The Caribbean is fabled across the board for its sandy beaches, but they assume a particular importance in Antigua: there is purportedly one for every day of the year.
No other island in the region has such a diversity of accessible strands, and Antigua’s small size also means it is impossible to be more than a few miles from a tantalizing tract of white-gold shoreline. Whether it is full-scale resort beaches sporting all the facilities, bays right by the best surfing or snorkeling action or lonesome desert island coves that you covet, read on to find the best beach in Antigua for you.
Plump for prime people watching at Dickenson Bay
For the quintessential full-on, full-facility island beach, head 5km (3 miles) north of the cruise terminal to Dickenson Bay. Antigua does not provide a more developed beach package than this, where jam-packed resorts jostle with some of the island’s best restaurants, bars, cafes, food trucks and water sports for a bit of beachfront prime time.
It is certainly the most packed strip of sand, especially when the fun seekers from the biggest of the Sandals Antigua resorts descend. But because the bay stretches to over a mile in length, there is invariably space to separate yourself from the masses, and the tradeoff for the crowds is the excellent array of activities for when you tire of sliding between your beach towel and the azure ocean. You could select from some distinguished restaurants, such as the dignified French-Caribbean Coconut Grove, or try a Jet Ski session, wakeboarding, parasailing or tubing.
Make a cruise-ship excursion to Fort James Beach
If you have reached the island as part of a Caribbean cruise, this is the beach for you. It is the nearest of the quality Antigua beaches to the cruise port in St John, a mere 5-minute, 3.5km (2.2-mile) drive away (or, for those with time and inclination, a nice walk). Yet despite sporting a long, lovely fringe of white-blonde sand and the intriguingly moody ruins of the 18th-century Fort James at the headland on the southern end, it sees far fewer visitors than the perennially popular Runaway Bay and Dickenson Bay just to the north.
It is a much-frequented spot by locals, however, who add color to the scene with their spirited games of volleyball and beach cricket, and there are a couple of low-key but very good eateries near the fort.
Bare it all at the Hawksbill beaches
To the west of St John’s sprawl, the peninsula containing Five Islands Village buts into the ocean in a shape resembling a goat’s head. It is an especially beach-rich place even by Antigua’s exemplary standards, and the Hawksbill Bay quartet of strands at the western end is simply stunning. Their attractiveness is largely in their niche appeal. The Hawksbill by Rex resort complex straddles much of the shore here; to reach beaches two, three and four, visitors have to pass through the resort entrance and security post – which is fully permitted yet a deterrent for many.
The fourth tract of sand along is also Antigua’s only clothing-optional beach. Yet for those seeking a quiet beach experience close to St John, it is ideal. The first sands are just before the resort and the second and third are mostly for resort guests, which is fine as the fourth, Eden Beach, is the most spectacular of all – provided you don’t mind sharing it with nudists. A long slice of sand the color of banana cream, this is the point from which you can enjoy exquisite views out to the craggy Hawksbill Rock from which the beaches get their name.
Take the family to Ffryes Beach
Partly cut off from the rest of Antigua by a lagoon, the serene sea grape–shaded Ffryes Beach is a happy compromise between busyness and balminess. This low-key locale attracts families but seldom becomes overly crowded, while barbecue facilities and one of the greatest places for Antiguan food on the island, Dennis Cocktail Bar & Restaurant, give you reasons aplenty to linger.
This is the west coast’s best-known beach, but if you have come out here for snorkeling then Darkwood Bay, lapped by alluringly iridescent waters and secreting a section of reef, is just south.
Seek out adventures at Rendezvous Bay Beach
Which side of Antigua has the best beaches? The south side, if Robinson Crusoe–esque remoteness is what you crave. The thrill is in the act of arrival with the flaxen arc of Rendezvous Bay: it is among Antigua’s most isolated beaches, stashed along a delightfully undeveloped chunk of coast, and the way in is only by foot along rough track or trail (or, if you have one, a private yacht).
The easiest land approach is from Falmouth Bay: follow signs for Spring Hill Riding Club, near where you must park up to follow the track through scrub and forest for a couple of miles. If you want to be even more intense with your approach, try coming on the longer trail through the rainforest from Wallings Nature Reserve. Either is the perfect rugged build-up to the lonesome rainforest-backed beach itself, spreading either side of a deep lagoon in blonde beauty intensified by the lack of other beachgoers.
Learn a bit of history at Pigeon Point Beach
A winsome curl of neem tree–flanked sand on the peninsula between the south coast’s two most significant natural harbors, Falmouth Harbour and English Harbour, Pigeon Point Beach attracts visiting vessels aplenty. With its gently shelving shore, it’s also inviting for a family splash-around. And don’t miss sitting down to eat at Catherine’s Cafe Plage, where French-meets-Caribbean cuisine is served in a divine, sequestered-away setting with sun-shielding back-of-beach foliage.
Its biggest draw is its proximity to Antigua’s blockbuster sight, the Unesco-listed 18th-century nautical complex of Nelson’s Dockyard. This is among the world’s oldest marinas, in continuous use since 1745. It was the British Navy’s base during Antigua’s colonial days, and Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson, widely considered one of the greatest all-time maritime commanders, lived here between 1784 and 1787.
Half Moon Bay is Antigua’s most Instagrammable beach
What’s in a name? Sometimes a moniker is way off the mark – but not here. This far-reaching sandy crescent has an almost lunar-like whiteness, especially when contrasted with surrounding water that’s the color of blue curaçao. On purely aesthetic grounds, Half Moon Bay is the best beach in Antigua.
Bodysurfers gravitate to the south while snorkelers beeline for the more placid sea at the northern end. Later in the day, everyone convenes in the middle for a lunch of grilled fish. Explore around the headland to the north, taking in cracking views that open out to uninhabited Smith Island. Just revel in the relatively undisturbed beauty while you can: a new resort development threatens to disrupt the tranquility.
Explore reefs by snorkeling at Long Bay Beach
If Long Bay Beach had no other boasts besides its apostrophe of sand as soft and white as icing sugar, we would still unhesitatingly place it on any list of top island beaches. But it has lots more. Visitors here are coaxed instantly out into the teal shallows here by the reef that shelters the bay and which makes this one of the finest snorkeling beaches on the island. Spy the likes of sponges, blue-headed wrasse and parrotfish, then venture east to the gangly peninsula of Indian Point.
Here beckons another of the island’s best non-beach sights, Devil’s Bridge, where waves have battered Antigua’s craggy easternmost point into geological wonders such as a rock arch and blowholes. Beach-side, facilities are decent with a small resort, an Italian-Caribbean restaurant and several kiosks selling wares.
Enjoy world-class windsurfing and kiteboarding at Jabberwock Beach
In the northeastern-most nook of the island, the sickle-shaped yellow-white strand of Jabberwock Beach, spanning a mile and more between Cedar Grove and Camp Blizzard, is the most consistently dependable spot for windsurfing and kiteboarding. Trade winds hit the north of the island first, and here sea breezes blast straight toward the shore, meaning that if the surf’s up anywhere on Antigua, it’s at Jabberwock, and that you can surf parallel to the coast, too.
There is a kiteboarding school at the southern end. This is one of the closest beaches to the V.C. Bird International Airport, so Jabberwock could also well be the quickest way from your couch at home to an Antigua beach paradise.