Situated in the middle of the Leeward Islands, 17 degrees north of the Equator, Antigua, encompassing 280 square kilometres (108 square miles) is larger than its neighbour, Barbuda, which is a flat coral island to the north.
The island’s economy is heavily reliant on tourism and visitors will find a warm welcome from the locals, and just as warm a welcome from the sea on the island’s 365 beaches which help provide the classic picture postcard Caribbean break.
Life in Antigua is governed by the sea; it has a huge sailing and yachting scene and Antigua Sailing Week is one of the premier regattas on the planet. But there is more to the island than messing around in boats and lazing on the beach. Popular attractions include Fig Tree Drive, which comprises 32 km (20 miles) of winding roads through the fishing villages and hills, the markets at the south end of the capital, St John’s and exploring the caves at Two Foot Bay in Barbuda. Back to the water, Devil’s Bridge is a natural arch carved by the sea in limestone ledges to the north-eastern part of Antigua and is a popular spot for a swim with the locals.
The island gained independence in 1981, having been discovered and claimed for Spain by Christopher Columbus in 1493. There followed periods of English, and a brief French, occupation with Horatio Nelson arriving in 1784 to develop the British naval facilities which resulted in the building of Nelson’s Dockyard, a popular visiting place for tourists.
Antigua can be an expensive place to eat and drink, although a visit to a local bar to watch the locals playing Wari, an ancient board game, normally involving bets for the next round of drinks, or a trip to take in the slightly more eccentric pastime of crab racing, also put on at local pubs, comes cheap enough.
St Vincent & the Grenadines
St Vincent & the Grenadines are part of the Windward Islands and lie south of St Lucia. The Grenadines are actually a group of small islands including Battowia and Mustique – the haunt of the rich and famous.
Many of the beaches in the area are not the golden ones mostly associated with the Caribbean as St Vincent & the Grenadines are volcanic and many of the resorts have both black and yellow and sand. On St Vincent snorkelling and boat trips are popular whilst those who are feeling fit can hike up to the summit of the La Soufriere volcano. The Grenadines are famous for having some of the best sailing waters in the world.
Kingstown, the capital of St Vincent, has a bustling harbour area, many picturesque 19-century churches and cathedrals, the Botanical Gardens and the impressive Fort Charlotte that overlooks the harbour from a height of 200 metres.
The volcanic soil on the island is, according to the locals, extremely fertile and they pride themselves on their local produce such as breadfruit and cassava. The food can be spicy with hot stews and curries popular, which gives an excuse to wash them down with a Hairoun, the local beer, or a Sunset Rum which is distilled on the island. Beware. There are a variety of Sunset Rums with the strongest 84.5 per cent by volume.
Three things to do
Take a hike and eat your lunch 4048 feet above St Vincent at the top of La Soufriere volcano. Participants must be in good health to take the trip. Not for the faint-hearted. For more information contact + 1 784 457-8634, web: http://www.hazecotours.com
The National Botanical Gardens in Kingstown contain the descendant of one of Captain Bligh’s original breadfruit trees. Visitors can also spy the St Vincent Parrot, the national bird of the island. For more contact + 1 809 457 1003, web: http://www.visitsvg.com
Black Point Tunnel
Take a trip back in time through this tunnel constructed by slaves in 1815. An hour’s drive from Kingstown the tunnel, 360 feet in length, was made to aid sugar transport from the Grand Sable Estate to Byreau. For more see http://www.svgtourism.