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Antigua and Barbuda Travel Guide

Sports and Activities

Several all-inclusives offer day passes that permit use of all sporting facilities, from tennis courts to water-sports concessions, as well as free drinks and meals. The cost begins at $50 for singles (but can be as much as $200 for couples at Sandals), and hours generally run from 8 am to 6 pm, with extensions available until 2 am. Antigua has long been famed for its cricketers (such as Viv Richards and Richie Richardson); aficionados will find one of the Caribbean's finest cricket grounds right by the airport, with major test matches running January through June.

Adventure Tours

Antigua is developing its ecotourist opportunities, and several memorable offshore experiences involve more than just snorkeling. The archipelago of islets coupled with a full mangrove swamp off the northeast coast is unique in the Caribbean.

Adventure Antigua. The enthusiastic Eli Fuller, who is knowledgeable not only about the ecosystem and geography of Antigua but also about its history and politics (his grandfather was the American consul), runs Adventure Antigua. His thorough seven-hour excursion (Eli dubs it "re-creating my childhood explorations") includes stops at Guiana Island (for lunch and guided snorkeling; turtles, barracuda, and stingrays are common sightings), Pelican Island (more snorkeling), Bird Island (hiking to vantage points to admire the soaring ospreys and frigate and red-billed tropic birds), and Hell's Gate (a striking limestone rock formation where the more intrepid may hike and swim through sunken caves and tide pools painted with pink and maroon algae). The company also offers a fun "Xtreme Circumnavigation" variation on a racing boat catering to adrenaline junkies who "feel the need for speed" that also visits Stingray City and Nelson's Dockyard, as well as a more sedate Antigua Classic Yacht sail-and-snorkel experience that explains the rich West Indian history of boatbuilding. 268/727–3261 or 268/726–6355. www.adventureantigua.com.

"Paddles" Kayak Eco Adventure. "Paddles" Kayak Eco Adventure takes you on a 3½-hour tour of serene mangroves and inlets with informative narrative about the fragile ecosystem of the swamp and reefs and the rich diversity of flora and fauna. The tour ends with a hike to sunken caves and snorkeling in the North Sound Marine Park, capped by a rum punch at the fun Creole-style clubhouse nestled amid botanic gardens. Experienced guides double as kayaking and snorkeling instructors, making this an excellent opportunity for novices. Conrad and Jennie's brainchild is one of Antigua's better bargains. Seaton's Village. 268/463–1944. www.antiguapaddles.com.

Stingray City Antigua. Stingray City Antigua is a carefully reproduced "natural" environment nicknamed by staffers the "retirement home," though the 30-plus stingrays, ranging from infants to seniors, are frisky. You can stroke, feed, even hold the striking gliders ("they're like puppy dogs," one guide swears), as well as snorkel in deeper, protected waters. The tour guides do a marvelous job of explaining the animals' habits, from feeding to breeding, and their predators (including man). Seaton's Village. 268/562–7297. www.stingraycityantigua.com.

Boating

Antigua's circular geographic configuration makes boating easy, and its many lovely harbors and coves provide splendid anchorages. Experienced boaters will particularly enjoy Antigua's east coast, which is far more rugged and has several islets; be sure to get a good nautical map, as there are numerous minireefs that can be treacherous. If you're just looking for a couple of hours of wave-hopping, stick to the Dickenson Bay or Jolly Harbour area.

Nicholson Yacht Charters. Nicholson Yacht Charters are real professionals, true pioneers in Caribbean sailing, with three generations spanning 60 years of experience. A long-established island family, they can offer you anything from a 20-foot ketch to a giant schooner. English Harbour. 268/460–1530 or 305/433–5533. www.nicholson-charters.com.

Ondeck. Ondeck runs skippered charters on the likes of Farr and Beneteau out of the Antigua Yacht Club Marina in Falmouth Harbour, terrific one- and two-day sailing workshops, and eco-adventure trips to Montserrat on a racing yacht. You can even participate in official regattas. Instructors and crew are all seasoned racers. Bareboating options and sunset cruises are also available. 268/562–6696. www.ondeckoceanracing.com.

Sunsail. Sunsail has an extensive modern fleet of dinghies and 32-foot day-sailers starting at $25 per half day, $50 for a full day (always call in advance as the Nelson's Dockyard office is open sporadically). But its primary focus is bareboat yachting, often in conjunction with hotel stays. 268/460–2615 or 888/350–3568. www.sunsail.com.

