Darla Logsdon

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ANTIGUA & BARBUDA

Barbuda, a flat coral island of 62 sq mile with a large lagoon on one side, has a tiny population and a slower pace. But it also has miles of beautiful pink- and white-sand beaches and excellent places for snorkeling.

The islands' main attractions are relaxation, historical sights, deep-sea fishing, golf and tennis, sailing, scuba diving and snorkeling, windsurfing, beautiful beaches, bicycling, horseback riding, cricket, casinos and friendly people.

If you enjoy excellent beaches, food and watersports—and aren't on a strict budget—Antigua and Barbuda are for you. Don't go to these islands if you're looking for lush mountain scenery.

Highlights

Sights—The historic buildings of Nelson's Dockyard National Park; browsing at the Public Market; the steel-pan bands that play at Shirley Heights on Sunday afternoon; sunsets at Fort James; a tour of Betty's Hope Sugar Estate; the octagonal St. Peter's Church in Parham.

Museums—The portraits of King George III and Queen Caroline, as well as pre- and post-Columbian findings at the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda; the Dockyard Museum at Nelson's Dockyard.

Memorable Meals—Antiguan-inspired Italian dishes at La Bussola; fine dining at Marios; pizza overlooking the sea at Mama Pasta.

Late Night—Hang out with the locals in English Harbour; party at Shirley Heights with a live band on Sunday; party with the best DJs at Abracadabra; take in a night of gambling at one of Antigua's casinos.

Walks—A short walk on the trail from English Harbour to Fort Berkeley for great views of the harbor; a rainforest hike up to Signal Hill for 360 degree views of Antigua.

Especially for Kids—Collecting shells along the shoreline at Nonsuch Bay; petting and brushing donkeys at the Donkey Sanctuary near Bethesda; snorkeling off the beach at Dickenson Bay.

SIGHTSEEING

Historical sights and idyllic nature spots form the islands' major attractions, both on land and at sea. These are spread throughout the island and offer a taste of the ancient mixed with modern tranquility. The major historic attractions lie just outside the city at Fort James and on the opposite tip of Antigua at the restored Nelson's Dockyard.

Shopping

St. John's has great shopping, including a wide variety of duty-free shops and boutiques in Heritage Quay that offer English crystal, perfumes, china, liqueurs, Antiguan rum, beautiful locally designed silk-screened material, local pottery and Haitian wood carvings. Other popular souvenirs include local hot sauces and jam made from black pineapples and other fruits. Susie's Hot Sauce, the preferred local brand, has won several awards and been featured all over the world. Be prepared to encounter huge crowds at Heritage Quay when the cruise ships are in port—which is often.

Sidewalk vendors outside the city normally carry an array of local fruits, depending on what's in season, and mangoes can be found on just about every corner in the late summer months. Vendors can also be found on most of the popular beaches with a variety of crafts and colorful sarongs, as well as an assortment of colorful jewelry.

The stores in Jolly Harbour offer some interesting finds, although they tend to be pricey. It's worth a look if you have some extra time and want something different.

Bargaining in stores is not typically done, but street vendors are almost always willing to negotiate. Most vendors are also not keen on cash refunds for purchases returned after a change of heart.

Shopping Hours: Generally Monday-Friday 8:30 or 9 am-5 or 5:30 pm and Saturday 8:30 am-1 or 3 pm. Many stores in Heritage Quay and a few of the surrounding businesses stay open later Saturday and open again Sunday when cruise ships are in port.

Dining

Most of the better restaurants are in the hotels, but many local spots have excellent food (generally a combination of Caribbean and Continental cuisine but usually more spicy and flavorful than either). West Indian dishes include pepper pot, a spicy, thick stew; fungee, a cornmeal and okra pudding; goat water (hot goat stew); and ducana, another pudding, made of grated sweet potatoes, raisins, coconut, sugar and spices, boiled in a banana leaf. Antigua also has excellent seafood restaurants that specialize in red snapper and spiny Caribbean lobster (sometimes called langouste).

Try local fruits and vegetables, including pawpaw (papaya), christophine (a large boiled squash), breadfruit (which is cooked and served as a vegetable), black pineapple (it's smaller and sweeter than Hawaiian pineapple) and green fig (unripe banana, which must be cooked before eating). U.S. fast-food chains have infiltrated—Kentucky Fried Chicken, in particular, is well-represented in St. John's. But if you'd rather try some West Indian fast food, pick up a roti, a mixture of curried vegetables and sometimes chicken, wrapped in a type of flatbread.

The local Sunshine ice cream is delicious and available in most grocery stores. There is also locally made yogurt, in a variety of flavors, and different types of cheese. The Yao products can be found in most major supermarkets.

In general, breakfast is served in the early morning, about 7-8 am. Lunch is often the largest meal of the day, usually eaten around noon. Dinners, the most formal meal of the day, tend to be lighter and are usually served 7-9 pm. On Sunday, locals often eat one large afternoon meal that serves as both lunch and dinner.

 

Dos & Don'ts

Do book far in advance if you're visiting during Carnival in late July or during Sailing Week in April.

Do ask whether a price is being quoted in U.S. or Eastern Caribbean dollars: Both are widely accepted, but they are not equal in value.

Do be aware that, at 17 degrees above the equator, the sun is very strong—even on cloudy days. Always wear sunscreen and a hat.

Don't wear camouflage clothing in Antigua and Barbuda—it's illegal, and you could face a hefty fine.

Do try to see a cricket match at the Recreation Grounds in St. John's or one of the fields outside of the city (games are often held on weekends, January-July). Cricket is big on Antigua. Viv Richards, a world-famous Antiguan player, even has a street named after him in St. John's and was named a national hero—not to mention a title: He is now Sir Vivian.

Do try Wadadli, the local beer (it's brewed under German guidelines). Also try the local light rum, Cavalier.

Don't waste water. Antigua lacks groundwater, so drinking water is either collected from rainfall or processed through a desalination plant at Crabbs. Many hotels have desalination plants.

POTPOURRI

Many of the streets outside the city in Antigua and Barbuda do not have names. Some villages have implemented a naming and numbering system, but this is still not the norm. The mail is delivered door-to-door by mail carriers who know exactly who lives where.

The traditional way to start the day in Antigua and Barbuda is a cup of bush tea. This consists of actual leaves steeped in a cup of hot water that is covered and allowed to "draw." Popular flavors are mint, lemongrass (locally called fever grass) and noo-noo balsam.

The Antiguan Racer snake, considered the rarest snake in the world, can only be found on Great Bird Island, a speck of land off the northeast coast of Antigua. The Antiguan Racer Conservation Project is attempting to preserve the species in this uninhabited spot.

Bananas are often called figs in Antigua. That's why the road through the rain forest, which is lined with banana trees, is called Fig Tree Drive. However, there are far more coconut trees than banana trees there today.

There are more than 60 registered shipwrecks on and around Palaster Reef in Barbuda, reachable by a short boat ride.

The uninhabited island of Redonda (30 mi/48 km southwest of Antigua) is part of the nation of Antigua and Barbuda. A man who claimed to be the King of Redonda, King Bob the Bald, lived in Canada but died in 2009. His successor is King Michael the Grey.

Travel 42

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Courtesy of: Darla Logsdon

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