Desert island. The mere phrase conjures up images of isolation, white-silk beaches, palm trees and the ephemeral concept of ‘getting away from it all.’ Barbuda (pronounced ‘bar-byoo-duh’) may well be the model for the iconic desert isle.
A mere blip on the map some 25 miles north of Antigua, Barbuda remains one of the Eastern Caribbean’s least-visited places. Other than its teeming frigate-bird colony and breathtaking beaches, there’s just not much here. It’s essentially a little island with a very big beach. And that’s perhaps its greatest appeal.
In fact, all this isolated splendor spelled the death of such high-society resorts as the famous K Club, a favorite of Princess Diana in the last years of her life. There are whispers that it may reopen, but just when and how is anybody’s guess.
The only village, Codrington, is home to most residents and the minuscule airport. Most of the 1250 islanders share half a dozen surnames and can trace their lineage to a small group of slaves brought to Barbuda by the Codrington brothers Christopher and John. They leased the island in 1685 from the British Crown and used it to grow food for the slaves working on Antigua’s sugar plantations. The family also quietly salvaged untold riches from ships that had run afoul of the surrounding reef. Many of these shipwrecks are now popular diving sites. A dive shop attached to the Green Door Tavern rents equipment, although most people organize the logistics through a dive shop on Antigua.
During the 18th century, the Codrington family managed to keep their lease, which was negotiated at an annual rental payment of ‘one fattened sheep,’ for nearly two centuries. Their legacy remains well beyond the town’s name – from the communal land-use policies that still govern Barbuda to the introduced goats, sheep and feral donkeys that range freely (to the detriment of the island flora). You can visit the ruins of their estate, the Highland House, about 2½ miles east of Codrington.
Besides having the Caribbean’s largest colony of frigate birds, Barbuda hosts 170 other species, including tropical mockingbirds, warblers, pelicans, ibis, oystercatchers, herons and numerous kinds of ducks. It also has a decent population of wild boar and white-tailed deer, both of which are legally hunted.