Why You Should Visit Antigua!

Palm trees and a bushy hedge border a golden beach in Antigua, a tented pavilion on a rocky pier in the background.

How to do you pronounce Antigua?

Let’s start with a small but important detail: how do you SAY “Antigua”? If you’ve been calling it an-tee-gwah your whole life, don’t worry—lots of people get it wrong. The island’s name is actually pronounced an-tee-GAH (no “gwah”!).

Antigua is a quaint little slice of paradise. Tiny—at just 108 square miles, you can cover most of the island in a day—but with plenty to do.

Antigua’s single airport, V.C. Bird International, is the only way on or off the island (unless you’re planning a looong boat trip). Their currency is the Caribbean Dollar (EC) but USD is widely accepted and you might get better deals by using it. 

Things definitely move a little slower here and there’s a general carefree vibe that’ll have your stress melting away in no time. The beaches are what draw people to the island but there’s so much more to see! It was originally a British colony so lots of that culture is still ingrained here and English is the official language. Antiguans love their cricket but basketball is slowly catching on with the kids—go figure!

FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Classy, British Jamaica—lots of similarities between the two, but Antigua definitely has better beaches.

Stunning views of ocean and island from the top of Shirley Heights in Antigua.

How to explore the island of Antigua

You can totally rent a car and get around by yourself but we decided against it because they drive on the left side in Antigua and I already struggle with driving on the right! 😂 

We booked a driver instead and had him take us all over the island in a single day. We started in the capital city, St. John’s. It reminded me of any other major city—lots of people and noise, busy-busy. This is where the cruise ships dock and souvenir stands were naturally out in full force, making St. John’s the most touristy part of the island by far. I spotted lots of American chains like KFC but there are some local gems around too if you explore a bit (I did happen to find some great ice cream here!).

Our driver took us southwest next to show us Mount Obama, which is the highest point in Antigua. (And yes, it’s named after President Obama.) From there we headed to Nelson’s Dockyard in English Harbour, where they do a big seafood festival on Fridays. I didn’t get to take part since I’m unfortunately allergic to everything under the water but it reminded me of Oistins fish fry in the Bahamas.

On Sunday we got to hang at Shirley Heights, which has the absolute best views of the island. It’s a bit touristy but in a must-do sort of way. The weekly Sunday party is definitely worth the hype—if anyone saw my Instagram they’d see why.

From there we went to check out several resorts (I’ll dish on those below!), but I wanna make sure I mention the rainforest first: you’re in it by default when you arrive but driving through the lush green hills is amazing and 100% worth arranging! We also made a stop at the Rum Bus Beach Bar on our way back to the hotel and had a great time. You can’t miss it: it sits right on the beach and they have cute accommodations to boot.

As far as activities go, you can take cooking classes, catch a catamaran tour, zipline through the rainforest, go to a rum tasting, and even swim with the stingrays (not gonna lie, I was not a fan of this one and I’ll tell you why in a bit). There are also tons of hiking trails and 365 beaches to choose from. Antigua is definitely a beach-lover’s paradise.

OTHER TIPS:

  • Try some Black Pineapples (you can grab some at a fruit stand but Sheer Rocks serves them up as well).

  • Ditto for the Julie Mangos (our driver literally stopped at his house and picked them in his backyard for us to try!).

  • Don’t skip the bug spray—mosquitos here are super aggressive and at times I felt like they were swarming us like bees 😱 (30 bites and counting!)

  • Antigua is known for its hot sauce. Look for Elaine’s if you can find it, but Susie’s Hot Sauce isn’t bad either.

  • For a great late-night hangout, hit up Road House (en route to Half Moon Bay).

  • Other restaurant faves: Cowbells (across from Jackie O’s) & Papa Zouk

Antiguan ribs, rice, and salad on a white plate.

A note on food

Antigua’s jerk is different from Jamaica’s and here’s why: Jamaicans season their meat when it’s raw, boil it, then throw it on the grill and season it again, and then AGAIN with more sauce.

Antiguans don’t season their meat before they boil it; they season it after they cook it, which is why if you’re a fan of spice like me you’ll probably prefer Jamaican jerk over Antiguan jerk. That being said, I still licked my plates clean in Antigua. 

Dennis’ makes the best ribs I had on the island. For an authentic Antiguan cooking class, try Nicole’s Table.

A wooden deck with a rope barrier is suspended above a sandy beach in Antigua.

WHERE TO STAY IN ANTIGUA

Coach and I got to tour 12 properties over our two-week visit and stay at four. As I mentioned before, Antigua has no shortage of gorgeous beaches but there are also plenty of places to call home while you’re vacationing there. Every place we saw would be a good choice, minus one. We’ve done the hard work for you ahead of time, so please feel free to use this as a guide!

Let’s dive in...

