The Best Eco Friendly Things to do Antigua Barbuda

24
Aug 2021

As the Emerging Sustainable Destination for 2021, the focus on eco-friendly things to do in Antigua and Barbuda has been given high priority. The award originally put this quintessential Caribbean destination on my radar. Restarting travel with a significant concentration on the responsible travel sector emphasizes the significance this two island nation has placed on their environment.

Reef off shore and mountains in the background.

With a reputation as a luxury Caribbean destination, the islands rely heavily on tourism for their economy. It is indeed promising to see the government working to limit the negative environmental and socio-cultural consequences of unplanned tourism. With limited resources,  the importance of responsible tourism and an eco friendly return to travel in the future is a welcome discussion, properly placed front and center.

The aerial view in the Caribbean might be one of my favorites. Azure, sapphire, cobalt, tiffany; if you can come up with a name, chances are you’ll find it from one of the ombré shades out the window below. Arriving in Antigua was no different!

Aerial view of Antigua island and Caribbean.

Aerial view arriving in Antigua and Barbuda.

Located in the leeward islands of the West Indies, the island of Antigua was formed from volcanic activity. Reefs line much of the southern side and small islands are off the coast on the east. Coming in at 108 square miles, the island has a varied topography which includes a dramatic rain forest. Barbuda is quite flat in comparison and measures half the size. Much of the base is limestone.

With 365 beaches surrounding the islands, can one ever tire of the sand and surf? Surrounded by so much of what I call “MY HAPPY PLACE“, I was anxious to see what could be found Beyond the Beach. It did not take long. Unique geological formations, breathtaking overlooks and incredible biodiversity are combined with a wide variety of hiking and watersports. Antigua emerges as a standout of things to do for the eco-luxe traveler.

two people paddle boarding in blue water

Paddle boarding in a sea of blue.

Green Initiatives

The Green Corridor

A different beach for each day of the year. The sand stretches out to the massive sea moving from turquoise into shades of unforgettable blues. The stage is set for an unforgettable  Caribbean vacation. How encouraging to learn the country is prioritizing another island highlight known as the Green Corridor. This eco-tourism hotspot is reimagining the future of travel on Antigua and Barbuda.

Woman pointing to sign and bougainvillea on each side.

Located in the south-west, the lush green rain forest is full of activities with a focus on responsible tourism. In addition, the gorgeous landscape and rolling hills feature hotels and restaurants who adhere to principles based on cultural preservation, giving back to the local community and environmental stewardship.

Launched in 2017, the Green Corridor was appropriately introduced during the International Year of Sustainable Tourism. Stretching from the village of Bolans to the village of John Hughes, tourists will find the area represents one of the most scenic landscapes of the island. Fig Tree Drive is the main drag and several boutique shops can be found along the route.

Green Fins

In 2019, Antigua and Barbuda became the 1st  English speaking country in the Western Hemisphere to adopt the Green Fins initiative. Green Fins provides the only internationally accepted environmental standard for the diving and snorkelling industry, the focus is on reducing damage to reefs and marine eco-systems.

Isolated beach and blue Caribbean water

The beach at Morris Bay

With a tourism industry that welcomes close to 10 times its permanent population every year, Antigua and Barbuda visitors obviously have an impact on the delicate marine life surrounding the islands. The robust standards and compliance assessment of Green Fins can mitigate damage to the eco system.

Look for the Green Fins symbol when you find things to do such as snorkeling, kayaking or diving.

Plastic Ban

As of 2018, Antigua’s green efforts extended to the banning or plastics and Styrofoam. No business on the island is permitted to dispense plastic shopping bags, styrofoam containers or plastic utensils.

The Best Outdoor Things to do in Antigua and Barbuda

Scenic Overlooks

Woman at the top of overlook beach and Caribbean below.

To get the lay of the land, I always like to start my visit with a high scenic overlook. Be it bell tower or geographic vista, this sets the stage from above and gives perspective. While the following  iconic sites offer opportunities to hike as well, it is also possible to drive if you are looking to cover a lot of territory in a short period of time.

