10 Best Outdoor Things to Do in Antigua

August 18, 2021

things to do in antigua

With almost 100 miles of pristine sandy white coastline lying mostly on the Caribbean Sea, it’s no wonder that Antigua boasts having 365 crystal-clear turquoise beaches – enough to visit one a different one of these palm-swaying paradises every day of the year.

Yet there is more to this quintessential Caribbean island; lush tropical rainforests blanket the interior, rich colonial historic sites, charming candy-colored villages, a plethora of outdoor pursuits to suit solo travelers, families, and couples, and an overload of garlic-and-butter drenched lobsters and tasty rum. Add to that reggae music and steel drum bands, friendly locals, and vibrant culture, and you have the makings for a fantastic Caribbean holiday.

While not as well-known to Americans as Jamaica, the Virgin Islands, or the Bahamas, Antigua is every bit as beautiful, and arguably even more so.

Antigua At a Glance

  • Population: 80,000
  • Total Area:  108 square miles
  • Elevation: 1319 ft.
  • Capital: Saint John’s
  • Official Language: English
  • Currency: Eastern Caribbean Dollar (ECD)
  • Religion: The majority of locals are Christian

Best Time to Visit Antigua

Temperatures are pretty consistent year-round, ranging between degrees 71°F and 87°F year-round. The island does, however, experience a wet season between May and November.

Mid-December to mid-April is usually considered the best time to visit Antigua. It’s the coolest and driest time in the Caribbean.

July and August are hot and humid. Hurricane season runs from June to October with September as traditionally the worst month for hurricanes, so if you can avoid visiting in September, that would probably be best.

Brief History of Antigua

A former British colony, Antigua was discovered by Christopher Columbus. He named the island Antigua (“ancient” in Spanish) after the Santa Maria de la Antigua Cathedral in Spain. However, long before Columbus arrived, the island was inhabited by indigenous people who called the island Waladli (“our own”).

The major historical site is Nelson’s Dockyard, currently the only working Georgian dockyard in the world (see #4 below).

Like most of the Caribbean, the big industry was sugar – a slave industry full of horror and tragedy. Although abolished in 1834, there are painful reminders in the form of ruins of old sugar mills which are scattered all over the island.

Here are my ten favorite outdoor things to do in Antigua.

10 Snorkel Galleon’s Bay

galleon bay

Galleon Bay is arguably the best snorkeling location. The crescent-shaped bay is more secluded than some of the other beaches. When I got there, I took a right from the parking lot and walked up a bit; I found a spot with no one else in sight.

snorkel galleon bay

If you want to spot wild turtles and stingrays in their natural habitat, it’s possible to do it here, although, like all nature, it’s hit or miss. You can get a view of the Pillar of Hercules from here (see #1 below).

things to do in antigua

things to do in antigua

I walked to Galleon Bay from the Pillars of Hercules, about 20 minutes. About halfway there, my guide treated me to a big surprise – a swing in the trees overlooking the beach below! I love swings!

9 Kayak in the Mangroves

things to do in antigua

Most of the resorts will have kayaks for you to rent, but a better and more scenic option is to kayak in the mangroves and marshlands. Not only will the views be more diverse and photographic, but there’s also a better chance of running into natural wildlife which uses the wetlands as a refuge, including, turtles, birds, and more.

8 Get Sprayed at Devil’s Bridge

devils bridge

On the easternmost point of the island, on the outskirts of the village of Willikies, Devil’s Bridge is a natural arch composed of limestone rock. For millions of years, the repeated crashing of the Atlantic’s waves created the natural bridge. Caves, geysers, and blowholes surround the arch, constantly spraying the powerful surf against the coastal rocks.

The bridge is shrouded in the haunting and tragic history of the enslaved people, who would leap from the rugged arch to commit suicide to escape the horrors of slavery.

