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Antigua enjoys “365 beaches, one for each day of the year.” This Port Guide gives you ideas on what to do in Antigua and how to enjoy Antigua’s beaches (and more) during your cruise.
Any beach lover probably looks forward to going to some fabulous beaches on Antigua. Flying to Antigua from many destinations is a bit cost-prohibitive. A Southern Caribbean cruise is a cost-effective way for people to explore this island nation. This post highlights Antigua’s best beaches and a few other tourist destinations to see during a port day in Antigua.
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I was really looking forward to a tour of Antigua beaches, including Ffryes Beach and Valley Church Beach. This is one of those ports where you can hire a driver to take you to the beach. Just make sure you don’t miss the ride back!
Hiring a Driver to Visit Antigua Beaches
But it turned out to be not so easy to hire a driver and stop at multiple beaches. It was a bit of a madhouse as both Royal Caribbean and Carnival were in port on the same day. Think of 5,000 passengers flooding off the ships! When you get off your cruise ship, a gaggle of taxi drivers approach you asking where you want to go. The problem is that they are mini-buses or vans. Drivers put as many guests as they can into their vehicles, so it isn’t easy to individualize a trip.
I told the driver I wanted to go to Valley Church Beach. I should not have chosen an overcrowded beach. We boarded a minibus along with 10 other people. The cost was $8 per person each way. We drove through town and along a stretch of road.
Best Antigua Beaches: Darkwood Beach
When we stopped, we were at Darkwood Beach, the destination for some of the others on our minibus. And while the beach looked GORGEOUS, I only saw a few taxis and one bar/restaurant. The rest of the group wanted to stay until 3pm. We were already sunburned. I reminded our driver that we had asked for Valley Church. He said we’d already passed it but he would take us back. I really think he was hoping that once we saw Darkwood, we would stay. In hindsight, we should have stayed. It was far less crowded.
So back we went to Valley Church, passing the road that led to Ffryes Beach. It turns out that it wasn’t that easy to go beach hopping because they are away from the main road and you have to take some smaller roads to get to them. I would love to come back to Antigua to spend more time exploring the different beaches.
When our driver dropped us off at Valley Church, he said that the return trip price would go up because we were at a different beach and wanted to be picked up earlier than the others. Seeing plenty of other taxis, I thanked him and told him we would get a ride from another driver. At that point, he informed us that his son could pick us up at our requested time for $8. Note to self: always bargain!
Best Antigua Beaches: Valley Church Beach
Arriving at Valley Church shortly after 11am was a mistake. The front row of loungers and umbrellas was already taken. We relegated ourselves to the second row. Loungers could be rented for $5 and umbrellas were $10. Although we planned on spending less than two hours at the beach, we paid for the umbrella due to the Caribbean sun. The water here is too cloudy for snorkeling, so this was a drawback.
While this beach was more popular and crowded, there was a reason. A bar was directly behind us providing lunch (there’s a photo further down). We were told that servers would take our orders from our loungers but the service was so slow that it made more sense to go to the bar. We had free WiFi, so we caught up on any emergencies. Shortly after we arrived, one couple on the front row left and so we moved up. Score!
I’m so glad that we went to the beach here. Originally Allan was going to enjoy a port day on the cruise ship. He really enjoyed the Wave Rider! But after seeing my unease over negotiating with the taxi drivers, this wonderful man accompanied me. If we had a way of call a taxi, I would have preferred going to a more deserted beach.
Best Antigua Beaches: Half Moon Bay
You will need to make some effort if you want to visit one of the most magnificent beaches of Antigua since easternmost Half Moon Bay is really far away from just about everything, but it is well worth it. The trek has its benefits, though, namely few beachgoers to distract from the charm of this national park. Windsurfers will appreciate the sizable waves toward the center of the beach. Snorkelers can discover calm waters near the edges. For those looking for a place to relax, the soft white sand at Half Moon Bay provides a comfortable viewpoint to enjoy the vast seascape.
If you travel by taxi you can expect a hefty fare to Half Moon. It is approximately a 40-minute drive from the cruise port). Recent visitors reported that some vendors sell beach and chair rentals should you not have access to your own. Plus, there are some beach bars.
Best Antigua Beaches: Galley Bay Beach
Galley Bay Beach on the northwest coast of the island has some of the better surfing waves in Antigua. Plus, it is a must-see for animal lovers. Sea turtles frequently leave their eggs here to nest (many times a year, but most often in summer). Bring your camera and your snorkeling gear to glimpse Galley Bay’s underwater wildlife. The beach goes for almost 1 mile next to the Galley Bay Resort and Spa.
Galley Bay Beach boasts the iridescent turquoise water you expect from Antigua and a soft, clean stretch of sand that visitors rave about. Three of the resort’s open-air restaurants reach out to the white edge of the sand, not far from the water. Be wary of the powerful undertow and rough breaks that can make this beach tough for swimming. For the calmest waters, steer clear of the rock formations off to the sides of the beach. If you are bringing the family, make sure to keep a more eye on swimming children. Visitors who aren’t guests at the resort are welcome to spend the day at the beach for free, but cannot access the facilities.
