FALMOUTH HARBOUR –Antigua and Barbuda
The little slice of Caribbean heaven known as Antigua has instant appeal for all those in search of the kind of tropical heaven where coconut-palm lined white sands and turquoise seas feature heavily. The island has literally hundreds of beaches to choose from and many who arrive here come to do very little except enjoy its laid-back island life and laze around the ocean. However, for those who like to be active and exploring, it also manages to offer an excitingly full menu of things to see and do.
Antigua is blessed with a generous helping of the stunningly natural ranging from colorful coral gardens to rainforests alive with the sounds of birds and insects. To get amid such splendor you can go hiking, ziplining, snorkeling, horseback riding, boat cruising or choose another of the many options possible.
The island also has plenty of interest for the culture and history passionate with its back story of British colonial rule spanning four centuries. Leftovers from this era of rich plantations entwined with the tragic practice of slavery include forts, crumbling mansions, sugar-cane industry ruins and the beautiful Nelson’s Dockyard with its restored 18th century buildings.
Falmouth Harbour lies in the island’s south which, together with English Harbour just around the headland and within walking distance, represents Antigua’s biggest center of activity aside from the capital, St. John’s, in the north. Once a base for the fleets of Admiral Nelson, today these natural deep harbors are seasonal playgrounds for pleasure sailors; watching the comings and goings of craft both small and of the luxury yacht type from any number of waterside cafes, bars and restaurants in the area is both a popular and lovely way to spend some Antiguan hours.
No matter whether you decide to spend your time immersed in this island’s natural beauty, head out to discover its past or take part in any number of exciting activities it is certain your lasting memories will be of a tropical paradise filled with the warmth of its people.
A Morning In and Around Falmouth Harbour
Antigua is full of aging remnants which together tell a story of a colonial past and nowhere is this more evident than with the island’s collection of English-built forts and military defense systems.
You can begin your morning with a short walk to one of these ruined fort sites followed by a glimpse into the entire history of the island from its earliest history of human settlement at the Dow’s Hill Interpretation Centre.
Once ringed about with an elaborate coastal network of impressive forts, Antigua’s collection of military structures today lie mostly in ruins. Nevertheless many of these sites from the 1700s are still great places to gain some insight into the might of a colonial power at its height. Additionally they typically offer the chance to take in some incredible views and yet another major bonus of these atmospheric relics is that they are all free to visit.
There are two of these forts within easy distance of Falmouth Harbour – Great Fort George and Fort Berkeley. The former is ideal for those who enjoy a hike as it is located atop Monk’s Hill. The more extensive Fort Berkeley lies at the south-eastern extreme of Falmouth Harbour and can easily be reached on foot along a nature trail with only a slight incline to tackle.
Located on a spit of land which projects into English Harbour, Fort Berkeley in ages past had the ability to raise a huge chain by way of giant wooden booms which stretched completely across the harbor. Once winched into place this chain created a barrier which prevented any enemy ships from invading by sea at this point. Such a defensive mechanism required careful engineering and today the part of the fort which anchored the enormous chain can still be seen.
The trail which leads to the fort takes you past a quarry which was where the stone used to construct the fort was dug from as well as offering some wonderful views of such island landmarks as the cave and rock column formation known as the Pillars of Hercules to the south.
Originally constructed right at the beginning of the 1700s, Fort Berkeley once stretched the length of this peninsula as can easily be seen by following the line of the ruined outer walls which still remain. Also still surviving are the munitions building which was where the gunpowder was stored and a guardhouse which has been restored.
The fort also has an 18th century cannon although once the firepower here would have been significantly more. Each of the wall’s rampart openings would have housed a 6000 pound cannon capable of firing a 24 pound shot up to a mile and a half away with several men needed to operate each unit.
The wonderful views from Fort Berkeley which sits perched atop rugged rocks are in themselves enough to make any visit here worthwhile. To the unprotected south waves pound the cliff base while to the north the waters are tranquil and turquoise within the shelter of English Harbour where luxury yachts lie at anchor. If you are lucky you may even have the site all to yourself at this time of the morning, only having to share this English colonial leftover with the goats which roam this jut of land.
