Antigua: Beyond the Beach

Antigua: Beyond the Beach

IMG_2468 (1)Antigua presents all the elements of the proverbial island escape: fine sand beaches (365 of them!), cerulean waters, intimate coves ringed with coral reefs, and lush tropical foliage. What makes it so unique? Its rich history and culture.

The largest of the English-speaking Leeward Islands, Antigua (and its sister island Barbuda) is located in the Eastern Caribbean. With gentle trade winds, low humidity, and an average rainfall of only 45 inches, it’s the sunniest of the Eastern Caribbean Islands. With a brand new airport, (V.C. Bird International), and many non-stop flights from Europe and North America, it’s easily accessible.

Antigua offers natural wonders (Devil’s Bridge natural rock arch, ancient rainforests, and Mount Obama, the island’s highest peak), plenty of land tours (kayaking, ATV and Jeep safaris), and sea activities (sailing, scuba diving, and snorkeling). With a range of accommodations, luxury hotels, all-inclusives, cottages, and villas, there are lodgings to suit every need. As they say on the island, “The beach is just the beginning.”

Antigua

The boys were eager to drop a line in Antigua’s turquoise waters

SOME OF OUR FAVORITE ACTIVITIES:

Bird Island: Part of the country’s National Park system, this petite, uninhabited island just off Antigua’s coast, is fringed by a calm, protected bay, excellent for snorkelers of all levels. Climb the path to the top of the hill for sprawling views of both the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean.

Bird Island, Antigua

Bird Island’s calm bay — the perfect snorkeling spot

Stingray City: Take a journey by speedboat to this sand bar and natural home to dozens of Southern Rays. Safely interact with these graceful animals in the shallow waters inside the Barrier Reef and snorkel amongst corals and tropical fish.

Stingray City, Antigua

Swimming with these gentle giants was a highlight

Zip Line & Canopy Tour: This eco-tour, located on the southwest coast of the island, gives you a bird’s eye view of the rainforest and all of its floral and fauna. Enjoy zip lining, aerial walkway bridges, and a specialty challenge course.

Town of St. John: The island’s capital and bustling cruise ship port provides plenty of retail therapy: visit Heritage Quay, a wide boulevard of duty-free shops; Historic Redcliff Quay with its independent boutiques and cafes; and the Public Market stocked with Caribbean fruits and vegetables. Browse Gingerlilly for beautiful beach cover-ups and Sunseakers for flip-flops and bathing suits.

Shirley Heights: This former military complex offers panoramic views of English Harbor, which are especially dramatic at sunset. The lookout’s Guard House is now a rustic restaurant with a breezy outdoor terrace. Enjoy heaping plates of barbeque chicken and rice and wash it down with rum punch!

Shirley Heights, Antigua

Shirley Heights — stop for lunch and the view

English Harbour: Long known as a hurricane haven for ships, this port was used by the British in the 18th century. The harbour’s Georgian Naval Dockyard is now part of Antigua’s National Parks Authority.

English Harbour, Antigua

English Harbour, home to Nelson’s Dockyard

Nelson’s Dockyard: This UNESCO site in English Harbour was named for Captain Nelson, Commander of the Leeward Islands Station in 1784. Stroll among restored buildings, tour the Admiral’s House & Museum, and stop for a bite at The Admiral’s Inn. Take time to survey the impressive tall sailing ships as they ready themselves for their ocean voyages. (Visit in April through May to witness the annual Antigua Sailing Week and Classic Yacht Regatta.)

Nelson's Dockyard, Antigua

Nelson’s Dockyard plays host to a flotilla of yachts and sailing ships

Dow’s Hill: Perched on a bluff in the National Park is this museum and educational center. Don’t miss the 15-minute multi-media presentation that takes you through Antigua’s history from its indigenous Amerindian roots, to its British military period, the struggle against slavery, and its path to independence and the modern Antiguan way of life.

Catherine’s Café Plage: On your way out of English Harbor, stop at this bistro and bar located on Pigeon Beach. This open-air Caribbean-style beach house, just steps from the sand, offers an authentic, French-inspired Caribbean menu.

Jumby Bay: We were fortunate to stay at this understated yet exceptional Rosewood Hotels property located on a 300-acre private island that can only be reached by a six-minute ferry ride. The island was purchased by a small group of homeowners in 1998, and now consists of 56 private houses (many which can be rented) and 40 rooms and villas within the resort community. Its ranking as one of the “best resorts in the Caribbean” is well deserved.

Rosewood Jumby Bay Antigua

Jumby Bay welcomes its guest via its private dock

The island has a rich biodiversity, which is carefully preserved. Snowy egrets, blue herons, Persian black-headed sheep, and hawksbill sea turtles all call Jumby Bay their home. There are no cars on the island—eco-sensitive transportation is by foot, golf cart or bike via the resort’s numerous winding paths.

Rosewood Jumby Bay Antigua

Beautiful to look at, we returned these crimson-colored starfish back to their watery home

A stay at Jumby Bay includes all food and beverages at its three restaurants – their menus brimming with locally sourced ingredients. Also included are daily resort activities, snorkel excursions to Bird Island and Stingray City, sunset cocktail cruises, beach barbeques, and circumnavigation tours by motorboat. My sons made good use of the complimentary watersports: Hobie cats, paddle boards, waterskiing, and tubing, while my husband and I spent time on silky, white-sand Jumby Beach under one of the many thatched bohios (huts) that dot the shore and protect you from the mid-day Antiguan sun.

