Island Discovery Tour
The Island Discovery Tour takes almost a full day and you get a good variety of land and water activities, as well as seeing some parts of the Island you probably wouldn't get to. A few companies do this tour, or combinations of it and I chose one that uses open Jeeps rather than closed air conditioned ones, with the advantage that you get more fresh air but you do need sunblock on if you are sitting at the back.
Each jeep can fit 8 people so big groups are divided into smaller ones, each with a guide/driver who starts his commentary as soon as you set off. We were collected from the hotel at 9am and travelled through St Johns, the capital, past Viv Richards stadium and the street where he lived and through the centre of town. From there we went off road through the farms and smallholdings for descriptions of all the trees, crops, plants and wildlife, including the Sugar Plantation. We made our way back down to Nelson's Dockyard where we had an hour to look around the historic area.
From here we were driven to the coast where we joined all the other vehicles for Kayaking in the mangroves and a trip to Bird Island. This was quite a big group - about 30 people. We were given paddles, life jackets and snorkelling equipment and were advised to leave anything we didn't want to get wet in the lockup, so we just took sunblock and changed into our swimming gear. 2 large motor boats took us around the bay where we got into the kayaks for a trip into the mangroves which lasted about 45 minutes. Single and double kayaks are available and staff are very helpful if you are a novice. Then we got back into the motor boats and went to Bird Island, a journey of about 15 minutes.
Bird Island is on the North side of Antigua and you can see where the Caribbean meets the Atlantic close by. The bay here though is calm and secluded. The island is home to the rare Antiguan Racer snake which is harmless but we didn't see any, unfortunately. We were given a nice lunch of chicken and rice with salad and a choice of drinks including red or white wine, beer, rum punch, water and other soft drinks. After lunch the boat took us out to the reef just inside the bay for snorkelling. If you don't want to snorkel you can either explore the island, chill out on the beach or finish the rum punch!
We were dropped back at our hotel around 4pm.
This is a good trip to do if you want to see various parts of the island and are short of time. It is quite fast paced and you don't spend long in each place, but each element of it can be done as a separate trip spending longer in each place if you have more time to spare.
Some of the roads on the off-road section are extremely bumpy and you have to wear your seat belt! We were bounced up out of our seats many times so I wouldn't advise this trip if you have a back problem or are a bit frail!
The staff are really good, very friendly and professional while making the trip a lot of fun.
Our trip was organised through Sun Tours and cost $110 pp.Related to:
- Adventure Travel
- Sailing and Boating
English Harbour is located on the South coast of Antigua and, as its name suggests, is the sailing and boating centre of the Island. The harbour itself provides mooring for the many yachts that stop here, and there are many anchored in all the bays along this coastline.
As well as the modern day yachts, the historic area of Nelson's Dockyard is the only Georgian dockyard in the world. Another area of interest is Shirley Heights, named after the Governor of the area in the late 18th century. Shirley Heights is a great place to look at the view over English Harbour and beyond, to watch the sunset and enjoy the Sunday barbecues.
For the sailing enthusiast there are many events based in English Harbour. For more details see http://www.antigua-barbuda.org/agsail01.htm
English Harbour has a good selection of restaurants.Related to:
- Sailing and Boating
Historic Nelson's Dockyard
Nelson's Dockyard dates from Georgian times with original 18th and 19th century buildings. It was built at by the British at English Harbour to protect the plantations sugar trade and the other colonies in the area, mostly from the French, and named in honour of Captain Nelson. British ships based at Nelson's Dockyard patrolled the surrounding seas. There are many historic relics and buildings to see including 3 capstans which were used to pull the ships into their docking using sailors who turned the wheel while a fiddler sat on top playing music for encouragement. Other historic buildings include the Officer's and Clerks House which dates from 1855, the boat dock and pillars dating from 1797 and the grain store, which is now a pub.
The old buildings are restored to a good condition mostly, and they blend in well with the modern parts. There are plenty of places to eat and drink and as you walk along the the old quayside you can get a good look at the very smart modern boats moored here. There is a New Year's Eve Pursuit race from the Dockyard.Related to:
- Historical Travel
- Sailing and Boating
Snorkeling from the Beach
There are some good snorkelling spots along the Bay in front if The Inn. It is a public beach so access is not a problem.
