In Antigua (pronounced An-tee-gah), the days are long, the weather is warm, the beer is cold, and the beach is perfect. We found that the island has some of the best beaches in all of the Caribbean.
Antigua is one of the Leeward Islands of the Lesser Antilles. But what does that mean? Basically, if you follow the chain of Caribbean Islands down, Antigua is right near the top. It is due east of St. Kitts and north of Grenada, Barbados, St. Lucia, and Dominica.
What makes Antigua unique in the Caribbean is the geography. It has a population of less than 100,000 people, but over 100 square miles of land (and over 50 miles of coastline – more on that later). This means, unlike other Caribbean islands, Antigua doesn’t have that trip-all-over-each-other feeling. There’s space to get away in Antigua. Even when there’s one of the Caribbean cruise ships in port, you can still find solace on one of Antigua’s best beaches.
The Best Things to Do in Antigua
Nelson’s Dockyard. On the southern end of the island is English Harbour, located inside the protected Freeman’s Bay. This is a nautical paradise. Located in the harbor is Nelson’s Dockyards, a former British naval outpost in the Caribbean. Here, Her Majesty’s best ships would tie up to resupply and give the troops a little R&R. These days, the harbor and the dockyards fill up with mega yachts. It’s a chance for the fabulously wealthy (and those who pretend to be) to enjoy a bit of sun and be part of the island’s nautical history.
Authentically preserved (and restored) in its original Georgian architectural style, it is beautifully maintained. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2016, Nelson’s Dockyard is one of the top things to do in Antigua (if you don’t count the beach).
While we were on the Caribbean cruise boat, we heard everyone talking about going to the Nelson’s Dockyard. Let’s just say, it can get popular, so we decided to go in a different direction.
The St. John’s Market. Billed on the Internet as one of the top public markets in the world, this market is really three markets all adjacent to each other in the center of St. John’s – the regular market, the fish market, and the crafts market. Again, according to the Internet, this is a truly authentic market where you can rub elbows with locals, get their take on world events, and buy the freshest produce around. It’s worth noting that the market is best on a Friday or Saturday.
So, when we rolled into town on a Wednesday immediately after the Christmas and New Year holidays, we had high hopes. It was not to be. The market was largely closed and there were only a handful of vendors selling their products. Row after row of nearly empty stalls and tables alluded to the promise of what could be, but wasn’t.
We left the market, checked out the statue out front before hailing a mini-bus. We decided the best thing to do would be…
Go to the Beach. In Antigua, there’s really only one thing to do: go to the beach. You’ll see the popular phrase “life’s a beach” all over the island: on t-shirts, bumper stickers on the old minivans that function as shared taxis, and even painted on the wall of a building in downtown St. John’s. While the paint may be fading and peeling, the beaches are thriving.
And the Antigua beaches are really great. How great? They are so great that the island has built its whole marketing campaign around them. There are 365 beaches in Antigua – one for every day of the year. We didn’t count all of Antigua’s 365 beaches, but we can say that there are a lot of them.
For us, the best beach in Antigua is Dickenson Bay. We made our way from downtown St. John’s out to the Coconut Grove Restaurant & Bar, next to the Buccaneer Beach Club. The Coconut Grove had a small little beach partially reclaimed from the sea by a sea wall. But immediately next to it was a large expanse of pristine beach, and few local entrepreneurs who rented out chairs and umbrellas. Coconut Grove sells food and drinks to anyone on the beach, so we were set. And the food at Coconut Grove really was excellent.
A day on best beach in Antigua involves a whole lot of nothing – alternating between the recliner and reading a book, or dipping into the ocean water to cool off. It was the perfect way to relax for a day.
We took a walk to the southern end of the beach (walking to the left as you look at the water) and walked past a ship wreck. This yacht was blown into the beach at Dickenson Bay by one of the many tropical storms in the Caribbean. It provided an interesting backdrop for photography.
In the afternoon, we walked the other way, up the beach to the north took us past the Buccaneer Beach Club and the Sandals Grande Antigua Resort & Spa until we eventually reached pier, which had a restaurant on it.
This was exactly what needed to relax for the day – enjoying the warm tropical Caribbean waters, white sand, and lots of sunshine. For us, Dickenson Bay really is the best beach in Antigua (and maybe all of the Caribbean).
Watersports. You don’t have to be at the best beach in Antigua to enjoy watersports! Practically any of the 365 beaches can fill your need. At Dickenson Bay, several of the hotels had watersports rentals that people could rent. There were small sail boats, snorkeling gear, some sea kayaks, stand-up pabbleboards and other craft. We brought our own snorkel gear with us and made use of it.
From our quick look at the prices, it seemed to be much more economical than in other Caribbean islands. So, if you’re looking for things to do in Antigua, getting out on the water might be a good bet.
After a day in the sun, sometimes what you really want is…
Adult Refreshments. There is a hidden gem in St. John’s that is often overlooked: the C&C Wine House. We were clued into this by a crewmember on our Caribbean cruise. Being from South Africa, she knew her wine. And she told us that the C&C Wine Bar is the place where savvy travelers go for refreshment. She could not have been more right!
Located right off Redcliffe Street (kind of back in the courtyard) the C&C Wine House and the adjacent Cutie’s Bar & Restaurant serve all the best South African wines. It’s a chance to pull up a chair at one of the picnic tables and enjoy a cold, crisp white wine while waiting for your cruise ship to depart. C&C is the perfect way to end your day in St. John’s Antigua.
When it comes to things to do in Antigua on a Caribbean cruise, visiting one of the best beaches in the world is high on the list.