Shirley Heights

Shirley Heights is notably the most famous and features a lively sunset party every Sunday night complete with music and local food. The panoramic views of the island along with English Harbor are breathtaking. On a clear day views of nearby Guadeloupe are visible. There are several options for hiking to the overlook, taking about an hour, as well as driving.

overlooking harbor with sailboats in English Harbor Antigua

Shirley Heights Overlook into English Harbor

The Dow’s Hill Interpretation Center is just past the entrance to Shirley Heights. It offers additional views and a multimedia presentation of the history of the area.

Galley Bay Overlook (aka Halycon )

High above Galley Bay in the Five Islands area is another panoramic beauty. You’ll need a 4 wheel drive to get to the very top of the northwest spot, but without, the last bit is easily walkable. With views both into the lush interior and beaches below, it’s a stunning vantage point. You can also get a peek into some of the luxury properties directly below. on the island.

Hiking

I can’t tell you how exciting it was to see so many people hiking on Antigua. Word is out that this ecofriendly island activity is a rewarding adventure with breathtaking views along the way. There’s nothing like a good hike to stretch your legs and recharge after a day of travel.  With over 50 hiking trails, visitors would be hard-pressed to cover them all in a week. Challenges are available for every skill level. Most lead to amazing lookout points with views as far as the eye can see. 

Woman hiking with orange backpack.

Wallings Nature Reserve

Wallings Nature Reserve in the rain forest is one of the newest additions to the ever growing roster of eco-activities. The national park offers hikes and guided tours; the income directly supports the local community. Home to a gigantic water reservoir built in the 19th century, the watershed area features amazing biodiversity (including a house of bats)!

guide at nature reserve and tree with thorns

With over 1600 acres, the Reserve offers a wide berth of  hiking trails for your eco-friendly vacation. Added plus is the shade provided from the rain forest while enjoying nature.

woman using elephant leaf as a fan

My guide shared that the elephant leaf makes a great fan and rain cover!

Hikers who make it to the top of trails will be rewarded with breathtaking views of the island and beyond. My young guide, Israel, was filled with a passion for the environment and the information she was sharing.  The future looks bright!

Mt Obama/ Boggy Peak

For those looking for more of a challenge, hike the Mt. Obama (aka Boggy Peak) trail. Located in the Green Corridor, the tallest peak on the island is the highest point in the Shekerley Mountains. With an elevation of 1,319 feet, the trek requires approximately 3 hours and runs about 4 miles round trip.

I can’t say I mastered the challenge of Mt. Obama, but I did observe the trail from below. This steep, demanding path looked like it went straight up in areas and I would definitely say in the heat, you need to be in good shape to accept the challenge. Plan on going early in the day if you do and bring lots of water.

Visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Nelson’s Dockyard

A great storyteller brings to life his subjects no matter the topic. I had the wonderful privilege to interview a master, Dr. Reginald Murphy or Dr. Reg as he is known to his fans. Who knew shards of pottery could be so interesting?

Woman and man looking at bowl

Our rendezvous, in a ruin near Ft. Dix was a perfect prelude to visiting Nelson’s Dockyard. Dr. Reg was responsible for submitting the Dockyard for designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site. A successful designation was awarded in 2016.

Georgian Preservation

Nelson’s Dockyard is a postcard worthy setting of Georgian buildings and represents a cultural heritage site and marina in charming English Harbor. The pristine conservation zone is famous for its yacht and sailing scene. In addition, the 15 square mile National Park includes the not to be missed Shirley Heights Lookout, more hiking trails, and several forts in the area.

The UNESCO World Heritage site is named after Admiral Horatio Nelson and is a significant harbor because it allowed English ships to remain safe even during hurricanes, when ships from France and Spain had to return to Europe. This was a strategic military advantage and the port today is an important safety net during hurricane season.

I toured with Dr. Chris Waters, a Heritage expert also known for his Rum in the Ruins tour. He explained how the harbor fit into the geopolitical context. Well known for the skilled labor, artisans were able to repair sails and even careen ships, taking them out of the water turning them on their sides to repair the hull and remove barnacles.