Morning Coffee in Falmouth Harbour
When it comes time to pause in your morning the Falmouth Harbour with English Harbour right next to it has a great selection of cafes to pick from. If incredible service, wonderful harbor views and good quality coffee all rank highly in your list of must-haves then the Seabreeze Cafe at the Antigua Yacht Club Marina consistently receives rave reviews in each of those categories.
Located on the boardwalk and therefore at absolute waterfront with a collection of tables in the shade, this cafe has been part of the Antigua scene for two decades now. It is a favorite haunt of the locals and visiting leisure sailors who come for breakfast, a great coffee menu and some fresh-baked pastries and treats such as chocolate muffins, croissants and fruit tarts. A wonderful gelateria is also part of the set-up here so you can round off your coffee break with an in-house produced ice-cream which according to the Discovery Channel’s Food Network is one of the Caribbean’s finest.
A rather newer addition to the Falmouth Harbour cafe scene is the gorgeous Ô Chill/Dada Wa Café which sits on the waterfront on the eastern side of the bay. In equal parts shop, cafe and bar, this little gem is entered through a gate set into a white picket fence from which you can catch your first alluring glimpse of the Caribbean Sea blues which lie at the cafe’s rear.
The charming teal-painted deck which makes up the cafe area and gives you a direct view of the harbor is littered about with deckchairs upholstered with funky prints, elegant cane chairs and sofas strewn with colorful cushions. The decor and water panoramas together weave an ambiance perfect for a mid-morning break and once you have finished you are almost certainly going to want to check out the attached shop. Full of artwork and handicrafts produced by one half of the French team which own the Dada Wa, you can browse for gifts and souvenirs which include paintings, handmade jewelry and decorative accessories.
The Dow’s Hill Interpretation Centre
It is often assumed that the story of the Caribbean islands began when one or other of the powerful colonial powers of the time claimed them for their own. However, most have a history which extends way back before the European explorers ‘discovered’ them and Antigua is no different.
It is known that a hunter-gatherer race were present on Antigua as long ago as 3100 BC and rather more is known about the pre-Colombian Arawak people who produced crops and ceramics and the warrior race Caribs who came after.
If you have an interest in the entire back story of this Caribbean Island the Dow’s Hill Interpretation Centre high on a hill overlooking English Harbour is an essential inclusion in your itinerary. Located just a five minute drive from Falmouth Harbour and part of the Nelson’s Dockyard National Park, the principal focus of Dow’s Hill is to take visitors on a discovery experience through each of the island’s most historically significant era’s to demonstrate how each has played its part in shaping the Antigua of today. You will be taken right back to the age of the first hunters and then, as you journey through time, also learn about such things as the age of piracy, the English colonial years which began in the 1600s along with their military defense systems and the tragic history of slavery which went hand-in-hand with the existence of colonial plantations. The short audio-visual presentation gives a general overview and from here you can further explore elements of Antigua’s history, culture and heritage.
Although the center’s easy introduction to the island’s entire history along with a cafe and gift shop are visitor draws some venture here simply to take in the far-reaching vistas which many insist are the best in Antigua. The center’s viewing platform offers a truly majestic panoramic sweep which takes in both English Harbour and Falmouth Harbour filled with yachts, a number of forts, old sugar plantations, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Nelson’s Dockyard and on a clear day other neighboring islands.
Lunch in Falmouth Harbour
Once your morning of forts, fantastic views and island history draws to a close you can start thinking about which of Antigua’s restaurant choices to settle on for lunch. Aside from the capital town of St. John’s in the north, the biggest collection of eateries can be found clustered around Falmouth and English Harbour so you are going to be spoiled for choice.
The beautiful greenery and hill-backed harbors offer some of the loveliest dining settings on the island and Papas By the Sea is one of the restaurant choices which allows you to make the most of this. With a lovely beach-front spot on Falmouth Harbor’s eastern edge, at Papas you can have an alfresco lunch at one of its poolside deck umbrella-shaded tables and if you want to take a dip while you wait for your food you have both the pool and the ocean to choose from.
Papa’s creative but casual lunch menu gives you a mix of both Caribbean and international dishes with plenty of just-arrived-from-the-boat seafood options. Choices such as the ceviche and lobster salad are ideal for those who want a lighter lunch while those who have worked up more of an appetite can choose from pizzas, burgers, fish plates and steaks.
If you have your heart set on a quintessential Caribbean beach bar location for lunch complete with laid-back tropical vibes head a little further south from Papa’s to arrive at the lovely Pigeon Point Beach.
