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Traveling to Antigua and Barbuda has been one of the biggest highlights of my year. One of my biggest priorities of late has been to explore more of the Caribbean — and I ended up in one of the Caribbean’s best islands as a guest of Traverse Events. If you can choose to visit any of the islands in the Caribbean, Antigua is about as solid as you can get.
The thing is, while a lot of people know that Antigua is a Caribbean island, it doesn’t have a lot of signature fame beyond that. But I found out lots of things that make Antigua worth the trip.
Why travel to Antigua instead of another Caribbean island?
Plenty of people looking for a Caribbean vacation simply want to find a decently priced flight and resort, fly down, and spend the next week drinking piña coladas on the beach. If that’s all you want, you’ll be happy on most Caribbean islands. Probably Florida, too.
But most people want more than that. So why should you make the effort to travel to Antigua and Barbuda?
Antigua excels at being a solid all-around island. It’s got beautiful beaches, it’s got great resorts, it’s got an interesting weekly market, it’s got some outstanding scenic views, it’s got a lot of interesting adventure activities, the travel infrastructure is pretty good, and the island is large enough to have variety but small enough to get around in one day.
(Quick geography note: Saying Antigua alone refers to its main island, while Barbuda is its small sister island. Barbuda was severely damaged in Hurricane Irma in 2017 and became uninhabited for the first time in centuries; people are just beginning to move back to Barbuda now.)
Plus, there’s the ease factor. The island revolves around tourism. There are tons of flights from the US, including flights on multiple airlines from New York. English is the main language here, part of Antigua’s history as a former British colony. This Britishness is why you pronounce it like an-TEE-gah, not an-TEE-gwah like the city in Guatemala.
I didn’t find Antigua stood out strongly on any one element — the way the Cayman Islands stand out for diving or Jamaica stands out for music. And that’s fine — sometimes the best option for everyone is a strong all-around performer. But there were two areas where Antigua stands out for me: its outrageously delicious pineapple and the fact that I experienced pretty much zero street harassment.
Antigua Black Pineapple: the Best Pineapple in the World
Is it audacious to claim that Antigua has the best pineapple in the world? Maybe it is. They are famous for their black pineapple and I fell in love with it immediately.
Antigua black pineapple is a sweeter variety of pineapple with golden fruit and lower acidity than many other pineapples. Honestly, it’s the best pineapple that I’ve ever tasted and I just wish I had easy access to it at home!
You’ll see pineapples growing on the side of the road in Antigua (!!) but never pick one that’s growing. Instead, stop at virtually any roadside stand and you’ll find someone selling pineapple. If not, they’ll direct you to someone who is.
Visiting St. John’s, Antigua, the capital of the city
I’m not the kind of person who will land on a beach and stay there for the duration of a trip. I need to get out and see how local people live — even in places where the locals warn you that there’s nothing to do.
For me, that meant a trip to St. John’s, the capital of Antigua and Barbuda for their Saturday morning market. A few friends and I hired a taxi to take us from the resort to the center of the city.
Like many Caribbean cities, St. John’s isn’t pretty to look at and most would dismiss it as low tourism value. For me, I appreciated just getting to walk around, try some “conch water” (more like a conch chowder), chat with locals, and understand the country in the part where they don’t cater to tourists. You should definitely go if this is the kind of thing that interests you.
There is a small corner in town that seems designed for tourists — it’s where the cruise ships dock. Beyond that, we were entirely surrounded by locals.
Open Side Safari
Another opportunity to see more of the island was going on an Open Side Safari. We rode around the island, stopped for delicious pineapple, posed in front of a pretty pink church, checked out some cool beaches, and got to see a lot more of the island than we would have ordinarily.
I appreciated the conversations I had with local Antiguan women. Like most Caribbeans, Antiguans are open and friendly. One woman was telling me how hard it was to get a visa to the US or Canada — not only because it’s so hard to get a visa on an Antiguan passport, but because they have to fly all the way to Trinidad to apply for a visa there! It’s like paying for a second trip, she told me, and most people can’t afford that expense.
Almost Zero Street Harassment in Antigua (!!!)
My least favorite thing about traveling in the Caribbean is the incessant street harassment. While street harassment happens to women all over the world, it is particularly rampant and insidious in the Caribbean.
Which is why it was remarkable that I experienced almost none in Antigua.
ALMOST NONE. I am 100% serious.
Really, the closest thing to street harassment was a man who started singing “Pretty Woman” to me, Cailin, and Ayngelina as we walked down the street. And that cracked us up.
Please note that this is my anecdotal experience: I’m not saying that street harassment does not exist here, only that I didn’t experience any in a full week here. Your experience may be very different. However, this is such a contrast to the rest of my travels in Caribbean destinations that I thought it was worth mentioning.