Our guide, Joy, told us that another reason for the deaths is because there is no landmass between Devil’s Bridge and the West Coast of Africa. The enslaved, longing for their cherished homeland, dove in from Devil’s Bridge in hopes that the raging current of the Atlantic would carry their bodies back home. But instead, the fierce waves dashed their bodies back against the rocks.

The bridge got its name because people at the time believed that the devil must live there.

Disclaimer: Do what I say, not what I do! While there is likely no one there to stop you, walk on the bridge at your own risk, especially over the arch. The limestone formation can be quite slippery because of the constant spray from the blowholes. I did nearly slip at one point but luckily caught my balance at the end, because a tumble onto the rough and sharp terrain would likely not have ended well. Please do take caution.

7 Zipline Over the Rainforest

zipline antigua

If you like feeling like you’re flying high above the rainforest canopy, then ziplining is for you. After a safety briefing, you’ll be securely strapped in a state-of-the-art harness and the adrenaline journey begins at the Old Pump House for your six, eight, or twelve aerial zips above the treetops and crisscrossing the gorge.

Ziplines range in length from 52 feet to 328 feet, giving a bird’s eye view of the flora and fauna in the rainforest below. I did a total of six zip lines, an optional vertical descent, one treehouse, and two wobbly suspension bridges while listening to the numerous bird species.

6 Climb to a Scenic Overlook

shirley heights

Shirley Heights overlooking English Harbour

The number of scenic outlooks in Antigua is staggering. Some are long hikes, while others are short walks. Don’t fret though…if you don’t want to hike to all of them, most can be reached by car.

Galley Overlook

Galley Overlook

things to do in antigua

Mountain view directly behind Galley Overlook

The outlooks I went to are Shirley Heights, Halycon Heights, Harbor Outlook, Galley Overlook, and Freetown Lookout. There are more.

5 Discover Mermaid Gardens

mermaid gardens

When you’re a mermaid wannabe in Antigua, you go to Mermaid Gardens. It’s what you do. The natural pools formed into the cliffside, opening to the Atlantic are nothing short of enchanting.

I started my hike at Galleon Bay, passing through the Galleon Bay Resort awash with striking gardens spilling over with colorful flowers alongside pomegranate and guava trees.

Then the path begins to incline almost immediately onto a rockier trail, slightly challenging but not too bad. We kept going straight, following the gravelly trail. After a while we could hear the crash of waves on the cliff, so we began our descent down on the craggy path, which too, was a bit tricky.

After about ten minutes of clambering down the rocks, I looked to the right and saw the unique pools formed by layers of large flat rocks, with the sea as the best possible natural backdrop.

The rocky area around the pools is uneven and very slippery from the constant splash of the ocean. You would not want to visit during high tide.

Then I did what any other mermaid would do – strip off my clothes (to my swimsuit) and slip into one of the pools. The water was nicely cool and refreshing.

4 Explore Nelson’s Dockyard

nelson's dockyard

Nelson’s Dockyard is arguably the most important historical landmark on the island and the only UNESCO World Heritage Site. The dockyard is a working Georgian-era naval dockyard in English Harbor and one of the most picturesque scenery found anywhere. It contains a unique combination of history, heritage, and environment with scenic beauty, beaches, and sailing.

Construction began in the 1740s, on the backs of enslaved laborers from nearby plantations. Throughout the eighteenth century, the dockyard grew in importance, as it was the only harbor in the Eastern Caribbean large enough for safe naval ship repairs as well as protection from hurricanes.

After the sugar industry faded away, Britain turned its sights elsewhere and the dockyard, abandoned by the Royal Navy in 1889, fell into disrepair. Restoration efforts began in the 1950s at which time the dockyard was named after Admiral Horatio Nelson, who lived there from 1784 to 1787. Towering, picturesque sail loft pillars have been preserved and are a remnant of the Dockyard’s colonial past. You can get a great Instagram-worth picture here!

The grounds of the dockyard marina are lush and lovely, filled with plants and flowers and lovingly-restored 16th-century boutique hotels such as the Admiral’s Inn, Gunpowder Suites, and the Copper and Lumber Store Hotel, a museum, and gift shops.

