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Antigua Travel Guide
In 1784, Admiral Horatio Nelson chose Antigua, situated in the centre of the Leeward Islands, as the base for Great Britain's Caribbean Fleet. It is hard not to see why, as the island boasts a varied coastline with secure docking points, a protective coral reef and steady trade winds. Add to that shimmering sandy beaches, bright sunshine and a laid-back attitude and it is no surprise that Antigua, together with its smaller sister island Barbuda, is today one of the Caribbean's most popular tourist spots. Along with the uninhabited Redonda Island, Antigua and Barbuda form a tiny nation with a population descended largely from African slaves and a mix of Europeans. Visitors flock to enjoy the stretches of beach and miles of excellent hikes on Antigua, the protected nature reserve of Redonda, the exclusive resorts and superb bird sanctuary on Barbuda, and world-class snorkelling and scuba diving among wrecks along the nation's coral reefs. The warm winds that Nelson relied on to bring his ships safely into harbour now contribute to one of the world's biggest maritime events, Sailing Week. The nation's largest city is the popular cruise destination of St John's, situated on Antigua. With a strong maritime history, the city is filled with related attractions and also offers visitors a chance to shop, dine and unwind. Codrington (named after sugar plantation Christopher Codrington) is Barbuda's main city and acts as a base for explorations of the many coastal shipwrecks, as well as the island's frigate bird population. Ultimately, however, visitors to this island nation come to enjoy the expanse of sandy beaches and the unique atmosphere of the Eastern Caribbean.
Electrical current is 220 and 110 volts, 60Hz. Most hotels have both voltages available. American-style two-pin plugs are used.
The Eastern Caribbean Dollar (XCD) is the main form of currency in Antigua and Barbuda, and it is tied to the US Dollar, with US$1 equal to EC$2.65 (long-standing, pegged rate). US currency can be used nearly everywhere. Major currencies and travellers cheques can be exchanged at the international banks in St John's and at many hotels. Credit and debit cards are widely accepted but there are not many ATMs in the area, so it is best to make arrangements around this.
English is the official language, but most locals speak English patois (jargon or dialect).
Tips of 10-15% are common in Antigua and Barbuda, depending on the service. Some restaurants and hotels will automatically add a 10% gratuity. Porters and bellhops expect 50 cents per bag, and taxi drivers 10-15% of the fare. There is an additional room tax of 8.5%.
There are no special health requirements for visitors to Antigua and Barbuda, except for yellow fever immunisation for those over one year of age arriving from an infected country. Hepatitis A vaccination is recommended but not mandatory. The Dengue Fever mosquito is found throughout the islands, and incidents of the disease are on the increase; care should be taken to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes. Travellers should be aware that some types of tropical reef fish are poisonous, even when cooked. Health insurance with provision for medical evacuation is strongly recommended, as medical treatment is expensive. There is no hyperbaric chamber; divers requiring treatment for decompression illness must be evacuated from the island. The private hospital, Adelin, requires a substantial credit card deposit before treating visitors, who then have to personally reclaim the cost from insurance on their return home.
Most visits to Antigua and Barbuda are trouble-free but visitors should not become complacent. Crime exists on the island and visitors should take normal precautions. Avoid isolated areas, including beaches after dark, and do not carry large amounts of cash or jewellery. Hurricane season is usually from June to November.
All nationalities must hold confirmed onward or return tickets and sufficient funds to cover their period of intended stay. Valid passports are required and we suggest that passports be valid for six months after departure. Visas are generally not required for stays less than one month. Extensions are possible on visas. As part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), all travellers travelling between the United States and Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean region are required to present a passport or other valid travel document to enter or re-enter the United States. If departing from the USA a valid passport will be required by immigration authorities. Proof of yellow fever vaccination is required for those arriving from risk areas.
Antiguans and Barbudans are primarily of African origin, descendants of slaves brought to the Island centuries ago to labour in the sugarcane fields. Away from the resorts the islands have a distinct West Indian flavour - calypso, steel bands and reggae are all popular. But the islanders have also been influenced by the years of British rule and this is particularly apparent in their passion for cricket. It is an offence to wear camouflage clothing as it is reserved for the military and beachwear should be confined to the beach.