Lunch: get to the grill
If you’re looking for a truly local meal, head to Sibley’s Barbuda Grill, on a grassy patch by Old Parham Road, on the eastern outskirts of the capital, St John’s.
Every day except Mondays, you’ll find this incredibly well organised set-up offering a mind-boggling array of enticing different local dishes. Most people take away, but you can stay and eat at shaded picnic tables.
Dishes include BBQ ribs, BBQ chicken, spicy prawns, goat curry, pork stew, creole fish, “chop up” and more. You can fill up for a very reasonable US$10 (less than most restaurants), and wash it down with a fresh tamarind, watermelon or passion fruit juice for just under US$2.
Stay urban or go wild
For a chilled-out afternoon, spend a few hours exploring compact St John’s. The centre of town is peppered with brightly painted colonial Georgian buildings; ramshackle clothes shops mix with boutique craft stores and the occasional fast-food joint. Wander down to the Disney-esque Redcliffe Quay and Heritage Quay pier, which get extremely busy when the cruise ships pull in.
A less touristy shopping experience can be found at the city’s market, which is open every day, though at its biggest and busiest on Saturdays. It has a huge covered section and various outdoor tributaries – each devoted to different local fresh produce – as well as the aptly nicknamed “bend down” flea market (because you’ll need to bend down to pick up the goods).
If thrills and adrenaline rushes are more your thing, take an afternoon excursion to the Antigua Rainforest Canopy Tour, about half an hour’s drive south of St John’s, where you can explore the lush rainforest via eight zip lines, one vertical descent and two suspension bridges. The zips get longer as the course progresses, and any fears will be put to rest by the entertaining and experienced team. Good fun all round.
Dinner: a seafood supper
Back in St John’s, head for dinner at the nautically themed Papa Zouk (book ahead). Charismatic Austrian owner, Bert, settled here 17 years ago and founded this perennially popular restaurant with a very simple menu: rum and fish.
Charred rum bottles line the walls, a testament to the fire that raged through the restaurant in late 2014, destroying Bert’s vast collection, the largest in the world until that point. He gathered the remnants of the burnt rums, combining them to form his unique blend of “fire rum” – try it at your peril.
The bouillabaisse to start is superbly rich, the huge red snapper main perfectly cooked and full of flavour, and the chocolate-and-butternut-squash cake for dessert is absolutely worth leaving room for. The fabulous “ti’ punch” (rum with lime and cane syrup) is the only acceptable accompaniment.
Follow the beach bar trail
If you’ve got any energy left after all that, hit the Beach Bar Trail. The handy map produced by the tourist board will help you navigate your way from bar to bar, several of which are clustered together within walking distance of each other.
Get your head down
Cheap accommodation is pretty thin on the ground in Antigua. A good mid-range option is Siboney, at Dickenson Bay (doubles from US$160), with its balconied rooms overlooking a kidney-shaped pool in a pretty garden.
For lower priced options, your best bet is Airbnb, where you can get a private room from around US$40 per night and whole apartments for not much more.
British Airways and Virgin Atlantic operate direct flights from London to Antigua, which take 8.5 hours.