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Budget Travel in Antigua and Barbuda

What You Need to Know to Enjoy the Island Nation

Sunset at Ffryes beach, Antigua.
Sunset at Ffryes beach, Antigua.

Once considered a strictly up-market destination, the Caribbean island nation of Antigua and Barbuda is more accessible for frugal travelers than ever before. The coastal resorts that have kept the visitor secluded from the island are now facing stiff competition from locally owned and operated outfits offering a Caribbean experience that is second to none (but for a fraction of the price). So pack light and leave your savings account untouched because an Antiguan holiday is more affordable than ever.

Eating 

Antiguans take their food seriously and in large portions. Local lunches include stewed meats—such as chicken, goat and pork—with a side of rice and a small salad typically included. Try a local dish like pepperpot, a thick and spicy stew, or opt for ground sweet potato and coconut wrapped in a fig leaf then boiled, known as ducana. Whichever is your choice, try it first at a local spot as the portions will be larger than the tourist areas and the ingredients will be local (along with the price). Expect to pay US$5-7 for a hefty lunch or dinner from any local spot. 

The best place to try local eats is in the capital, St. John’s. The Garden Restaurant (St. John’s, High Street, 562-2500) has a comfortable and friendly environment with all the local favorites available, some have even taken on a new twist. Try the mashed breadfruit with salt fish or the fresh catch of the day. Then relax outside in the large outdoor seating area with plenty of shade to keep you cool. 

Roti King (St. John’s, St. Mary’s Street and Corn Alley, 462-2328) is a local favorite serving up tasty curried meats and vegetables wrapped in a thin flour shell. The place gets crowded during the week as hungry Antiguan workers cram into the small, wooden establishment during lunch. 

You may notice several signs offering ital dining. Ital has nothing to do with Italian cuisine, but rather has its roots in the Rastafarian community. Serving pastas, beans, salads and "seasoned chunks" out of clay pots and under an outdoor canopy, One Stone Ital Shack (St. John’s, Independence Ave and Tanner St, 772-2698) dishes out some the best home-cooked Rastafarian food on the island.  

Splurge a Little

You may think you have stumbled into a local rum shop when entering Papa Zouk (St. John’s, 464-6044), but this island favorite serves up ultra fresh fish with a creative French creole twist. Try the carnival seafood platter, fresh snapper, or grilled mahi mahi. The extensive rum collection behind the bar puts a nice touch on the décor, but the Ti-punch is the house special.  

Best Beaches 

Antigua has something special going for it: public beaches. Whether you are staying at a $500 a night resort or camping down the street, the beaches are free and for all to enjoy. You may, however, choose to avoid the more crowded and developed beaches like Dickenson Bay and Jolly Beach, and opt for some hidden gems.  

If you are looking for that deserted stretch of long white sand, then Ffryes on the southwest coast is it. Locals flock here during holiday beach bashes, but the rest of the year it remains calm and quiet. On a clear day Montserrat, Guadeloupe, and Nevis can be seen with exceptional clarity. Dennis’ Beach Bar and Restaurant is just a short walk away and offers great panoramic views of the area.   

You may be wondering where you are going as you dodge stray pigs and cows on the dirt road that leads to one of the best: Hermitage Bay. Located on one of the few remote areas on the southwest side, this beach has recently seen the development of arguably Antigua’s finest hotel. But public parking is still available and the beach is open for all to enjoy (tip: head right when facing the beach to escape guests of the resort).  

The rough and tumble waters of the Atlantic make Half Moon Bay a favorite of body borders and wind surfers. But if you want something a little more relaxing, head south along the shoreline until you reach calmer waters. Notice the Half Moon Bay Hotel, which became deserted after Hurricane Luis destroyed much of it in 1995. You can still explore the well kept grounds and even walk around inside the hotel where welcome signs and notice boards remain eerily untouched.  