Rosewood Jumby Bay, Antigua

At dusk, Jumby Bay’s beachside supper unfolds

Jumby Beach

Although “jumby” means “playful spirit,” peaceful relaxation prevails on this private oasis

Please check out this video of Scuba Diving in Antigua courtesy of my son, “The Suburban Sportsman”

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Herricks Travel American ExpressReady to plan a unique trip for you or your family? Contact me at mollie@herrickstravel.com. For more information on my trip planning services, please click here.

Grand Cayman’s Superb Seven-Mile Beach

Grand Cayman’s Superb Seven-Mile Beach

Grand CaymanAlthough Grand Cayman’s Seven Mile Beach is actually only 5.5 miles long, this gorgeous crescent-shaped stretch of coral and sand does not short change you on pleasure. Voted one of the best beaches by Caribbean Travel + Life Magazine, a leisurely walk on this lush, palm-tree lined shore will take you past condos, villas, and luxury and mid-priced resorts all just steps away from crystal clear blue Caribbean waters.

A snorkeler’s and diver’s paradise, the Cayman Islands, located in the Western Caribbean, 460 miles south of Miami, include Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman – together they represent an overseas territory of Great Britain. The islands are actually the tops of pinnacles that reach up from the Cayman Trench, one of the world’s deepest sections of ocean. Beyond the beach—perfect for paddle boarding, kayaking, and sailing—we embraced Grand Cayman’s quiet Caribbean charm, explored the local restaurants and shops, and strolled through George Town, the island’s quaint capital.

Snorkeling, Grand Cayman

[ The boys spent most of the week underwater ]

Things to do and places to see:

Stingray City & Stingray Sandbar: This excursion lives up to its reputation as the “experience of a lifetime.” Home to over 75 Southern Stingrays, these two separate sites give you a chance to snorkel in twelve feet of water, or safely stand on a sand bar in two to four feet of water with these gentle, graceful giants who swim freely in their natural habitat.

Cayman Turtle Farm: Not just a tourist attraction, but also a conservation facility that raises and protects endangered Green Sea Turtles. Swim with turtles, dip into the touch tank, and learn about Cayman marine life.

Blue Iguana Safari Tour: The Recovery Program has helped protect Cayman’s largest endangered land animal–it can grow up to five feet long. The daily 1.5-hour tour goes behind the scenes and provides an up close view of these dragon-like lizards.

Hell: Many locals will recommend that you “go to Hell,” which of course refers to the humorously titled tiny town in West Bay, named for the blackened calciferous rock formations found there. Take a minute to send a “postcard from Hell!”

Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ambassadors of the Environment: The Ritz Carlton’s excellent family program offers unique, environmentally based activities. My two teenage boys enjoyed a night snorkel, joined a shipwreck dive, and took an underwater photography class. There’s plenty of educational and engaging programming for little kids as well.

Six Senses Cayman Adventures: We did not have time to go, but the concierge highly recommended this tour company, which specializes in group and private island-wide eco-tours.

Camana Bay: This lively waterfront town center offers an eclectic mix of shopping, cinema, dining, and special events. We especially loved the well-stocked shelves of Books & Books, Bay Market specialty and organic food store, and Ginger Lily Frozen Yogurt.

Divers Supply: Located in the West Shore Center, stop by to stock up on diving, snorkeling, and beach supplies.

Guy Harvey Gallery & Shop: My fish-loving children picked up t-shirts adorned with this artist/scientist/conservationist’s gorgeous marine-themed artwork.

Seven Mile Beach, Grand Cayman

[ Seven Mile Beach is stunning, even on a cloudy day ]

Places to eat and places to sleep:

Ortanique: Traditional Caribbean dishes with a modern twist. Located in Camana Bay—take a seat outside for dramatic water views.

Pappagallo’s: A waterside, Northern Italian restaurant with a Caribbean flair with plenty of pasta and fresh seafood on the menu.

Andiamo: On a balmy evening, we enjoyed dinner on the terrace overlooking a tranquil lagoon at the Ritz Carlton. An added bonus—they show nightly family-friendly movies on their outdoor giant movie screen under the stars.

Bread and Chocolate: This George Town café offers a vegan menu for breakfast and lunch.

Casanova by the Sea: A homey, local Italian restaurant in George Town. Grab a seat on the veranda for excellent views of the harbor and cruise ships.

Looking for a resort on Seven Mile Beach? Check out the Ritz Carlton, Marriott Beach Resort, or the Westin, or try the Caribbean Club beachfront villas—all excellent choices.

Silver Rain Spa: The Ritz Carlton’s serene La Prairie-affiliated spa transports Switzerland to the tropics. Before jetting back home to reality, indulge in a much-deserved massage to soothe body and soul.

Seven Mile Beach, Grand Cayman

[ The boys met up with this smiling fish in their underwater photography class ]

Seven Mile Beach, Ritz Carlton, Grand Cayman

[ The Caribbean’s “Best Beach” does not disappoint ]

Seven Mile Beach, Grand Cayman

[ We caught the wind and the waves in a Hobie Cat ]

For more information: caymanislands.ky or explorecayman.com (they both have convenient iPhone apps)

Herricks Travel American ExpressReady to plan a unique trip for you or your family? Contact me at mollie@herrickstravel.com. For more information on my trip planning services, please click here.

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