A king-size bed with gold, navy, and white bedding sits in front of a mirror in a fancy hotel room at the Royalton Antigua.

Royalton Antigua

The Royalton is new to the island, having just opened in May, and unfortunately our stay here was not the best. It’s a beautiful property but the service was nothing to brag about. Rooms were nice but half the size of a regular Royalton-brand room in other locations, plus sported some very thin walls and thin sheets on the bed. 

I’m not going to list everything that I complained about but I’d advise travelers to hold off on staying here until they work out the kinks. Let’s just say a lot of things went wrong during our 3-night stay that shouldn’t go wrong at a 5-star resort. If you’re paying luxury accommodation rates, there are several better options below.

Tile-roofed buildings, palm trees, pathways, and a pool at Sandals Antigua.

Sandals Antigua

Probably the most popular resort with tourists, especially Americans, and also probably the biggest resort with the most to do. If you’re looking for a central location close to the airport with a lively atmosphere, then this is the place to be.

This baby is massive and has a country club kind of feel. There are two sides: the Mediterranean and the Caribbean side. Nearly all of the restaurants are on the Caribbean side. I must admit, it sits on the BEST beach by far, Dickenson Bay. And the food here was top-notch! I ate everything you could possibly think of. The property is a bit dated but they make up for it with great service.


Blue-and-white lounge chairs sit on a palm-dotted beach while a small boat bobs next to a dock in the background.

Verandah Resort 

Another popular option built to accommodate the masses. It has two private beaches and would likely be a great match for families, but was ultimately not my favorite in this category. It’s located on the eastern side of the island and moderately priced.

A man and a woman float in a pool overlooking the ocean while a hotel worker brings them drinks at Cocobay Resort.

Cocobay Resort

This was bae’s favorite after our host hotel, Hermitage Bay, and it’s so cute that I wanted to extend my stay to get a real feel of what it was like to stay there (sadly they were all booked up 😭). 

Cocobay is an adults-only all-inclusive that doesn’t feel like a traditional resort. Its suites are adorable cottages with plunge pools facing the ocean—perfect for honeymooning couples! The resort’s best feature is definitely its location, location, location. It sits on the best part of the island surrounded by three public beaches. This would be considered a barefoot luxury property.

Besides location, Cocobay’s other unique selling points are its floating breakfast + tapas pools, which are Instagram-worthy to say the least. Only 65 suites, and next to one of my favorite beaches, Valley Church… can’t ask for more than that!

Private villa roofs rise out of the jungle lining a secluded beach at Hermitage Bay, the turquoise water glinting in the background.

Hermitage Bay

This is a very intimate 5-star boutique experience. Everyone knew my name, my favorite drink, and anything else you could think of. I felt like family. I never had to ask for anything. 

It sits on a secluded beach and the cottages were too cute. We were able to split our time between the Beachfront Cottage and Hillside Suite, with plunge pools in both. This is truly a personal paradise. I’d say that even though Jumby Bay is rated the #1 hotel in Antigua (and it has every reason to be with its luxurious rooms and private island appeal), Hermitage Bay kills them when it comes to service. 

Hermitage Bay will be on the higher end the resort scale, above all of them except for Jumby Bay. The food and drinks here are amazing—I’ve been talking nonstop about Ti’ Punch for a week now. If you’re looking for a lot of nightly entertainment, this might not be the property for you as it’s pretty chill. It reminds me of COMO Turks with better food and service. Definitely a honeymoon location!

Bathrobes and flowers sit at the foot of a queen bed with white sheets and a washed-blue wooden headboard at Galley Bay in Antigua

Galley Bay

Where authenticity meets resort. From the moment you arrive, you really feel like you’re on island time. It has a very local vibe and superior suites literally sit right on the beach, but what I loved best about this property are the cottages. 

This place is for the active couple who enjoys biking and being in nature. It has tons of lush tropical gardens and is perfect for a romantic getaway. It isn’t modern in decor but very clean and has a yoga pavilion and water sports dock to get you out and about outside your room.

I would say that this resort is for a more mature clientele. It has one pool and 98 suites which is why it didn’t seem too crowded. That being said, there are only 13 cottages so you need to get on them quick because they sell out fast!

A sleek bar lined with industrial-looking stools curves across a modern tiled floor in an outdoor pavilion at Hodges Bay.

Hodges Bay

I really liked the modern decor here! It just opened in November 2018 and is billed as a resort for couples, young families, and singles. 

It’s not all-inclusive and has 79 units. The layout is nice and the pool is huge with private cabanas that can be rented out as well as a spa and gym. It has ocean- and garden-view rooms but you can find me in the penthouse suites/villas or the cute apartments over the water. A perk to this property is the Prickly Pear Island boat that goes out everyday from the hotel.

A stylish patio overlooks the clear blue water below, decked out with white-cushioned lounge chairs and low wooden tables.

