We’re comfortably perched on the veranda of the Catamaran Hotel at Falmouth Harbor in Antigua, watching bananaquits and bull finches compete for crumbs we set out on the railing. Waves lap the beach – one of 365 the island boasts – and coconut palm fronds rustle in the breeze. We’re the only guests about and it’s so quiet and relaxing that it’s meditative. Next door, the marina’s many yachts barely move.
The ideally situated and slightly weathered two-story 14-room hotel exudes an Old Caribbean/British West Indies charm, down to its white columns. Our modest beachfront room with the requisite kitchenette is just steps from the soft white sand and from a deck and swimming pool. A massive ceiling fan plus screened door and windows make air conditioning superfluous, even during this hot, dry season. An unobtrusive staff keeps the place shipshape and immaculately clean.
A short gravel lane leads to a neighborhood grocery store and Sweet T’s Ice Cream Parlour and Snackette, an island version of DQ that became our nightly haunt for a refreshing and delicious scoop of rum raisin, coconut or peanut.
A couple miles down the main drag, English Harbor draws yachties from around the globe and bustles with numerous bars and restaurants. Just beyond is the richly historic and impressive Nelson’s Dockyard, built in the 1700s as a hurricane hole for the British navy. High above, Shirley Heights affords spectacular views.
Each afternoon after a morning of sunbathing, we ventured farther afield in our trusty Nissan Almera, repeatedly getting lost on the narrow, rugged, unmarked roads and occasionally dodging errant goats and chickens. Large green directional signs sprout up sporadically, their words too faded to read. The exceptionally scenic Fig Tree Drive – named for the ubiquitous banana trees ¬– winds through quaint villages, hills and rain forest before descending to hug the west coast.
At Jolly Harbour, we embarked on the unforgettable daylong Eli’s Eco Tour aboard a 52-foot power cat, learning about Antigua’s turtle sanctuary, its dwindling deer and snake populations, its migrating pelicans and the importance of conserving mangroves and flats systems. We snorkeled above coral heads; explored the incredible rock formations, cave and natural bridge at Hell’s Gate, where the Atlantic and Caribbean mingle; and hiked to the top of Great Bird Island. Lunch brought plenty of tasty barbecued chicken, salads, fried plantains and banana cake, and the locally made passion-fruit and tamarind juices flowed liberally.
Other memorable meals during our weeklong vacation included West Indian chicken curry; mahi mahi, both grilled and beer-battered; tilapia in tacos and sandwiches; and wahoo in garlic sauce.
As usual, we made the obligatory pilgrimage to the typically chaotic capital city and cruise-ship port, in this case St. John’s, where we minced along crowded, broken sidewalks just long enough to procure a highly anticipated chicken roti from the acclaimed Roti King. We then bolted for more low-key and interesting locales: the well-preserved sugarmills at Betty’s Hope; the waves crashing dramatically at Devil’s Bridge, another natural formation; and Priscilla Looby’s colorful hilltop gallery, where we bought a vibrant oil painting she had completed that morning, our souvenir of another amazing tropical vacation.