On the Beach

Antigua's tourism industry boasts about Antigua having "one beach for every day of the year". That may be true, but think about that for a while. Barbuda, the sister island to the North, is about the same size as Antigua, and it has (more or less) only one beach which leads around the whole island.

What would you prefer?

Half Moon Bay from the road and from the air. Download Full size left (1280x960), right (640x480).

But nevertheless, there's something for everybody on Antigua. The most-photographed, most picturesque beach is, without question, Half Moon Bay in the Southeast. It's a long way to get there from almost everywhere (except may be from the exclusive Mill Reef resort nearby where you can buy property and enjoy a large piece of land undisturbed by tourists). The road is small and bumpy (although well usable with non-offroad vehicles), and offers some beautiful sights and views of its own.

Church at St. Philips (large)
In St. John's, take the Queen Elizabeth Highway (just north of the hospital construction site on the hill) eastwards. You pass the Mount Joy roundabout, and then take the next right, going South and then East again. You pass the northern end of the "Potworks Dam" reservoir and later the village of St. Philips with a nice little church and overgrown graveyard adjacent to the road. Afterwards, there are some nice views across Willoughby Bay. (The photo of myself on a rail on the index page is shot there.)

Half Moon Bay sports a large, derelict tourist hotel (devastated by a hurricane a few years ago) and a small local bar where you can get drinks.

Panoramic view of Hermitage Bay. Download full size (5204x903)

Dust cloud behind my car
My personal favourite beach is the little-known Hermitage Bay. You reach it by going South from St. John's on the road to Jolly Harbour, and then, just about 1.5 miles before getting to Jolly Harbour, at the end of a village named Jennings, make a right turn and follow the road for about two miles, all the way to the sea. An offroad type of car is highly recommended, as everything else will have you creeping along at 10mph in fear of the potholes. This beach is really undisturbed and good for swimming; if you dare to swim for about half a mile, you can even get to Maiden Island. (There seem to be many little islands by that name around.)

Left: Dickenson Bay, Halcyon Cove, and Sandals; right: Johnson's Point, Urlings, Pelican Island, Crab Hill Bay from the air. Download full size (1280x960) left, right.

If your main reason for going to the beach is not swimming, but seeing beautys in bathing suits (or maybe being seen?), you might enjoy Dickenson Bay, where the beach stretches northwards up to the Halcyon Cove resort. Sometimes on Antigua you might have the feeling of intruding on some resort's grounds but keep in mind that all beaches are public by law, so they cannot keep you from entering.

Another area with some very popular beaches is the South coast, especially Crab Hill Bay around Turner's beach restaurant. As with most facilities in the South, expect high life in the "winter" months (Nov to Feb) and only limited services during the rest of the year.

If you want to drink and dance at the beach, don't miss Lashings, the 24/7 beach bar at Runaway Bay, where every weekend night a few tourists and locals alike discover that swimming is much more fun with your clothes on and a few pints of beer inside. Or was that pints of Rum and Coke? To reach Runaway Bay from St. John's, leave the town northwards on Popeshead Street (later Fort Road) and make a left turn at the "Miller's By The Sea" sign. Just before reaching Miller's, make a right turn and follow the curvy road northwards. - Runaway Bay is large enough to accommodate some quieter stretches as well, and it's quick to get there from town.

Galley Bay (and, to the right of it, Hawksbill Bay) from the air, and a view from the hill. Download full size (1280x960) left, right.

The best waves I ever had - probably some 6ft high - were at Galley Bay. Galley Bay is an apartment complex for tourists, but, as always, the beach is public. Drive westwards from St. John's, through a small village by the name of Five Islands Village (my first few attempts at finding the road to Five Islands always resulted in a half-hour cruise through rather slummy areas - either you're good at map reading, or you just follow one of the buses that go there). Shortly after the village, a road branches off to the right - the sign should say Galley Bay and/or the "Chez Pascal" restaurant. Follow the road past the entrance to the resort, and there's a place where you can park the car and go through a revolving door in the wire fence to reach the beach. Watch out for the partly rocky shore. And don't leave valuables in the car; a camera and some cash were stolen from me while my car was parked (locked of course) there.

If you follow the road further, it makes a right turn and rises steeply (a 4WD offroad vehicle highly recommended - switch to "4L" if possible). You pass the restaurant/bar "Chez Pascal" and finally reach a plateau from which you can enjoy a stunning view. That's where I spent the millennium New Year's Eve!

If you plan to spend some really really private hours on the beach, you might give the aptly named Rendezvous Bay a try. This beach is not accessible by car; you are in for a 15 to 30 minute walk (not recommended if it has rained within the last 12 hours or if you're likely to encounter rain before you are back safely). Some people prefer to take their sailboat there from English Harbour - it's practically around the corner. To reach Rendezvous Bay, you should take the road from St. John's to Falmouth, and in Falmouth (just after the long downhill stretch from where you can see the South coast for the first time), take a road to the right which has a sign pointing to some riding club. At the end of that road, take a right turn again, and then follow that road until almost at the coast. You have to take the second-to-last road to the right; it leads uphill but since there's no parking once you are on the hilltop, park your car where it's safe and walk up the hill. You'll reach a white house in front of which the road turns right; slightly right of the white house, a path leads off the road and through a valley, then around the hill on the other side of it. Take that path; it'll lead you to Rendezvous Bay (the second of the two beaches is more impressive).

Hawksbill Bay from the air and on the ground. Download full size (1280x960) left, right.

Another very beautiful bay in the vicinity of Galley Bay is Hawksbill Bay. It has its name because of a strange-looking rock protruding from the water just off the bay. There's a hotel/tourist resort there as well, but ample parking and public beach for everybody. I have been told that the third of three beaches at Hawksbill bay is a nudist beach but I've only ever made it onto the first (that's where the parking is...). To get there, follow the same instructions as for Galley Bay but don't leave the road at the "Chez Pascal" sign.

The closest beach to St. John's is at Fort Bay (near Fort James), and it's not all that bad. Ideal for a quick break for those working in town, and it also has some beach bars. To reach it, follow the directions to Runaway Bay but do not leave the road before reaching Miller's; instead, continue and park the car somewhere at the beach.

The map below shows the beaches I've talked about on this page.

  Frederik Ramm, 2006-03-09