The popular Caribbean island of Antigua, famed for its beaches (reputedly boasting one for every day of the year) and for the atmosphere in its beautiful old towns, remains fairly low-key in terms of tourism, meaning you can easily get away from the crowds to enjoy a peaceful and blissfully relaxing family holiday.
If you want to totally get away from it all, Antigua's sister island Barbuda just 15 minutes away by plane feels a world apart. Despite its spectacular beaches and coral reefs, Barbuda has very little tourism, offering a glimpse of how the rest of the Caribbean might once have looked.
|Flying Time||8.4 hours|
|Carbon Footprint||7.33 tonnes CO2|
|Local Currency||East Caribbean Dollar|
Head for the stunning beaches and safe waters. In the north, Dickenson Bay and Runaway Bay, two of the island’s most famous beaches, offer a range of activities, including watersports and waterskiing. On the south-east coast, Half Moon Bay is a great spot for snorkeling and beachcombing, while a little further north at Long Bay, kids can seek out coral reefs in waters so shallow you can walk out to them.
Antigua is well equipped for family holidays big on water-based excursions and activities. At Stingray City, for instance, kids of all ages can touch and feed stingrays and snorkel amongst tropical fish. Divers of all ages and levels of experience are also well catered for, with companies such as the Sea Wolf Diving School offering a range of dives plus childcare for kids too young to take the plunge.
For those wanting to experience the underwater world without getting wet, Subcat Antigua offers a submarine adventure departing from Carlisle Bay on the island’s south coast.
Eco-tours are another fantastic way to make the most of Antigua’s natural beauty. Try Antigua Paddles for kayaking, snorkeling and hiking adventures for adults and children aged 7 upwards. Excursions to neighbouring Barbuda visit the island’s important frigate bird colony.
For those who like their adventures a little more adrenalin-fuelled there’s the Antigua Rainforest Canopy Tour, offering zipline fun for those over 5 feet (1.52m) tall.
Away from the forest, Antigua has some interesting and beautiful old towns and an abundance of forts to explore. From the early 18th century to the mid 19th century, Antigua served as a major sugar exporter, with its slave population finally emancipated by the British in 1834. Take the kids on an educational tour round some of the crumbling ruins of old sugar estates or to the forts built to protect the trade around English Harbour and Shirley Heights.
Check out the former naval base Nelson’s Dockyard, the only working original Georgian dockyard in the world, with carefully restored workshops dating back 200 years. It’s now home to a marina, dockyard museum and various shops and bars. The Dockyard Historic Tour also takes in Dow’s Hill and Shirley Heights.
Don’t miss out on Antigua’s capital, St Johns. This charming town with its colourful quayside has some excellent restaurants and a pronounced West Indian character. A lively market and duty-free shopping make it a good place to hunt for a bargain.
Tropical Adventures, based in St Johns, offers a range of trips, including the Land & Sea Safari – an island tour by 4x4, taking you off into the jungle and stopping off high above Nelson's Dockyard with its superb views, then an afternoon aboard a catamaran, with snorkelling and an on-board BBQ.
Many hotels on Antigua offer all-inclusive options, which can make for easy family holidays, but outside the resorts there is an excellent range of restaurants, small cafés and roadside bars to cater for most tastes. Make sure to try a Caribbean stew of salt/fresh fish, chicken or mutton, or the ubiquitous jerk chicken, rice and peas. Other local specialties include salted codfish served with tomato sauce and other fresh fish dishes (with the fish usually served blackened). Be warned that hot sauces are a mainstay of Antiguan cuisine (Susie’s Hot Sauce is a local favourite).
Fresh fruit is in abundance – don’t miss the black pineapple (an extra-sweet type), green figs (bananas) and breadfruit.
The bar and restaurant at Shirley Heights is great for families on Thursdays (best for young families) and Sundays (with famous BBQ parties featuring a live steel band).By Rhonda Carrier
Temperatures in Antigua are warm year-round – a family-friendly 25–30°C, dropping a few degrees in winter (Dec–May) and heating up again in June, July and August. June to November (the hurricane season) sees the heaviest rainfall, with occasional tropical storms.
The peak visitor season is between December and February. Try March, April and May for family holidays, when there are fewer visitors (and lower prices) but the weather is still gorgeous. If you come in July or August, don’t miss Antigua’s annual Carnival, one of the best celebrations in the Caribbean.
Antigua is one of the easiest Caribbean Islands to get to: its VC Bird International Airport is a major international and regional hub serving the north-eastern Caribbean, and also boasting great air links with both the UK and the USA. British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Thompson Airways all fly direct from London Gatwick.
Flights from the UK take around 8 hours 40 minutes and Antigua is 5 hours behind GMT, so expect some jetlag.
Prices for family holidays on Antigua vary depending on the type of accommodation you choose, but in general a two-week package ranges from around £800 per person on a room-only basis to £1,100 for all-inclusive. Flights can be found for as little as £400, but expect to pay from around £600.
Family-friendly accommodation in Antigua is plentiful, with options to suit most budgets, from 3-star hotels to 5-star spa resorts. Service is almost uniformly excellent. All-inclusive resorts remain a popular family holiday option, many with fabulous kids' clubs and brilliant activities for all ages – see our feature Packing a Family-size Punch.
Barbuda’s options are more limited and more basic. Try Coco Point Lodge (cocopoint.com) for its multi-bedroom cottages on a pristine white-sand beach with calm waters. Staff are incredibly accommodating to families, organizing babysitting, preparing specific dishes for kids, and offering fun water activities, tennis courts and fishing. It's the kind of place people come back to year after year.
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