Escape to Antigua

The best sun destinations are only a short direct flight away! A mere 5 hours onboard will take your frozen toes to the sand before sunset. Last week, I headed out on the inaugural direct flight from Montreal to Antigua with Sunwing Vacations. It was quite an adventure, starting with a real Caribbean calypso party at the Montreal airport, a fireman’s salute upon arrival in Antigua and we just made it to the 4-star St. James Club & Villas in time to take in the sunset before dinner. If you’re tempted to head somewhere warm this winter, I did some research on the resorts in Antigua and give you my top six reasons to choose this charming island for your next vacation. Note that Antigua was NOT affected by Hurricane Irma in September!Although I was only on a quick 3-day press trip to Antigua, here are the highlights that I experienced:

  1. The people are amazing! Antiguans like to laugh and joke and are extremely welcoming. More than a few times, locals told us to smile and reminded us that we weren’t at a funeral. Their joie de vivre is instantly contagious. They are also very handsome and stylish.

  1. The beaches. Antiguans love to boast that they have exactly 365 beaches “One for every day of the year!”

  1. The black pineapples. Antigua grows a lot of mango and pineapple. We weren’t there for mango season but, the little black pineapples are the sweetest in the world! Locals claim that it’s because of the soil their pineapple trees grow in, which is black and full of minerals, hence the name.
  2. Nelson’s Dockyard Since Antigua was once a British island, it is rich in colonial history and Nelson’s Dockyard is a great example of the island’s British heritage. I loved our visit to the dockyard where the restored naval buildings date back to the 18th and 19th centuries and now house a bakery, two hotels, restaurants and boutiques. Montrealers might recognize the name since we have a tribute statue to the same Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson at Place Jacques-Cartier in Old Montreal.
  3. Shirley Heights Lookout was my favourite spot for its incredible views over English Harbour and the Caribbean Sea. It’s something straight out of a postcard and the best place for a souvenir selfie. My only regret was not having time for a daiquiri at the cute little Lookout bar and restaurant at the top. Montrealers will be happy to know that like our Sunday tam-tams tradition on Mount Royal, for over 30 years, Antigua has been celebrating with a big BBQ party each Sunday at Shirley Heights with steel bands and other entertainment.
  4. The Donkeys – as squirrels are quite rampant in Montreal, the donkeys are a bit of a problem in Antigua. One of our hosts even referred to them as icebergs, because you don’t want to hit one on the road at night. Brought to the island back in the sugar cane production days, there are now more than 400 wild donkeys roaming the small island. Luckily, the Antigua & Barbuda humane society has set up a donkey sanctuary which is home to about 150 donkeys. I had read about the sanctuary on the BBC app the day we left for Antigua, so I asked to visit. I immediately took to a very friendly donkey named July and since visitors can interact with the donkeys, they are encouraged to “adopt” with a small donation which helps the humane society to continue to offer a home and veterinary care to these stray donkeys. I am happy to announce that I am now the proud Mama of July – I even have the certificate to prove it!
  5. If those are enough reasons to inspire you to head to Antigua this winter, then you should start looking into flights! Sunwing flies every Sunday out of Montreal and Sunwing Vacations offers packages to these five resorts: the 3-star (would not be my first choice – after our short visit for lunch – it seems in desperate need of renovations) Starfish Jolly Beach Resort & Spa, the 4-star adults-only Pineapple Beach Club (for those who want a kid-free vacay), The Verandah Resort & Spa (we ate here one night and it felt quaint and cozy, nice place!), St James Club Resort & Villas (we stayed here and it was great), Sugar Ridge Resort (I would go here for the personal plunge pools, but it’s the most expensive of the five).

And these are the excursions we went on that I recommend:

The Mystic Cades Reef Snorkel Tour with Tropical Adventures Antigua ($100 US per person) – Snorkel Antigua’s coral reef, enjoy an onboard meal and drinks and visit one of the magnificent beaches. We loved the friendly crew and our excursion turned into a real Caribbean party!The Island Safari Gold ($115 US per person) – a 6-hour historical overview of the island with a knowledgeable tour guide in an air-conditioned SUV. You will visit all the key sites including: Devil’s Bridge, Betty’s Hope, Donkey Sanctuary, Block House, Shirley Heights, Nelson Dockyard, Fig Tree Drive, while stopping along the West Coast for lunch and beach time.Hope this helps in your search for your next sun destination!Disclaimer: I was invited by Sunwing to experience Antigua and their first direct flight from Montreal on November 26 – 29, 2017. Opinions are my own and this article is not sponsored.