I don’t know why they call it ‘rum punch’. It doesn’t have much of a punch to it – no sudden hit or instant knockout.
This very alcoholic and sweet drink, served constantly in Antigua, is actually quite the opposite of a sudden hit. It takes a while for rum punch to take effect and by then it’s too late. The easy taste has been deceiving.
What could have passed just for juice is actually something more powerful.
And so it is with my first visit to Antigua. The island doesn’t hit you straight away – it takes a while to lull you into its full embrace.
Arriving on a long flight; dealing with an airport; getting to a hotel and checking in – all these little stresses on the first afternoon mean you’ve still got one foot in your holiday and one foot in your real life.
It takes a day or two until the Caribbean lifestyle of Antigua really catches up with you. You hardly even notice it’s happening until it’s too late… and you abruptly realise you haven’t thought about a single worry, you haven’t even checked the time.
What you thought was going to be a holiday is actually something more powerful – an escape.
Arriving in Antigua
I’ve been to a few other places like Antigua but it’s been a long time since I’ve felt like this. For me, travelling has increasingly become associated with work. This feels like a holiday.
Not that it is technically a holiday! I’m here with 40 other content creators for a conference organised by Traverse. As well as exploring the island, there are sessions to attend and lots of activities to get involved in.
But, still, I feel more relaxed than usual.
It is the power of Antigua.
It’s my first time in the Caribbean and I think that’s also a part of it. A new part of the world to discover – and a part of the world where living your life fun is a natural disposition.
But I’m also staying at an all-inclusive resort and, after a few days, I realise that’s having a big effect on my mood as well.
Inclusive resorts in Antigua
I would usually avoid an all-inclusive resort.
To me, it has always conjured up images of overweight drunk slobs, of regular buffets of questionable food, of people fighting for their favourite pool chair, of being trapped in an artificial environment.
Oh wow – have I been wrong!
Our group is staying at two adjacent all-inclusive resorts in Antigua – The Verandah Resort & Spa and the Pineapple Beach Club. They are nothing like I had feared. They are designed to help you relax, not create new stresses.
No need to carry your wallet. No need to calculate how much something costs. No need to go in search of food when you’re hungry.
At the Verandah Resort & Spa where I am staying, there’s the main restaurant that provides a delicious buffet for each meal. But there are also a couple of other places near the beaches where you can get a burger for lunch, for example.
The bars at the beaches and by the pool mean that when you feel like a cocktail, you can have one – without going anywhere else and without paying anything more.
I really enjoy how this changes the atmosphere of the accommodation.
I don’t see anyone taking advantage of the unlimited free food and alcohol. In fact, most people probably don’t actually save money by being somewhere all-inclusive, compared to buying each item individually somewhere else.
It just means you don’t think about money (often a stressful issue) and you will never go hungry or thirsty. When you’re ready for your next rum punch, it will appear.
A brief history of Antigua
Perhaps the escape here in the Caribbean also has a bit to do with history.
The island was colonised by the British in 1632 and was ruled by them (almost continuously) until 1981 when Antigua & Barbuda became a new independent country.
Of course, there were many horrors that occurred over those three and a half centuries – it was not the kindest of history’s periods.
The island was defined by slavery until its abolishment in 1834. The slaves – most from West Africa – worked on sugar plantations owned by British capitalists. Many of them were mistreated, to put it lightly.
It’s quite shocking to learn that a small national park near my resort called Devil’s Bridge got its name because it’s where slaves would commit suicide by throwing themselves off rocks into the raging sea (the name came about because people claimed the Devil made them do it).
But, like many of Britain’s former colonies, when the horrors faded and independence came, locals were left with a strong foundation on which to build their own new society.
It means that for a visitor like me, I find myself in a country that is familiar enough to be comforting.
English is the official language. Cultural customs are very similar. They drive on the left. And even seeing cricket grounds is quite reassuring (the main one here is named after the Antiguan legend Viv Richards).
I spend most of my time these days discovering new cultures and learning about what makes countries different. So I certainly don’t expect everyone to speak my language or do things just the way I want them. But I have to confess that when it comes to relaxation, those things help me escape.
Things to do in Antigua
That’s not to say that spending a week in Antigua is like spending a week in Sydney or London. Of course, there are lots of unique things to see and do here – with a fascinating mix of culture, history and nature.
The island is relatively small and only has a population of about 100,000 people. It means that you can explore most of Antigua on your trip, if you want. However, I should warn you that the roads aren’t great and it can take longer than you expect to get between places.
This is slightly frustrating when you want to ‘pop over’ to have a look at something or eat at a particular restaurant. But I find it does make everything feel that little bit more exotic and adventurous. Far from the cities, far from home, and far from the worries that you’ve been able to leave there.
Antigua & Barbuda has a nickname – ‘Land of 365 Beaches’, one for each day of the year. There’s no denying it has some incredible beaches and you will certainly want to spend some time at one or more of them during your stay.
There are also other ways to experience the nature – hiking is popular and it’s a wonderful thing to do in the early morning or early evening when the temperature is not too high.
And you can also get up close to the local wildlife. A popular attraction in Antigua is swimming with stingrays. The animals are harmless and will just swim around you – and even bump up against you.
It’s quite incredible to be in the water and have the stingrays so close. In hindsight, though, I do have some concerns about what this is doing to the ecosystem, as I’m sure the local tour operators are feeding them in the one spot so they are always available for tourists.
You can also get some local cultural experiences in Antigua. I spent a wonderful afternoon at a cooking class called Nicole’s Table, which is held in a family home on the island. I’ll be writing a bit more about that soon.
And there are also the historical sites left from the British era – the forts along the coastline, for instance, and even Nelson’s Dockyard, which is now a World Heritage Site. I’ll be writing more about this side of things soon too.
Antigua Sailing Week
It’s no surprise that a country that consists of islands would have a love affair with the water.
There’s probably no event that captures that so perfectly as Antigua Sailing Week. This internationally-famous sailing event has been held more than 50 times and sees people arrive on the island from across the world.
More than 100 boats compete in races during the week, with more than 1000 sailors taking part.
On land, though, there are just as many people – more, in fact – who are here for the social side of Antigua Sailing Week. The partying is probably taken more seriously than the sailing… and possibly more competitively, from some of the things I see.
I’m lucky enough to be in Antigua during Sailing Week and I head out on a boat one of the days. Thankfully it’s not a sailing boat that requires any work, but a social boat that gets close enough to the action to see it all – but still allows me to have a drink at the same time.
It’s a wonderful way to see Antigua in full bloom. The beautiful coastline to one side, the spirit of the water on the other. Sailors and supporters from more than 30 countries, together to celebrate sport and life.
There was a time when people were brought to Antigua in chains. Now they come here to escape.
It took me a couple of days to find my own escape but, when I did, it was overpowering. As I experience each layer of the island, I relax more. Beaches, animals, cooking, culture, history, and now sailing.
Far away from my usual world. And all of it with a rum punch in hand.
Time Travel Turtle was a guest of Visit Antigua and Barbuda but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.