Little known just a generation ago, tiny Antigua has established itself as one of the Caribbean’s more popular destinations.The island is dotted with superb stretches of white sand, many of which – despite the upswing in tourism and development that has given birth to dozens of excellent restaurants and hotels, and a handful of all-inclusives – remain relatively
uncrowded. If you’re looking for a place to crash out on a beach for a week or two, you’ll find this laid- back, welcoming place hard to beat.
The best of the beaches can be found at Dickenson Bay in the northwest, Half Moon Bay in the east and Rendezvous Bay in the south. Of these, only Dickenson Bay (along with its neighbour, Runaway Bay) are part of a major tourist strip; the others – as well as several more just
like them – are much less built up than similarly idyllic spots in the Caribbean.The waters off
the north coast are also a prime spot for spray- soaked watersports, with excellent scuba diving and snorkelling opportunities in the fabulous offshore reefs.
Before Europeans began colonizing the West Indies,Antigua was populated by Arawak-speaking
Amerindians. Sighted by Columbus in 1493, the island was left to its own devices until the early six- teenth century, wh British settlers arrived, bringing with them African slaves to clear the
native vegetation and plant sugarcane. For centuries, the island was little more than a giant sugar factory,producing sugar and rumto send home to an increasingly sweet-toothed
mother country.Around Antigua, the tall brick chimneys of a hundred deserted and decaying
sugar mills, as well as the ruins of military forts and signal stations, bear witness to that long colonial era.These relics make for worthy and atmospheric diversions if you can drag yourself away from your patch of sand.The superbly restored naval dockyard and the crumbling forts
around English Harbour and Shirley Heights are as impressive as any historic site in the West Indies.There are lots of other little nuggets to explore too,
including the capital, St John’ s, with its colourful,lively quayside, and theodd old-fashioned settle-ment likeParham or OldRoad that progress seems to have bypassed.
And if you’rebprepared to do a bit of walking, you’ll find some superb hikes that will take you out to completely isolated parts of the island.As for nightlife, things are generally pretty quiet,
though a good crop of restau- rants – look out for those serving fresh West Indian cooking, especially seafood – do double duty as bars and dance clubs.