antigua and barbuda

Antigua and Barbuda: Ultimate Traveler’s Guide

It’s a destination well-loved by many but properly explored by few. The sister islands of Antigua and Barbuda in the Lesser Antilles of the Caribbean are well known for being one of the most desirable beach vacation destinations in the Caribbean.

However, their appeal doesn’t stop there, with everything from delicious local food, rich history, and incredible cultural events drawing travelers from around the world.

In this ultimate guide to exploring the enchanting islands of Antigua and Barbuda, we share all the travel tips and recommendations you’ll need to enjoy your time in this island paradise. With everything from recommendations for the best places to stay in Antigua to ideas for things to do outside the walls of your resort, this guide will help make your trip to the islands one of a kind.

pearns point beach

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Antigua and Barbuda

It’s hard to dream of a more impressive Caribbean island destination than Antigua and Barbuda. This independent country consists of two populated islands on the eastern edge of the Caribbean Sea, considered part of the Lesser Antilles.

Larger Antigua is significantly more developed than Barbuda and is home to the majority of the country’s population, welcoming nearly all of the country’s visitors to its white sand shores. While Barbuda is less frequently visited than Antigua, it’s known as a pristine island paradise, with miles and miles of undisturbed beaches and a much more laid-back, natural feel than its larger sister.

Whether you choose to visit Antigua or Barbuda, or split time between both, these islands are undeniably gorgeous, even romantic. Many honeymooners choose Antigua for its world-class resorts, many offering private villas nestled among the hillsides for stunning views of the Caribbean Sea.

With plenty of flights serving Antigua from North America and beyond, there’s no denying that Antigua and Barbuda is a popular destination. Some travelers will bristle at Antigua’s popularity and search for other Caribbean islands for a more secluded vacation (I’d recommend Dominica if this is you!).

However, even if Antigua’s generally pricey resorts and busy beaches aren’t to your taste, it’s hard to deny that Antigua is a truly beautiful destination. Even detractors will agree: Antigua and Barbuda earn their reputation as one of the gems of the Caribbean.

What is Antigua Known For?

Antigua is well known for having exactly 365 beaches – one for every day of the year! While it’s unlikely you’ll be able to visit them all, Antigua is well known for its incredible white-sand beaches above all else, making it an ideal destination for a Caribbean beach getaway. Everything from luxe resorts to simple beach houses makes an Antigua vacation more accessible than you might expect.

Antigua is also a destination renowned for its sailing. Historic UNESCO-protected forts and harbors speak to the island’s long sailing history and are must-visit destinations in Antigua. Looking forward to exploring the island by sea? It’s one of the best things to do in Antigua.

Read More: 12 Best Beaches in Antigua

What is Barbuda Know For?

Much less built-up than Antigua, Barbuda is known for its less-crowded beaches, many miles long and sprinkled with light pink sand. If you’re looking for a more off-the-beaten-path experience from your Caribbean island vacation, Barbuda is perfect for you.

When Is The Best Time to Visit Antigua and Barbuda?

The best time to visit Antigua and Barbuda is in the winter months. Travelers can generally expect sunnier skies and calmer seas between December and May, making this the most popular time to visit the islands.

However, the winter season also corresponds with more travelers visiting the islands and higher prices for everything. If you’re looking for less-crowded beaches, want to travel on a budget, and don’t mind a higher chance of rain, consider traveling between June and November.

antigua barbuda
shalamov / Depositphotos

Things To Do in Antigua and Barbuda

1. Visit Barbuda’s Pink Sand Beach

Antigua might be famous for its 365 beaches, but there’s one unique beach destination in Barbuda worth taking the ferry for. Barbuda is home to one of the Caribbean’s few true pink sand beaches. Officially known as Pink Sand Beach, naturally, this beach is a stunner both for its impressive color and gorgeous, clear waters with natural surroundings.

