Antigua - Abbey Travel, Ireland



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Welcome to Antigua


Antigua is the largest of the English-speaking Leeward Islands and is usually the first stop for visitors to Antigua and Barbuda. The island boasts a whopping 365 glorious beaches, a near-perfect climate and plenty to occupy the visitor. Antigua is home to St John's, the island's capital, with the magnificently evocative white Baroque towers of St John's Cathedral dominating the city's skyline. Built in 1845, the church is now in its third incarnation, as earthquakes in 1683 and in 1745 destroyed the previous structures. The towers are the first sight of Antigua for about half of the island's visitors each year, many of whom arrive by boat.

With its recently completed cruise ship dock and many hotels, St John's is a lively hub for shopping and dining. Most tourist activity is confined to the harbour-front complexes of Heritage Quay, a favourite for cruise ship passengers, and the more traditional Redcliffe Quay. For those interested in the early history of the island, there is the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda, housed in the colonial Court House (circa 1750). The museum displays artefacts from the colonial period and from the earlier Arawak settlers who lived on the islands between 35 and 1100 AD. On Friday and Saturday mornings, there is a vibrant farmers market on the southern edge of the city, where folk crafts, colourful tropical fruits and a buzzing crowd make for a lively morning.

Antigua's highest point is Boggy's Peak, at 1,319 feet (402m), but the island is mostly flat and covered with sugar cane, tropical fruit trees, palms and exotic flowers. For those tired of lazing on the beach, there is sailing, diving, snorkelling, beachcombing and other leisurely pursuits on offer.

Information & Facts


The seasonal variations in Antigua are not very pronounced and temperatures on the island seldom fall below 68ºF (20ºC). June to November is hurricane season so visitors are advised to keep an eye on the weather forecast during this period. The best time to visit Antigua is when the climate is most pleasant from November to February. On the coldest days a light sweater in the evenings is all that is needed. No more than five degrees ever separates the Antigua air temperature from that of the ocean, creating a perfect climate for diving and outdoor activities.

English is the official language, but most locals speak English patois (jargon or dialect).

The Eastern Caribbean Dollar (XCD) is the main form of currency in Antigua and Barbuda, and it is tied to the US Dollar, with US$1 equal to EC$2.65 (long-standing, pegged rate). US currency can be used nearly everywhere. Major currencies and travellers cheques can be exchanged at the international banks in St John's and at many hotels. Credit and debit cards are widely accepted but there are not many ATMs in the area, so it is best to make arrangements around this.

Local time in Antigua and Barbuda is GMT -4.

English Harbour, Antigua's graceful and evocative historic district, is focused on the 15 square miles (39 sq km) of Nelson's Dockyard National Park. Developed as a base for the British Navy in the great age of sail, the harbour served as the headquarters of the fleet of the Leeward Islands during the turbulent years of the late 18th century. Although the dockyard was greatly expanded at that time by Horatio Nelson, it was gradually abandoned in the 19th century and was closed in 1889. Today Nelson's Dockyard has been completely restored, and it is now the only Georgian dockyard in the world.

Almost all of the park's other sites of interest overlook the harbour. The closest of these is Clarence House, a residence built for the future King William IV (1765-1837) when he served under Nelson as captain of the HMS Pegasus. Further above the harbour, at Shirley Heights, are the partially restored fortifications of the harbour's colonial observation post; the view from Shirley Heights extends out over the harbour and far across the Caribbean to Montserrat and Guadeloupe. On Sunday afternoons the vista is enhanced by a barbeque and live music at the bar. Shirley Heights can be reached via Lookout Trail, a nature walk that rises from the harbour through a forest of trees. Buses run between St John's and Nelson's Dockyard.

The tiny rocky outcrop known as Redonda, 35 miles (55km) south west of Antigua in the Caribbean, lays claim to being the world's smallest island kingdom, although the rightful heir to the title is currently in contention. In fact the little island went up for grabs simply because no-one wanted it back in the mid-19th century, when all it seemed good for was a source of guano deposited by its rich bird population. Along came an ambitious Irishman, Matthew Shiell, who laid claim to the 'lump of rock' and declared his son to be its king. The kingdom was acknowledged by Britain, and King Felipe's reign continued until his death, by which time he had gained a reputation as a novelist. Poet John Gawsworth became the new king, and currently the title is disputed by at least four different people. The kingdom's subjects are all feathered or scaly, and the island is a favourite haunt for keen birdwatchers, renowned for having a small population of the rare Burrowing Owl.

Antigua boasts 365 beaches, one for each day of the year, the great majority resting inside the calm, protected waters of the island's Caribbean coast. Dickenson Bay and Runaway Bay, located along the island's developed northwestern coast, are the places to go for those who want the fully-loaded resort beach experience, complete with reggae music and busy bars. The beaches most conveniently situated near St John's are Fort James and Deep Bay, both of which offer good swimming and snorkelling. Galley Bay attracts surfers during the winter months and joggers during the evening, and the series of four crescent beaches at Hawksbill, one of which is nudist, are also highly regarded. The beaches of the hilly southwest corner of Antigua are generally less developed than those around St John's; Rendezvous Bay and Doigs Beach are especially quiet and worth the rough travel necessary to reach them. Pigeon Point, near English Harbour, is a convenient spot after a day's sightseeing at Nelson's Dockyard. On the southeastern corner of the island is Half Moon Bay, now a National Park and a good choice for a family outing. Long Bay, on the easternmost point of the island, is another good choice for families, as it is completely protected by its reef.

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