Shirley Heights: The Best Instagram Spot in Antigua
If you’ve seen one scenic photo of Antigua, it was probably at Shirley Heights — this is one of the most beautiful photo spots on the island. Which means that when you send a group of 40 travel content creators there at once, we’re going to lose our minds.
Oh, and did we ever.
Shirley Heights has a band playing Caribbean versions of pop songs and food and drinks for sale. My advice? Wear your best outfit and take a ton of photos up here!
As you can see, we didn’t have the best weather at first — it was a bit cloudy, and I had been hoping for bright blue skies. But it eventually turned into an amazing purple sunset.
While we visited during the week, I’ve heard that Sunday is the best night to go to Shirley Heights because that’s when the locals go. If I went back, I would absolutely go on a Sunday.
If there is any must-do activity in Antigua, Shirley Heights is it. Make sure you go for sure.
Adventure Activities in Antigua
I was actually fairly sedate on this Antigua trip — far more than usual. Throw me on a paddle board, though, and I was thrilled! I loved how calm the water was at the Verandah Resort — I was able to keep perfect balance and paddle out super-far, checking out the new resort being built in the distance. Quite a few non-motorized sports are included for free at the resort in addition to paddle boarding: kayaking, snorkeling, windsurfing, Hobie Cat sailing.
But if you want a little more adventure, here are a few of the activities my friends got in:
Scooter snorkeling with Skylork. Snorkeling is fun enough on its own, but you’ll probably be moving slowly. With a scooter that you hold in front of yourself, you can zoom super-fast and super-deep! Honestly, this is the one I most regret not doing…
Biking, hiking, and kayaking with Triflexcursion. If you want to pack a ton of adventure into a single trip, do a bike/hike/kayak combination! Do know that the word “hike” is used loosely here — it’s more of a light stroll, but the biking and kayaking are more involved.
Hiking Signal Hill. One of the great hikes on the island is to hike to Signal Hill, where you can see 360-degree views of the island. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Barbuda.
Hiking the Middle Ground Trail. If you want to check out some great views on your hike, the Middle Ground Trail has some of the best views near the English Harbour (a.k.a. the bottom of what you see at Shirley Heights).
An Antigua Catamaran Cruise to Remember
One activity that I love to do whenever I’m in a tropical seaside destination is to take a catamaran cruise. I absolutely love being out on the water, and letting the wind fly through your hair as you feel the mist from the water is the absolute best feeling. It’s even better when you’ve got a ton of friends and Caribbean dance music.
After surviving my shipwreck in Indonesia, it took several years before I was able to take a boat ride without panicking. You know what finally did the trick for me? Catamarans. Specifically, this one in Belize. I love how stable they are. I love that they have nets for lounging. And I love that they often come with a generous supply of rum punch!
This, far and away, was the best closing to a week in Antigua. If you’re going, you need to book a catamaran cruise!
Reliable Sunshine, Heat and Fun
And finally…Antigua brings the goods when it comes to sunshine and fun. Want to lie out all day on the beach? Go right ahead.
I needed that on this trip. More than I let on publicly.
I had been going through a bit of melancholy period this spring. Without going into great detail, let’s just say that sometimes the shit hits the fan several times in a row. And sometimes you go through that and think, “Wow, I did it, I survived!” but the universe says, “Not done yet!” and it’s followed by one especially spectacular drop.
I came to Antigua in need of sunshine. And the sunshine worked its magic.
Let me be clear — travel alone will not solve your problems. If you go on a trip because you’re having relationship troubles or you hate your job or you’re struggling with mental illness or you don’t know what you want to do with your life, those problems are not going to end just because you went away.
Know that going in.
But. BUT. If you’re feeling a little down lately, some sunshine could be what you need to pick yourself up again.
And honestly, by the time I left Antigua, I hadn’t made any major changes in my life — yet I was feeling happier than I had felt in months. And that feeling has STAYED WITH ME since.
For that reason, I will always be grateful to Antigua.
Kate Tries an All-Inclusive Resort in Antigua…And Actually Enjoys It
On this trip our whole group stayed at the Verandah Resort — an all-inclusive family resort. I had never done an all-inclusive in my life before this trip. As appealing as it sounded to eat and drink whatever you wanted without thinking about the price, I had heard that all-inclusives tend to slash costs however they can and have an overall lower food quality than higher-end resorts. I tend to prefer small boutique resorts with great restaurants where you order à la carte.
But I’ve always been curious. Here was an opportunity to try an all-inclusive, and a nice one. What would it be like, anyway?
In a word: all-inclusives are EASY. You don’t have to think about it; everything is handled for you. The property is huge, but you can hop on one of the golf carts that circulate around the resort and take you where you need to go.