Beach looking on Hermitage bay, Antigua.
Beach looking on Hermitage bay, Antigua.
Where to Stay 

In anticipation for the 2007 Cricket World Cup, the Government of Antigua and Barbuda predicted a large number of visitors that surpassed the accommodation capacity of the twin-islands. The government, therefore, designed a series of economic incentives to encourage local entrepreneurs to build small hotels, villas and guesthouses. The result is a saturated housing market that heavily favors the mindful visitor.  

Nestled in the hilltops of the southwest coast, Stoneyhill Studio Apartments (www.stoneyhillstudioapartments.com, 562-6500) offers a great vantage point to enjoy the sun setting over the Caribbean Sea. Recently built, these small self-contained apartments are nicely furnished with modern amenities. The apartments are a bargain with rates staring around $100 a night.  

Inside bustling English Harbour on the southeast coast, you’ll find budget accommodations geared towards sailors looking for inexpensive short-term housing before pulling anchor.

If you are looking for a more centrally located spot to call it a night and don’t mind being away from the beach, then your price for accommodations can drop significantly. Oceanic Views Vacation Cottages (www.oceanicviewantigua.com, 562-6500) offer 2-3 bedroom private cottages for around $80-120, depending on the season. These gingerbread homes are lacking the modern furnishings found at more expensive spots but with a pool and bar, coupled with the price, it can’t be beat.  

Splurge a Little

If you are looking for seclusion, or perhaps are curious to what it is to be marooned, then you’ve found it at North Beach Cottages (Barbuda, info@antiguaadventures.com, 726-6355). For about US$400/night, you can rent one of three small cottages set on 23 acres of pristine coast; there is nothing within miles. The cottages are simple and share a common pavilion where the proprietor, a local named Reuben, serves meals and drinks. The rate is all-inclusive. 

Things to Do…For Free 

You may become overwhelmed with the plethora of choices—not to mention the prices—of organized activities on Antigua. But for those wishing to enjoy activities that go beyond the beach, there are several options that will allow you to enjoy the undisputable beauty of the island without costing you a dime. 

Antigua’s natural beauty and relatively flat surface offer a great opportunity for hiking. Trekking through verdant foliage, resting on hilltop vistas, and discovering hidden beaches are all part of the hikingexperience on Antigua. In the southeast, Nelson’s Dockyard National Park has several trails for the intrepid hiker. The footpaths stretch from a quarter mile to just under two miles. Check with the park office at the entrance to the Dockyard for more information or call the National Parks Authority directly at 460-1379. Wallings Nature Reserve, located just off Fig Tree Drive, is the site of a 100 year old Victorian era reservoir surrounded by 13 acres of verdant forest. Hiking trails cut throughout the protected area. 

Hiking on the Southwest part of Antigua.
Hiking on the Southwest.

You won’t find a lot of tourists roaming through the fruit orchards or climbing up to the top of a mango tree for that perfectly ripe treat but Christian Valley Agricultural Station, a sprawling 40 acre produce plantation wedged inside the Sherkely Mountains, is definitely worth a visit. You can buy fresh produce by the dozen or simply roam through the pastures, each categorized by a particular fruit: guava, breadfruit, avocado, mango and soursop (just to name a few). During mango season, check out the 25 different types of mangoes like the giant kite and the popular kidney

Realizing the strategic importance of Antigua, Britain built over 40 military installations across the island during its colonial rule. Such fortifications protected the valuable sugar industry from prying European powers and deterred any looming indigenous Carib populations. Today, these symbols of colonial dominance still exist on the island and are free for all to explore. Fort James boasts 10 of its original cannons still directed towards the entrance of St. John’s Harbour; Fort Barrington, on the southern tip of St. John’s, offers spectacular views over Deep Bay; and in 1712 Great George Fort is where the British fortified themselves as a French attack was believed to be imminent.  

Fort James, Antigua.
Fort James.

Splurge a Little

If you are looking to get out on the water but avoid the crowded group tours, then private yacht charters offer a great alternative for around the same cost. There are several privately run outfits on the island, mostly on 40ft+ sailboats. Ranging in price from US$75-150 per person, most accommodate up to 10 persons for a private sail on the smooth Caribbean Sea and then anchor for snorkeling with lunch and drinks served.  

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