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Antigua's Beaches

There's a lovely white-sand beach on Pigeon Point at Falmouth Harbour, about a 4-minute drive from Admiral's Inn. With calm waters and pristine sands, this is the best beach near English Harbour, but it's often crowded, especially when a cruise ship is in port. It's ideal for snorkelers and swimmers of most ages and abilities.

Dickenson Bay, in the northwest, directly north of St. John's, is one of the island's finest beaches, with its wide strip of powder-soft sand and blissfully calm turquoise waters. This safe beach attracts families with small children. You can rent watersports equipment at the Rex Halcyon Cove Beach Resort (tel. 268/462-0256). Refreshments are available at the hotel, or mosey over to the casual bars and restaurants nearby.

On the north side of Dickenson Bay, you'll find more secluded beaches and some ideal snorkeling areas along the fan-shaped northern crown of Antigua. For a fee, locals will sometimes take beachcombers to one of the uninhabited offshore islets, such as Prickly Pear Island, surrounded by beautiful coral gardens. One of the island's best snorkeling spots is Paradise Reef, a 1.5km-long (1-mile) coral garden of stunning beauty north of Dickenson Bay.

If you're seeking solitude, flee to Johnson's Point. Between the hamlets of Johnson's Point and Urlings at Antigua's southwestern tip below Jolly Harbour, this beach opens onto the tranquil Caribbean Sea. There are no facilities, but the sand is dazzling white, and the waters, usually clear and calm, are populated with schools of rainbow-hued tropical fish.

Near Johnson's Point on the southwest coast, Turner's Beach is idyllic. This is one of the best places to lie out in the tropical sun, cooled by trade winds. The beach has fine white sand and gin-clear waters. If the day is clear (as it usually is), you can see the volcanic island of Montserrat.

If you head east of Urlings and go past the hamlet of Old Road, you'll reach Carlisle Bay, site of one of the island's most celebrated shores. Against a backdrop of coconut groves, two long beaches extend from the spot where Curtain Bluff, the island's most deluxe hotel, sits atop a bluff. Here, where the calm Caribbean meets the more turbulent Atlantic, the water is impossibly blue.

South of Jolly Harbour, Driftwood Beach is directly north of Johnson's Point, in the southwest. The white sands and calm, clear waters are delightful. It is close to all the villas at Jolly Harbour Beach Resort Marina, however, and can be overcrowded.

In the same vicinity is Darkwood Beach, a 5-minute drive south of Jolly Harbour Marina and the Jolly Harbour Golf Club. Here the shimmering waters are almost crystal blue. The snorkeling is great, and you can bet that gentle trade winds will keep you cool. Located in a tourist zone, it is likely to be crowded -- almost unbearably so when cruise ships are in port.

If you continue north toward St. John's and cut west at the turnoff for Five Islands, you'll reach the four secluded Hawksbill Beaches on the Five Islands peninsula. The beaches here have white sands, dazzling blue-and-green waters, and coral reefs ideal for snorkeling. On one of them, you can sunbathe and swim in the buff. The Five Islands peninsula is the site of major hotel developments. Though it's secluded, the beaches are sometimes crowded.

Perhaps Antigua's most beautiful beach, Half Moon Bay stretches for nearly 1.5km (1 mile) on the southeastern coast, a 5-minute drive from Freetown village. The Atlantic surf is liable to be rough, but that doesn't stop a never-ending stream of windsurfers, who head out beyond the reef, which shelters protected waters for snorkeling. The beach is now a public park and ideal for a family outing. Half Moon Bay lies east of English Harbour near Mill Reef.

Directly north of Half Moon Bay, east of the village of Willikies, Long Bay fronts the Atlantic on the far eastern coast of Antigua. Guests of the Long Bay Hotel and the Pineapple Beach Club usually populate this sandy strip. The shallow waters are home to stunning coral reefs and offer great snorkeling.

In the same vicinity, Pineapple Beach is a 5-minute drive heading northeast from Willikies. It opens onto Long Bay and the west coast (Atlantic side) of Antigua. Crystal-blue waters make it ideal for snorkeling. Most beach buffs come here just to sun on nearly perfect white sands.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.