Fantasy Islands

Fresh from two summer weddings, a Bar and a Bat Mitzvah, I decided it was time to take a vacation. And where else would I want to go that was not too far from home yet felt like another world? The Caribbean, of course!

This time, I chose the islands of Antigua and Barbuda — a perfect match for my wanderlust and sun-worshipping soul and located in the Leeward Islands, literally in the very heart of the Caribbean.

And because it's still hot and summertime, there are great bargains to be had, long before everything goes up for peak season in mid-December.

And the area seems to have particular appeal for Jewish cruisers; indeed, the company Kosherica has proved popular in sailing the islands.

Flying directly from Philadelphia (could it be any easier?), I landed in the capital city of St. John's, with its two new exciting waterfront developments. After checking into my marina hotel and a quick shower, it was off to explore the city.

Christopher Columbus first sailed these Caribbean waters looking for treasures. And while he never actually landed on the island of Antigua, he sighted it and named it in honor of Santa Maria la Antigua, whom he worshiped in Seville.

For a long time, the island, under various rulers, was not thought to be worth much — except in beauty — until it became known that its soil was very suitable for intensive farming, especially for the production of sugar cane. But today, the two islands have gradually abandoned their agricultural economy, transforming themselves instead into a tourist paradise.

Antigua — and its twin island nation of Barbuda — are now more famous for their 365 beaches, one for each day of the year, as well as a wealth of historic sites concentrated between Marmora Bay and Carlisle Bay.

There are numerous archaeological sites to explore, including Arawak village and the historical core of the area: The Nelson Dockyard, the base, during the 18th and 19th centuries, for the British Royal Navy.

I began my tour at English Harbor, which was of great strategic importance thanks to its natural deepwater, landlocked setting. Surrounded by impregnable fortifications on the overlooking hilltops, the harbor could hold up to 10 warships.

Today, those warships have been replaced by luxury yachts, especially during Antigua Sailing Week, which annually brings in hundreds of yachts from around the world for racing, pure enjoyment and camaraderie.

Where Is Everybody?
And speaking of breathtaking, perhaps not too much can compare to the white and pink sandy beaches waiting for the visitor. Few are terribly crowded, and some are yet undiscovered, except by the local population. But since this is a very friendly and very helpful group of people, they will probably be only too pleased to tell you where those beaches are.

Some of them can be found on the tiny island of Barbuda, easily accessible by the small nine or 19-seater Caribbean Star or Sun planes, or via ferry. The flight, a short 15-minutes with tight quarters and an open cockpit that allows you to see all the pilot is doing — like it or not — is an experience in itself.

Once you arrive, you can take a skiff to one of the gorgeous beaches, or to the bird sanctuary which boasts some 170 species of birds, the most prevalent being the frigate bird, known for its bright red gullet and huge wing span. In fact, Barbuda by boat allows you to explore the islands beaches, reefs and mangrove ecosystems while knowledgeable Barbudan guides assist.

There are many other eco-adventures available to visitors who want to learn about the history and ecology of the two islands.

In fact, both Antigua and Barbuda are paradises for nature lovers.



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