Diving

Antigua is an unsung diving destination, with plentiful undersea sights to explore, from coral canyons to sea caves. Barbuda alone features roughly 200 wrecks on its treacherous reefs. The most accessible wreck is the 1890s bark Andes, not far out in Deep Bay, off Five Islands Peninsula. Among the favorite sites are Green Island, Cades Reef, and Bird Island (a national park). Memorable sightings include turtles, stingrays, and barracuda darting amid basalt walls, hulking boulders, and stray 17th-century anchors and cannon. One advantage is accessibility in many spots for shore divers and snorkelers. Double-tank dives run about $90.

Dockyard Divers. Owned by British ex-merchant seaman Captain A.G. "Tony" Fincham, Dockyard Divers is one of the island's most established outfits and offers diving and snorkeling trips, PADI courses, and dive packages with accommodations. They're geared to seasoned divers, but staff work patiently with novices. Tony is a wonderful source of information on the island; ask him about the "Fincham's Follies" musical extravaganza he produces for charity. Nelson's Dockyard, English Harbour. 268/460–1178. www.dockyard-divers.com.

Fishing

Antigua's waters teem with game fish such as marlin, wahoo, and tuna. Most boat trips include equipment, lunch, and drinks. Figure at least $495 for a half day, $790 for a full day, for up to six people.

Obsession. The 45-foot Hatteras Convertible Sportfisherman Obsession has top-of-the-line equipment, including an international-standard fighting chair, Rupp outriggers, and handcrafted rods. Also available is the new 55-foot Hatteras Sportfisherman, the Double Header. www.charternet.com/charters/obsession.

Overdraft. Frankie Hart, a professional fisherman who knows the waters intimately and regales clients with stories of his trade, operates Overdraft, a spacious, fiberglass 40-footer outfitted with the latest techno-gadgetry. He also rents the 26-foot H2O, a ProKat versatile enough to accommodate fly-fishing and deeper-water bay bait fishing. 268/464–4954 or 268/463–3112. www.antiguafishing.com.

Golf

Though Antigua hardly qualifies as a duffer's delight, its two 18-hole courses offer varied layouts.

Cedar Valley Golf Club. Finished as Antigua’s first 18-hole golf course in 1977, Cedar Valley is not particularly well-maintained terrain, but nonethess offers some attractive vistas and challenges with narrow hilly fairways and numerous doglegs (Hole 7 is a perfect example). The 5th hole has exceptional ocean vistas from the top of the tee, and the par-5 9th offers the trickiest design with steep slopes and swales. Carts are $42 ($22 for 9 holes). The Spinach! Cafe offers free Wi-Fi. Friar's Hill. 268/462–0161. www.cedarvalleygolf.ag. $49 ($25 for 9 holes). 18 holes, 6157 yards, par 70.

Jolly Harbour Golf Course. The flat Florida-style layout of Jolly Harbour was designed by Karl Litten. It's lushly tropical with the trade winds a challenge. Seven lakes add to the challenge, but the facility struggles with conditioning. The 15th is the signature hole, with a sharp dogleg and long carry over two hazards. Unfortunately, fairways are often dry and patchy, drainage is poor, and the pro shop and "19th hole" are barely adequate. Visitors can participate in regular tournaments and "meet-and-greet" events. Jolly Harbour. 268/462–7771 Ext. 608. www.jollyharbourantigua.com/golf. $57.50 ($97.75 including cart); $23 for 9 holes. 18 holes, 5587 yards, par 71.

Guided Tours

Almost all taxi drivers double as guides; an island tour with one costs about $25 an hour. Every major hotel has a cabbie on call and may be able to negotiate a discount, particularly off-season. Several operators specialize in off-road four-wheel-drive adventures that provide a taste of island history and topography.

Island Safaris. Four-wheel off-road adventures by Island Safaris, which also runs other land- and water-based excursions, enables you to fully appreciate the island's natural beauty, history, folklore, and cultural heritage as you zoom about the southwest part of Antigua. Hiking is involved, though it's not strenuous. Lunch and snorkeling are also included. Active adventurers will particularly enjoy the combo Land Rover–kayak outback ecotour. Prices start at $99 per adult, $60–$75 children 7–12. 268/480–1225. www.tropicaladventures-antigua.com.

Scenic Tours. Scenic Tours gives affordable half- and full-day island tours, geared toward cruise passengers, that focus on such highlights as Devil's Bridge, Shirley Heights, and English Harbour, as well as soft adventure hikes. Woods Mall, St. John's. 268/764–3060 or 888/271–4004. www.scenictoursantigua.com.