Today, the Dockyard is home to Antigua’s famous sailing events such as the Antigua Charter Yacht Meeting and the Antigua Sailing Week.

3 Stroll on a Beautiful Beach

darkwood beach

Darkwood Beach

The Island boasts 365 beaches – one for every day of the year. And on leap year, go back to your favorite.

Since the beach is my happy place, I secured a private driver so that I could scour the island to find the most beautiful beach.

Are the beaches of Antigua the prettiest in the Caribbean? They just might be. Click here to see the 13 best beaches in Antigua.

2 Get Dirty in a Mud Buggy

mud buggy

Here’s to mud in your eye, literally! Playing dirty just reached a new height. My roller coaster mud buggy experience with Salty Dog Adventures was way too much fun!

I gunned it into every deep puddle of mud I could find, then I turned the 4 x 4 around and drove through again. I tried to get as much mud on my passenger as I could – I can be evil like that.

mud buggy

Stunning natural scenery whizzed past me as I drove off-road through the valley on the outskirts of the rainforest; many times I had to slam on the brakes to take it all in as well as take photos. I skirted past palm trees, bright orange shark-shark trees, fuchsia bougainvillea, natural willowy canopy tunnels, charming back road villages, open pastures, and farmlands, all with the lush green mountains looming as a backdrop, and ending with a stop at secluded Hermitage Bay for a quick dip at the beautiful white sand beach.

mud buggy

As an unexpected bonus, I received a mud facial – free. I thoroughly enjoyed this secret gem.

1 Hike to the Pillars of Hercules

pillars of hercules

The impact of nature’s elements has created a startling series of curvaceous pillars overlooking the Caribbean Sea.

There are a few ways to see the pillars; one from the sea, aboard a boat; the other is on a short 20-minute hike from Galleon Beach at the south of the island. And the third is to hike up to Mermaid Gardens, then double back down a bit and circle around to the pillars

I took option #3 because I also wanted to see the Mermaid Gardens (see above).

The path down from Mermaid Gardens was a bit steep and muddy, so I took it slowly. There were also a lot of acacia bushes with one-inch thorns, so again, caution was needed, and I was glad I’d worn sneakers and not my walking sandals.

We passed a stunning lookout point, a multitude of cacti, including one that produces a long red “cactus cherry” that you pick off from the top. My guide picked it, so I ate it, not wanting to waste his effort and the cactus’s sole offering. It was pretty tasty, something like a sour grape.

pillars of hercules

After a while, the path curved around and there was nothing but huge boulders of all shapes ahead, as far as the eye can see. Some of the boulders were still wet from the early morning rain and/or tide so I switched to my water shoes.

I began scrambling over them; it was a challenge because of the titanium rod connecting my left leg to my hip from my horrendous accident in South Africa, but I persisted.

pillars of hercules

Suddenly… voila!  Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the ethereal pillars were hugging the coast. The surreal geological ash rock formations were naturally carved into the cliff face by the fierce wind, rain, and crashing waves, displaying themselves in striations of curvilinear and tubular shapes.

It is a natural marvel; I couldn’t tear my eyes away and I didn’t want to leave. But the tide started to come in, so…

What to Eat

what to eat in antigua

Creole red snapper

In Antigua, it’s all about the spiny lobster. Locally caught off the coast as well as near neighboring Barbuda, they are delicious. Having lived most of my life in New England, I’m a bit of a lobster snob, but the lobster here is just as good and maybe even a little better. Just the right crossroad between tender and chewy, the texture is perfect and they are packed with flavor. The most popular ways to serve them here are:

what to eat in antigua

  1. Cut in half and grilled, then removed from the shell, chopped into bite-sized pieces, and sautéed with a LOT of butter and garlic, then served back in the half-shell. This was my favorite preparation…I had to stop myself from licking the shell!
  2. Lobster Thermadore. Lobster shells are stuffed with cooked lobster in a creamy white wine sauce then topped with Parmesan cheese and broiled until golden.