The rooms at the Verandah Resort are little cottages, two divided rooms in each cottage — I loved the look of the property. Much prettier and homier than endless buildings with hotel rooms stacked on top of each other.
The main beach is FANTASTIC — so calm and lovely. Perfect for taking out a stand-up paddleboard! And I could have relaxed in those water hammocks all day. Only the risk of sunburn got me out of them!
One of the first things I learned is that when you order a drink at an all-inclusive, you’ll probably be in line behind some dude ordering six different complicated cocktails for him and his friends. That can quickly get annoying, especially when all you need is a pour from the champagne bottle.
But soon it becomes so freeing when you realize you can order whatever you want and there will be no extra charges on your bill. And this is how I learned I can drink champagne all night long without getting hungover.
It’s amazing how an all-inclusive changes your mindset. I got used to having a “big night out” with all my friends seven nights in a row. Once I got off the resort it hit me that I actually had to spend money again.
Oh, and speaking of cocktails, Cailin, Ayngelina, and I decided one morning to try all of them at once. Key word: TRY.
That was a fun morning.
There was entertainment every night — different kinds of bands or performers. Not my usual thing, I couldn’t help smiling. Is it cheesy? Yes. But it’s a lot of fun. It turns out that all I needed to do was loosen up a bit.
The main benefit of going to an all-inclusive is turning off your brain and getting to relax. I’m so glad I did that.
I wouldn’t ordinarily choose to stay at a place like the Verandah — as much as I love kids, if I’m doing a resort vacation, I’m going somewhere adults-only. That said, it wasn’t nearly as kid-crazy as I feared. I think part of this is that we visited in May, when most parents are averse to taking their kids out of school.
Plus, there’s an adults-only pool at the Verandah. It’s got its own bar and some of the breeziest, most lovely tables on the whole property.
Not only that — staying at the Verandah means you have access to their sister property across the street, Pineapple Beach Club, which is a similar caliber of resort that is adults-only. Go for the day, go for the beach, go for the drinks, and you can enjoy that kid-free environment.
The Pineapple Beach Club puts on cool concerts and events and I got to see an acoustic set by British star Fleur East, which was SO cool.
And if you compare this particular all-inclusive to, say, big ship cruising, it feels different. On the one big ship Caribbean cruise I did, the crowd felt very “MAGA At Sea.” Here in Antigua, there were lots of Brits, lots of black travelers, and it didn’t feel like a Trump-loving crowd at all. I met a lot of awesome people at the Verandah. In fact, I didn’t meet anyone I didn’t like, which is very unusual.
Were some of my all-inclusive fears realized? Well, a bit. The food was decent, but nothing to write home about. Imagine average wedding buffet food. Coming off my second Whole30, I attempted to eat well but struggled when even most meats seemed to be smothered in sugary barbecue sauce. I did not enjoy the coffee and kept wishing I had brought my own.
Breakfast was great, though — I enjoyed having a veggie omelet and blueberry-strawberry-cucumber smoothie for breakfast every morning. And the nacho bar by the beach (complete with fake cheese) was fun.
Most places at the Verandah felt slightly understaffed. The line for the drinks was always long, there were always unfilled trays at the food stations, and one night at the Pineapple Beach Club the lines were horrendously long for food. It felt like these issues could have been solved by having more staff, but again, it seems like a cost-slashing opportunity.
So yes — a few cons, but overall a very positive experience and I enjoyed myself immensely. I would absolutely go back to the Verandah.
I had the best time in Antigua — and I would absolutely go back! This dose of sunshine, adventure, and good people was exactly what I needed this spring. It could be what you need, too.
There’s only one thing I would do differently — this time I would go to Shirley Heights on Sunday night to party with the locals.
More On the Caribbean:
Essential Info: I stayed at the Verandah Resort and Spa, which I enjoyed immensely. Low-season all-inclusive rates from $298 per night based on two people sharing one room.
You can book an Open Side Safari by emailing [email protected]. Prices upon request.
Scooter snorkeling is available from Skylork. Half-day tours from $85.
Triflexcursion has combination hike-bike-kayak tours from $60.
Our catamaran cruise was with Tropical Adventures. The sunset cruise costs $85.
Be sure to get travel insurance for your trip to Antigua. If you trip and break an ankle while hiking, or if you get appendicitis while at your resort, or if you have a death in the family and need to return home immediately, travel insurance can save your life and finances. I use and recommend World Nomads for trips to Antigua.
This post is brought to you by Traverse Events, Elite Island Resorts, and the Antigua and Barbuda Tourist Board, who hosted me in full on this trip, including airfare. All opinions, as always, are my own.