Curtain Bluff

This one’s an oldie but a goodie. Everyone in Antigua spoke highly of this property as it was the first 5-star property on the island. It’s older and more formal—no WiFi or TV in the rooms but a very nice family all-inclusive. 

The rooms once again sit right on the beach and feature traditional decor. The underground wine cellar and tasting room are a cool feature! The owner, Shelly, is actually from Gainesville, FL where I currently live so we shared stories while taking in the views of her home. (She lives onsite and hosts the brides’ cocktails at her house.) 

There are tons of activities to be found here, including tennis, watersports, a spa, and a gym, and we got to eat a wonderful lunch while listening to a steel drum band on the beach. I loved Curtain Bluff, it really does have a family feel.

A lovely covered patio on the beach, framed by palm trees.

Carlisle Bay

I would say this property has a certain European charm. It doesn’t try to do more than it does—nothing super fancy, large rooms, just one pool, but it sits on Carlisle Bay, which is already a selling point. It mostly hosts British travelers and you can see from little details like the library why this place draws so many European guests. It has an air of sophistication and would be a great place for a wedding and/or group getaway.


Palm trees and white umbrellas dot a manicured lawn overlooking the ocean at Blue Waters Resort.

Blue Waters

We stayed here after leaving Hermitage Bay so honestly this property didn’t really have a chance after the luxurious experience we’d just had, but it’s overall a solid resort! 

It’s a bit older but very family-friendly—we saw a lot of kids around. The beach here is smaller but it’s close both to town and to the airport. Stay in the Turtle Cottages or Pelican House, if possible. Some rooms are outdated but they are remodeling as I type. 

Bars close at 12 a.m. so don’t expect to stay up late at this property. Drinks weren’t the best but the food was Michelin-quality. They are very eco-friendly and even give you a reusable water bottle on arrival as they do not sell bottled water but instead have tanks around the property to fill up the ones they give you at check-in. You need dinner reservations at this property but if you want to visit just for a meal, they offer a day pass to outsiders. They have a big UK client base, for those interested in the feel and vibe.

Steps lead down to a green-roofed building by the water while a person rides a jet ski across the waves at COCOS Hotel.

COCOS Hotel

This property was cute but I think Cocobay will give you everything this one doesn’t. COCOS is for my local travelers—a shabby-chic property with just one restaurant, it sits on a hill (not ideal for people who can’t walk up and down stairs or inclines). 

It’s all-inclusive but you wouldn’t know by the look and feel. It reminds me of the HGTV Caribbean Life show where people leave home to live on island time. I loved it. Charming and authentic, it has a very natural vibe with plenty of open ocean and pretty views. 

There are 35 cottages in total. This is definitely a place for couples—outdoor showers only, no gym, no spa, no water sports, just you on the island with the one you love. Stay in the Sunset Plunge for the best views.


Even though I just left, I’m already dying to go back for another visit. I’ve been to a lot of places in the Caribbean but Antigua has taken over as my new favorite—it really stole my heart!

I love everything about the island, from its stunning beaches and friendly locals to its top-notch resorts and delicious food. This is the perfect destination for romantic getaways (like ours!), laid-back family vacations, or a solo trip to get away from it all.

I’ll be back, Antigua!

xo

Courtnie


✨ BONUS: 6-DAY ANTIGUA ITINERARY ✨

Day 1

Soak up the atmosphere in downtown St. John’s, do some shopping, and check out the local farmer’s market. Stop by Nelson’s Dockyard for a dose of culture and history. If you want to keep the good times rolling in English Harbour, check out the popular after-dark hangout Abracadabra.

Day 2

Get happily lost at Shirley Heights. Sunday is the best day to drink in the spectacular views and party with lots of good people, tasty BBQ, and rum punch (of course). Drop by the famous Road House on your way back down to keep the party going.

Day 3 

Take a boat trip around Five Islands. Land at Sheer Rocks, one of the best restaurants on the island, for a nice dinner overlooking the sea. It’s connected to the cutest all-inclusive boutique around—the adults-only Cocobay Resort.

Day 4

Beach day! There are several amazing options to choose from, but our favorites are Darkwood Beach and Valley Church Beach. Both are open to the public but if you’re looking for a quieter, less-touristy option, Darkwood is the way to go. (There are over 300 beaches on the island, so you’re never too far from blissful relaxation.)

Day 5

Hangout at Frye’s Beach and have some drinks (and ribs!) at Dennis’ beach bar across from Tamarind Hills.

Day 6

Go check out Barbuda, Antigua’s sister island that’s known for its beautiful black beaches. Barbuda was hit pretty bad by Hurricane Irma but is in the process of rebuilding. You can catch a ferry on Wednesdays from St. John’s Harbour for about $85 round trip.