Pink Sand Beach stretches on for nearly eight miles, making it one of the longest beaches in Antigua and Barbuda. While some sections are more bright pink than others, it’s an impressive, mostly empty beach you can enjoy with relative solitude.

Want to stick around for the evening? Stay at the Barbuda Belle Luxury Beach Hotel located directly on the beach. This is our number one choice for travelers looking to stay in Barbuda.

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2. Go Snorkeling or Diving

Antigua and Barbuda might not be the most well-known destination for diving in the Caribbean, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a whole world to explore here. Snorkeling and diving are among the most popular things to do on the islands, which offer plenty for both beginners and seasoned experts.

Both snorkelers and divers can explore the Andes Wreck off of Antigua’s Deep Bay Beach. Snorkelers can access the site from the beach and see the wreck up close, even standing on its bow and reaching out of the water, making it one of the most popular snorkeling spots in Antigua.

If you’re not PADI certified for scuba diving, consider exploring some of the best snorkeling spots in Antigua and Barbuda. Antigua’s Galley Beach near English Harbor offers some great snorkeling directly from the white sand beach.

Or, go for one of the most popular activities on the islands: a guided, self-drive snorkeling tour. These are a blast, and you’ll get to see so much both above and below the waves as you explore. This is, by far, one of the best things to do in Antigua and Barbuda – a total highlight of the trip!

shirley heights

3. Visit Shirley Heights Lookout

Perched high above English Harbor in southern Antigua, Shirley Heights is a historic military fortress and gun battery-turned viewpoint, offering some of the most expansive vistas of the island and the Caribbean Sea you’ll find anywhere. Visiting is an absolute must when in Antigua.

The views from the lookout are breathtaking at any time of day, but even more spectacular at sunset. If it works in your itinerary, try to plan to visit on Sunday evenings for sunset. The entire lookout transforms into a party spot for locals and visitors alike and will be one of your favorite memories from your trip to Antigua.

Read More: 25 Best Things To Do in Antigua

pigeon point beach
Brookgardener / Shutterstock

4. Choose from 365 Beaches

Antigua is well known for being home to 365 beaches, and while I can’t personally confirm this fact, I can confirm that Antigua boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean. Even if you’re planning on a low-key resort vacation, spend some time beach hopping to some of these spectacular beaches in Antigua – you won’t regret it!

Jolly Beach

Over a mile of pristine white sand on an impressive section of Antigua’s desirable western coast makes Jolly Beach one of the most popular beaches in Antigua. Offering water sports, snorkeling, and plenty of space for rest and relaxation, it’s a clear fan favorite.

With a number of accommodation options to choose from on the beachfront as well as beach amenities and plenty of restaurants and cafes, it’s one of the more built-up beaches in Antigua. It’s a great spot for families. However, even couples will love the calm water and endless choices of ways to spend a day on Jolly Beach.

Ffryes Beach

Considered among the best beaches in the Caribbean, the white sand Ffryes Beach is a popular (yet not overrun) favorite you should definitely add to your itinerary. Relatively easily accessible from the capital of Antigua and the port, it’s a convenient and stunning beach option in Antigua not to miss.

Read More: 16 Best Beaches in the Caribbean

Half Moon Bay

Looking for a more tranquil, laid-back beach in Antigua? The stunning Half Moon Bay on the island’s southern coast is a perfect choice. Drive just a bit farther for the perfect white sand of a beach that only receives a fraction of the visitors and feel like you’re discovered your own private island paradise.

Keep in mind that sections of the beach can get wavy and that you won’t find as many beach amenities here as you will elsewhere. However, the bay’s secluded feeling and gorgeous scenery make it well worth it!

Best Places to Stay in Antigua

5. See the Islands By Water

One of the very best ways to experience Antigua and Barbuda is by water. Some of the most popular excursions on the islands include boat tours with plenty of beach hopping and snorkeling. These excursions usually offer lunch and drinks, plus all the beach gear and snorkeling gear you’ll need to enjoy some of the island’s best beaches along the way.

