The bigger and far more populated of this two-island nation, Antigua is a hilly island with dozens of gorgeous white-sand beaches tucked away in dramatic coves. Its rather unappealing capital, St John's, is tucked into a sheltered bay about 5 miles west of the airport, while most hotels and resorts cluster north and east of here along Dickenson Bay, Five Islands Peninsula and around Jolly Harbour. The best beaches hem the west coast between Jolly Harbour and Old Road village, while the wind-swept east is sparsely settled and has only a few beaches, though historically, this is the more interesting area of the island.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Antigua.
After a 90-minute walk through the rainforest (or by a far shorter stony path from Springhill Riding Stables in Falmouth) you'll arrive at one of Antigua's loveliest beaches. Because of its remoteness, you'll usually be alone here, or sharing with a couple of other adventurous romantics. The rainforest path starts near the Wallings Reservoir off Fig Tree Dr but is not signposted, so ask for directions locally. From Falmouth, follow the road past the stables uphill and just keep going.
Continuously in operation since 1745, this extensively restored Georgian-era marina is Antigua's top sightseeing draw and was made a Unesco World Heritage site in 2016. Today its restored buildings house restaurants, hotels and businesses, the most important of which is the Dockyard Museum, which features information on Antigua's history, the dockyard and life at the forts. Among the many trinkets on display is a telescope once used by Nelson himself.
Water the color of blue curaçao laps this white crescent in the remote southeast. Bodysurfers head to the south end, snorkelers to the calm waters north, and everyone meets at the two beach bars for grilled-fish lunches and rum cocktails. A new resort being built on the hillside above the south end of the beach may change it forever, though.
This restored military lookout and gun battery was named after Sir Thomas Shirley (1727–1800), who became the first Governor of the Leeward Islands in 1781. Get some historical background at the small interpretive center, then head uphill to explore the grounds for crumbling ruins and enjoy sweeping views. Admission includes entry to Nelson's Dockyard and the Dow's Hill Interpretation Centre.
Antigua's 'Everest' rises a modest 1319ft in the island's southwestern corner as part of the Shekerley mountain range. Known as Boggy Peak until 2009 (Mt Obama is definitely an improvement), the mountain is crowned by dense trees and locked up telecommunications towers. This makes views only so-so unless you can get inside the compound.
Built by the British around 1900, this Victorian-style dam originally created a reservoir holding 13 million gallons of water and supplied it to surrounding villages. In 1912, after three years of drought, it was drained and the area was reforested; it's now teeming with mahoe, ironwood, locust, mango, white cedar and other tree species.
Ponder Antigua's colonial past while poking around a restored stone windmill, as well as remnants of the Great House, the distillery and other buildings of the island's first sugar plantation, established in 1674 by Christopher Codrington and named for his daughter. An interpretive center demystifies the sugar-making process and provides glimpses into the hardship of daily life on the plantation, which had around 400 slaves at its peak.
This pretty palm-lined beach has calm, shallow aquamarine waters and powdery white sand. It's a popular excursion for cruise-ship guests, for whom water sports are laid on and loungers serviced by fleets of bar staff. Most cruisers gather around popular beach restaurant the Nest, so if you're looking for a quiet spot, head to the south end of the beach.
Meet Charley, Chrissy, blind Stevie or any of the other 150 or so stray donkeys that have found a loving home in this sanctuary operated by the Antigua & Barbuda Humane Society. Dedicated staff are happy to introduce visitors to the friendly animals and let them brush them and take pictures with them.