Cruising Caribbean Style
From crystal clear waters to rum punch and local charm, Antigua and Barbuda is renowned for its slow pace, idyllic cruising conditions, warm climate and mesmerising scenery; it is the perfect charter destination. The best time to visit begins from December to mid-April for some winter sun with temperatures remaining consistent around 25-30°C (77- 86°F).
As one of the Leeward Islands, Antigua presents ideal sailing conditions in the trade winds, ideal for both experienced and novice sailors. The North of the island tends to offer more stable conditions, but head to the South side for more exhilarating sailing opportunities.
Bays and Beaches
There is said to be 365 beaches in Antigua, some home to calmer waters than others but all host to silky soft sand in shades of white and pink. Jolly Beach, Darkwood Beach, Pigeon Point Beach and Half Moon Bay are some of the best and most popular beaches to visit. Ask the captain to drop you off on one of the beaches and enjoy the day here, with a beach BBQ and rum punch, or an afternoon playing with the water toys after sunbathing on the sand. If you fancy a swim and a snorkel, you are likely to spot some interesting and exotic sea life from stingrays and parrotfish to nurse sharks and turtles!
Although Antigua isn’t well known for diving and snorkelling, the island is surrounded by coral reefs that are waiting to be explored and with little current and areas of shallow water, Antigua is perfect for snorkelling or beginner divers.
Make sure to take advantage of your yacht’s watersports toys and equipment on board for a day on and under the water.
Half Moon Bay
A national park, Half Moon Bay is one of the best beaches to visit on the island and because it is slightly more out of the way and undeveloped, it is usually one of the quieter beaches to visit. The beach gets its name for being a crescent-shaped, soft white beach- enjoy some rum punch and soak in the sunshine. This is the perfect spot to enjoy sundowners from your yacht while the sun sets.
Situated just next to English Harbour, Pigeon Beach is a beautiful beach with soft white sand that meets emerald blue water, also lined with classically Caribbean palm trees offering natural shade from the sun if you need to cool down after sunbathing. The beach is also home to a reef that is perfect for snorkelling.
As one of the most popular beaches, because it is next to English Harbour, this beach might seem too busy for those looking to relax in silence, but over the road is Windward Bay which is far more secluded and equally beautiful. Pigeon Beach is great for those looking for a more active day of water sports and being part of the ‘buzz’ in this region of the island.
Grab a drink from Bumpkins at the top end of the beach or for some bistro style cuisine, head to the other end of the beach to the beautiful Catherine’s Cafe.
Five Islands Bay
This secluded anchorage owes its name to the five rocky islets off the southern part of the bay. You will find a quiet sandy beach at the head of the bay, called Seaforth Beach, which is best approached by dinghy or SUP.
In our opinion, the best beach to visit in this harbour is Hansons Bay Beach. Sunsets here are mesmerising as you look over the eternal stretch of glistening water from the warm sandy beach. This beach is also best approached by yacht and tends to be very quiet and is not commercialised.
To the South of the bay is Jolly Harbour, where you will find plenty of restaurants and bars if you fancy dining ashore.
Five Islands Bay is a lovely location to drop anchor for an overnight stay after a day of activities and exploring.
Sparsely populated and removed from tourist facilities, Darkwood offers the ultimate nature escape for some peace and serenity, with a backdrop of tropical forestry and panoramic views across to Montserrat, not to mention the sugar white sand and mesmerising turquoise water, this beach is one of the best and most beautiful on the island. This beach is the ideal setting for an afternoon of sunbathing, swimming and snorkelling off the yacht, and we would recommend being here, watching the sunset for a romantic evening on the beach. In the high season, a couple of small bars open to serve beach-goers with refreshments, and most importantly rum punch!
Just along from Darkwood beach is both Turners Beach and Ffryes Beach, both of which are equally as stunning and offer visitors bright turquoise waters and soft white sand. You will find Sheer Rocks just above Ffryes Beach which is also highly recommended. The West side of the island definitely offers the most picturesque bays and beaches.
Best Spots to Explore
English Harbour is considered to be Antigua’s yachting hub. Enjoy a rum punch at one of the marina-side bars or visit the restored 18th century bastion of Nelson’s Dockyard- a UNESCO World Heritage site. Nelson’s Dockyard is the only surviving 18th century naval dockyard in the world, and there is a museum that can be explored if you are interested in the history.
