If someone mentions Antigua and Barbuda, you’d be forgiven for your first thoughts running to blue waters, plush greens and ripe coconuts. Located in the eastern Caribbean, where the Atlantic meets the Caribbean sea, the two islands do indeed have all of these things to offer, but if you delve down, you can find so much more.
With a tiny population of 98,000, Antigua and Barbuda still manage to boast a rich history and an even richer tourism industry.The islands date back to the 15th century when they were first visited by Christopher Colombus and then later colonised in the 17th century. With its old history and link to the British Commonwealth, Antigua and Barbuda have become popular destinations with tourists. Dr. Dario Item, permanent representative of Antigua and Barbuda to the UNWTO, is here to share some of his best-kept secrets and what you can expect from the country as the Pandemic comes to an end.
With the country’s main economic sector coming from tourism, Antigua and Barbuda took a hit during the early stages of the Covid-19 Pandemic. Before 2020, the number of tourists was steadily rising each year, which in effect led to tourism taking over the agricultural sector as the main source of the country’s income. The mid-90s saw nearly 446,000 tourists each year, which had almost doubled by 2007 with 900,000 tourists stepping foot on the island. By 2019, this had hit the million mark, with 1.1 million tourists recorded. “The country took a hit in 2020.” Ambassador Dario Item states. “The streets around the capital were dead and tourism is our main source of income. It’s nice to see tourists arriving again and giving the islands back their spark.”, says Ambassador Dario Item. In 2020, the number of tourists plummeted to 385,000. A drastic drop compared to the year before. Now with restrictions eased and the fully vaccinated allowed entry without testing, the country can spring back onto its feet and get its economy moving once again.
Antigua and Barbuda aren’t short of tourist attractions for their visitors. Part of its recovery from Covid 19 was to reopen its tourist hotspots as soon as it felt safe to do so. Now with restrictions completely eased, visitors do not need to wear a mask to any tourist attractions, however, they are still advised to do so if they wish. This rule applies to all places such as shopping centres, restaurants and public places like museums and galleries.
One particular tourist hotspot is Stingray City. If you’re after an action-packed day then Stingray city is perfect for you. Located by Seatons Village, east of Antigua, Ambassador Dario Item describes the attraction as being “the perfect family day out. You can swim and snorkel with the stingrays, have your picture taken and explore the reef. The experience is something you’ll remember for life.” You’ll find the stingrays in a shallow pool in the sea where they can freely roam and are happy to come up and say hello.
For something different, on the island of Barbuda, you’ll find the world-famous 17 mile beach, which is well known for its wondrous beauty. With a long stretch of pink sands, you’ll find much of the beach deserted and there’s even the option to take in the views by helicopter. Just remember to take supplies such as food, water and a sun hat with you, as there are no restaurants, cafes or any places for shade.
If history is more your thing, you’ll find the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda in St John’s, the capital. According to Ambassador Dario Item,it’s where you can “jump into the rich history of the country and learn about the colonial history, slavery and also the geography of the two islands. You can really learn so much about culture and heritage here.”. It’s a small museum and can be completed in the morning, leaving plenty of time for other excursions throughout the rest of the day.
Not only are there numerous activities to do during the day, but there are also a wide variety of restaurants and bars to visit in the evenings.After a recent 8 pm curfew, due to the pandemic, hospitalityis now back up and running at its usual times and proof of vaccination is no longer required to enter any venues.
For those that are after a lively atmosphere, Ambassador Dario Item recommends Oyantas. “It’s the only rooftop bar in Antigua! I go there for a variety of cocktails and international cuisine. The views of the island are incredible!” You’ll find Oyantas in the heart of St Johns, making it easily accessible to all island visitors.
If you’re after somewhere quieter, you’ll find The Cove Restaurant at the Blue Waters resort. Surrounded by palm trees and breathtaking sea views, it’s the perfect place to sip a glass of wine whilst watching the sun go down. A little pricier than other restaurants on the island but with a fine choice of Caribbean and French cuisine, it’s hard to turn down what’s on offer.
The islands of Antigua and Barbuda have fully bounced back from the Covid 19 pandemic and are now more than ready to start welcoming back their tourists again. After taking a huge hit to their economy in 2020, due to their reliance on the tourism sector, they are now ready and open in all areas of tourism and hospitality. So, whether you’re looking to snorkel with stingrays or have a relaxing meal by the ocean, you should be able to do so as if it were pre-pandemic. As well as this,all fully vaccinated travellers can now enter without having to show proof of a negative Covid 19 test, which can also reduce any extra costs for the vacation or leave a little extra money to enjoy yourself with on the delights of the islands. With very few restrictions in place and also being such a vibrant country, it is easy to see why Antigua and Barbuda is a fantastic choice for vacation.