Alternatively, consider spending your entire visit to Antigua on the water! Antigua is one of the world’s most desirable sailing locations, and Dream Yacht Worldwide makes it easy for anyone to enjoy the shores in style. Dream Yacht Worldwide offers bareboat charters for experienced sailors or skippered charters that allow you to relax and let someone else take care of the sailing.

Even if you only have time for a day trip on the water, book a boat tour that circumnavigates the islands! These are a particularly popular day trip option from Antigua, though you’ll also find sailing options around Barbuda as well.

villa papillon
Villa Papillon

Where To Stay in Antigua and Barbuda

Villa Papillon

Antigua is so much more than just its resorts and hotels. For those looking for a luxurious stay with plenty of space for family and friends to tag along, Villa Papillon might be a perfect choice, certain to impress even the most discerning traveler.

Villa Papillon wows with its well-appointed and luxurious yet comfortable spaces, though the home’s incredible views overlooking Pearns Point and the clear waters lapping along Jolly Harbor are hard to beat. Six bedrooms, each with its own private bathroom, spread across the villa’s multi-level layout maximize views and provide plenty of privacy.

The villa provides all the amenities you’re looking for in a resort stay and then some. A private chef is on hand to serve up all your favorite dishes while introducing you to some new Caribbean favorites. An attentive house manager is on hand to make sure every detail of your time in Antigua and at Villa Papillon goes off without a hitch.

Read More: Villa Papillon: A Private Villa Stay in Review

Royalton Antigua

If you’re looking for an all-inclusive resort in Antigua, Royalton Antigua is a popular choice with families and couples alike.

Home to eight restaurants, five bars, and three swimming pools, Royalton Antigua has everything you could ask for in a resort vacation, plus an impressive location on one of the best beaches in Antigua. The resort even boasts six beautiful overwater bungalows that stretch across the peaceful waters of the lagoon.

Reviews and Bookings – Royalton Antigua

Jumby Bay Island

Perched on the shores of a private island just two miles off the coast of Antigua, Jumby Bay Island is one of the most sought-after resorts in Antigua and Barbuda. Spread across 300 acres and surrounded by white sand beaches and coral reefs, bicycle paths and shady trails replace roads at this paradise known for barefoot luxury.

The resort just completed an extensive refurbishing and is even more impressive than ever. Every detail of Jumby Bay Island is designed to set it apart from other resorts, positioning it as one of the best resorts in the entire Caribbean.

Reviews and Bookings – Jumby Bay Island

Barbuda Belle Luxury Beach Hotel

With just a few places to choose from when deciding where to stay in Barbuda, Barbuda Belle Luxury Beach Hotel should definitely be at the top of your list.

While this gorgeous resort is the nicest place to stay in Barbuda, it isn’t over-the-top by any means, perfectly capturing Barbuda’s laid-back, relaxed vibes for travelers. It’s a comfortable and relatively affordable favorite well worth the ferry ride!

Reviews and Bookings – Barbuda Belle Luxury Beach Hotel

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antigua barbuda

Getting to Antigua and Barbuda

Antigua is one of the most accessible islands in the Lesser Antilles of the Caribbean, especially for travelers visiting from North America. If you’re looking for a Caribbean destination where you can be on the beach with a drink in hand just a few hours after leaving home, Antigua is a fantastic choice.

While flight schedules change frequently, especially between the high and low seasons of travel on the islands, demand for flights to Antigua continues to grow. Travelers can now find direct flights to the island from a number of cities in the U.S. and even further afield.

Getting to Antigua

Antigua is home to the country’s only international airport, making it the first stop for most travelers visiting the islands. Travelers fly into Antigua through V.C. Bird International Airport (ANU), which is located just outside of the island’s capital city of Saint John’s.

You’ll find direct flights between a number of U.S. cities and Antigua. While not offered every day, direct flights make for a convenient way to reach the island. Travelers can also consider a stopover in other Caribbean destinations to connect to Antigua, though for most travelers this isn’t necessary.