Best Antigua Beaches: Hawksbill Beaches
Four beaches, Royal Palm Beach, Honeymoon Cove, Sea Grape Beach, and Eden Beach are the property of Hawksbill, an adults-only resort. They are open to all kinds of tourists to enjoy. Visit Hawksbill if you are looking for more peace and quiet than Dickenson Bay can provide or calmer waves than you will find at Half Moon Bay. You will know you are in the right spot when you see the peculiarly shaped rock jutting from the water. It is this formation that gives the bay its name. Its natural beauty lures most visitors, but take note that this’s a prime location for honeymooners and adult vacationers. Eden Beach is clothing optional. Visitors all praise the beautiful beaches and chill vibe, noting that the place is more low-key than other beaches on the island. The area is situated around a 20-minute drive west of the cruise port.
7 Things to Remember about Antigua Beaches:
- All Antiguan beaches are free. But you’ll need to pay for chairs, loungers, and umbrellas.
- Bus drivers are not tour guides. Don’t expect any conversation or descriptions of what you’re seeing.
- Look for drivers wearing an “Antigua Taxi” emblem on their shirts.
- Make arrangements upfront about your destination and price.
- Have a backup plan just in case – you don’t want to miss your boat!
- Bring lots of sunscreen and your ship’s towel.
- Bring some cash to pay your driver and for any drinks or trinkets.
- Decide ahead of time what you’d like to see.
Non-Beach Places to See in Antigua
Sunburned or already tired of the beach scene? No problem! Antigua offers excursions and options for sightseeing for you too!
Wear comfortable shoes and hike from Galleon Beach in English Harbour to the summit of Shirley Heights. On a clear day, the panorama (to be found about 492 feet above sea level) has views of the southern island of Guadeloupe and the volcano Montserrat, which visitors describe as breathtaking. It is a challenging hike up to the lookout. The Antiguan heat makes early morning the best time to make the trek. If you aren’t up for the task, you hop into a taxi to the top. The famous Shirley Heights Lookout Restaurant and Bar rests at the summit. Admission to Shirley Heights is included in the admission fee to Nelson’s Dockyard (which is $8). The Sunday evening party fee is higher.
If you need a break from the beach for one day, head to the gorgeously restored English Harbour, where you will find Nelson’s Dockyard. The naval dockyard was once the house of the British fleet during the Napoleonic Wars and served as the headquarters of Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson from 1784 to 1787. The Dockyard has a laundry list of attractions: There are plenty of restaurants, cafes, and shops. The Dockyard Museum, where a telescope of belonging to Nelson and tea caddy are on display as well as Dow’s Hill Interpretation Center, where visitors can watch a 15-minutes presentation on the history and culture of the island.
Other Dockyard activities include sightseeing along the marina, relaxing at the nearby beach, and taking a trip up to panoramic Shirley Heights. You likely cannot hit all the dockyard’s attractions in one visit, but you can enjoy a fair amount if you plan ahead, which recent visitors high recommended. The park’s official website lists all there’s to see and do, including special events. Dockyard of Nelson is open daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. The price of admission is $8 and covers entry to all sites, including Shirley Heights and Dow’s Hill. Visit the National Parks Antigua website for extra information.
Antigua Rainforest Canopy
Away from the beaches and coastline, Antigua contains a verdant jungle to explore. One of the exciting ways to see its natural beauty is to join a canopy tour. These exhilarating trips include higher ropes and zip lines. They are the perfect way to immerse yourself in the jungle. Strap on your helmet and follow your guide as you tackle the park’s many aerial obstacles, zooming above the lovely scenery of mossy boulders, fruit trees, and gorges below.
Established in the mid-17th century and named after the daughter of one of its former owners, Betty’s Hope was one of the first and largest sugar plantations on the island. It is no longer a working mill, but it’s a standing monument to the role of Antigua in British colonial history. The main mill has been restored with new sails and crushing machinery. Most of the other buildings on the former plantation remain in ruins.
A stunning view of Pares Village below makes for few worthwhile pictures. The site is worthwhile to visit to understand the role slaves played in Antiguan history. Visitors noted that you will have to make a donation to enter the sparse museum. Travelers recommend exploring Betty’s Hope with a native guide as part of the tour of the island, rather than stopping on your own.
Once you get back on the ship, compare notes with other cruisers. Our British friends went on a tour of the island and loved it. Plus they got to see a UNESCO World Heritage site. Another couple said that they were originally taken to Ffryes Beach. But it was so deserted that they were afraid their driver would not show back up so that they asked him to go to Valley Church instead.
My takeaway from Antigua’s beaches – I need 364 days here to explore all the other beaches!
You might be interested in reading about more Caribbean islands:
- Port Guide to St. Kitts
- Port Guide to Barbados (and why I’m tempted to move there!)
- Port Guide to St. Lucia
- Port Guide to San Juan
- Port Guide to Grand Turk
The Cruising Page is full of ideas and tips for destinations and hacks to improve your cruise experience!
Which Antigua beaches are your favorites? Do you have other suggestions on how to hire taxis in Antigua or other ports of call?
Annick, The Common Traveler