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Travel Articles by David Bear
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Antigua, Barbuda brim with enchantment



"The beach is just the beginning ..."

That is the tourism slogan for Antigua and Barbuda, the multi-island nation in the British West Indies, and it's accurate, to a degree.

Antigua, by far the larger and more populated of the islands, claims to be ringed by "365 beautiful beaches (one for every day of the year)," and while I didn't see an official tally during my recent visit, I did experience enough excellent white sand beaches pocketed in myriad bays, harbors, coral reefs and tiny coves not to quibble with poetic license.

On the other hand, the entire 17-mile western coast of Barbuda, an island which has fewer than 1,500 residents on its 62 square miles of low scrubland, is essentially one long beach, a slice of pure, unadulterated perfection at the eastern edge of the Caribbean Sea.

If you go

Antigua, pronounced locally as "an TEE ga" rather than "an TEE gwa," was named by Columbus in 1493 on his second voyage to the New World, after the Church of Santa María la Antigua in Valladolid, Spain. But English settlers made the "u" silent.

Conversely, Barbuda is "Bar BEEOO dah," not "Bar boo dah."

Airline service to the island is abundant, with American, Air Canada, Continental, Delta and US Airways all offering nonstop flights to Antigua's VC Bird International Airport (ANU) from their East Coast hubs. Shuttle flights are available from there to Barbuda, but we took the daily, express catamaran service ("A to B by Sea") which needs 90 minutes to make the 30-mile crossing from St John's.

There's plenty to do on Antigua, but getting around can be a challenge. Driving on the left is only one issue. The island's universally twisting and narrow roads are treacherous with parked cars, pedestrians, speed bumps, even the occasional herd of livestock. To further complicate matters, street signs are rare. If you rent a car, get careful directions.

Antigua and Barbuda tourism:

Environmental Awareness Group Antigua:

At Low Bay, that coast becomes a narrow ribbon of white sand that stretches like the handle of a teacup separating the ocean from an enormous, shallow, salt water lagoon that serves as a natural incubator for lobster and sanctuary for vast flocks of Magnificent Frigatebirds. Accessible only by boat and undeveloped except for one small resort, it is the most beautiful beach I have ever seen.

Like everywhere I dipped a toe on our tour of these two islands, the ocean water was wonderful, crystal-clear, calm enough for floating and sufficiently cool to provide refreshing escape even during the heat of the day.

Yet while beaches are these islands' strong suit, most of that which lies beyond them is found on Antigua.

With a centuries-old boating and sailing tradition, supplemented by snorkeling, scuba, surf casting and saltwater fishing, there's no end to its aquatic activities. And considering Antigua's wide and well-established range of all-inclusive resorts, posh hotels, quaint inns, condos and quiet guest cottages on picturesque beaches, relatively few of the hundreds of thousands of vacationers who visit the island each year venture far from their accommodations. Ditto for the flocks of cruise line passengers who find themselves with a free afternoon in St. John's, Antigua's only port and significant city.

But there's much to do and see elsewhere, from a new forest canopy zip line and Sub-Cat submarine tour to historic ruins of sugar mills such as Betty's Hope, stone Martello forts and former British military facilities at Shirley's Heights and Nelson's Dockyards, with its lovely museum with much memorabilia from the illustrious admiral. Periodically through the year there are cricket tournaments, sailing regattas and horse racing. At a plethora of tiny galleries and small restaurants, fish are served pulled straight from the sea to the skillet.

And there are abundantly beautiful birds and lots of lush, lovely flora, magnificent oleander, bountiful bougainvilleas and flaming flamboyant trees, fruit heavy mango trees and sweet black pineapple.

However all this considered, the island's most ingratiating asset is its genial, educated and self-possessed population, which seems genuinely proud of its piece of paradise and happy to share it with visitors.

Read more on Antigua and Barbuda: The naming of Mount Obama

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