Looking for a vacation where you can experience two different Caribbean islands – but you don’t want to do a three- or four-night cruise which is how we typically think is the only way to get two for one? You are in luck because I can grant your request and I promise you – you are going to love, love, love these two experiences!
Recently I had the absolute pleasure of sitting down and chatting with Donyelle Ann Bird-Browne who happens to be the Senior Business Development Manager for the Southeast USA Region for the Antigua & Barbuda Tourism Authority. I met Donyelle when she was my fabulous guide when I visited the islands last July – and subsequently fell in love with them. Below is an overview of our conversation that highlights all the amazing things about Antigua and Barbuda.
Grab some rum – or a yummy pineapple drink (you’ll hear more about those later) kick off your shoes, and read on as Donyelle and I both share our love of Antigua and Barbuda – where The Beach is Just the Beginning!
The Vibe: Donyelle refers to Antigua and Barbuda as luxury without all the pomp and circumstance and a place of beautiful barefoot elegance. And she notes that they have perfectly positioned themselves as an authentic, Caribbean, laid back, luxury boutique experience – which is what so many travelers had been seeking and will continue to seek in this age of social distancing. You will find them situated in Leeward Islands – between Dominica and St. Kitts. They are a dry island and the best time to visit is between December and April. Antigua is the larger of the two and Barbuda is 40 miles north of it and also more ecofriendly. Doing the two islands in one shot is not monotonous either – as they both offer completely different experiences – Barbuda is definitely an unplugging and disconnecting type of stay while Antigua has the nightlife and activities. But – between the two of them – you can find something for everyone – adventure, yachting, romance, history, culture, wellness, escapism and more!
The Beaches: The islands actually fall in between two oceans – the Caribbean side which is warmer and calmer waters and the Atlantic side which has a little surf and the water is a bit cooler. I absolutely loved the beaches there and learned that they have a beach for every day of the year! And that’s true – it’s not just a catchphrase. Some you can only access by boat and one you have to hike too – but there’s more than enough beach for everyone! And they also are unique in that they have the white sand beaches on Antigua but they also have pink sand beaches on Barbuda – similar to Bermuda – although not consistently pink and for most part it depends on the tide. Still – pink sand beaches!
Getting There: The ease of air access makes this one – actually two – quite easy islands to get to. And as Donyelle wisely stated is indicative of confidence that the airlines have of Antigua and Barbuda as a premier Caribbean destination. American, Jet Blue, United and Delta all fly nonstop to Antigua out of the three New York airports (JFK, LGA and EWR), Atlanta, Charlotte and Miami. And for my Texas peeps – even with connections – it is an easy flight going through either Miami or Atlanta as they are quick stops that are timed well.
Transportation: The beauty of the island is that it is only 108 square miles which is roughly the size of Manhattan – so everything is close to get to. And it is very easy to get around – typically via taxi or bus – and you will find that the taxi drivers, bus drivers and locals are all very friendly and willing to help guide you where you want to go. Donyelle did offer a tip – one of the best ways to see the island is by a catamaran cruise that goes right around the island giving you views of all the different coves, inlets and beaches!
Accommodations: Antigua features many gorgeous hotels on amazing, crystal clear, white powder sand beaches. Donyelle advised that they do tend to focus on boutique properties on the island but they also have some amazing villas for family travel, reunions, retreats or any getaway involving a group of people who want to travel and stay in their bubble. There is also Hammock Cove which is the islands newest property and an adults-only, all Inclusive luxury resort. But there are also plenty of family friendly properties, as well as properties for those of you who like the party atmosphere and properties for those that prefer it more low key and quiet. They run the gamut there. And I can attest that no matter what property you choose they pretty much all have those fabulous open-air lobbies that invite you to come in and leave your stress at the door! Regardless of which property you stay at though – both Donyelle and I agree that you need to get off property to experience the authentic culture and environment of the island.
Tours and Activities: They offer a host of activities, tours and attractions that are very diverse and well managed. You can do a daytrip to their sister island of Barbuda via ferry, charter boat, helicopter or small plane. You can also go to Montserrat which is an island that they have a great relationship with. You can travel there in the same manner as you would to Barbuda and can do day trip or overnight. Of course, I can customize your side trips as you would like – depending on what you want to experience while you are there.
Another great place to visit is the marine park off the coast of Barbuda which is home to the Frigate Bird Sanctuary – which happens to be one of the world’s largest colony of the red chested frigate birds. And of course, there is Devil’s Bridge (also maintained by the National Park Authority) – a stunning natural rock arch on the Atlantic coast and so very Instagram worthy!
