Antigua


All ages
Destination: The Caribbean

Once, the British Colony of Antigua was known for its sugar plantations; today it's an independent nation known for a different kind of sugar -- the fine white sand of its myriad beaches. Locals boast that Antigua has a different beach for every day of the year. Of course that's an exaggeration, but Antigua's indented coastline is fringed like a sea anemone with little bays and outlying coral reefs, and nearly every one of them protects a sandy beach.

This is the sort of idyllic vacation spot you expect the Caribbean to offer, and it's worth experiencing it at least once. Antigua is an expensive island, with small, exclusive inns rather than high-rise package-tour resort complexes, but just about any hotel you choose will have doors opening right onto the ocean and sand. Usually vacationers plunk themselves down at the beach by their hotel and never move; there aren't many sightseeing attractions on Antigua to lure you from your hotel -- not unless your children are Master and Commander fanatics who are keen to tour the restored Napoleonic-era dockyards 18km (11 miles) southeast of the capital, St. John's.

However, with such a wealth of beaches so close together, it's fun to sample each one's distinct character. Dickenson Bay, in the northwest -- the side of the island with higher winds, breaking waves, and dramatic scenery -- is favored by families with young children for its wide strip of powder-fine sand and calm turquoise waters. The swimming is quite safe, and all the amenities you need are close at hand -- you can rent watersports equipment at the Halcyon Cove Hotel and slip inside for drinks and snacks at casual restaurants nearby. If you've got snorkelers in your group, just north of Dickenson Bay is Paradise Reef, a 1.6km-long (1-mile) coral garden. On the more exclusive southern coast, it's worth a drive to gaze upon the strikingly blue waters of Carlisle Bay: Against a backdrop of coconut groves, two long beaches extend from a bluff, and you can actually tell where the calm Caribbean waters meet the more turbulent Atlantic. East of here, at Half Moon Bay, you can see that Atlantic surf kicking up, and watch windsurfers skim the waters out past its reef; the reef itself protects the waters nearer shore, making it good for a family swim.

Information: tel. 888/268-4227 in U.S., 268/462-0480 in Antigua; www.antigua-barbuda.com

Nearest Airport: Antigua.

Accommodations: Hawksbill Beach Resort, Five Islands Village (tel. 268/462-0301; www.hawksbill.com). Siboney Beach Club, Dickenson Bay (tel. 800/533-0234 or 268/462-0806; www.siboneybeachclub.com).