Early morning and our cruise ship enters the St. John’s docks, Antigua & Barbuda’s largest city and capital. Like any Caribbean port, St. John’s is charming and the harbor water is a colorful light blue. However, unlike other Caribbean ports, St. John’s is not surrounded by steep mountains but is rather flat with a view of mountains in the distance.
My family and I came in January, the coolest month for the Caribbean but temperatures were still in the 80s and 90s, thanks to the islands location at only 17 degrees north of the Equator. Antigua and Barbuda are actually two islands with Antigua being the more popular and more touristy island. Both islands cater to high-end luxury tourism, thanks to Antigua and Barbuda wonderful powdery beaches.
Cruise ships usually arrive early in the morning, so we all ate breakfast at around 7 and then got off the ship. First impressions of the port are well, alright. St. John’s felt rather uninviting and as if there wasn’t much to see. This is typical of many Caribbean ports but I always hope that I will be surprised rather than disappointed.
Once passed the gates of the docks, we entered in the center of the city. The sun was already intense but luckily there was a impromptu market nearby with shade. The market sold all types of goods from necklaces, spices, and other Antigua souvenirs but honestly it didn’t impress me. I’ve learned that junk is well junk and that it’s better to not waste my time on junk. Like any other Caribbean port, Antigua has shops geared to the more affluent shopper but unless you plan to spend a couple of hundred to thousand dollars on jewelry it’s best to avoid it.
The area around Downtown St. John’s is not all that impressive and I really doubt there is much to do besides shopping. Near the port there really isn’t many great options for beaches and most tourists take tours for the day to go to a more distant, more beautiful beach. The island is small and it takes about an hour or so to reach the other side, depending on how fast your taxi driver is. We were told that one of the better beaches to visit was Long Bay, on the opposite of the island, so we decided to go check it out.
The drive to Long Bay was mostly uneventful however we did get to see much of inland Antigua. It’s mostly little towns with the occasional soccer or cricket field. It seems that daily life in the Caribbean is much slower compared to a life back in the US and sometimes it’s hard to get use to when you expect things to happen quickly. It’s the Caribbean so must learn to not be always in a rush mentality.
By most standards, Long Bay Beach is very pleasant and retains much of what you would expect from a Caribbean beach. There is a relatively wide, white, sandy beach with light blue water. There are water sports activities and an outdoor Caribbean restaurant shacks that are somewhat expensive. I saw jet-skiing, para-sailing and snorkeling but overall there was a little less amenities than I’m used to. Long Bay also hosts beach resorts but the beach itself is completely free for anybody to use and all you have to do is work out payment for a taxi to get there.
Bring some cash if you don’t plan on bringing your own food from St. John’s or the cruise ship. Although there are restaurants the food can be kind of expensive and the only other option I assume would be eating on one of the resorts. You know that wouldn’t be cheap! The public toilet situation is handled by most of the resorts that line the beach. There is one hotel, Grand Pineapple, that is worth checking out on the most western part of the beach because it has some toilets and a couple of restaurants nearby.
One of the best parts of this beach is the tiny look-out point that is located on the western side of the beach above Grand Pineapple. Near the hotel you will see signs that point towards a narrow path. Take the path up until you reach the highest point. On top there is this little wooden structure that overlooks the entire Long Bay area and the air is much breezier than down by the beach. The view alone is enough to go.
Although there were probably better, more exclusive beaches in Antigua, I recommend Long Bay Beach to anybody who is looking for some down town on a beach that has some sports activities, is not very crowded, and has a nice white sandy beach. Yes this beach is little far for St. John’s but the taxi ride is no more than 45 minutes drive and you get a chance to see much of the country. Most tourists will come by cruise ship and won’t have time to decide where to go but for us, we heard Long Beach was one of the better beaches in Antigua and went with it!
As for my time in Antigua & Barbuda, I would definitively come back to this tiny island nation. There honestly isn’t much to do and it’s a expensive to stay but it does have beautiful Caribbean landscapes, over 300 beaches to choose from and the people are welcoming. The islands are definitely great for a day or a week filled with nothing but sunsets and liquor and don’t mind spending a little more for it!
images by: shawnvoyage