Starting from the jetty at the Inn, you can swim right towards English Harbour by the rocks. There are fish to see here but we found the visibility not as good as other areas in the bay.
Swimmimg left past the Inn beach and The Calabash and just past the next jetty if you swim very close to the shore in front of the beach bungalows there is plenty to see along a ridge of rock and coral, and the water is very shallow so quite warm. When this runs out carry on along past the third jetty towards the rocks at the end of the bay where the bungalows end. Here you can follow the rocks along to the end of the bay where the sea begins and there are plenty of fish to see here too, as well as the odd turtle. Be careful when you get to the rocks where the waves are, behind the boats, as the current is strong here and you can easily get pushed onto the rocks. There are also many urchins lurking and the water gets very cold.
The trip takes about 2 hours starting from the beach at The Inn.Related to:
Betty's Hope Sugar Plantation
Betty's Hope Sugar Plantation dates from the 1650's and was the most successful large scale sugar plantation in Antigua. It employed hundreds of Africans first as slaves, then as labourers after emancipation in 1834.
It had been unused since the 1940's and was derelict until it was retored in 1990. The main part of the restoration is the twin windmills which used to crush the sugar cane.
We didn't go in, but there is a visitor centre and it is run by the Antigua museums service. It is about 30 minutes drive from St Paul's.Related to:
- Museum Visits
Barbecue at Shirley Heights
Every Sunday The Lookout Restaurant and Bar at Shirley Heights has a barbecue party. It starts at 4pm with a steel band until 7pm, then there is a live reggae/dance band until closing at 10pm.
The restaurant has great views across the bay and most people arrive around 5 to 5.30 for the sunset. It gets extremely busy so if you want to see the sunset you need to get there early or you will not get a good view.
All the activities are held outside on the patio and in the garden. There is a barbecue and the food is priced by individual piece, including a salad and bread. Choices are chicken, steak, pork and burgers - the usual barbecue stuff.
Considering it is so busy, it is relatively easy to get served with food and drinks, with only small queues for each because it is extremely well organised. If you need some space away from the crowd, there is a very large garden at the back.
Entrance is $8 which includes the music.
This event attracts many tourists and is very popular so should be easy to get to from most hotels on the island by taxi or minibus. Our hotel was down the hill from Shirley Heights at English Harbour so we walked about 50 minutes up the hill. As there is no footpath you need to be very careful of the fast traffic on the busy road, and it is not recommended to walk back in the dark! There are many taxis waiting outside the restaurant so it is easy to get a taxi back, although not so cheap - we paid £10.Related to:
Watch the Sunset
The English Harbour area on the South side of Antigua, is a good area to watch the sunset from. You can get the best view from the restaurant at the top of Shirley Heights, although it can get very busy here especially on Sundays when there is a barbecue.
If you don't want to climb the hill the beach in front of The Inn gives a good view on a clear day.Related to:
- Romantic Travel and Honeymoons
New Year Fireworks Display
If you are in St Paul's on New Years Eve there is a spectacular fireworks display from Nelson's Dockyard at midnight. We got an excellent view from the terrace of the Inn at English Harbour as we were having New Years Eve dinner there. The display lasts about 15 minutes and is visible over the bay. We were lucky to also be treated to the practise display which was held on the 29th December in the early evening.Related to:
- Luxury Travel
Swimming in the Bay
I am very keen on swimming in the sea, but quite fussy about the temperature, calmness and cleanliness. Swimming in the bay in front of the Inn at English Harbour is very nice indeed. Although the water is a little colder than I ideally prefer, it is easy to get into because it slopes down very steeply close to the beach. One minute you are up to your knees then the next up to your chest and once you reach this point it is easy to carry on. Once you set off you don't feel cold.
The water is very calm here, being in a sheltered bay, and you can swim right across the bay which takes about 50 minutes there and back. Early in the morning, before breakfast I saw frigate birds circling overhead as well as Pelicans fishing. You need to complete your afternoon swim by about 5pm as it gets quite cold by then and goes dark around 5.45.Related to:
- Diving and Snorkeling
- Sailing and Boating
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