Getting to Barbuda

With the only major airport in the country of Antigua and Barbuda located in Antigua, most travelers visit Barbuda via the high-speed ferry from Antigua. Ferries between the two islands operate six days a week, and the journey takes about 90 minutes.

villa papillon view
The views from Villa Papillon

Antigua and Barbuda Travel Tips

Ditch The Resorts – Stay in a Villa Instead

Antigua is well known for having some of the most beautiful and luxurious resorts in the Caribbean, as well as a number of lively hotels and affordable guesthouses, but have you considered staying in a villa instead? If you’re looking for unparalleled seclusion, truly personalized service, and a home-away-from-home feeling on your Antigua vacation, renting a villa should be top of mind.

You’d be surprised at the options you’ll find when looking into villa rentals in Antigua. From luxurious and spacious Villa Papillon with the most picture-perfect views you’ll find in Antigua to more remote guest houses on little-visited corners of the island, there’s plenty to choose from here. If you’re traveling with a group, many of these exclusive properties can actually be more affordable than a stay at one of the island’s resorts.

Take in the Islands By Sea

Antigua is one of the most desirable destinations for sailing in the world, meaning that one of the best things to do in Antigua is to take in the beauty of the islands from the water. Whether you have time for a half-day boating excursion to beaches and snorkeling spots or want to circumnavigate Antigua, you’ll have plenty of options to take to the sea.

Don’t forget to consider spending part of all of your trip to Antigua on the water for the best way to experience the island. Dream Yacht Worldwide offers bareboat charters for experienced sailors or skippered charters that allow you to relax and let someone else take care of the sailing. It’s the best way to experience parts of the island that few others ever get to enjoy.

While spending a vacation in the Caribbean on a yacht may seem like it’s just an attainable reality for just a select few, it’s actually much more affordable than most travelers think. Depending on your vessel and the number of passengers on your ship, a sailing excursion with Dream Yacht Worldwide can often be more affordable than staying at one of the impressive resorts in Antigua.

carlisle bay

Skip Overcrowded Beaches

Antigua is home to 365 unique beaches, but it often seems like the majority of the visitors to the island congregate on just a select few of them. Popular spots like Turner’s Beach, Dickenson Bay, and Jolly Beach are lovely, but during the high season of travel, they can get overly crowded.

With so many incredible beaches in Antigua, there’s no need to fight for chairs and umbrellas with hundreds of other beachgoers. Head to some of the island’s less-visited beaches instead. For example, just minutes north of the popular Dickenson Bay is hidden Bush Bay. Or, head across the island for the impressive Half Moon Bay, which tends to be much less visited despite its natural beauty.

Barbuda is (Sometimes!) Better

While the vast majority of the visitors in Antigua and Barbuda stick to the more developed, populated island of Antigua, Barbuda might be a better choice for travelers looking for something special out of their island vacation.

With untouched, miles-long beaches free from crowds and development, Barbuda feels a world away from its larger sister island. While this less-visited, off-the-beaten-path destination isn’t right for everyone, many travelers actually end up preferring Barbuda over Antigua.

Keep in mind that Barbuda is only accessible via a 90-minute high-speed ferry ride offered just six days a week, or by flights from Antigua. However, if you’re looking for less-crowded shores, incredible natural beauty, and more of a desert-island feel, head to Barbuda over Antigua.

carley rojas avila

Carley Rojas Avila is a bilingual New York-based travel writer, editor, content marketer, and the founder of the digital travel publications Explorers Away and Home to Havana. Carley is an expert on all things Latin America, the Caribbean, and Cuba, having lived and worked in four different countries in the region. Her writing has appeared on the Associated Press wires and in Travel + Leisure, Yahoo, MSN, Euronews, The Weather Channel, and more. When she's not writing about her travels, find her front row at a Bad Bunny concert, befriending street cats, and taste-testing every pizza in Havana.