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Almost anything you Google about Antigua will tell you that there are “365 beaches, one for each day of the year.” As a beach lover, I was really looking forward to going to some fabulous beaches. Flying to Antigua from Raleigh-Durham is a bit cost prohibitive, so a Southern Caribbean cruise was a great way for us to explore this island nation.
I was really looking forward to a tour of the 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
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 – they put as many guests as they can into their mini buses or vans, so it isn’t easy to individualize your trip.
I told the driver I wanted to go to Valley Church Beach. While I realized that this was probably a mistake because it would be overcrowded, I preferred going to a beach where we wouldn’t be alone (not my usual tactic). 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.
When we stopped, we were at Darkwood Beach. It turns out that a group of young people on our minibus had been to the island last year and enjoyed this beach the most. 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 (I can’t blame them for wanting to spend as long as possible on the beach). 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 that we would decide to stay there like the rest of the group.
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. While I would absolutely love to come back to Antigua to explore some of these more secluded stretches, being on a cruise ship was not the best time to do that.
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. I saw plenty of other taxis and so I thanked him and told him we would get a ride from another driver. At that point he informed us that his son could come pick us up at our requested 1pm and it would still be $8 each. Note to self: always bargain!
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 only planned on spending less than two hours at the beach, the Caribbean sun is merciless so we paid for the umbrella.
While this beach was more popular and crowded, there was a reason. A bar was directly behind us providing lunch. We were told that servers would take our orders from our loungers but the service was so slow that it made more sense for me 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 been a bigger group and had a way of communicating (like where to call for a taxi), I would have certainly felt much more comfortable about going to a more deserted beach.
Things to remember
- 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.
Once you get back on 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 sight. 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 – I need 364 days here to explore all the other beaches!
What beach is your favorite? Do you have other suggestions on how to hire taxis in Antigua or other ports of call?
Annick, The Common Traveler