Antigua and Barbuda – Beach Breaks
The spiciness of jerk pork and the potency of the rum punch at Shirley Heights Lookout,
the longest-running Sunset Caribbean barbecue in the Caribbean, sets the stage for the intensity of sensations you experience in Antigua and Barbuda. Waters at the country’s 366 beaches are often so clear you feel like it’s a swimming pool rather than the ocean that you’ve stepped into. You feel the refreshing waters, see the fish swimming under you and experience the relaxation of immersing yourself in water so calm you can easily swim laps.
JAX FAX visited Antigua and Barbuda in December, an exciting time for the country, which was celebrating the first direct flight from Orlando, Fla., to the island, via Frontier Airlines. The start of the high season for tourism, a traveler still experiences the deep sigh of relief that comes from tropical weather—mid-80s Fahrenheit—at the start of winter in a place where you feel you have room to luxuriate. The resorts and beaches JAX FAX visited offered a sense of space with options that allowed cautious travelers to maintain a distance from others while enjoying the destination.
Time & Space—and Romance
At Sandals Grande Antigua, Resort & Spa (www.sandals.com/antigua), where JAX FAX spent four nights, guests can choose accommodations, such as the Caribbean Honeymoon Butler Rondoval with Private Pool Sanctuary, where JAX FAX stayed, that is housed in a standalone structure with a small private pool and patio. A butler, who can arrange reservations in one of the property’s 11 restaurants, or arrange delivery of meals to the suite, among other services, is on call from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day. Travelers who want to maintain distance from people outside their household can comfortably spend the day in their own suite and on their own patio, with meals delivered, with little-to-no need to be in confined indoor spaces with others.
Guests who want the ultimate beach experience can opt for a Caribbean Beachfront Butler Rondoval, with the beach just a few steps from their door. The beach isn’t much farther away from the Caribbean Honeymoon Butler Rondovals—no more than a five-minute walk in bare feet and swimsuit. Cabanas and fire pits along the beach and surrounding area make it almost too easy to spend morning through evening lounging by the ocean. As the sun is setting, the air and water are warm enough, and the twilight view worthy enough, to make even the late day prime beach time.
With such comfort, luxury and beauty, it is unsurprising that Sandals Grande Antigua was voted “Caribbean’s Most Romantic Resort” by World Travel Awards several years in a row, and “World’s Most Romantic Resort” at least a few times. The same attributes that make the resort an ideal spot for those desiring the safety of space during an ongoing pandemic make it ideal for romance. Guests can have as much privacy as they desire, while having vast on-site dining, entertainment and activity options. At this all-inclusive, adults-only resort, guests have nothing to do but focus on enjoying the company of their spouse or partner. There are no disruptive distractions, and the food and drinks are in never-ending supply. Sipping a cocktail on the beach, or at your private plunge pool, followed by a long, leisurely dinner and a show, offers one photo-worthy moment after another. That level of luxury and enjoyment almost makes you feel guilty sharing the photos with friends stuck at home.
Near-Panoramic Ocean-Front Views
At Blue Waters Resort & Spa (https://bluewaters.net), where JAX FAX spent three nights, the surrounding waters, a blend of turquoise and royal blue hues depending on the current, create nearly panoramic views from most vantage points on the property.
The independently owned, 60-year-old resort sits on 17 acres, with three beaches and three public pools , 12 pools in total, including those within private residences and at the spa. It is small enough that even when the property is at full capacity with 200 guests, you feel like you’re getting a boutique experience. JAX FAX stayed in one of the resort’s Cove Suites, which comes with a living room area and its own patio. The private patio opens onto a larger patio and pool that is exclusive to a small group of other guests residing in the Cove Suites and penthouse. You need sit on your patio for no more than 15 minutes before a resort employee will pass by asking if they can bring you a refreshment or offer you a treat like a popsicle made from tamarind, a locally grown fruit.
In addition to ample beach and swimming space, Blue Waters is known for the gardens of blooming shrubbery lining its paths. Brilliant pink, orange, purple, yellow and red bougainvillea flowers crowned the shrubs during JAX FAX’s visit. The striking colors of these flowers makes a beautiful contrast with the intense blue of the surrounding water.
The resort is welcoming to families and couples alike, with children of all ages permitted. Guests can choose between an all-inclusive package or a breakfast-only package. Even “entry-level” rooms come with impressive ocean views. Higher-end options range from the Cove Suites JAX FAX stayed in to luxury penthouses and standalone cottages that give the guest the feeling of having their own vacation house with chef services available. The Kids Club facility at Blue Waters means that parents can feel good about leaving their children, so they can relax on their own. There are activities, and a play area, where children can be happily occupied. For adults and teens, who want to take a break from the beach, there is a game room with pool tables and other indoor pastimes. Complimentary on-site activities include rum tastings and wine tastings, garden tours, Zumba, Morning Walk, Sunset Yoga, Pilates, Fishing, Garden Tour, Kayak Tour and Aquarobics.
During JAX FAX’s visit, there was a wedding taking place in a pergola on a promontory with stunning views. Pre-pandemic, the resort hosted 50-60 weddings per year. The spectacular vistas and boutique feel make it a romantic place for couples, while also offering a comfortable and convenient destination for families.
Preserving the Past
The beauty, luxury and comfort of the high-end resort experience in Antigua and Barbuda encourages visitors to live in the moment. However, for those who have an interest in history, the island is a treasure trove, with many landmarks from the country’s history as an English colony carefully preserved.
In St. John’s, the capital of Antigua and Barbuda, Fort James, which dates back to the 18th century, still has cannons from the period and the original structure on site. Also in the city center is St. John’s Cathedral, an Anglican church originally built in 1681. For a fuller view of English colonial life, you can visit Nelson’s Dockyard, a preserved town in which shipbuilders and their families lived. Parts of ships and tools used by the builders, and others providing services to the ships, are on display.
