When I was a teenager, my group of four school friends and I made a promise to be each other’s bridesmaids, so when the first of us got engaged back in 2007, we were pretty excited. Even more so when she informed us the wedding was going to be in Antigua…
When you imagine the archetypal idyll of shimmering turquoise waters of the Caribbean sea and secluded white sandy beaches – the glamorous island of Antigua and its twin Barbuda offers it all in abundance. While expensive yachts dock at the harbour, and the capital, St John’s, has a buzzing nightlife and markets, there is much to explore from the rain forests and national parks to museums and botanical gardens.
It also boasts ‘a beach for every day of the year’ – as the locals love to tell tourists but apparently there are only around 52 – still not bad going for an island which is only 14 miles long. It would be possible not to be wowed by Antigua’s beaches from Dickenson Bay to Jolly Harbour.
Our Antigua All-Inclusive Resort
Hotels, speciality lodgings and holiday lets are plentiful in Antigua. While the bride and groom stayed at Blue Waters, where the wedding ceremony was held, we opted to go more rustic chic set high up on the hilltops in Cocobay Antigua – a charming resort dotted with individual cottages surrounded by lush, tropical foliage and flowers. Meanwhile, the hotel’s infinity pool had the most wonderful views of the sea… In fact, most of the hotel areas and rooms have a stunning sea view and this is what I loved most about Cocobay Antigua.
Cocobay Antigua Accommodation
We had a standard wooden cottage and its main unique selling point is the spectacular view overlooking the sea. The room is simply decorated and I adored the hammock hanging outside on our verandah. When the weather was warm, it was the perfect place to unwind and read a book. Although, one stormy night, our little wooden felt like it was going to be blown away by the howling winds… needless to say being battered by the elements wasn’t conducive to a restful sleep. There are rooms of a higher standard, including Deluxe Cottages and private pool villas available, too.
We all opted to go all-inclusive during our stay at Cocobay, which was a good move considering the weather. The food was of a good standard – and served buffet style from hot plates at breakfast, lunch and dinner. I remember being glad we didn’t have too many meals there apart from breakfast as I think the variety would have become tiresome after 10 days. When the weather was good, we also made use of the beautiful stretch of beach at the resort – and the lads even took out a small dinghy to explore around the coastline.
My favourite part of Cocobay Antigua Resort was the pool area – the main hub of the hotel. Swimming in the infinity pool, or finding a little nook to relax in around the public decks – I could never tire of the view.
Overview of our Antigua Holiday
We decided to stay in Antigua for 10 days. Although I tend to do a lot of research before arriving at a destination, it didn’t seem as important on this trip. We were heading there solely for the purpose of celebrating a wedding, and to have fun with our friends. Everything else was just an added bonus.
While much of it was centred around the bride, groom and wedding preparations during the period leading up to the big day – there were various lunches, dinners, drink gatherings, BBQs and hen/stag parties – we still had some opportunity to explore the island.
However, there was one thing that none of us could have foreseen – around six days out of 10, our tropical holiday was marred by the lack of sunshine, high winds and constant downpours. On particularly bad days we were unable to relax, go to the beach, lie by the pool or wander St John’s without getting soaking wet. It certainly put a dampener on proceedings but luckily, we’re a close-knit group and made use of the hotel bar… Meanwhile, lunches tended to be long and boozy, and there were plenty of afternoon siestas back in our Cocobay Antigua cottages.
When the sun eventually made an appearance, we certainly made the most of it. The ladies went off on a catamaran cruise around that island, while the lads played cricket on the beach. We even hired a jeep and zipped around taking in all the sights, as well as hanging out on the various beaches Antigua is so famous for.
It was on the day of the wedding, though, we were most relieved there wasn’t a rain cloud in sight. The ceremony was held under a pagoda at the tip of a headland of Blue Waters Resort & Spa.
It was an emotional and beautiful ceremony, and slightly surreal to be sipping champagne afterwards as a steel band were playing and hotel guests were cheering.
The wedding party then headed to a popular Antiguan restaurant bar called Coconut Grove, set by the beach on Dickenson’s Bay for an evening of good food, drinking and dancing. We celebrated until the wee hours of the morning and there were a lot of sore heads the following day.
Things to do in Antigua
The capital of Antigua is both colourful and vibrant. We enjoyed marvelling at the bright architecture and the huge cruise ships docked in the port, browsing in the shops and farmer’s markets as well as sampling several restaurants including Hemmingways Caribbean Cafe – where we sat on their balcony overlooking the bustling streets below.
Nelson’s Dock Yard
If you go to Antigua, you must visit Nelson’s Dockyard – the only working Georgian Dockyard in the world. The original eighteenth-century buildings have been lovingly restored and it also serves as a world-class marina, hosting yachts from around the globe. The Nelson’s Dockyard National Park also has several nature trails that offer stunning views of Falmouth and English Harbours.
Shirley Heights is a restored military lookout and gun battery. It may not sound very interesting but think massive street party, food, music and dancing with the most breathtaking views over English and Falmouth Harbour – then you’ll understand why it’s the place to be on a Sunday night. A few of us got a cab over there during our stay and it was so much fun taking in the scene – the local steel bands and revellers while sipping rum punch and smelling the wafts of fragrant roasting meat on the barbeques.
Deep Sea Fishing
When one of our friends suggested we book a deep-sea fishing trip from Jolly Harbour, we jumped at the chance. I’d never fished before… and the fighting belt attached to the main seat of the helm slightly worried me – how big was the fish going to be? In fact, they were all whoppers! My wahoo fish was the smallest catch of the day. Others caught mahi-mahi, while one of the guys needed help reeling one in when he caught a fish that was at least a metre long!
It was an exciting, adrenaline-fuelled day, made even better when we returned to the harbour, and the crew cleaned and gutted one fish for us to take back. We went to the hotel, who graciously prepared it for our evening meal. It was rewarding to eat something we had actually caught!
A great way of exploring the island is hiring a car for the day – it doesn’t take long to drive around it. The girls and I chose a jeep and crammed into the back with little thought on where we were actually going. Taking in some of the sights I mentioned above, we also drove to several beaches – but the one that really sticks in my mind is the beach at Hermitage Bay. There was hardly a soul on this quiet, stretch of white sand, even though the exclusive resort backs on to it. We spent a while just strolling along the water’s edge. It really felt like a Robinson Crusoe Island.
This is the first, and only time I’ve been to the Caribbean – but having written The Top Five Family-Friendly Caribbean Islands, I hope it won’t be the last – there are over 700 islands to explore!
I will always look back on my time on the island and Cocobay Antigua fondly – because it was such a momentous occasion. And, even though the weather was pretty bad, we had such a good time hanging out with our closest friends, laughing a lot; shouting a lot; mucking about. The only regret I have is that we perhaps may have ruined the romantic ambience of the Cocobay Antigua honeymooners. Apologies!