The Middle Ground Trail, or Goat Trail as it is locally known, begins here and its summit offers glorious views across English Harbour and out to sea. If you continue down this short hike trail you will come to Pigeon Beach which is a perfect spot to cool down with a dip in the crystal clear water.
Alternatively, have a picnic at Rendezvous Bay- one of Antigua’s more remote beaches, Rendezvous is best approached by boat and is the ideal setting for a romantic or more intimate picnic. Pigeon Beach also in English Harbour is often busier than Rendezvous Bay, but it depends what kind of afternoon you are looking for- there is something for everyone!
Cloggy’s Café is a bustling café that can be found in English Harbour on the second floor of the Antigua Yacht Club Marina building. Enjoy the glorious views over Falmouth Harbour during lunch. The staff here are always lovely! (Edit 3rd October 2023: Cloggy’s and the Yacht Club building was hit by a fire; they are striving to reopen and are accepting donations here: https://gofund.me/98334fd4)
If you are in the mood for French-style food in an elegant restaurant, Catherine’s Café is a gorgeous cafe on Pigeon beach. The menu here changes based on availability of produce from local farmers, but you are always guaranteed great food and a relaxing, classy atmosphere. Catherine’s also offers daybeds and often live music, so you can lounge in the sunshine after a delicious meal while exploring the bar’s range of gin and tonic.
Fans of Italian food are also catered for here, and Incantos is the ideal waterside spot for Italian cuisine in English Harbour. The food and atmosphere draws glowing reviews from those who visit, particularly because of the mother and son duo that run the restaurant who are the stars of the show alongside the Italian chefs that produce authentic and fresh dishes.
Spend a night in the middle of the secluded horseshoe-shaped bay at anchor. Falmouth Harbour is a picturesque yachting hub and sits adjacent to English Harbour. Just a short walk from Nelson’s Dockyard in English Harbour, enjoy a relaxing lunch in Falmouth Harbour at Skull Duggery or Ocean Breeze over looking the superyachts in the bay. South Point Hotel is a beautiful spot for a drink after dinner.
On the north side of the harbour is the small village of Falmouth.
Found in English Harbour, this historic dockyard must be explored if you are interested in learning more about the rich British naval history of this part of the island. The 18th century buildings have been restored and are now used as restaurants, bars, hotels and shops but the rustic charm of the area has been retained to give visitors an authentic feel and understanding of Nelson’s operation. There is also a museum here that goes into far greater detail about the dockyard and surrounding harbours, along with artefacts found during the restoration.
Pillars restaurant is situated just below Admirals Inn. This is a lovely restaurant offering breakfast, lunch and dinner in a historic setting, as well as views across to neighbouring restaurant and ‘beach club’ “Boom”, also part of Admirals Inn.
If you’re looking for some local seafood and culture, you must try Copper and Lumber Store Historic Inn for the weekly fish fry- buzzing with locals and visitors alike. Not only great for food but also live music and a great spot for making new friends and having a boogie if you are looking for an authentic Antiguan experience.
Jolly Harbour offers a range of activities ashore, from the 18-hole course for all the golf fans to the glorious sandy white beach encircling the port for those who are looking to relax and soak up the sun. If you are looking for a restaurant in Jolly Harbour, try Al Porto for Italian cuisine, specialising in pizza, pasta dishes and seafood- Sunday night is Lobster night.
Great Bird Island
Great Bird Island is a 20 acre islet that can only be reached by boat. The islet is renowned for being an idyllic snorkelling location with its pristine reefs and clear water. As the name suggests, this offshore island is a haven for endangered species, particularly red-billed tropic birds, making it a very peaceful setting allowing visitors to enjoy an intimate and slow-paced experience with loved ones. Take a short hike to the top of this small islet for stunning views over the Atlantic Ocean. After lunch at anchor, you might fancy a tender ride over to Hells Gate Island to explore the caves.
