Best Things To Do in Antigua
Antigua vacations are almost always centered on the beaches. Should you tire of the sand, consider smelling the flowers and buying the local produce at St. John's Saturday Morning Market, learning about Antigua's naval history at Nelson's Dockyard National Park, or touring a former sugar cane plantation like Betty's Hope in St. Peter parish. Nightlife is available in the Falmouth and English harbors.
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If you only break from the beach for one day, head to the beautifully restored English Harbour where you'll find Nelson's Dockyard National Park. The naval dockyard was once the home of the British fleet during the Napoleonic Wars, and served as the headquarters of Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson from 1784 to 1787.
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Wear some comfortable shoes and make the hike from English Harbour in Nelson's Dockyard National Park to the summit of Shirley Heights. On a clear day, the panorama (located approximately 492 feet above sea level) affords views of the southern island of Guadeloupe and the active volcano Montserrat.
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Millions of years of reef formation amount to this: The Devil's Bridge. The natural limestone arch located in eastern Antigua, near Indian Town, has sustained the crash of ocean waves for long enough to form its distinct shape today. At the meeting point of the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, this natural wonder leaves an impression on sightseers.
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The four secluded Hawksbill beaches — Royal Palm Beach, Sea Grape Beach, Honeymoon Cove and Eden Beach — are technically on the property of the Hawksbill by Rex Resorts, but they're open for all tourists to enjoy. You'll want to visit Hawksbill if you're looking for more peace and quiet than Dickenson Bay can offer or calmer waves than you'll find at Half Moon Bay.
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Located in northwest Antigua in St. John's parish, Dickenson Bay is considered the premier beach of the island's 365 stretches of shoreline. That's because Dickenson offers a little for every type of beachgoer. Do you like lying in the warm sand? Check. Have you always wanted to go on a glass-bottom boat tour? Check. Maybe you like watersports to get the adrenalin pumping? Check — Dickenson has it. On some days, you'll even find a few dolphins swimming alongside you in the crystal clear water.
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Just south of Jolly Harbour on the island's west coast, you'll find the serene waters and soft sand of Valley Church. The natural beauty of the palm tree-lined beach is a pleasant contrast to the buzz from the nearby casino and restaurants. And since locals use the spot for casual boating and fishing, you'll avoid too many tourists competing for the chairs and umbrellas available for rent. Despite the calmness, the water is not very clear; snorkelling is better saved for other beaches like those at Hawksbill or Galley Bay.
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Many head straight from the cruise ship dock to Antigua's Heritage Quay or Redcliffe Quay duty-free shopping centers, but insiders know where the real deals are: The Saturday Morning Market on Market Street in the capital city of St. John's. Local vendors from all parts of the island come to sell a wide variety of goods. Come ready to peruse souvenirs and crafts, spices and fresh produce — think okra, coconut, papaya and Antiguan black pineapple. Don't worry about working meal times into your schedule, the market's prepared foods (like fried green tomatoes) can work well as breakfast or lunch.
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Galley Bay Beach on the northwest coast of the island has some of the best surfing waves in Antigua. Plus it's a must-see for animal lovers. Sea turtles often leave their eggs here to nest (several times a year, but most frequently in summer). Bring your camera and plan a nighttime visit: You just might see the baby turtles hatch. If daytime is more your thing, get your snorkelling gear ready and grab a glimpse of Galley's underwater wildlife.
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Built in 1674 and named after the daughter of one of its former owners, Betty's Hope was the first and largest sugar plantation on the island. It's no longer a working mill, but it is a standing monument to Antigua's role in British colonial history. The main mill has been restored with new sails and crushing machinery, while most of the other buildings on the former plantation remain in ruins. You can get a better feel for what the grounds used to look like by making a stop in the former cotton house store room on site; now a visitor's center and competent museum on the lives of Antiguan slaves during the mill's most profitable production years. A stunning view of Pares Village, St. John below makes for some worthwhile photos.
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You'll have to put a little effort into visiting one of the most breathtaking beaches of Antigua, as easternmost Half Moon Bay is far away from just about everything. The trek has its advantages, though, namely fewer beachgoers to distract from the charm of this national park. Windsurfers will appreciate the sizeble waves toward the beach's center, while snorkelers can find calm waters near the edges. For those looking for a place to relax, the soft white sand at Half Moon Bay offers a comfortable viewpoint to enjoy the vast seascape.
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