Antigua and Barbuda

Dec 30th 2021 - Jan 2nd 2022

After spending most of November and December in New York City, I decided to get some warmer weather and add a few new countries to my collection. So, after getting another negative PCR test back, I hopped on a direct flight from JFK to St John's airport on the island of Antigua, my first stop on a three country Caribbean trip. Antigua is the larger of the two islands that form the nation of Antigua and Barbuda. The country has a population of just under 100,000 people, 97% of which live on Antigua. This part of the Caribbean is called the Lesser Antilles, which are formed by the long arc of small islands stretching from the coast of Venezuela all the way up to Puerto Rico (which is the first island of the Greater Antilles).

It is about a 4 hour flight from New York to Antigua, and American Airlines and JetBlue offer direct flights. Coming in for the landing, I enjoyed this great view of St Johns, which is the capital and largest city of the country. Antigua is a popular destination for cruise ships, and the city's buildings are usually dwarfed by two or three of these giants sitting in the harbor right next to the city center.

I had 4 days in Antigua and I stayed at the beautiful Royalton Antigua resort, which is located between two ocean bays and has a large semi-private beach.

It is believed that the earliest human settlers reached Antigua around 3,100 BC, who probably migrated from the coast of Venezuela. Christopher Columbus was the first European to reach Antigua on his second voyage in 1493. The English began colonization of the island in 1632, and kept control until the country became fully independent in 1981. Antigua and Barbuda is a full member of the United Nations as well as the Commonwealth and Queen Elizabeth II remains formally head of state. Antigua's economy is largely dependent on tourism, which accounts for 80% of the country's GDP. Therefor COVID obviously had a devastating impact to the economy, but most people here seem to be fairly upbeat and feel that tourism is starting to come back.

On my second day I had a private sightseeing tour book through Viator. We first drove through the city and past the huge cricket stadium. As in many other Caribbean islands, cricket is the number one sport, or better call it an obsession. My guide was proudly telling me that some of the most famous West Indian cricketers come from Antigua, including Viv Richards and Curtly Ambrose. After about a 30 min drive on fairly good roads, we reached the east coast, which is the much more rugged and stormy Atlantic side. WE briefly stopped to take picture of this natural bridge carved out by waves.

From here we continued to the south coast and drove up to a gorgeous lookout spot called Shirley's heights.

Dedicated in 2016, the Antigua Naval Dockyard is the countries only UNESCO World Heritage site. Built in the 18th century mainly with the use of African slave labor, the dockyard is located along a  natural deep harbor, called English Harbour. The bay is surrounded by mountains, which make it easily defendable and well protected from hurricanes. Visiting the dockyard was fascinating. the buildings are beautifully restored and there are several interesting museums, where you can learn all about the history of this place.

The dockyard is also known as Nelson's dockyard, owing to the fact that Horatio Nelson spent some of the early years of his naval career here in Antigua. The man, who would later become the most respected and famous naval commander in all of British history, started his life on the oceans at the young age of 13, when he first crossed the Atlantic as an ordinary deckhand. He later served here in Antigua for three years during one of his first commands, but apparently did not like it very much and referred to English Harbour as this 'infernal hole'. These days the harbor is mainly used by millionaires to park their super yachts, and I imagine it would be difficult to find anyone to agree with Nelson's assessment today.

Although Antigua is not a volcanic island, but largely created by lime stone, the south-west corner of the island, seen in the background of the above photo, is fairly mountainous and protected as a National Park. The highest mountain of Antigua (with a modest height of 300 meters) was officially renamed Mount Obama in 2009 to honor the first black president of the United States.

The following day at the resort, I climbed the small rocky outcropping that separates the two bays. There is an old ruined fort on top of the small hill. It was the perfect spot to fly my drone.

For New Year's Eve the resort put on some very nice fireworks, which looked spectacular across the bay. While I can't really complain about my year 2021, I am still hoping that this would be the start to a much better 2022, a year in which the pandemic ends and the world opens up to travel again.

I continued my trip further south with a direct flight on Caribbean Airlines to Barbados.

No comments:

Post a Comment