Once in a Lifetime: Antigua

By: Katie Manning

January 11, 2013

There’s only so much sunbathing you can do in one holiday, and with the experiences you can have in Antigua, we think it’s worth branching out. Whether we’re engaging with the local wildlife or cooking some West Indian cuisine, these experiences have given us memories of Antigua that will last longer than our tan ever will.

Befriend a Stingray


Befriend a Stingray | Antigua
A stingray of Antigua © Scubaben


Given that stingrays have barbed venom-packed tails that they use to defend themselves from predators, we were a bit dubious about the fact that, in Antigua, they are dubbed the “˜puppies of the ocean’. This experience changed our minds, though, after being whisked out to sea by speedboat and then swimming in the waist-high waters of crystal-clear lagoon reefs with them, feeding them and snorkelling in the beautiful coral reefs. The best part, though, is heading back to shore where you enjoy a complimentary rum or fruit punch underneath a coconut tree.

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Go to Antigua Carnival


Antigua Carnival
A dancer at Antigua Carnival


The Carnival is one of the biggest events in Antigua; in fact it is probably the island’s biggest knees up. It’s the highlight of the summer calendar and features 10-days of music, parades, marching street bands and dancing – so plenty of stamina is a must. Held in commemoration of emancipation, when people immediately took to the streets to celebrate their freedom in sheer joy, the first official Antiguan Carnival was organised in 1957.

Since then the shindig has become a riotous and colourful affair, jam-packed with calypso, steel pan players, and costumed Carnival Queen pageants – plus numerous spontaneous events. Centred on the streets of St. John’s, and in Carnival City at the Antigua Recreation Ground (home of cricket in Antigua), the highlight is the huge food tents at Carnival City sizzling with locally prepared BBQ chicken, fish and grilled pork as well as a special – and highly potent – carnival punch.

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Learn to Cook at Nicole’s Table


Nicole's Table | Antigua
Learning to cook at Nicole’s Table © Nicole’s Table


We love learning to cook locally, so taking a class at Nicole’s Table was definitely on our “˜things to do in Antigua’ list. In her hilltop family home just north of St John’s, Nicole Arthurton demystifies the flavours of Antiguan food in her airy, island kitchen. Over a glass of homemade rum punch, a small class of 5 or 6 students is encouraged to prepare and cook seven West Indian recipes in relaxed style. Plenty of jokes are made at the expense of Antigua’s national dish – a cooked cornmeal paste called fungi (pronounced “foon-jee”). Other dishes on the menu include an appetiser of bacon-wrapped plantains, a sweet steamed dumpling (duckuna) and, our personal favourite, a coconut custard tart. As she lays the table for her hungry students, Nicole is full of little tricks, gastronomic shortcuts, and foodie titbits – she can squeeze limes at a zillion miles an hour and whips up her own vanilla extract with ease.

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Horse riding in Antigua


Horse riding in Antigua
Horse riding along the beach in Antigua © Spring Hill Riding


For us, there’s nothing quite like experiencing Antigua’s most secluded, tranquil spots on horseback along a spaghetti-like network of trails that delve into scenic valleys and empty beaches. You choose either a gentle or adventurous trek in the cool of the morning across hills with stunning views and then go for a midday bareback splashy wade through the water in Falmouth Bay as an unforgettable finale.

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Market Shopping, Antigua


Market Shopping | Antigua
A market stall in Antigua © Antigua and Barbuda Tourist Board


For the shopaholics amongst us, retail therapy in Antigua at Redcliffe Quay is a scenic- and spending-must. Overlooking the harbour on one side and painted in bright, bold colours, the buildings are old dockside warehouses that have been converted into cafés and stores that specialise in selling Antiguan red clay pottery, paintings, and other locally made gifts, such as hot sauce, fragrant honey and fresh spices.

You’ll find strong homemade hot sauces at the colourful City Market near the ferry dock in Charlestown where vendors offer samples of local produce, such as christophene, breadfruit, plantain, tannia, avocados (called “pears” here), yams, and pumpkins, all available in season. We recommend avoiding Fridays and Saturdays, as the queues are huge. Open daily (except Sunday).


Katie Manning

Katie is an author for the Virgin Atlantic blog. Despite her urban London residency, Katie can often be found exploring far-flung corners of the globe in search of exciting new experiences and stories. A self-confessed night-owl, she makes it her mission to search out the best cocktail bars and live music venues on each and every expedition. Follow Katie @kt_saramanning

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