Thinking about visiting beautiful Antigua for the Run in Paradise Half Marathon and 5k, held annually on Memorial Day Weekend (Pssst…registration is open HERE!!!)? You should be! Whether the race itself or a relaxing beach vacation is the reason for your visit, you won’t regret your visit to this incredible island. Despite its popularity with residents of the U.K. (it is part of the British Commonwealth, after all), Antigua is relatively unknown to Americans in comparison to the larger Caribbean islands like Jamaica and Puerto Rico. 108 square miles in size, this little island packs a lot of punch. Although the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority will tell you that there are 365 beaches on the island (one for every day of the year!), there is a lot more to do on the island than just lay on the perfect white sand and stare at the sparkling blue water – although you should definitely spend some time doing that, too! Here are my top suggestions for what to do, where to eat, and where to stay when you visit magical Antigua!
What to Do:
For the whole family – Something pretty much everyone will love is a trip out to Stingray City Antigua on the island’s northeast side. A quick 10-minute boat ride takes you out to shallow, clear water, where you’ll spend 1.5 hours or so surrounded by gentle, friendly Southern Stingrays. If you think it sounds dangerous, don’t worry! The stingrays love to be fed and no one has been injured in the 15 years of the attraction’s existence in Antigua. There are plenty of guides available to help you feed, hold, and pet the stingrays – and take your picture (with your camera or theirs!). Even the four year old boy on my tour who was screaming bloody murder at the beginning of the trip was smiling by the end! You can also snorkel around the nearby coral reefs, where there are tons of fish and other sea life to be seen. There’s nothing quite like watching a giant ray float right by you while underwater!
For the active traveler: Take advantage of Antigua’s amazing trail system and incredible views! While private guides are available for hire, I definitely recommend meeting up with the Wadadli Trail Blazers, a local hiking group that meets on Sunday afternoons. This friendly bunch will make you feel like you’re part of the team right away, and they love meeting new people! They hike a different trail each week and there are generally 15-50 participants, so you’re sure to make some new friends along your route. If you’re looking to go it alone, there are plenty of trails all over the island, particularly on the south side. This website is a great resource, but your hotel will be able to point you in the right direction, too!
For the history buff: A trip to Antigua wouldn’t be complete without learning about the island’s storied history in the slave trade. As a huge producer of sugar, the island’s population was once over 85 percent slaves and comprised of 170 plantations. Betty’s Hope Plantation is preserved by the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority and offers a small museum, restored sugar mills, and architectural ruins. It’s a step back in time, for sure! Also make sure you don’t miss a visit to nearby Devil’s Bridge. This solemn spot is a natural bridge formed by the pounding Atlantic Ocean. Escaped slaves leapt from the bridge to their deaths to escape the bonds of slavery. The history is incredible, as is the raw beauty of the rock formation – it’s a must see!
Where to Eat:
For the true local experience: Even if you’re not into street food, you can’t pass up the roadside vendors in Antigua. Fruit stands along the side of the road are very common, as is roasted corn! I ate four (yes, four) ears of grilled corn on my trip and each one was more delicious than the last. Just pull over on the side of the road and expect to pay a little under $2 (in US money, about 5 Eastern Caribbean Dollars) for the best corn you’ve ever tasted. If you’re staying near the English Harbour, look for the woman in the white tent who sells red herring sandwiches for breakfast each morning! Get there early – her supply is gone before lunchtime and locals and tourists alike swear by this woman’s food!
For those with dietary restrictions: If you’re seeking delicious food at a restaurant that accommodate dietary restrictions and allergies, South Point Restaurant and Hotel is the place for you. Knowing I was coming (and eating multiple meals there), the restaurant had purchased gluten-free bread just for me, and the staff was very careful to make sure there was no cross-contamination with my food. After talking with the manager, Kristina, I learned that this amazing treatment is the norm. The kitchen staff is fully prepared to handle guests with dietary restrictions, even severe allergies, so as long as the staff knows about your issues ahead of your arrival, they’re happy to work with you. What a huge relief! The views there aren’t bad (ha!) and the food, drinks, and atmosphere are exactly what you want to find on vacation. It’s a major stress reducer to have a safe place where you can eat and the entire family can enjoy great food, drinks, and a view!
For great seafood: Hit up Seafood Fridays at Nelson’s Dockyard for freshly caught fried and grilled seafood and more side dishes than you’ll know what to do with. The prices are extremely reasonable – my plate of grilled shrimp plus salad and three sides was about $10 US – and the portions are filling. Tons of locals head here, so you know it’s good. The event starts at 7, and I recommend you get there early to grab your ticket and your food. Once it’s gone, it’s gone! In season, you can even get conch and lobster. There’s a full bar and great live music, and it’s a family friendly event, so bring the kids!
For local specialties with international flair: If you’re looking to experience some fantastic local fare and get a taste of the international food scene, look no further than Trappas Bar and Restaurant. The restaurant features a fixed price menu, so all appetizers cost the same, as do all of the entrees. The menu rotates regularly and features fresh catches and seasonal specialities, so you’ll never get bored. Whether you’re in the mood for a traditional West Indian Curry or a steak, you’ll find it at Trappas, along with an extensive wine list and cocktail selection. Reservations are recommended – this place gets busy, and with good reason!
Where to Grab a Drink:
For a party atmosphere: Sunday nights at Shirley Heights Lookout are legendary – and with good reason! Locals and tourists alike mix at this outdoor barbecue and reggae dance party, which overlooks the amazing scenery I had taken in on my hike. Drinks are flowing, the smell of amazing grilled meats and seafood wafts through the air, and the steel drum band plays with unbelievable, pounding energy that makes it impossible not to smile. As the sun goes down, a live reggae band takes over and puts a Caribbean spin on new and old songs (they even sang “Wrecking Ball!”) and the whole place just goes nuts. It’s impossible not to sway along, even if you’re not much of a dancer, the good vibes are infectious. Plenty of kids were there in the early hours of the evening, but the later hours tend to be geared more towards adults, FYI. You just can’t help but be in a good mood when you leave! This is a must-do for anyone who visits the island and happens to be there on a Thursday or Sunday night!
For a handmade specialty: Located just across the street from the Antigua Yacht Club Marina and Resort, Cloggy’s has a festive atmosphere, fantastic food, and handmade cocktails that are literally to die for. Ask the bartender to make you one of his specialties featuring genuine Antiguan rum and let yourself be surprised. You won’t regret it!
Where to Stay:
For all-around luxury and genuine Antiguan hospitality: The Antigua Yacht Club Marina and Resort may not be one of the island’s many all-inclusive resorts, but it offers a luxurious experience with a local touch. Located on the South side of the island, near Nelson’s Dockyard and Shirley Heights, the resort offers something for everyone, from harbor-view rooms to sweeping executive suites, all with their own balconies. You’ll be walking distance from beautiful Pigeon Point beach and plenty of delicious bars and restaurants, as well as located near many of the island’s beautiful mountains and hiking trails. The incredible Antiguan hospitality cannot be overstated; staff is happy to make reservations or recommendations and even set up experiences with local groups and guides. No matter how you prefer to travel, you’re sure to enjoy your stay at the Antigua Yacht Club Marina and Resort.
If you’re thinking about visiting Antigua, for the Run in Paradise or otherwise, don’t hesitate. The friendliness of the locals is unmatched, and the sweeping beauty of the island’s incredible beaches and lush mountains will leave no doubt that this is paradise found. What are you waiting for?