Here, at the north end of a tranquil coconut palm-lined sweep of pale sand, you will find the cheerfully-painted Bumpkins Beach Bar and Grill where a regular crowd of locals come to hang out and feast on inexpensive but high quality Caribbean fare.
A combination of gorgeous beach and idyllic bar are hard to beat no matter what but Bumpkins has been satisfying a steady stream of customers for more than 20 years now. This means that although the ambiance is as relaxed as it gets this little gem has actually perfected what it does to a fine art and works like a well-oiled machine without losing anything of its island-life charm elements.
Your view from the dining deck regardless of which of its handful of tables you choose offer unrivaled sparkling sea views and a front row seat to watch the yachts and other watercraft coming and going from your Falmouth Harbour entrance spot. On a clear day you will also be able to make out the island of Montserrat, many kilometers away to the south.
Bumpkins is best known for its barbecue dishes, baby back ribs and jerk chicken but this is just the tip of the iceberg if none of these appeal. There are also burgers, pulled-pork creations, salads and catch-of-the-day seafood options, typically with fish and calamari included.
The beautiful beach setting with its calm turquoise waters make it almost impossible to resist diving in for a quick refreshing swim or paddle as you wait for your freshly cooked order to arrive at your table.
An Afternoon In and Around Falmouth Harbour
Thrilling off-road land adventures or some exciting coastal discovery – these are your options for your afternoon hours on Antigua and both offer the unmissable chance to take the wheel of your own transport.
Exploring Antigua by Off-Road Buggy
Antigua has plentiful helpings of naturally magnificent scenery and there are various ways in which you can get yourself amid the beauty of this island. For those with a sense of adventure and with an urge to tap into the explorer in their soul off-road buggy tours are an ideal choice. Varying in length from around 2 hours upwards depending on which operator you choose, the trails you can head out on with a 4×4 sport buggy truly allow you to get off the beaten path.
These 2-seater, automatic transmission, open-side and top vehicles are easily handled and so allow you to be your own pilot making the tours far more fun. At the same time you will have all the advantages of being led by a skilled guide who can show you the way to secret scenic places and hidden corners. As you go you can also learn something of the island’s nature and way of life as you pass growing crops, weave through lemongrass fields and cruise past small habitations and villages where friendly islanders will wave you on your way.
Typical buggy routes include an exploration of the lovely Body Ponds, jaunts beneath rainforest canopies and at least one beach stop. These latter are generally of the unspoiled and deserted kind, where you can pause to take some refreshments or clean off some of the dirt and dust you will have accumulated with a dip in the sea.
Exploring Antigua’s Coast and Coral Reefs by Inflatable Dinghy
If you’d prefer to go exploring on water rather than land Antigua also offers the opportunity to head out in this way too, this time piloting your own 2-seater inflatable with Reef Riders. Another option for the adventurous, this tour is also led by a guide and also has a decided thrill element as you get to take the helm of your own craft.
The principal purpose of this tour is to get you out to Cades Reef – typically considered to be the jewel in the crown of the island’s snorkeling sites. Cades Reef is Antigua’s largest and most notable for its rich marine life and a water clarity which can give you an astonishing 30m of visibility. There is no doubt that these underwater rainbow-painted gardens are a wonderful end-of-journey reward for your efforts but on this adventure the getting there is every bit as special as the destination as you head along the spectacular south coast, skirting reefs and passing close to stunningly beautiful coves and bays.
Pre-Dinner Drinks and Dinner In and Around Falmouth Harbour
No matter what your mood Antigua’s selection of drinking spots and dining venues has something to suit. The island’s collection offers everything from casual beach set ups where you can sit with your feet in the sand to higher-end establishments where well-dressed diners work their way through multi-course menus.
While rum and cocktail fans are well-catered for on Antigua as they are elsewhere in the Caribbean the island also has a special treat for the craft beer passionate. Located in Falmouth Harbour, the 2SIX8 Brewery is the island’s first and only micro-brewery and offers a no-frills taproom and alfresco beer garden where you can enjoy their full range of beers. Created and run by a team of three people from Antigua, Canada and England, 2SIX8’s range of pale ales, ambers, stouts and lagers can also be found dotted around bars and restaurants in English and Falmouth Harbour such as the Antigua Yacht Club. However the brewery’s seasonal brews and specials are only available at their own site.
