Culture

Away from the resorts, Antigua retains its traditional West Indian character. It’s manifested in the gingerbread architecture found around the capital, the popularity of steel-pan (steel-band), calypso and reggae music, and in festivities, such as Carnival. Still, English traditions also play an important role, as is evident in the national sport of cricket.

Many Barbudans originally come from or have spent time living on their sister island, Antigua, and favor the quieter pace of life on the more isolated Barbuda. In fact, many Barbudans working in tourism are happy with the trickle of tourists that the remote island attracts, and have been reluctant to court the kind of development Antigua has seen.

Approximately 90% of Antiguans are of African descent. There are also small minority populations of British, Portuguese and Lebanese ancestry. The population of Barbuda is approximately 1600, with most of African descent.

Beside the Anglican Church, Antiguans belong to a host of religious denominations, which include Roman Catholic, Moravian, Methodist, Seventh Day Adventist, Lutheran and Jehovah’s Witness. On Sundays, services at the more fundamentalist churches draw such crowds that roads are blocked and drivers pray for divine intervention.

Arts

Reggae and zouk (the latter means ‘party,’ and is a rhythmic music that originated in Martinique and Guadeloupe in the 1980s) are both popular on Antigua. You’ll also hear calypso, a style of singing rooted in slave culture that was developed as a means of communication when slaves weren’t allowed to speak; and soca, a rhythmic, more soulful style of calypso.

By far the most popular musical style on Antigua is steel pan (also known as steel band or steel drum), the melodic percussion music that comes from tapping oil drums topped with specially made tin pans. Originally from Trinidad, the form has been adapted in Antigua, and has become an integral part of the annual Carnival and Christmas festivities. The most famous steel band from Antigua is Hell's Gate, which was founded in 1945 and is still going strong today.

The soca-band Burning Flames is the best-known Antiguan music group and backed up late soca star Arrow from nearby Montserrat.

Sports

One of the best things Britain did for the West Indies was to introduce the local populace to cricket. It soon became the national passion of Antigua and is played everywhere – on beaches, in backyards or anywhere there’s some flat, open ground. National and international matches are played at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium. Cricket season runs from January to July.

Soccer (football) and basketball are increasing in popularity, and national and club soccer games can produce much the same atmosphere as cricket.

Sailing is another passion, especially down south in English Harbour. Antigua Sailing Week and Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta, both held in April, are huge draws.

Landscape & Wildlife

Unlike Montserrat, its (at times) smoking neighbor to the southwest, Antigua is not dominated by a dramatic volcano. However, the southwest corner is volcanic in origin and quite hilly, rising to 1319ft at Mt Obama (known as Boggy Peak until 2009), the island’s highest point. The rest of the island, which is predominantly of limestone and coral formation, is given to a more gently undulating terrain of open plains and scrubland.

Antigua’s land area is 108 sq miles. The island is vaguely rounded in shape, averaging about 11 miles across. The coastline is cut by numerous coves and bays, many lined with white-sand beaches.

Barbuda, 25 miles north of Antigua, is nearly as flat as the surrounding ocean. A low-lying coral island, Barbuda’s highest point is a mere 145ft above sea level. The west side of Barbuda encompasses the expansive Codrington Lagoon, which is bound by a long, undeveloped barrier beach of blindingly white sand.

As a consequence of colonial-era deforestation for sugar production, most of Antigua’s vegetation is dryland scrub. The island’s marshes and salt ponds attract a fair number of stilts, egrets, ducks and pelicans, while hummingbirds are found in garden settings. Codrington Lagoon has one of the largest frigate-bird colonies in the world.

Feature: Frigate Birds

Frigate birds skim the water’s surface for fish, but because their feathers lack the water-resistant oils common to other seabirds, they cannot dive into water. Also known as the man-of-war bird, the frigate bird has evolved into an aerial pirate that supplements its own fishing efforts by harassing other seabirds until they release their catch, which the frigate bird then swoops up in mid-flight.

While awkward on the ground, the frigate bird, with its distinctive forked tail and 6ft wingspan, is beautifully graceful in flight. It has the lightest weight-to-wingspan ratio of any bird and can soar at great heights for hours on end – making it possible for the bird to feed along the coast of distant islands and return home to roost at sunset without having landed anywhere other than its nesting site.