Almost everyone here has a nickname. ‘Local’ (because he is), Lobster 2 (because he works at the beach) and Tidy (yes, the cleaner) are all delighted that Antigua is so keen to welcome visitors — and that the island remains on the UK’s travel corridor list.
And quite right, too. Latest figures show that there have been only five deaths on the island and 151 Covid cases overall.
Which is why I had no qualms about bringing my wife and three teenage daughters — Ellie, 18, Daisy, 16, and Lily, 13 — here between lockdowns, as a special treat for something or other — and I am a tubby 56-year-old with high blood pressure.
Paradise: Stunning Half Moon Bay in Antigua. The island is keen to welcome visitors and remains on the UK’s travel corridor list
‘Local’ taxied us to St James’s Club & Villas, a 100-acre resort on the south-eastern tip of the island, where we had opted for an all-inclusive week’s stay, which, as well as meals, included all manner of free water sports, such as paddleboarding, kayaking and sailing Hobie Cats.
St James’s Villas has been around since 1983, and before that it was a Holiday Inn. One great thing about it is that there are two beaches, one on the Atlantic side (which is slightly windier but great for swimming), the other on the Caribbean coast, enclosed in a small bay that’s perfect for families with younger children.
For the energetic there’s a gym; for the tired, a kids’ club; and for party animals, a nightclub (although owing to Covid its an 11pm finish at the moment). For the brave, there are also scuba-diving courses for an extra cost.
Ellie did a half-day scuba induction session for £150, which included a dive with turtles and rays, although you can do longer courses to get formally PADI certified.
Colourful: Antigua’s capital St John’s. Latest figures show that there have been only five Covid deaths on the island and 151 cases overall
The stunning view of Galleon Beach from Shirley Heights
Car hire is essential in Antigua if you want to get around as taxis are expensive — so we hired a Jeep to explore.
Driving is a breeze (left-hand side of the road) and traffic pretty minimal, though the odd cow or goat may surprise you.
Over the course of our stay, we mainly tootled around the southern beaches (where the trade winds blow less) and came up with three firm favourites.
First, Darkwood, bang in the middle of the South Coast, with a backdrop of native forest and hills. Then there was Galleon beach, five minutes from St James’s and around the corner from Nelson’s Dockyard in English Harbour.
Finally, on the East Coast, the famous Half Moon Bay, the family favourite with its winning combination of 3,200ft of white coral sand, crystal-clear water and the aptly named Beach Bum Bar.
A sign at Half Moon Bay describes the imminent opening of a luxury hotel, but that’s all up in the air now, according to the chatty Beach Bum barman who does a roaring trade in £16 lobster plates.
Nelson’s Dockyard is one of Antigua’s biggest attractions. It’s where Britain’s favourite sailor was based in the 1780s to enforce trade rules with the newly founded United States.
The historical Dockyard has just reopened, and the shops, restaurants and yacht harbour are as lively as ever — attracting locals, yachties and tourists alike.
Nelson’s Dockyard, pictured, is one of Antigua’s biggest attractions. It’s where Britain’s favourite sailor was based in the 1780s to enforce trade rules with the newly founded United States
THE COVID RULES ON THE ISLAND OF ANTIGUA
Travellers must provide proof of a negative RT-PCR test taken no more than seven days before departure. On arrival in Antigua, tourists are subject to further health screenings at the airport, including temperature checks.
They are also required to complete a Health Declaration form (issued during the flight) and show proof of a booking at a government-approved hotel.
Masks must be worn in hotel communal areas when social distancing is not possible, as well as in supermarkets, pharmacies, banks and bakeries.
Head to visitantiguabarbuda.com for a list of approved hotels, restaurants and excursions.
High above English Harbour is Shirley Heights. This clifftop fortress hosts the 39-year-old Antiguan institution ‘the Sunday BBQ party’, where magnificent sunsets form the backdrop to live music and Caribbean food.
Continuing our road trip around the southern beaches, we stumbled across Jacqui O’s, an upmarket beach bar and restaurant, with views of Montserrat and its smoking volcano.
