NEW YORK (Reuters) - With 365 beaches, one for every day of the year, Antigua in the Leeward Islands is considered one of gems of the Eastern Caribbean.
Palm trees and lush vegetation line the pristine shores of the island, which was once an important base for Britain. Today, Antigua is a stop for cruise ships, which dock in the capital St John‘s, and a sailing and yachting destination.
With its luxury resorts, hotels and guest houses tourism is the most important industry.
Although it merits a longer stay, visitors can still make the most of a short visit to Antigua, which is just 108 square miles, and has about 68,000 residents.
Unless traveling by boat, visitors to Antigua arrive at V.C. Bird International Airport in the capital, St. John‘s, which has direct flights from U.S. and European cities and is a short drive to the resorts on the island’s western Caribbean shore or the eastern Atlantic coast.
Take a minivan or taxi to your hotel, or if you are planning to really discover Antigua rent a car for your stay. Driving is on the left side of the road. The island is not very large, the roads are paved and well marked and Antiguans are happy to offer directions.
6:15 p.m. - After settling into your resort or hotel enjoy a cocktail on the beach while watching the sun set over the Caribbean and then take a stroll on the white sandy shore before dinner.
8:00 p.m. - Time to eat. Some resorts offer all-inclusive stays including meals and most have restaurants catering to their guests, but eateries offering all types of cuisine can be found around the island.
If you are not eating at your resort, head to Nelson’s Dockyard, which was named after British Admiral Horatio Nelson, on the southern end of the island and try the Admiral’s Inn (460-1027 1153). It offers international and West Indian cuisine and local seafood.
10:00 p.m. - The night is still young so head to Abracadabra (460 2701), an Italian restaurant just outside Nelson’s Dockyard that transforms into an outdoor nightclub in the early hours.
9:00 - After an early morning breakfast, head to the beach for a swim in the clear turquoise waters of the Caribbean. All of the beaches on Antigua are open to the public.
Many resorts situated on the beach have free kayaks and windsails for guests, and there are plenty of locals offering jet-ski and catamaran rides or diving and snorkeling trips for the more adventurous.
12:00 p.m. - Take a break from the sun and head south on Valley Road, which runs along the southwestern curve of the island, to Deadwood Beach, one of the island’s most beautiful beaches, where you can lunch at a local restaurant right on the beach.
Try the tuna or conch salad and local fruit juices such as guava and tamarind.
1:00 p.m. - After lunch you might want to try something completely different, drive further south along the coast road until you reach Fig Tree Drive, a winding road into the rainforest which is lined with lush vegetation including banana, guavas, mango and orange trees.
Stop at the top of the road at the center for the Antigua Rainforest Canopy Tour (562-6363), where Rangers lead visitors on zip-lines across the gorge every day except Sundays.
Not for the faint-hearted, the full canopy tour takes about 2.5 hours. Bookings are recommended. If time is limited there is a 75 minute tour on nine zip lines up to 360 feet and 300-feet long.
A 99-year-old man is the oldest to complete the tour, according to the rangers. The tour is not recommended for pregnant women or people with back, knee or shoulder problems or those with a heart condition.
If traversing the gorge on zip lines fills you with dread, you can still enjoy the spectacular views and have a drink or snack at the bar/cafe or viewing veranda and hit the gift shop.
6:00 p.m. - After a refreshing shower and change of clothes at your hotel watch another incredible sunset before dinner.
8:00 p.m. - Head to Dickenson Bay at the northwestern end of the island where several resorts including Sandals Grande Antigua Resort & Spa, Antigua Village, Halcyon by Rex Resorts and the Buccaneer Beach Club are situated.
The Bay House Restaurant (462 1223) at Trade Winds Hotel on a hill that overlooks the bay serves international meals with a Caribbean twist. If you prefer a restaurant closer to the beach, try Coconut Grove Restaurant & Beach Bar (462 1538), which also has a happy hour from 4:30-7 p.m. Reservations are recommended at all the restaurants.
10:00 p.m. - For late night entertainment the Rush Night Club (562 7874) at nearby Runaway Bay features Hip Hop, R&R and other types of music.
Visitors hoping to try their luck at Black Jack, roulette, poker or on the slot machines should head to King’s Casino (462 1727) in Heritage Quay in St John‘s. It is open until 4:00 a.m. seven days a week.
9:00 a.m. - After an early light breakfast drive to St John’s for a walk around the city and some shopping. Visit the shops at Heritage Quay and also Historic Redcliffe Quay at the bottom of Redcliffe Street near the cruise ship pier.
11:00 - St John’s Cathedral, between Newgate and Long Streets, was originally constructed around 1683 and completely rebuilt in 1843 following an earthquake. Although it is currently closed for restoration, visitors can walk around the imposing Baroque-style structure and view the memorial stones around the cathedral.
12:00 - Drive to the southern end of the island to Shirley Heights Lookout (728 0636) for their Sunday Barbeque Party complete with steel bands. It is a tradition that has been going for 30 years. The views are breathtaking and it is an ideal stop before heading to the airport for the return home.
Reporting by Patricia Reaney