antigua and barbuda

Antigua and Barbuda: Ultimate Traveler’s Guide, According to Locals [2024]

The sister islands of Antigua and Barbuda in the Caribbean are home to beautiful beaches and luxe beach resorts, making them the dream of many a winter-weary traveler. 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 to these shores.

We tapped local experts at luxe Antigua accommodations like Villa Papillon and long-time visitors to help create an ultimate guide to Antigua and Barbuda after we had such a memorable visit. Read on for recommendations on the best places to stay in Antigua and all the best things to do outside the walls of your resort in this island paradise.

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.

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.

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.

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

Best Time to Visit Antigua and Barbuda

The best time to visit Antigua and Barbuda is between December and April, when the skies are perfectly blue, and the waters are calm. They’re also the high season of travel and are when resort prices are at their highest.

  • High Season: December – April
  • Shoulder Season: May – June
  • Low Season: July – November

If you’re looking for less-crowded beaches, or you want to travel on a budget, consider traveling between May and November. Particularly, the shoulder season months of May and June are a fantastic time to travel, as the weather still tends to be quite sunny and prices are considerably lower than they are just a few months earlier.

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 island 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.

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

Travelers who don’t have access to their own boat on a private charter can visit Barbuda via the high-speed ferry that connects it with Antigua, or by taking a quick flight between islands. Ferries between the two islands operate six days a week, and the journey takes about 90 minutes.

Travel Essential

Don’t head out on your adventure without comprehensive travel insurance! Good travel insurance may cover lost or stolen gear, medical emergencies, delayed or canceled flights, and more. Check out the policies available from SafetyWing or compare plans using Visitors Coverage.

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: 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.

shirley heights

2. Visit Shirley Heights Lookout

Perched high above English Harbor in southern Antigua, Shirley Heights is a historic military fortress and gun battery-turned breathtakingly beautiful viewpoint.

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 your visit for a Sunday evening at 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

Travel Essential

Don’t think about traveling without a good VPN (Virtual Private Network). Using a VPN while connecting to the internet is an easy way to keep your personal information safe from hackers and trackers. We’ve used NordVPN for years and couldn’t recommend it more – it’s a must for safety online, at home or abroad. 

pigeon point beach
Brookgardener / Shutterstock

3. Explore 365 Beaches

Antigua is well known for being home to 365 beaches, including some of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean. Even if you’re planning on a low-key resort vacation, spending some time beach hopping across the island is one of the best things to do in Antigua.

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 and among one of the more built-up beaches in Antigua.

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.

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. 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

4. 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 by changing a resort stay for a boat charter. Antigua is one of the world’s most desirable sailing locations, and Dream Yacht Worldwide makes it easy for anyone to enjoy these waters in style with bareboat charters for experienced sailors or skippered charters that allow you to relax and let someone else take care of the sailing.

villa papillon
Villa Papillon

Where To Stay in Antigua and Barbuda

There are just a few places to stay on Barbuda, but Antigua in particular is well known for its array of luxury hotels and resorts that are the envy of its Caribbean neighbors. These are some of the best places to stay on both islands:

Villa Papillon

Best Private Villa in Antigua

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.

jumby bay antigua
Courtesy of Jumby Bay Island

Jumby Bay Island

Best Resort in Antigua

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 underwent 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

carlisle bay antigua
Courtesy of Carlisle Bay

Carlisle Bay

Best Family-Friendly Resort in Antigua

Carlisle Bay has plenty to offer couples, but it’s also a favorite destination for travelers visiting Antigua with the whole family. Young children stay and eat for free at the resort, and a kids club offers an excellent array of activities and programming that keep the family entertained while parents enjoy the rest that the resort has to offer.

Reviews and Bookings: Carlisle Bay 

barbuda belle
Courtesy of Barbuda Belle Beach Hotel

Barbuda Belle Beach Hotel

With just a few places to choose from when deciding where to stay in Barbuda, Barbuda Belle 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.

Reviews and Bookings: Barbuda Belle Beach Hotel

Antigua & Barbuda Accommodation Guides

villa papillon view
The views from Villa Papillon

Antigua and Barbuda Travel Tips

When speaking with locals and tour guides in Antigua and Barbuda, a few popular Antigua and Barbuda travel tips came up again. These are the recommendations worth considering as you plan your trip.

1. 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.

From luxurious and spacious Villa Papillon 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.

2. 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 or all of your trip to Antigua on the water for the best way to experience the island. 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

3. 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.

Read More: 12 Best Beaches in Antigua

4. 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. This less-visited, off-the-beaten-path destination isn’t right for everyone, but 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.