Located off the eastern coast of Antigua is the uninhabited, natural haven called Green Island. With plenty of anchorages available, drop anchor for a lunch at one of the best possible locations away from the crowds followed by a swim or paddle board around the island, or visit one of the several quiet, powdery white beaches. This is ideal for those looking for absolute tranquility and peace away from the crowds, even better enjoyed from the comfort of your luxury yacht. For more serenity and calm waters, visit neighbouring Nonsuch Bay. Nonsuch Bay is more populated than Green Island, but still a very relaxing place to be. The Bay at Nonsuch Bay Resort is a lovely setting for dinner if you fancy dining ashore.
Sweat off the cocktails and rum punch from the night before with a refreshing morning hike, and discover more of the island.
For the best views over English and Falmouth Harbour, visit Shirley Heights, a restored military lookout and gun battery. This hike is very popular and most people who visit the island have Shirley Heights on their ‘to do list’. For a more relaxing, intimate hike with family and friends, it is best to go during the week, but if you are looking to immerse yourselves in local culture and music, Sunday afternoons are the best time to hike. From 4-10pm, visitors will be treated to barbecues, delicious rum punch, steel drum bands and a jolly good party! Shirley Heights is the ideal location to watch the sunrise and sunset- this is one for the instagrammers!
There is also the lookout trail that runs from Galleon Beach to Shirley Heights, but this tends to be for the more adventurous hiker as the off-road terrain can be challenging. It is however a very rewarding walk as you will come across exotic wildlife and plants.
Middle Ground Trail
This hike is slightly less taxing and crosses a low ridge through a wooded area until you reach the clearing at the top that reveals mesmerising views across the harbour. This hike is also known as the ‘Goat Trail’ as a result of the numerous goats you will come across along the way. The track roughly follows the contour of the southern coastline between Nelsons Dockyard and Pigeon Beach, and so you are gifted with a view of the Caribbean Sea for the majority of the trek. The start of the trail is signposted from Pigeon Beach if you would like to give it a go! Alternatively, start the trail at English Harbour and finish the short hike at Pigeon Beach for a refreshing dip and a cocktail.
Mount Obama- Boggy Point
Mount Obama, once known as Boggy Point, got its name after President Obama. The mountain is now a National Park, and the highest point on Antigua, making it one of the longer and more challenging hikes on the island. The hike can get quite steep but it is very rewarding through the tropical vegetation, papaya trees and mango groves. It is best to do this hike with a guide, not only to see all the best spots along the trail but also because the summit is locked behind a gate but most guides will have a key so you can get to the summit and admire the breathtaking panoramic views across the island.
Shirley Heights Lookout
The best spot for a sunset dinner! Feast on jerk chicken, Creole fish or lobster while admiring the sun go down over English and Falmouth Harbour. As discussed earlier, Sunday nights at the lookout means party time with live music, barbecues and rum punch!
If you find yourself on Fort James Beach, try family owned bistro ‘Beach Limerz’. This is a more casual restaurant that serves authentic Caribbean cuisine while you sit in the sand listening to steel drums- an ideal spot for lunch on the beach.
Atop a rocky cliff overlooking Coco Bay, Sheer Rocks is a gorgeous restaurant offering a combination of European, Balearic and Caribbean food and atmosphere. The Head Chef, Jamal Warner, works with Group Chef Simon Christey-French, who has been named one of the Caribbean’s most acclaimed chefs. They have created beautiful Mediterranean inspired menus around carefully selected and sustainably sourced ingredients, making use of the islands best and freshest ingredients.
Enjoy a light lunch of tapas and rum cocktails or for a more sophisticated dinner try the six-course tasting menu with wine pairings which makes for a more intimate meal in a romantic setting overlooking the ocean. This restaurant goes the extra mile with its food and even the cocktails are given the Sheer Rocks treatment, presented like a piece of art; an absolute feast for the eyes. This is definitely one of the best spots for dinner on the island.
This restaurant is also host to a small infinity plunge pool and day beds overlooking the turquoise, crystal water.
Run by the same people as Sheer Rocks, Catherine’s Café is equally as chic and stylish, but a more casual, beachy atmosphere. Catherine’s Café can be found at Pigeon Point and the food is French-inspired, and predominately seafood. This is the perfect setting for a tranquil lunch ashore, followed by a relaxing afternoon on one of Catherine’s daybeds on the sand.