If you prefer sundowners of a different kind Falmouth Harbour and its neighbor just around the headland – English Harbour – have a plentiful supply of drinking venues, many of them with glorious waterfront views. One such of these is the lovely Galley Bar which is located within the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Nelson’s Dockyard, a unique island treasure complete with its British Naval history of centuries past.
The brick-built Galley Bar topped by a palm thatch and surrounded by coconut trees and greenery has a charming wooden deck and a scattering of benches right on the quay which puts you at absolute waterfront. From here you can watch the constant comings and goings of watercraft in the harbor as you sip on your daiquiri, rum punch or pina colada, rubbing shoulders with yacht captains, locals and other island visitors.
The wonderful range of Antigua restaurants ensures dining is a true highlight of any visit to the island with fish and seafood a common inclusion on most menus. French and Caribbean cuisine is in plentiful supply while fans of Italian food will also find themselves well-catered for. One choice in this latter group, ideal for those looking for a waterside spot, is Incantos which sits on the eastern shores of English Harbour.
Here, backed by tropical greenery-clad hills you will find a lovely wooden deck (in reality an extension of the dock) right on the water and some of the most authentic Italian fare you could hope to come across in the Caribbean. The lounge area here is all comfortable sofas and cane tub chairs while the main dining section extends off to one side of this. Both the setting and food tend to scoop a plentiful supply of glowing reviews but it is really the mother and son duo here with their exceptionally warm welcome who seem to be the true stars of the show and bring an element which, more than anything, makes this restaurant such a winner.
Incanto’s focus is on freshness so ingredients are sourced from local farmers and fishermen wherever possible and the herbs used are grown by the establishment themselves. The culinary magic is worked by Italian chefs who serve up traditional Italian fare alongside some creative twists with some great lobster and seafood choices.
Sitting just across the English Harbour’s waters from Incantos is Pillars. Part of the Admiral’s Inn, this decidedly romantic dining venue surrounds you with island history, getting its name from its series of 18th century stone columns which border the beautiful alfresco dining terrace here. Tree-shaded, waterside and atmospherically lit at night, this terrace is one of the two dining areas of this charm-infused seafood restaurant which lies within the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Nelson’s Dockyard National Park. There are further seating choices inside the beautiful main building which 200 years ago served as a workshop for British Royal Navy engineers.
The menu here is small but wonderfully balanced with seafood (especially lobster) the star of the show or you can mix and match a variety of appetizers for a tapas-like experience which allows you to sample a bit of everything. Once you have finished feasting you can simply continue gazing at the yachts with an after-dinner drink on the terrace or head to the inside bar. Highly atmospheric, this space is all heavy wooden beams hung with decorative worked iron chandeliers and features a bar top etched with the names of ships carved by sailors during the days when Lord Nelson was stationed in this harbor.
An Evening in Falmouth Harbour
The simplicity of sipping after-dinner cocktails at some idyllic spot as you watch the moon-rise or the luxury yachts is the main evening event for many, with a choice of bars and restaurants clustered around Falmouth Harbour and English Harbour.
If you want to inject a little live music into your night hours it isn’t hard to find in this area either with something on somewhere every night of the week in high season. Simply go for a wander around these harbors in the evening and you will hear music spilling out onto restaurant and bar terraces and patios with soca, reggae, calypso and jazz just some of the possibilities.
The jewel in the crown of the island’s live music events however is found a five minute drive from English Harbour at the Shirley Heights Lookout. Once a military guard post, Shirley Heights is now the venue for Antigua’s most talked about musical gathering which begins at sunset every Sunday just as it has for the last 25 years. The aroma of barbecued food fills the air along with the rhythm of steel band music, reggae and soca as folks gather to sip on rum punches and soak up the island atmosphere. If you’re not in town on a Sunday the steel band also performs here at sunset on Thursdays.
Otherwise after-dark entertainment options on Antigua will depend when you arrive but if you head to the island’s capital of St. John’s – 20km from Falmouth Harbour – it is highly likely you will find something going on from its diverse calendar of events. Check out Antigua’s official tourist website to take your pick from a diversity of possibilities which range from small community gatherings and cultural events to island-wide annual festivals.