Posted by: Ciaran | January 5, 2010

Changing places – Antigua

I’ve spent most of my life living pretty much as far away from the coast as it is possible to get, so the most striking thing about Antigua for me before I even stepped onto the plane was that it has 365 beaches – one, as the adverts say, for each day of the year.  The Caribbean island has an area of just 108 square miles and only 54 miles of coastline, but it has beaches ranging from built-up resorts boasting watersports to deserted coves where the only vessels on the waves are the local fishing boats.

The sky on the night a hurricane was due

That is one of its great luxuries – if you’re looking for a private, secluded holiday where you really can get away from it all then Antigua is ideal.  You can jump in the car (renting is essential unless perhaps you’re staying in a big resort, but I’d still advise it) and follow the sea until you find an appropriately isolated spot and then enjoy the white sands and clear water all by yourself.

It isn’t completely cut off, and for bargain hunters there are a nice range of shops around the cruise harbour in the north-west of the island, but try and head down there on a day when there are no ships in to get a chance to look around when the place isn’t so crowded.  Perfumeries do a brisk trade but it is the jewellery stores which most people are keen on, and with good reason – the quality is excellent and the prices are very reasonable.

Festival entertainment

The weekends, and particularly Sunday nights, are good for exploring the island’s culture.  I was fortunate enough to be there during the annual carnival in August and the floats and music were a real sight to behold.  Generally the entertainment begins at the Rec, a famous cricket ground in St. John’s, and proceeds through the capital.

If you head up to Shirley Heights on a Sunday evening – and I would strongly advise that you do – you can enjoy a Caribbean barbeque washed down with some rum punch and listen to the steel pans while the sun goes down over the ocean.  Bear in mind that the ocean can be a bit feisty if you visit during the hurricane season (June 1 – November 30); when I was there we had to batten down the hatches one night as a hurricane was expected, though it effectively passed us by.

Volcanic ash meets the sea as you fly over Montserrat

Without doubt the best thing you can do, though, is take a helicopter flight from the island over to Montserrat to fly to the top of the Soufrière Hills volcano.  As you take off from Antigua you can see the volcano looming large in the distance, creeping nearer while you keep your eyes on the giant turtles breaking through the waves a couple of hundred feet beneath you.  Then you climb as you get towards Montserrat and you fly upwards, seeing the ruined and deserted airport and devastated capital Plymouth which were destroyed by pyroclastic flow in the summer of 1995.

Rockfall in progress on Soufrière Hills

Seeing the volcano smoulder and rocks fall down the steep slopes was, at that point, the greatest experience of my life.  Whatever the adverts saythere is a lot more to Antigua than just sand.

The top of the volcano



  1. Those last two photos look like they’d be a great sight to see, very jealous I must say!

    Great write up too 🙂

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