palm trees and lounge chairs facing the ocean on a beach in Antigua

Why go to one island when you can visit two on the same passport stamp? The twin-island nation of Antigua and Barbuda delivers everything the Caribbean is known for: unspoiled sand, vibrant culture, and a chill atmosphere. But unlike its neighbors, Antigua and Barbuda offer a twofer, with two very distinct vibes. 

“I always say that Antigua is a place to get away, and Barbuda is a place to get away from the get-away,” jokes native Shermain Jeremy, principal of Shermain Jeremy Marketing Consulting. “As developed as it might be, Antigua maintains an authentic Caribbean experience — no high rises, white-sand beaches, luxury resorts, open spaces,” she says. Barbuda, by contrast, is extremely untouched, an accidental eco-sanctuary with just 1500 residents and a 17-mile-long pink sand beach. “You can be the only one on a Barbudan beach for the entire day. That’s very uncommon elsewhere,” she adds. The food, the topography, the sunsets, the warmth of its people, the music, not to mention the 365 beaches fringing just 108 square miles make the dual-island nation a magical escape even for the most seasoned Caribbean traveler.

Best Time to Go

overhead shot of a person on a boat surrounded by water in antigua
Courtesy of Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority

Obviously, hurricane season (from June through October) can be risky, but those months also offer some of the best value. High season coincides with the American and European breaks, so unless you like your hotels full and reservations required, consider weeks other than those that cross over Christmas, winter week, spring break, and Easter. Otherwise, the most exciting times to visit Antigua and Barbuda fall during Restaurant Week (May) and Sailing Week (April), when elite sailors and spectators from around the globe descend upon this spit of sand to enjoy all the festivities taking place — and to some seriously stunning boats race against the clock.

What the Locals Recommend

a macro shot of a plate of food and drink with fruits and vegetables on the side in antigua
Courtesy of Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority

Ask local guides and they’ll tell you to take a 90-minute sunset cruise to Barbuda, where you can see the pink sands sparkle as the ball of fire melts into the sea. But locals have a better hack: take the ferry (which is, admittedly, bumpy) to Saltplage, a restaurant inside the Siboney Beach Hotel that’s open to the public. 

“All of the beaches are public, but most only offer amenities to guests,” explains Jeremy. “So many locals go with their families on the weekend or a holiday, set up on the beach and order lunch and cocktails from Saltplage for a few hours. It’s safe and quiet and my two young daughters love it.” 

For history buffs, Nelson’s Dockyard is an open-air UNESCO World Heritage Site, where you can walk around the restored 18th-century dockyard, the only harbor in the Eastern Caribbean large enough for safe naval ship repairs, and pick up some curios and ice cream. She also loves to go to Shirley’s Heights Lookout, especially on a Sunday evening, when locals and visitors gather to eat and “lyme” (local parlance for hanging out) while enjoying live music, barbecue, and panoramic views of English Harbor. “It’s a quintessential Antiguan experience,” notes Jeremy. “The view over Nelson’s never gets old and the sunsets are epic.” The island recently introduced 45-minute TukTuk Tours, using wheeled bicycle taxis from Thailand, which provide a newbie the ultimate introduction to Antigua. Intermediate hikers can get their steps in by hiking from Shirley Heights to the Mermaid Gardens rock pool, a 2.5-mile-long path that meanders around curious rock formations, revealing elevated views of the sea. Signal Hill Trail (about 2.5 miles out and back) takes you to the second-highest point on the island, while the Pillars of Hercules wends from St. John’s through massive limestone cliffs. Antiguans really love to cook, but they like to eat even more. Jeremy has a running list of favorites, but for truly authentic local dishes, she heads to Cavell’s. “The pepper pot, the conch fritters…everything you can think of that’s local, she has it.”

Where to Stay

overview shot of a villa surrounded by palm trees and water in jumby bay in antigua
Courtesy of Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority

Jumby Bay

Tossed two miles off Antigua’s north coast, where the Caribbean meets the Atlantic, this serene 300-acre private island fringed by swaying palms is the swankiest all-inclusive in the region. Jumby Bay Resort’s 40 suites, 14 villas, and 21 expansive private residences exude coastal grandeur, while the main beach (aptly named Jumby Bay) is the epitome of laid-back luxury. Along with bikes, tennis courts, three pools, and rum tastings, guests have access to snorkels, sailboats, and wakeboards. Family-owned for generations, Jumby Bay is now an Oetker Collection property, which explains why the house Champagne is Tattinger. It’s truly a sanctuary, so don’t expect to make it off island much.

Carlisle Bay

Up your wellness game at this 87-room upscale resort, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. Service here is seamless, the Caribbean architecture still looks brand new (and authentic), and the Kids Club has families (typically of the New England preppy varietal) coming back year after year. Regulars know to book in advance indulgent therapies in the six-room, 17,000-square-foot Cara Organic Beauty Spa, set among lush gardens and a yoga pavilion. 

overview shot of curtain bluff in antigua
Courtesy of Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority

Curtain Bluff Resort

Set on a picturesque peninsula, this classic 72-room all-inclusive sprawls across 20 acres of lush gardens, humming with the twitter of tropical birds. Picture-perfect stuccoed suites, adorned with locally sourced wicker furnishings, deliver stunning views of the sandy shores at every turn. Dine al fresco at the Sea Grape restaurant or at the Tamarind Tree, where a different band performs nightly and French and Caribbean flavors merge.

Blue Waters Resort & Spa

Family-owned for more than 40 years, this 85-room retreat on a private peninsula on the northwest coast is surrounded by manicured gardens and pristine beaches. Along with three bars and lounges — including the clifftop Cove Restaurant, one of Antigua’s finest (with outrageous views) — guests also have the added benefit of being on the beach by lunch: the resort is just 15 minutes from the airport.