Lance Leonhardt, the owner, made his fortune removing dents from cars and moved to Monaco, but wanted another adventure.
Relaxed: Matt with wife Louise and daughters Ellie, Daisy and Lily. They stayed at St James’s Club & Villas, a 100-acre resort on the south-eastern tip of the island
Elite Island Resorts Holidays offers seven nights all-inclusive at St James’s Club & Villas from £1,289pp, based on two adults sharing, including return flights from Gatwick. Alternatively you can upgrade to a two-bedroom villa for £1,399pp (eliteislandholidays.com, 01245 459906).
Four-door Wrangler Jeep rental from £66 per day (bigscarrental.com).
Barefoot Antigua Boating, full day private boat rental from £427 (barefootantigua.com). Further information: Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority (visitantiguabarbuda.com).
The girls were impressed to learn that One Direction’s Louis Tomlinson dined on burgers there just weeks ago, while my wife Louise and I lapped up his stories of long lunches with Roger Moore in St Tropez.
You can’t experience the true splendour of Antigua without taking a boat trip.
As is the way of island life, we asked Lance if he knew anyone who could arrange this for us.
Step forward Stevie, who had lost his job on the private yacht he captained prior to Covid — another reminder of how tough it’s been for many people on the island — but has started up a charter business on his own boat.
From Jolly Harbour, a lively resort village on the east coast of the island, we motored out to Cades Reef, where spotless water allowed us to see rays, squid, conch and hundreds of reef fish, a source of special enchantment for my environmentally minded youngest.
The elder two were more impressed that their handsome captain had turned down an appearance on their favourite Netflix fix, Below Deck, an reality TV series about the crew of a superyacht during charter season.
All three loved wakeboarding from the back, an enjoyment matched only by Louise overhearing my one-sided conversation with Stevie as we headed back to port.
‘Steve, do you ever get bored?’ I asked. No answer came my way. Steve just smiled and pointed at the ocean.
CARIBBEAN TRAVEL CORRIDORS, FROM ST LUCIA TO THE BAHAMAS
A registration form must be completed before flying (stlucia.org) and proof provided of a negative PCR test taken no less than seven days before travel. British tourists must stay at a government-approved property and can only leave their hotel on approved excursions and to visit certified restaurants. Passengers will be screened on arrival.
An embarkation/disembarkation card must be obtained via travelform.gov.bb 24 hours before departure, which requires proof of a negative test no more than three days before arrival. Travellers are screened, then quarantined at government-approved accommodation and monitored for seven days. After a second PCR test they are free from quarantine (visitbarbados.org).
Travellers wanting to visit Grenada, pictured, must download a contact tracing app and have a reservation at government-approved accommodation
Travellers must apply for a ‘Pure Safe Travel Certificate’ from travelauth.health.gov.gd at least seven days before arrival and have proof of a negative test taken within 72 hours. A contact tracing app must be downloaded and travellers must have a reservation at government-approved accommodation (covid19.gov.gd/accommodations). Arrivals to Grenada will remain in quarantine until they take a second PCR test on day four.
A £27 Cuban Tourism Card must be purchased before departure from cubavisa.uk. Tourists must show proof of travel insurance with cover for Covid-19 and will be tested on arrival. TUI is running packages to coastal resort Varadero.
Turks & Caicos
Pre-travel authorisation must be obtained via travelauthorisation.turksandcaicostourism.com. This requires a negative test taken less than five days prior to arrival, proof of health/travel insurance with Covid-19 cover and a health questionnaire. However, there are currently no direct flights.
To visit Aruba, pictured, holidaymakers must apply for a embarkation/disembarkation card online before arrival
Tui resumed package holidays to Aruba on Wednesday. Tourists must apply for an embarkation/disembarkation card online before arrival (edcardaruba.aw). This requires evidence of a negative test result within 72 hours of departure, the purchase of Aruba’s Covid-19 insurance and health screening on arrival.
There are no direct flights from the UK, but BA plans to resume its service in February. Tourists must fill out a Travel Health Visa (travel.gov.bs), which requires evidence of a negative test no more than five days prior to arrival.