Horseback Riding

Comparatively dry Antigua is best for beach rides, though you won't find anything wildly romantic and deserted à la Black Stallion.

Antigua Equestrian Center. The former Spring Hill Riding Club specializes in equestrian lessons in show jumping and dressage but also offers $65 hour-long trail rides on the beach or through the bush past ruined forts, $125 for two hours (bareback riding in the ocean is an additional $45); half-hour private lessons from a British Horse Society instructor are $35. Falmouth Harbour. 268/460–7787 or 268/773–3139. www.antiguaequestrian.com.

Sailing and Snorkeling

Not a sailor yourself? Consider signing up for one of the following boat tours. Each tour provides a great opportunity to enjoy the seafaring life while someone else captains the ship.

Miguel's Holiday Adventures. Miguel's Holiday Adventures leaves every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday morning at 10 am from the Hodges Bay jetty for snorkeling, rum punches, and lunch at Prickly Pear Island, which offers both shallow- and deepwater snorkeling, as well as hiking. In this comfortable family operation, Miguel's wife, Josephine, prepares an authentic, lavish West Indian buffet including lobster, and Miguel and his son Terrence are caring instructors. 268/460–9978; 268/772–3213; 268/723–7418 mobile. www.pricklypearisland.com.

Tropical Adventures. Barbuda day trips on the catamaran Excellence overflow with rum and high spirits, as do circumnavigations of Antigua. Tropical Adventures also operates ecokayaking tours and slightly more sedate, intimate catamaran cruises from sunset to snorkeling on the Mystic. Most tours cost $99-$115, with discounts for children 12 and under. 268/480–1225. www.tropicaladventures-antigua.com.

Wadadli Cats. Wadadli Cats offers several cruises, including a circumnavigation of the island and snorkeling at Bird Island or Cades Reef, on its five sleek catamarans, including the handsome, fully outfitted Spirit of Antigua. Prices are fair ($95–$110), and advance direct bookers get a free T-shirt. 268/462–4792. www.wadadlicats.com.

Windsurfing and Kiteboarding

Most major hotels offer windsurfing equipment. The best areas are Nonsuch Bay and the east coast (notably Half Moon and Willoughby bays), which is slightly less protected and has a challenging juxtaposition of sudden calms and gusts.

KiteAntigua. KiteAntigua offers lessons in the Caribbean's hot new sport, kiteboarding, where a futuristic surfboard with harness is propelled only by an inflated kite; kite-board rentals (for the certified) are also available at $30 per hour, $50 half day, $70 full day. The varied multiday lesson packages are expensive but thorough; a four-hour private beginners course is $280. KiteAntigua closes from September through November, when winds aren't optimal. The center is on a stretch near the airport, but road trips to secret spots are arranged for experienced kitesurfers seeking that sometimes harrowing "high." Jabberwock Beach. 268/720–5483 or 268/727–3983. www.kitesurfantigua.com.

Windsurfing Antigua. Patrick Scales of Windsurfing Antigua has long been one of Antigua's, if not the Caribbean's, finest instructors; he now offers a mobile service in high season. He provides top-flight equipment for $30 per hour (first hour; $25 subsequent hours, $70 per half-day, and $80 per day), two-hour beginner lessons for $90, and specialty tours to Half Moon Bay and other favorite spots for experienced surfers. Jabberwock Beach. 268/461–9463 or 268/773–9463. www.windsurfantigua.net.

Zip-lining

Antigua Rainforest Canopy Tours. Release your inner Tarzan at Antigua Rainforest Canopy Tours. You should be in fairly good condition for the ropes challenges, which require upper-body strength and stamina; there are height and weight restrictions. But anyone (vertigo or acrophobia sufferers, beware) can navigate the intentionally rickety "Indiana Jones–inspired" suspension bridges, then fly (in secure harnesses) 200-300 feet above a rain-forest-filled valley from one towering turpentine tree to the next on lines with names like "Screamer" and "Leap of Faith." There are 21 stations, as well as a bar–café and interpretive signage. First-timers, fear not: the "rangers" are affable, amusing, and accomplished. Admission varies slightly, but is usually $85 and up. It's open Monday–Saturday from 8 to 6, with two scheduled tours at 9 and 11 (other times by appointment). Fig Tree Dr., Wallings. 268/562–6363. www.antiguarainforest.com.

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