Shopping, Sightseeing & Other Things to do
Many tourists like to do more than just sit on a beach and in Antigua there is a lot to explore, numerous activities and a vast variety of shopping from road side stalls to shops selling watches and jewelry worth thousands.
Tourists come to Antigua by the day on cruise ships, by the week or fortnight for sailing or beach holidays, some even come to get married combining the wedding with the honeymoon. Antigua has special arrangements for couples wishing to get married on the island. For full details, visit www.antigua-barbuda.org and www.antiguanice.com. Whatever the length of your stay there is never enough time to sample all of what Antigua has to offer.
Fig Tree Drive, Antigua’s rain forest, has tree top tours through the forest canopy on zip lines. An abundance of flora and fauna can be viewed from a completely different perspective whilst enjoying an exciting high level ride. For those wanting a little more there is always the assault course and, afterwards, you can relax in the bar and buy a souvenir T-shirt and photos of your ride through the tree tops. Whilst in the rain forest take a moment to stop at Lovely Lynn’s bar not only for a refreshing drink but also to buy the hottest sauce found on the island.
New to Antigua is clay pigeon shooting with Antigua Clays. Situated just a few miles from English Harbour this professionally run shooting ground is set up for all skill levels.
Road tours of the island can be a quick way to see the sights. Walking trails criss-cross the National Park around English Harbour and for those looking for a little more excitement there is deep sea fishing, diving on coral reefs, swimming with manta rays, eco tours, round the island boat trips, yacht racing in Falmouth Harbour and zip lining through the rain forest. You can even take a helicopter trip around the smoking volcano of Montserrat. Don’t ignore the local shops in other areas of the island. Although they may not have Duty Free status some bargains can be found and, sometimes, the quality can be exceptionally high with good imported brands.
To those wishing to try a little ‘trail blazing’ but find the thought of climbing hills on two legs a bit daunting, the four legged version is available through Spring Hill Riding Club located in Falmouth. Easier still, a 4 x 4 will get you to some fairly inaccessible places such as Wallings Dam, a favourite barbecue area or Mount Obama, the highest point on the island at 1,319 feet.
For the more energetic who want to get a real feel of the country side, bicycles are available for hire or, if this is too much effort, motor scooters can also be hired but, as with any motorised vehicle, you will require a temporary driving licence (see our Transport Section) so remember to bring your driving licence with you. A ‘Jeep’ or 4 x 4 will get you almost anywhere if you want do some exploring on your own. Quadbikes and ATVs are also available in certain locations.
All the usual water sports are available from snorkelling and scuba diving to deep sea fishing and water skiing. There are several charter fishing companies on the island and big fish can be caught if you are guided by an expert. Based in Nelson’s Dockyard, probably the best known deep sea fishing vessel is Overdraft with her skipper, Frank Hart, who is a many times winner of Caribbean deep sea fishing competitions. Equally exciting can be viewing marine life whether by scuba diving or just snorkelling. A number of reefs exist quite close to the shore and can be reached by dinghy or a short swim. Stingray City is certainly worth a visit where you can swim with these surprisingly gentle and friendly sea creatures and observe other marine wildlife. For those who wish to keep their feet dry a glass bottomed boat could be the answer.
Above the water there are all kinds of different ways to get around from kayak eco tours to high speed RIBs and 70 foot catamarans. There are a number of boat charter companies and it is possible to charter your own yacht or motor boat by the day, some skippered, but others you can drive or sail yourself. Windsurfing for the beginner or the experienced surfer can be found at several spots around the island and not necessarily just for the young. In restricted areas, jet skis can be hired but, like their land equivalent, must be treated with respect together with con-sideration for other users of the water.
Antigua is not without its sports facilities. There are two golf courses open to visitors. Cedar Valley is probably the better course, conveniently located in the centre of the island. Jolly Harbour also has a golf course. Many of the resorts have tennis courts and pools together with squash courts. Temo Sports in Falmouth also has squash and tennis courts. Most of these courses, courts and pools are available to visitors for a small fee.
The Caribbean airline, LIAT provides a regular air service between islands and day trips to nearby islands are perfectly feasible. Travel agents on the island can sort flights at short notice. Small, independent airlines now serve Antigua’s sister island, Barbuda (see our section on Barbuda) together with a fast ferry. There are also regular flights to nearby Montserrat with its active volcano. Access to the deserted and ash filled Plymouth is now permitted under certain conditions. Take a taxi and visit the famous and now derelict Air Studios where pop groups such as the Rolling Stones performed
Shopping is always a major activity for any tourist and on a romantic island such as Antigua duty free jewellery abounds. As the saying goes, ‘diamonds are a girl’s best friend’ and diamonds, together with many other precious stones are for sale, duty free, in the shops around Heritage and Redcliffe Quays. Overlooking the harbour of St. John’s, the historic district of Redcliffe Quay was once the slave-trading area for the town. Along the peaceful quayside are the original Georgian buildings interspersed by small courtyards and now restored, renovated and painted in a large variety of dazzling colours.
The old buildings comprise around 30 shops selling gifts, pottery, paintings, and other locally made gifts, as well as clothes, shoes and accessories. Most goods are priced in U.S dollars, are duty free and aimed squarely at tourists, particularly those from the cruise ships which dock nearby, however, you will be amazed to discover what a polite greeting could do to the final price of an item. Pick up an artistic painting, a length of the local Antiguan Batik cloth or a local piece of handmade artifact.
Within the courtyards, shaded by awnings and palm trees are several cafés and restaurants. In addition to being a place for shopping and dining, Redcliffe Quay is a great photo opportunity. What is now a dock for visiting yachts was the main quay for trading slaves, rum, sugar and coffee between Antigua, Europe and Africa. To purchase duty free goods take your passport and your ticket showing the date you are leaving the island. If you see the superstructure and funnels of one or more cruise ships as you approach downtown St. John’s you know it will be busy and you may wish to explore Redcliffe Quay on another day.
Don’t ignore the local shops in other areas of the island. Although they may not have Duty Free status some bargains can be found especially in areas where the shop’s overheads are low particularly at beach and roadside stalls. Sometimes, the quality can be exceptionally high including well known imported brands.
Local art abounds on the island from the classic Caribbean style paintings through scrimshaw and batiks to local jewellery and canvases of yachts. Several studios and tourist shops offer every kind of art at affordable prices. If you see something you like always be prepared to negotiate, it’s part of the fun.
Whatever the length of your stay there is never enough time to sample all of what Antigua has to offer. It takes more than one visit and there are probably a thousand and one things you would like to do before you go. If nothing else, you must not forget to go to Shirley Heights and look west as the sun settles into the Caribbean sea. With luck you might just catch the ‘green flash’ as the sun ‘touches’ the indigo coloured water.