In St. John's
The most colorful sight of St. John's is the Saturday morning market, when many islanders come into the capital to hawk everything from birds and luscious fruits to beautiful flowers and handicrafts. The sights, sounds, and smells of Antigua are at their photographic best here from 8am to noon. However, don't snap a picture of any market person without asking permission first. Most will want a tip for the privilege of taking their photograph. The public market lies on Market Street at the southern end of St. John's, at the point where it intersects with All Saints and Valley roads.
St. John's Cathedral, the Anglican church between Long and Newgate streets at Church Lane (tel. 268/462-4686), has resurrected itself time and again -- it's been destroyed by earthquakes and rebuilt on the same site at least three times since it was first constructed in 1683. The present structure dates from 1845. In 2005 the clock on its facade was restored and made workable again. Exhibits at the Museum of Antigua & Barbuda, at Market and Long streets (tel. 268/462-1469), are within one of Antigua's oldest buildings, built by English colonials in 1750 as a courthouse. The museum covers the island's history, from prehistoric days up to its independence from Britain in 1981. Exhibitions include examples of each of the semiprecious stones (especially jade) you can find on Antigua, as well as models of sugar plantations, steam engines, paintings, and historical prints. It's open Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 1pm and on Saturday from 10am to 2pm. The entrance fee is $3 for adults; students and children 11 and under enter free.
Around The Island
Eighteen kilometers (11 miles) southeast of St. John's is Nelson's Dockyard National Park (tel. 268/481-5028; www.nationalparksantigua.com), one of the eastern Caribbean's biggest attractions and the world's most visible symbol of the once-formidable power of England's navy within the West Indies. Because of its almost constant state of archeological restoration, it's defined by its curators as "a continuing cultural landscape," with many aspects of "a living park" that's permanently associated in a major way with the expansion and protection of Britain's once- formidable empire. English ships took refuge from the hurricanes in this harbor as early as 1671. The park's centerpiece is the restored Georgian naval dockyard, which was used by admirals Nelson, Rodney, and Hood, and was the home of the British fleet during the Napoleonic Wars. From 1784 to 1787, Nelson commanded the British navy in the Leeward Islands and made his headquarters at English Harbour. The dockyard museum, the gem within a landscape that's almost constantly in a state of restoration, recaptures the 18th-century era of privateers, pirates, and battles at sea. Its colonial naval buildings remain as they were when Nelson was here. Although Nelson never lived at Admiral House (tel. 268/481-5028) -- it was built in 1855 -- his telescope and tea caddy are on display, along with other nautical memorabilia.
The park itself has sandy beaches and tropical vegetation, with various species of cactus as well as mangroves. A migrating colony of African cattle egrets shelters in the mangroves. Archaeological sites here predate Christ. Nature trails, with coastal views, lead you through the flora. Tours of the dockyard last 15 to 20 minutes; nature walks along the trails can last anywhere from 30 minutes to 5 hours. The dockyard and all the buildings noted in this section are open daily from 9am to 5pm. Children 12 and under are admitted free. The admission price of $5 includes the Admiral House and the Shirley Heights Lookout.
The best nature trail on Antigua, a well-tended footpath, goes up the hill from English Harbour to Shirley Heights, beginning at the Galleon Beach Hotel. Follow the sign that points to the lookout. The trail is marked with yellow and/or green tape tied to the branches of trees and shrubs surviving in the blinding sunlight of these arid altitudes. Eventually you reach a summit of nearly 150m (492 ft.), where you're rewarded with a panoramic view. If you'd like to get more information about the walk, you can pick up a free brochure at the dockyard at the office of the National Parks Authority. This walk is easy; it takes less than an hour to reach the peak.
Forts & Photo Ops
In the 1700s, Antigua's coastline was ringed with British forts. Although they're in ruins today, the views from these former military strongholds are among the most panoramic in the Caribbean -- and you can visit them for free. You can begin at St. John's harbor (the capital), which was once guarded by Fort Barrington on the south and Fort James on the north. Later you can head down to Fort James Bay, where you'll find a couple of bars right on the sand. The most evocative of these is Russell's Beach Bar: Positioned directly within the ruins of the 18th-century Fort of St. Johns, it's at its most active on Sunday afternoon. Its funky West Indian setting, smack in the center of a ruined English colonial fort, makes it an appealing place to unwind with a beer and perhaps a platter of grilled fish. In the south, near English Harbour, check out the view from Shirley Heights.
On the way back, take Fig Tree Drive, a 32km (20-mile) circular drive across the main mountain range. It passes through lush tropical hills and fishing villages along the southern coast. You can pick up the road just outside Liberta, north of Falmouth. Winding through a rainforest, it passes thatched villages, every one with a church and lots of goats and children running about. But don't expect fig trees: Fig is an Antiguan name for bananas.
Betty's Hope (tel. 268/462-1469), a picturesque ruin just outside the village of Pares on the eastbound route to Long Bay, was Antigua's first sugar plantation (from 1650). You can tour it Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 4pm ($2 for adults, free for children). Exhibits in the visitor center trace the sugar era, and you can also see the full restoration of one of the original plantation's two windmills. If you visit, you may see the local masons, who are sporadically involved in the restoration of the curing and boiling plant, where sugar cane used to be processed into sugar, rum, and molasses.
Indian Town is one of Antigua's national parks, on the island's northeastern point. Over the centuries, Atlantic breakers have lashed the rocks and carved a natural bridge known as Devil's Bridge. It's surrounded by numerous blowholes spouting surf, a dramatic sight. An environmentally protected area, Indian Town Point lies at the tip of a deep cove, Indian Town Creek. The park fronts the Atlantic at Long Bay, just west of Indian Town Creek at the eastern side of Antigua. Birders flock here to see some 36 different species. The park is blanketed mainly by the acacia tree, a dry shrub locally known as "cassie." A large, meadowed headland around Devil's Bridge makes a great spot for a picnic. Arm yourself with directions and a good map before you start out. The main highway ends at Long Bay, but several hiking trails lead to the coastline. Our favorite hike is to Indian Town Point at a distance of 2km (1 1/4 miles). This is the most scenic walk in the park, passing through a protected area of exceptional natural beauty. Long Bay is great for snorkeling, but you'll need to bring your gear.
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.