For this holiday we wanted a rest and we got it. However, the heat and humidity proved too oppressive so it isn't a place I'd recommend at this time of year (July) unless you are very hardy or are content to laze on a beach all day doing little else. We travelled with Virgin Holidays to the resort of
on the west side of this small island. We elected to stay in a self-catering villa, which was very spacious and comfortable. But hot - air-conditioning was optional subject to availability, of which there was none during our stay. The ceiling fans were in operation 24hrs per day. The resort is very pleasant, well laid out with all amenities although the 15 minute walk to the majority of them was hard work in humidity of way over 60%. Fortunately the beach was only a few minutes away and was very beautiful. On a busy day it had only a couple of dozen people on it. The sea was very calm and flat - rather dull for swimming really!
We hired a jeep for 3 days and this was plenty of time to explore the entire island. Particular places of interest include the capital, St Johns, where every day is market day, but it's busiest on Saturdays, the day we went. We went here on the local bus, anticipating a crowded, hot and bumpy ride but in fact the bus was a minibus fully air-conditioned and comfortable, apart from the bumps which were inevitable on these dreadful roads. It was hot and dusty in the town and thronging with people. The market was like markets the world over, full of ancient strange objects enclosed in dirty plastic bags, contrasting with brightly coloured t-shirts and hats, and masses of fruit and vegetables, even lining the pavements. Everywhere are taxi drivers plying their services, but all so friendly. A tax free shopping centre which could have been anywhere in the world contrasts dramatically with the small scruffy shops elsewhere in town. There's also a small museum which tells the history of the island.
In contrast, English
Harbour is quiet and peaceful, with Nelson's Dockyard having had its beautiful buildings renovated. It's on the south coast and is very picturesque.
In the centre of the island is Betty's Hope which has a long way to go before it is fully restored. Formerly a sugar plantation, it has a small centre showing the terrible conditions under which the slaves worked. The heat up there was stifling. The mills have been restored but the rest of the place is still in ruins. There are no facilities bar a
"dunny" which we felt was probably best avoided. Anyone enterprising enough to get up there with cold drinks would have made a fortune!
I think my favourite place was Devil's Bridge and Indian Town Point, close to Long Bay and right on the eastern most point of the island. This is a fabulous contrast to the beaches, there was no-one else there and it was blissfully breezy. Probably easiest to see what I mean from this aerial photo. Here we have the Pacific Ocean, far more dramatic than the Caribbean Sea. The ground is covered in strange rock and is quite unlike anything I have seen before.
We also visited Fort James, which overlooks St Johns. Again we were the only ones there. It has a nice cooling breeze so we were in no rush to leave - main attraction apart from the breeze are the views, the fort is nothing but ruins and a few canon! There was an enormous cruiser in the harbour when we were there - it totally dominated the skyline and looked ridiculously out of place.
A highlight of our holiday was a helicopter ride all around the coastline, which took about 30 minutes.
Many of the optional excursions took place on the sea and since not everyone in the family is a good sailor, we had to restrict ourselves to one short snorkelling trip.
Eating out proved to be very expensive with a 2 course meal with a "cheap" bottle of wine and a few soft drinks costing an average of
£100 for 4 of us. If you do visit Antigua and want a really superb meal, go to Cocos which overlooks Jolly Bay. You can also stay there. Food as good as we've had anywhere. Away from the resorts meals are cheaper but you may need a lot more courage than we have to venture into some of the eating houses we saw! We tended to eat pasta every day in the villa for our other meals, - and you got a free sauna in the kitchen whilst doing so!
In all, it was a place which I'm glad I've visited but I have no desire to go again. The people were great, very friendly and helpful, and there was a party atmosphere. Like many places, there was plenty of evidence of hardship with people living in tiny tumbledown shacks, contrasting painfully with the exclusive all-inclusive resorts. These resorts are so expensive that I imagine few guests would venture out to see the "real" Antigua. That is a great shame. For a sunloving person who loves to party on boats, I would heartily recommend Antigua, but for a family holiday where you wish to do more than drink rum punch and sizzle on a beach or boat, it isn't a very good choice.