Another memorable seafood dish that I ate was Lionfish. Lionfish are not indigenous to the Caribbean but somehow got there from Southeast Asia. They are very invasive, repopulating quickly and causing the ecosystem to suffer.

I think the new solution is ingenious: fish them out and eat them, aka “kill it and grill it!”

what to eat in antigua

I went to the local fish market early one morning and watched a local fisherman deliver his just-caught catch onto the dock. I followed him into the market, watched him clean the fish, after which we purchased them to deliver to our hotel chef to prepare for our private dinner party later that night.

what to eat in antigua

He transformed the Lionfish into the yummiest ceviche I’ve ever eaten.

what to eat in antigua

I also enjoyed farm-to-table spare ribs in rich, organic BBQ sauce, crispy fish goujons (aka “studs), Caribbean crab cakes, jerk pork, and locally-caught red snapper. Needless to say, I did not go hungry!

Conclusion

Antigua is overflowing with things to do, see, and eat. There were more things to do than I had time for in a week. I did not have an opportunity to explore the old forts or go over to neighboring Barbuda.

The solution? Why, come back, of course!

Click below to PIN so you can find outdoor things to do in Antigua again:

antigua caribbean

Disclosure:  The author was honored to be the guest of Antigua & Barbuda Tourism during her stay, but as always, the opinions, reviews, and experiences are her own.

About the Author

Patti MorrowPatti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning international blog Luggage and Lipstick and southern travel blog Gone to Carolinas. TripAdvisor called her one of “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials.”  Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal. She has traveled extensively through six continents looking for fabulous places and adventure activities for her Baby Boomer tribe.

8 comments

  1. Comment by Carol Colborn

    Carol Colborn Reply August 24, 2021 at 1:23 am

    What great names: Devik’s Bridge, Nermaids’ Gardens, and Pillars of Hercules! Although the photo of Devils Bridge did notload!

    • Comment by luggageandlipstick

      luggageandlipstick Reply August 25, 2021 at 11:12 am

      They are definitely great — in names and in experiences!

  2. Comment by Suzanne Fluhr

    Suzanne Fluhr Reply August 24, 2021 at 1:46 am

    BC (before Covid) I used to demand to visit somewhere warm to escape Philadelphia’s winters. My “get me outta here” February trips often ended up being to a Caribbean island. However, we have yet to visit Antigua, so I have pinned this article to my Caribbean Islands Pinterest board in hopes that I’ll stumble upon it when I can resume traveling. Your outdoor activity suggestions all seem very appealing, minus the zip lining, and mud buggy. I get anxious around slippery rocks, but if you could conquer them, I’d certainly try some clambering. My favorite trips combine outdoor activities and history, so Antigua could well be what the doctor orders come February.

    • Comment by luggageandlipstick

      luggageandlipstick Reply August 25, 2021 at 11:11 am

      Well, I for one have my fingers crossed for a good doctor’s report and a fantastic February vacation for you in Antigua!

  3. Comment by Cathy Sweeney

    Cathy Sweeney Reply August 25, 2021 at 2:34 am

    This certainly gives me more things I need to do next time in Antigua. There seems to be something for everyone on the island. Number 1 on my list is to do the mud buggy experience!

    • Comment by luggageandlipstick

      luggageandlipstick Reply August 25, 2021 at 11:10 am

      I absolutely LOVED the mud buggy experience and hope you get to do it!

  4. Comment by Jeff & Crystal

    Jeff & Crystal Reply August 25, 2021 at 5:45 am

    It sounds like you had the perfect tropical escape in Antigua. The food all looked so amazing, and who knew that Lionfish would be a delicacy? Thanks for taking us along on your adventure.

    • Comment by luggageandlipstick

      luggageandlipstick Reply August 25, 2021 at 11:10 am

      Lionfish was a surprise to me as well! Utterly delicious!

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