Ah, the lovely Antigua. This, my friends, is where travel planners go to cry. Come prepared, as you will need to make it through the downtown chaos in order to see this lovely island.
While I am all about saving money and doing it yourself, you always need to assess what my brother would call the “headache per dollar” factor. Ask yourself: is this headache worth it? Or is it more worthwhile to pay the money for someone else to deal with it?
Part of a “vacation” is paying someone to cook, clean, plan and entertain you and your family. The more you pay, the less work you will have to do when you travel. Antigua is my headache limit. It is usually VERY busy, often with multiple cruise ships in port.
Disembarking in Antigua
The downtown is very congested. It is a small pier and the streets are narrow, with vendors, taxis, buses, locals, tourists and even the odd animal here and there.
For this reason, I would recommend booking a tour BEFORE you arrive in Antigua. It is stressful to negotiate a tour while ensuring that you are back in time before the ship leaves.
Like many other cruise ports, ships dock in Antigua in the town of St. John’s. (It is evident that the British were very creative in their naming of Caribbean towns.)
Our first visit, we chose to do a snorkeling tour. We disembarked and met the group right on the pier, where they escorted us to a catamaran. We saw some fishies, had some beverages, and were back at a decent hour to catch the ship. Easy peasy! If you choose to book a tour on your cruise, I would make it in Antigua.
If you would rather not book a tour, you can always make your own plans and do-it-yourself. Antigua is known for its beaches – all 365. You could visit one a day for a year!
Beaches near the Cruise Port
There are a few beaches near the cruise port that are close enough for guests visiting only for a day. The most popular is Runaway Beach, but Fort James Beach is a close second. Both are located just north of St. John’s with enough amenities to satisfy the cruiser.
We chose instead to visit Jolly Beach, which is located about a 30-minute taxi ride from the cruise port. Riding southwest through the valleys allowed us to see more of the island away from the main town.
Jolly Beach had everything you could want for an afternoon. Located on a mile-long, powdery white sand beach, we were able to rent chairs, buy food or drinks, and even rent a Sea-Doo to ride around the bay.
The water was similar to Aruba’s – warm and good for swimming. Even though it was only 10 kilometers from the cruise port, it felt like you were miles outside of town. It was not at all busy when we were there, but there was plenty of room anyway.
I traveled here most recently in 2017. As always, be sure to check your country’s travel advisories before booking any trips or excursions. You can check out the Canadian opinion here.