Betty’s Hope Sugar Plantation is one of many preserved plantations on Antigua and Barbuda that can be toured, and which are reminders of a colonial past in which slaves were transported to the island to work in the sugar cane fields. A beautiful spot, but one with a dark history, is Devil’s Bridge. This promontory on the eastern side of the island overlooks choppy, dangerous waters. Slaves were known to fatally jump from this point, seeking escape and release from bondage.
On the Water & In the Rainforest
As Antigua and Barbuda is an island, there is no better way to get a sense of the country than a circumnavigation boat tour. From calm waters through impressive swells, the journey gives visitors a chance to see the gorgeous coastline, and offers a new perspective on many of the historic places, like Fort James and Devil’s Bridge, which they may have visited on land.
The Tropical Adventures Excellence Circumnavigation Tour (www.tropicalad.com), which JAX FAX experienced, stops at an offshore beach for swimming and snorkeling.
One of the great things about swimming in Antigua and Barbuda is the waters are smooth, and resorts often rope off an area of the water specifically for swimming. This gives even cautious swimmers a sense of security.
As memorable as Antigua and Barbuda’s beaches are, you can’t say you’ve truly experienced the country until you have visited its rain forest. JAX FAX got the chance to experience the rain forest from the treetops on the Antigua Rainforest Canopy Tour (www.antiguarainforest.com), a zip-lining adventure that is capped off by a challenge course which lives up to the name.
Another way to experience the rain forest is on a hike to Signal Hill at Wallings Nature Reserve (www.wallingsnaturereserve.org). The hike is a steep challenge, so to speak, for a city dweller, who rarely hikes, but experienced hikers might find it relaxing.
Whether lying on the beach, on a private patio at your luxury resort, or swinging from the treetops in the rain forest, the natural resources, cultural experience and people of Antigua and Barbuda are what great vacations are made of.
Direct Service from Orlando to Antigua & Barbuda Takes Off
Hundreds of white-sand beaches with swimming pool-clear turquoise waters just got more accessible and affordable with a new direct Frontier Airlines (www.flyfrontier.com) flight from Orlando, Fla., to Antigua and Barbuda.
Frontier Airlines’ inaugural flight from Orlando International Airport (MCO) to V.C. Bird International Airport took off on Dec. 4. JAX FAX was fortunate enough to be on the flight, which landed in Antigua and Barbuda just a few hours later. The service was efficient and friendly, and the aircraft was clean.
Frontier Airlines President and CEO Barry Biffle shared with assembled reporters, Antigua tourism officials, and others gathered at the gate at MCO, that his love affair with Antigua began after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when, as an executive for another airline, he traveled to Antigua and spoke with those there about the challenge of rebuilding tourism. He noted that we are now in another challenging time, as destinations try to bring tourists back.
He said the new flight from Orlando to Antigua gives central Floridians a new gateway to the Caribbean, bringing “tourism back to Antigua and tourists back to Antigua.”
At a ceremony at the airport after landing in Antigua, Biffle said the new flight was also a way of getting back to normalcy after a pandemic that kept people at home. “We have the vaccines, we have the treatments, now it’s time to get back to living our lives.”
The Honourable Charles Henry Fernandez, Antigua and Barbuda Minister of Tourism and Investments, said he first spoke with Biffle about launching a new flight to the country just before the pandemic hit. “I feel honored at this time of so much uncertainty that Frontier is following through on its commitment to Antigua and Barbuda. “You have our commitment that we will do whatever is necessary to make sure this partnership is successful.” www.flyfrontier.com
Where to Eat
Shirley Heights Lookout: The longest-running Sunset Caribbean barbecue in the Caribbean. Chicken and fish are available, but the signature dish is the delicious, but painfully spicy-hot, jerk pork. The rum punches also pack a punch. Along with standout local food, the views of English Harbour at sunset make it worth a visit. www.shirleyheightslookout.com
Papa Zouk: The fish-centered menu offers cooked-to-perfection lobster, whole-fish red snapper—an Antigua and Barbuda favorite—and a variety of other fresh fish. www.facebook.com/papazouk
Eat ‘N’ Lime Food Tour (www.eatnlimefoodtours.com):
Lime means “hang out” in Antigua and Barbuda dialect. This tour, based in downtown St. John’s, gives you a chance to sample a variety of local foods, including:
- Local breakfast of salt fish, Johnnycake, hard-boiled egg, sautéed vegetables and fried plantain.
- Smoothie from a street vendor known for making smoothies with high nutritional value. to your tastes, which you then create and enjoy.
- “After-party” cheese bun flavored with cinnamon that tastes a little like a cheese pastry.
- Bite-size vegan balls
Turners Beach Bar & Restaurant: The perfect spot for those who want a true Antigua and Barbuda beach experience with silky-smooth sand both on the beach and in the water, and where the water is especially turquoise and sparkling clear. There are beach chairs that can be rented for $5. The restaurant offers casual dining, including local favorites like fish cakes and curry conch. www.visitantiguabarbuda.com
Beachlimerz: A DJ on site keeps it lively at this on-the-beach restaurant. The barbecue pork chop and “macaroni cake” side dish were memorable, as was the cheesecake with a house-made cherry topping. www.beachlimerz.com
What to Do
Tropical Adventures Excellence Circumnavigation Tour
Makes a full circle around the island and stops at an offshore beach for snorkeling and swimming.
Antigua Rainforest Canopy Tour
Features both zip-lining and a challenge course.
Wallings Nature Reserve
A hike to Signal Hill offers impressive views and challenging exercise for those unaccustomed to hiking.