The island of Antigua is famous with its 365 beaches – one for each day of the year. I am not sure if that is in fact true, but all beaches on Antigua are open to the public.
The idea of Antigua in my mind was of a paradise-like exotic island. We wanted to see more of the island and decided to do a tour which also includes visiting a beach. On our arrival at St. John we were surrounded by local tour guides offering to take us pretty much whereever we want on the island. The prices most of them offered for a three hours tour of the western part of the island was $25 per person.
We got in the van together with six other people. Our driver Joe was also our tour guide and told us many interesting facts about Antigua.
St. John is the capital city of Antigua. We passed by it with the van but what we saw didn’t impress me at all. Most of the buildings were run-down small wooden structures in a very bad condition although they were a museum or a government building.
When in 1493 Christopher Columbus discovered Antigua for the European world, the population of the island consisted of Arawak Indians and Carib people. According to one of the legends about the origin of the name “Antigua”, Columbus called the island “Anti Agua” as there is a lack of fresh, drinking water. This is a problem for the local residents and almost all of the houses had water tanks to collect rain water.
Today Antigua is a part of the British Commonwealth and gained its independence in 1981.
While we were traveling through the middle of the island, we saw many students with uniforms walking around, probably going home from school. Our guide Joe has told us that the government provides free uniforms and lunch for the kids, which stimulates parents to send kids to school.
The first stop of our tour was a viewpoint which offered a nice view towards the harbour. There was many street stalls there and it was obvious that the tour guides were bringing tourist to them. Next we passed by Nelson’s Dockyard without stopping (none of us wanted to stop so we can have more time to spend on the beach).
At that moment, I wouldn’t say I was particularly impressed with Antigua. On the contrary, everywhere we were seeing these run-down wooden houses/sheds and garbage, and everything we were seeing was in bad condition – it doesn’t matter if it was a house or a building or just a park. It all looked dirty and not well maintained.
Before we started the tour, I asked the driver to show us a beach. He had me if I had a beach in mind and I said Valley Church Beach. From the inner side of the island we drove to the east coast. There, it all looked a lot better. The wooden sheds were gone and we saw huge houses nestled in the green hills. We stopped to see a pretty, deserted beach with a hotel next to it. A night in this hotel costed $1,000 but the beach was public. The prettier and the more luxurious side of Antigua was showing itself slowly to us. From this spot we were able to notice the outlines of the neighbouring island – Montserrat.
At 2 pm we arrived at Valley Church Beach. We negotiated with the driver to stay at this beach for 1 hour. This beach was one of the most incredible beaches I have ever seen. It looked like a beach from a picture of a travel magazine. We walked on the white, fine and soft beach, gazing at crystal light-blue water – this beach looked almost surreal to me! This was how I was imagining an exotic island in the Caribbean Sea, this was the Antigua from my dreams!
For three hours we were able to just scratch the surface of Antigua and I am positive that there were so many other beautiful places to see there. Because of beaches like Valley Church Beach Antigua is known for being the exotic island were celebrities and Hollywood movie stars have houses and vacation. Of course, they are trying to keep a low profile while there, and as Joe said, a taxi driver might not even notice that the tourist in his car is Robert De Niro.
And in spite of the beautiful beaches, Antigua was the Caribbean island the impressed me the least. A friend of mine has told me that in her opinion St. Lucia was one of the poorest islands, and with a sinking heart I was wondering what was yet to come in our cruise.
Subsequently, it turned out that the other three islands we were about to we liked a lot better than Antigua.
So, if I ever go back to Antigua, I would definitely take a tour around the coast and visit as many beaches as I can, and stop and enjoy at least 2 or 3 of them.
More posts from the series “Cruise in the Southern Caribbean” here.