Harbour.

2. Where to Eat

Roti King serves traditional Trinidadian fare.Photo: Georgina Gustin

Experience a classic beach bar scene at Dennis Cocktail Bar & Restaurant (Ffryes Beach; 268-728-5086), where wooden decks overlook two of Antigua’s prettiest beaches. Order a few Wadadli beers (about $3 each) with the tender, spicy goat curry ($18), served over rice. Beforehand, you can rent a chair ($5 a day) from the restaurant and bum around on the sand until dinner.

Swing by the One Stone Ital Shack (Cobbs Cross; 268-785-6065) near English Harbour, on the south side of the island, and pick from the Rastafarian (mostly vegetarian) offerings, sometimes served in traditional clay pots. Try the fried pea or cassava balls ($1 each) with a house-made passion fruit and golden apple juice $2), and enjoy them under the mango tree in front.

Join the workday lunchtime crowd at Roti King (St. Mary’s Street and Corn Alley; 268-462-2328) in St. John’s, the island’s capital, for Trinidadian fare. Try the namesake roti, an Indian-influenced bread, stuffed with curried conch, shrimp, spiced potatoes, and beef or chicken ($7), with a homemade spicy ginger beer (about $1.50) or sea moss (about $1.75), which is made with seaweed, milk, and nutmeg.

3. What to Do

The view from Shirley Heights.Photo: Georgina Gustin

Steer away from the coast to explore the island’s rain forest interior. Head to Fig Tree Drive, a winding road lined with tropical fruit trees, and stop at the Fig Tree Art Gallery to peruse local artwork and crafts before following the signs for Wallings Dam, where a network of trails leads around a Victorian-era reservoir. Ascend about 1,200 feet to Signal Hill for panoramic views, or for another interesting hike, go to the Christian Valley Agricultural Station, a state-supported fruit plantation with 40-plus acres. From here, take the two-hour hike to the top of the formerly named Boggy Peak, Antigua’s highest mountain, officially renamed Mt. Obama in 2009.

Explore Antigua’s colonial past as a hub for the British Royal Navy at Nelson’s Dockyard ($7 admission) in English Harbour. Still in operation today, it’s also home to the Dockyard Museum, which traces the history of the British naval presence. For a great view of the harbor, head up to Shirley Heights, a former military lookout but now famous for Sunday parties (about $7.50; starts around 4 p.m.) with food, drink, and steel bands.

Find a quiet beach on an island whose 365 beaches are all public, with most easy to access and therefore often populated. Head to the island’s south side and hit the trail to Rendezvous Beach, which is accessible only by boat or 4x4, keeping the crowds away. Take the road from St. John’s to Falmouth, making a right on Farrell Avenue, then make another right at the sign for Spring Hill Riding Stables and continue on until you see a white house and a trail to the right that leads to the beach. There are no amenities, so bring your own sunblock and water, and get there soon: A big resort is in the works, much to the dismay of many locals.

4. Insider’s Tip

This unassuming store sells a high-quality small-batch rum.Photo: Georgina Gustin

Antigua is a rum-drinker’s paradise, and the nation’s biggest producer makes widely available labels like English Harbour and Cavalier. But to get your hands on something more unique, head to the post office/gas station/general store in the village of Bolans, where John “Bushy” Gonsalves sells Bolanda Best Matured (about $8 a bottle). Continuing a family tradition that started 80 years ago, he procures overproof rum from a big distillery, then ages it in oak barrels to produce a mellow, slightly sweet finished product that you won’t find anywhere else.

5. Oddball Day

One of Barbuda's many secluded beaches.Photo: Courtesy of the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority

Hop a ferry to Barbuda, Antigua’s much-less-populated sister island, and treat yourself to an escape on stretches of pink and white sand that are distinctly long and empty compared to Antigua’s more baylike beaches. Start the day at the Public Market in St. John’s, where you can grab a bag of mangoes for the two-hour ferry ride on the Antigua Express (one-way fare is about $41). Once in Barbuda, arrange a full-day hire (approximately $100) with a taxi driver to get to Coco Point, one of the most beautiful—and isolated—beaches in the entire Caribbean. You’ll be dropped off near the guardhouse for the Coco Point Resort, which is closed to nonresidents, but the beach here is open to everyone. From here, you’ll also see the entrance gate to Princess Diana Beach, recently renamed for the royal who vacationed at the abandoned and overgrown K Club. Spend as long as you want on the beach, then cab it over to Uncle Roddy’s (268-785-3268; reservation required) for a lobster lunch (about $20), then return to the sand in front of the restaurant if you desire. If you’re feeling active, however, head to the jetty in Codrington, the island’s main village, and hire a boat (about $50 for four people; the government worker at the dock will call the boat) to the Frigate Bird Sanctuary, the world’s largest colony of these magnificent black birds. At 5:45, board a fifteen-minute flight (about $55; book in advance) back to Antigua. When you’re ready for dinner, go to St. John’s and find AJ’s SmokeHouse (St. George’s and Popehead Streets; 268-734-1797), where the owner smokes and grills jerked meat in his streetfront shop; a dinner with jerked chicken or pork, rice, salad, and bread is about $9. Afterward, if you’re up for the drive, head down to English Harbour and ask the guard at the Antigua Yacht Club if you can roam the docks to gawk at the yachts, which are especially spectacular at night.

6. Links

Dockyard Divers offers classes and guides who can show you the best underwater ridges and caves surrounding the island.

Arrange guided treks around the island’s interior through Footsteps Rainforest Hiking Tours.

Titi Rent-a-Car delivers and picks up rentals—you’ll need one to get around the island easily—for no extra charge.

For snorkeling trips, boat tours, and private charters to secluded spots, check out Adventure Antigua.

Barbudaful’s team of local and international writers and reporters covers everything you could want to know about Antigua’s neighbor.

Skip the Glitz in Antigua