Found on the second floor of Antigua Yacht Club in English Harbour, Cloggy’s is famous amongst visitors to the island. Indoors, the lively cafe has a full bar, table seating and a lounge area with low sofas and easy chairs. Outside are tables with great views over the harbour and cooling breezes. Cloggy’s is a very friendly, laid back cafe that is great for a relaxing lunch after a day on the water using the yacht’s toys. (Edit 3rd October 2023: Cloggy’s and the Yacht Club building was hit by a fire; they are striving to reopen and are accepting donations here: https://gofund.me/98334fd4)
Enjoy gorgeous, authentic Italian food in a typically Caribbean setting surrounded by palm trees and local music in English Harbour. The menu is mainly made up of homemade pastas, pizza, seafood and popular meat dishes such as Sardinian suckling pig and grilled beef. After dinner, Abras evolves into a lively open-air party destination, but also offers a ‘chill-out’ area for those who want to relax in a more comfortable surrounding, listening to smooth jazz and reggae, but the party is always a popular choice!
Ana’s on the Beach
Found in Dickenson Bay, Ana’s is a great location for a sundowner on the beach. Like any good restaurant, all ingredients are locally sourced and fresh, making up the Mediterranean and Caribbean inspired menu. A rarity on the island, Ana’s also offers a range of vegetarian and vegan options!
Beach Bum Bar and Grill
If you are looking for more of a party spot that serves delicious drinks, stunning views, tasty seafood and a fun, vibrant atmosphere, Beach Bum and Grill is for you. If you are at Half Moon Bay, give this bar a go!
For a little slice of Italy, look no further than Harmony Hall- a beautiful secluded restaurant that sits next to the restored windmill that is part art gallery, part Italian trattoria.
Boom at Admiral’s Inn
Enjoy the poolside restaurant at Admiral’s Inn, situated just outside the historic Gunpowder House for delicious cocktails and local dishes, cool down with a dip in the infinity pool on the outdoor terrace. Laze around in the hammocks or get pampered in the spa after lunch, Boom is a hard to beat location for an afternoon of relaxation and great food.
Shaded by tropical trees, Pillars provides a gorgeous setting for dinner overlooking the glistening water from the alfresco terrace in Nelson’s Dockyard. The restaurant’s speciality is local seafood and they pride themselves on using the freshest ingredients for the most delicious food. There is a free water taxi that will take you between Pillars and Boom.
The sister isle to Antigua, and only 25 nautical miles away, Barbuda is a flat coral island and natural paradise and certainly not for those looking for wild nightlife and busy, commercial tourist attractions. Much like Antigua, the way of life on this island is slow and steady so it is the ideal location for visitors to unwind, escape the crowds and welcome some tranquility into their life. Barbuda is far less developed than Antigua. This island is world-renowned for its long sandy beaches and large lagoon.
While here you should try to visit the Frigate Bird Sanctuary which is home to around 100,000 birds that travel between the Caribbean and Galapagos islands during the year.
Princess Diana Beach
Formally known as Coco Point Beach, this long, crescent shaped beach is beautifully white, with occasional hints of blush pink and offers ultimate seclusion and serenity. Princess Diana frequently holidayed in Barbuda and often visited this beach, hence the new name. This is an idyllic location with very little in the way of amenities but that is the beauty of it!
Spanish Point is an excellent anchorage just east of Coco Point so spend the day ashore for a beach BBQ or picnic followed by an afternoon of snorkelling on the windward reef where you may find some of the submerged wrecks.
Pink Sand Beach
Pink Sand Beach can be found between Spanish Point and Palmetto Point and gets its name because it is made entirely of pink shells, giving it a peachy pink shimmer. This beach stretches out over 8 miles and anchoring here is often good holding, as is snorkelling and paddle boarding. Much like the majority of Barbuda, Pink Sand Beach is usually very quiet, and, thanks to its length, one can stroll along the beach without seeing another soul for miles.
If you are looking to dine ashore one evening in Barbuda, Robert de Niro recently opened up the world renowned Japanese restaurant ‘Nobu’ on the island- it won’t disappoint. If you fancy something more authentic and representative of the island and culture, try Uncle Roddy’s or the new Shak A Kai, found on Princess Diana Beach, for some lobster on the beach. Both are great spots for food, but Uncle Roddy’s provides a more relaxed, laid back atmosphere.
If you are inspired by this blog and want to explore the island for yourself, get in touch with Lizzie at firstname.lastname@example.org to plan your charter now!