Hammock Cove Resort & Spa

Leave the little ones (and the wallet) at home when you visit this adults-only all-inclusive on the island’s northeast coast. It only opened in 2019, so it’s the newest kid on the block, but without actually allowing kids on property, the vibe is decidedly luxe and romantic — don’t be surprised if a wedding or a few proposals occur during your stay. The 41 villas are massive and private and curve like a crescent along the shore, offering unobstructed views of the sea. Nevertheless, request a villa with a view of Devil’s Bridge, a natural rock arch, for the prettiest postcard of a picture every time you step into the infinity pool on your deck.

Barbuda Belle

The sparsely populated island of Barbuda doesn’t have a lot of places to stay, making this eight-room retreat your best bet for getting away from your getaway. Accessible only by boat or prop plane, the thatch-roof, stilted villas that make up the end-of-the-earth resort define understated luxury. Somehow, along with a Francophile style (thanks to its French owners), Barbuda Belle also has a full spa, a French-inspired menu (yes, there is foie gras), and that swath of pink sand pretty much all to yourself.

Where to Eat

a plate of food with protein vegetables and seafood in antigua
Courtesy of Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority

Le Bistro

Make sure to book a table in advance at this perennially popular French bistro that’s been delighting palates for more than 40 years. Escargot, lobster in Champagne sauce, and Dover sole meuniere are all on point here in the finest dining experience in English Harbour (if not in all of Antigua).

Hemingway’s Caribbean Cafe

If you want authentic Antiguan dishes, look no further than this circa-1986 white tablecloth spot set in a former 19th-century hotel. The vibe is classic West Indian, the people watching supreme, and the dishes Chef Angela churns out will make you crave a second visit. Don’t miss her famous pepper pot or the killer key lime pie at dinner, though breakfast here is quite the scene.

overview shot of a beach surrounded by greenery in antigua
Courtesy of Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority

Sheer Rocks

The west coast sister to Catherine’s Café oozes island grandeur, perched as it is on a rocky cliff within Cocobay Resort (the restaurant is part of the all-inclusive’s offerings) and filled with beautiful people admiring the sunset (and the food). Go for the tasting menu to try as much as possible, from the hickory-smoked grouper to the bitter chocolate soufflé, and whip out your phone camera as the sun sets. Reservations recommended.

Fox House Restaurant & Bar

Settle into the garden and don’t think too hard about what to order: the comfort food menu dreamed up by founder Lady Fox offers something for everyone, from burgers and vegetarian couscous to traditional slow-cooked lamb stew. Obviously the rum-based cocktails are a must, as are reservations.

Nobu Barbuda

The old K Club on Barbuda is now the newest Nobu restaurant on this side of the Caribbean. Operating more like a beach club than a destination restaurant, the upscale Japanese classic (with some Barbudan flavors added) gives visitors an excuse to make a day trip out of a meal. Take the ferry and reserve the “Beach Club” experience; along with that memorable miso black cod, you’ll get a cabana and a butler so you can become one with those pink sands for hours.

Things to Do 

closeup shot of a person ziplining through greenery in antigua
Courtesy of Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority

Rainforest Zipline Tours: Costa Rica isn’t the only place where you can fly through the rainforest canopy. Strap in and swing along 13 ziplines while your adrenaline gives you that awesome high (literally and figuratively). 

Helicopter Tours: Explore the island from above in a zippy little Airbus EC-130. Get your bearings of the island, spying St. John’s, Devil’s Bridge, and English Harbour in 25 minutes of exhilaration. 

Championship Golf: Antigua’s only 18-hole championship course opened to the public in 1977 and is still beloved by pros and novices alike. The Club House and bar serve light food and that much-needed rum-punch after a sweaty afternoon on the back nine.

Eco Tours: Sign up for the Eli’s Original Eco Tour and spend the day on a 52-foot power catamaran snorkeling and swimming in the North Sound, while former Olympian (and native Antiguan) Eli Fuller explains the ecosystem of the island’s mangroves and reefs. Expect to see turtles, frigate birds, pelicans, sting rays, barracuda, and much more. 

TukTuk Island Tour: Spend 4.5 hours on an open-air taxi imported from Thailand, and every secret of Antigua will be revealed. You’ll make stops at Fig Tree Drive Rainforest and scenic beaches (pack a suit) and be refreshed with island-grown fruits and beverages. 

Where to Shop

overview shot of multi color buildings and palm trees in antigua
Courtesy of Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority

The District: There aren’t a lot of places to shop on island (Amazon delivers daily, after all), but when you’re in need of something chic for that impromptu invitation to a cocktail shebang, head to The District in Campsite, on the outskirts of the main town of St. John’s. The multi-brand clothing boutique is owned and operated by a former Miss Antigua, who, it goes without saying, has incredible taste. Look for pieces that would be very at home in New York or Miami.

Heritage Quay: Even if you’re not a tchotchke person, hit up this duty-free shopping complex in St. John’s just to see the colorful colonial buildings fronting the water. There are some top-tier duty-free fashion finds at Cattelya Boutique, baubles at Abbott’s Jewelry,, and bikinis at Makai Antigua.

The Goldsmitty: Next to Heritage Quay is another little shopping area, called Redcliffe Quay. It has fewer shops, but travelers seeking a gilded keepsake can find intriguing medallions of semi-precious stones and petrified coral hand-rimmed with gold — creations of Hans Smit, who makes everything onsite. 

Featured image courtesy of Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority

(Article is in partnership with the Antigua & Barbuda Tourism Authority)