Nothing suggests paradise more than the Caribbean, and Antigua, one of the Leeward Islands, is as pretty as they come, laden with golden sands, gently swaying palms and turquoise waters.
Barbuda, her sleepier sister lying 40 miles north, rivals her, promising idyllic natural riches and fewer people.
With Antigua and Barbuda currently on the UK’s green list and averaging just two new Covid cases a day, the islands are a popular destination in the Caribbean for holidaymakers.
Almost 70,000 Covid vaccines have been administered so far for a population of around 98,000 and the wearing of face masks is mandatory, including outdoor spaces, although beaches are exempt.
As a consequence, the island has full occupancy of its hotel rooms for what is traditionally low season, with most tourists happiest spending as much time as possible either on the beach or in the crystal-like waters. And it’s water where I want to be.
Hitting the water
At Antigua’s National Sailing Academy in English Harbour, I receive a sailing lesson from Joshua Daniels aboard his Hobie Cat. Our lesson concludes with a swim, before I clamber on to a rubber tube to be towed at speed. I somehow allow the line to go slack and the sudden force of it tightening again catapults me through the air. After smashing into the water, the tube and I are separated.
It is thrilling, silly, and enormous fun. I manage to recover in time for a trip to Sheer Rocks at Cocobay Resort, run by British-born Alex Grimley. While the restaurant excels at blending the best of Antiguan and Caribbean with international cuisine, it’s the ethos of providing jobs for school leavers and training them to progress to top positions that impresses me.
I sip on a rum punch topped with cinnamon and nutmeg as I gaze at the milky blue ocean. I ask Alex which is the most beautiful island in the Caribbean after learning of his extensive travels in the region.
“Hands down, Antigua,” he replies without hesitation. “I just think it is stunning.”
That beauty is reflected in our lodgings, Tamarind Hills, overlooking two of the island’s 365 gorgeous beaches, Ffryes and Darkwood, on the sheltered west coast.
My suite is simply four-poster heaven. Looking out across the sea from the huge balcony area, the sense of paradise outside is mirrored when I turn and walk back inside. I don’t want to leave.
Typically, the island would be preparing for carnival now. How I would love to see such a sleepy isle transformed into beautiful chaos, when different worlds collide.
For now, I must make do with pre-recorded Antiguan soca reverberating from the speakers of Dennis’s Bar on Ffryes Beach, since live music and dancing are forbidden between 11pm and 5am under a curfew.
For now, the focus is on long days so I awake early for a swim, watching in awe as Antigua’s famous frigate birds fly overhead. It’s not easy to leave the water, but I’m eager to visit the capital, St John’s, for its market day.
Saturday morning is the new Saturday night, providing a sensory riot of colours and fragrances. As I stroll through the various market stalls, I realise why Antigua is considered to be one of the safest and friendliest countries in the Caribbean.
My final visit is to Antigua’s new 22ft sculpture, Boonji Spaceman, standing at the end of a small pier at Hodges Bay resort on the north coast. The piece, designed by Malibu-based artist Brendan Murphy, aims to lift the human spirit and highlights the artist’s fascination with space.
As I walk towards it, I hear music and spy a rather energetic dancer who later tells me his name is Tango. The sky darkens, rain falls, then stops before the sun beams back down again. Tango dances throughout, pausing only briefly when I thank him. As I walk away, Tango and the spaceman are still going for it.
Not even a global pandemic is going to stop them.
P.S. Antigua and Barbuda includes three islands, Redonda being the third. It is actually a tiny, rugged, uninhabited rock, the remnant of a volcanic cone of only 0.5 square miles and rising to nearly 1,000 feet above sea level, with cliffs on all sides.
Suites at Tamarind Hills start from £250 per night.
British Airways fly to Antigua from Heathrow and Gatwick from £378 return. britishairways.com
For more info go to visitantiguabarbuda.com
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