Antigua’s tropical-island vibe inspires relaxation, for sure, but there’s adventure to be had here, too. Seize the chance of an action-packed day or two to discover the island’s history and natural beauty spots. With so much pristine coastline, it would be rude not to take to the water to explore from a different angle, and maybe dive in, too. We know some endearing experts who’ll whisk you off on fancy vessels and point out areas of extraordinary sea life. Boats are part of any island’s history – from fishing and trade, to simple transport. Antigua’s history covers the days of sugar trading to colonial rule, and independence, leading to a thriving modern cultural life, too. A couple of informative day-trips away from the sun lounger to connect with the island will awaken the adventurer within. The lounger will still be there when you return, ready for a well-earned sundowner by the ocean.
Olympian Eli’s Eco Tour
One local expert on Antigua worth meeting on any stay is former Olympic sailor Eli Fuller, who grew up boating, windsurfing, snorkelling and diving in Antigua’s North Sound area. These days he runs Eli’s Eco Tours by boat, showing off the unspoiled waters, mangroves, and reefs, by snorkelling, swimming and also bird-watching on foot. He gives anyone who needs it a quick practice snorkel session before taking people on guided snorkels to seek out turtles, and tropical fish, including rays and barracuda. On land – perhaps on the natural paradise Bird Island, or simply from his 52ft powercat, designed to reach the shallow parts other vessels can’t get to – you might see frigate birds, herons, pelicans, osprey, turns, laughing gulls, and the impressive long-tailed white tropicbirds. Eli’s crew are as well informed as he is, and known for spinning entertaining yarns inspired by local folklore.
For the most adventurous, there’s bathing in the natural jacuzzi at Hell’s Gate island to try, or exploring a cave, before enjoying an Eli-special rum punch on the return trip to the North Sound shore. The real pleasure of spending the day with Eli and his crew is a feeling of being welcomed into the warmth of their community by those who have grown up here and enjoy sharing stories and secret places.
Devil’s Bridge is a natural rock arch off Antigua’s eastern coast, surrounded by dramatic blowholes, from which the Atlantic spray explodes in great vertical fountains. The area was known to the spice traders of the past, who avoided it as it’s exposed to the hefty waves pushed in by the infamous Trade Winds. Tropical Adventures’ off-road SUV Island Safari will take you there on its island tour – don’t worry, this isn’t uncomfortable adventuring, the vehicles are air-conditioned, though the trip can be bumpy at times.
Betty’s Hope sugarcane plantation, founded in 1651, is on the off-road safari agenda, too. Restored windmills, once used to crush sugar cane, are visible at the fascinating open-air museum, here in the tranquil island interior. Further south, sweeping views from Shirley Heights – a restored military lookout with colonial buildings – over English and Falmouth Harbours, give another dimension to the island’s past. As a reminder of the beauty of the tropical present, head for five-mile Fig Tree Drive, which winds through the rainforest’s huge old mango trees and prehistoric-seeming banana trees – known locally as 'figs'. Stop at the roadside to buy homemade jam, juice and fruit, including wonderfully sweet and juicy Antiguan black pineapples.
Barbuda By Catamaran
It would be a shame to come to Antigua without a glimpse of her pretty little sister, Barbuda. The smaller island is 28 miles from Antigua, so it’s boat time again. Low Bay is where to head, a gorgeous 17-mile stretch of peachy coral-sand, where turtles pop by to lay eggs between March and November. It’s a wonderful place to simply enjoy the warm turquoise sea. But nature lovers should jet across to Codrington Lagoon, where guides take visitors on small boats right into the mangroves to see the world’s largest frigate bird colony. The males of these astonishing-looking hook-beaked seabirds are particularly distinctive, with bright-red pouches, which they puff up to impress females.
As for getting to Barbuda, you may call it cruising, but let’s say exploring for the sake of argument. A return catamaran day trip – including seeing the frigate colony – from Antigua to Barbuda and back certainly puts the X-factor into Excellence, which happens to be the name of Tropical Adventures’ swanky vessel, complete with cool drinks and expansive deck. Adventure aside, there’s time to top up the tan on board, over lunch, and on the journey, as well as a chance to swim in Barbuda’s clear waters, and look out for turtles and tropical seal ilfe.
To make any of these experiences part of your Antigua holiday, speak to your Virgin Holidays Concierge.