History and Culture: One place that is a must visit is Nelson’s Dockyard – I experienced it when I was there, and it is super! In fact, in 2016 Antigua and Barbuda had the honor of receiving a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation for the Nelsons’ Dockyard. Nelson’s Dockyard is an English harbor on the southern side of Antigua featuring an admiral’s house, officers’ quarters, a museum and a historic hotel. Per Donyelle, the National Parks Authority was established to preserve their historical sights and they oversee Nelson’s Dockyard and have done a great job as it is a very unique experience and locals love it as well visitors. And it is something completely different to experience – trust me – there is no other place you can enjoy the best of a nautical, yachting life style in the only reserved and working 18th century Georgian port in the world! Antigua has also become a mecca for Caribbean sailing and yachting and Nelson’s Dockyard has a myriad of regattas and super yacht shows over the season – generally from December through May.
Gastronomy: My favorite subject! So, Antigua is filled with fabulous restaurants representative of all the ethnicities that have chosen to make it their home. It is also home to a deliciously authentic and vibrant local street food culture that’s always evolving. Me? I loved the fact that you can get an amazing black pineapple on the side of road! Yes, a black pineapple – excuse me – award winning black pineapple! And no – it’s not black – but it is grown in volcanic ash and cannot be found anywhere else. It is also smaller than the normal pineapples you would see here in the US and is less acidic and sweeter than regular pineapples as well. I enjoyed mine with a mixture of fresh mango and banana and oh my was it delish! I also experienced the conch chowder and ginger beer that can be found at stands along the roadside and then got to experience a fabulous fine dining restaurant – Catherine’s café on the beach. Best of both worlds if you ask me!
The national dish in the islands is pepper pot which is a leafy green vegetable stew that can be served with meat or seafood or if you prefer a vegetarian dish – neither! Another popular local dish is salted cod fish – or bacalao as they call in Miami – that is typically served with a cornmeal polenta style side (also known as fungi) and an eggplant and okra mix. They use a lot of eggplant on island and also other a lot of other fresh vegetables and fresh fruits since they are so prevalent there. And that award-winning black pineapple? Well we know they use it in drinks – but they also prepare it other ways – like in jams or simple grilling it.
They are also known for their fish and shellfish – especially their famous Barbuda spiny lobster which as per Donyelle is best served grilled or ceviche style with local citrus and pepper or herbs. They totally promote fresh food from sea to table as it is so easy to do so being surrounded by oceans!
Then there is Shirley Heights – which is a great opportunity for partiers by the way! They also have amazing food and offer a cultural experience like no other. Everyone was super friendly, and I pretty much ate and drank until my heart was content when I visited.
And of course – the islands themselves have their own rum. There’s just something about Caribbean food and rum noted Donyelle – and they get a lot of questions about that type of thing! The rum in Antigua and Barbuda? It is – ahem – award winning English Harbour Five-Year Old Antigua Rum. And trust me – everywhere you go you are greeted with old fashioned rum punch! Not that I am complaining…
Type of Traveler: There really are options for everyone here. Antigua and Barbuda are known for romance and weddings and have received multiple rewards for being the most romantic destination, the best honeymoon destination, etc. Plus – you can arrive and be married on same day there, as there is no residency requirement. And you get to decide where you want to get married – whether it be at Nelson’s Dockyard or on a beach!
Safety: No worries here! They are great islands to feel safe and to social distance! They are one of the safest destinations in the Caribbean with one of the lowest crime rates in the Caribbean as well. And they pretty much lend themselves to the new concept of social distancing. For instance – Barbuda has a five-mile beach – pretty difficult to run into someone there even if you wanted to!
Miscellaneous: Antigua and Barbuda are supporting the prioritizing of the environment and a move toward sustainability on the islands. They already have started this initiative with a ban on Styrofoam and all single use plastics and continue their efforts on sustainability and the green side of tourism.
Updated COVID-19 Information: As of this writing all passengers arriving by air MUST have a negative COVID-19 RT-PCR test result taken within seven (7) days of their flight. This includes transiting passengers. Children under 12 years of age are not required to present a COVID-19 RT-PCR Negative Test to enter the Country. All arriving passengers will be monitored for COVID-19 for periods of up to 14 days in accordance with the directions of the Quarantine Authority and the Quarantine (COVID-19) Guidelines. Visitors may be required to undergo further testing for COVID-19 on arrival or at the hotel or place of lodging as determined by the Health Authorities.
Ready to book your trip? I am absolutely ready to return! Antigua and Barbuda are certainly a vacation product with a range of price points and an unparalleled selection of activities. For more details on things to see and do, where to stay, it’s price points and more – contact your Travel Guru! Oh, and if you need a payment plan to fund your travel adventure – we got those too!