Even today, many of the skilled workers have passed down their talents through the generations and ships come from all over the Caribbean to be repaired.  Workmanship is so highly valued the craftsmen often find themselves flown to other areas of the word to repair luxury yachts.

Boat Tour to Outlying Sanctuary Islands

Seeing Antigua from the water offers a different perspective for visitors and allows them to better appreciate the geography of the island. There are many options available depending on the type of experience you want to have.

Insider Tip: Make sure to ask how many people will be on the boat. Your experience will be impacted accordingly.

I was able to circumnavigate the island with an opportunity to see so many of the 365 beaches Antigua and Barbuda are known for, including private, secluded hidden gems you can only get to by hiking in or boat. The landscape is incredibly varied and so much more dramatic than I expected.

Ziplining

Adrenline junkies can head to Antigua Rainforest Tours for a thrilling canopy ride through the lush rain forest. Visitors have the option of up to 13 zip lines, combined with 3 aerial walkways and 2 suspension bridges, challenging both agility and nerves.

guide with a woman zip lining

Criss crossing the gorge below, the ride envelops you in the green of the rainforest. As hard as it might be, make sure to looks both up and down to take advantage of the incredible views, flora and fauna and birds who call this area home. The lines range in length from 52-328 feet and bring visitors in a large circle back to the starting point. Make sure to wear covered toe shoes, and there are lockers provided for storing your valuables.

Kayaking the Mangroves

Venturing beyond the beach and into the mangroves for a kayak eco-tour with South Coast Horizons. On the agenda is a short paddle out to the ocean through a mangrove sanctuary followed by a hike to Goat Head Hill.

woman and man kayaking in mangroves

The mangroves are an important and underrated environment, a life support system providing:

  • coastal protection from flooding and erosion
  • filtration for the water system and cleaner ocean quality for healthier reefs
  • spawning grounds for fish and shellfish
  • improved biodiversity

Development is constantly putting the mangroves at risk. Awareness and responsible travel will help protect this valuable eco system.

Hike Goat Hill

Reef off shore and mountains in the background.

Cades Reef from the top of Goat Hill.

The short hike up Goat Head Hill proved that even when you take advantage of all the great activities, the beach is never far away. Breathtaking views reward with the two-mile-long Cades Reef and the crystal clear waters off the southwestern coastline.

Observing Natural Formations

Mermaid Pools

I’ve saved the best for last. The hike to these two natural geological formations is truly a highlight for any visitor. Each can be reached by trail hikes, snorkeling or viewed by boat from the water. I chose to hike the Carpenter’s Rock trail to get there. The route is extremely picturesque and secluded, I only passed a few other people along the way. The path follows the edge of a cliff and makes it’s way up to Fort Charlotte. The trail is fairly easy but filled with large boulders that can be slippery. Good shoes are a must.

The natural dangers of cactus and acacia are thorny obstacles that can ruin an adventure quickly if you’re not paying attention. I swiftly learned that my normal New England hiking technique of using branches to balance and climb was a dangerous proposition in the Caribbean.

Woman standing near rocks and tide pools of water

Mermaid Gardens at low tide.

Pillars of Hercules

This is a trail where I was glad to have a guide along. He pointed out so much of the vegetation, knew the safest way for climbing and had answers to all of my questions. I reached the Mermaid Gardens first and found a gorgeous range of tide pools framed by walls of striated rocks. The scenic spot at low tide is wonderful for discovering sea urchins and crabs in all shapes and sizes. Several fisherman were on the rocks and a boat of divers busy not far from the pools.

Woman hiking near dramatic pillars in landscape.

Pillars of Hercules-one of the best things to do on Antigua.

Climbing back over the rocks and onto a path, we went up and down again to reach the next point of interest. The Pillars of Hercules are not too far from the Mermaid Gardens, but worlds apart in terms of geological formation.

Many web sites claim they are best seen from the water, but I respectfully disagree. When the tide is right, viewing the structure from below is breathtaking and worth every scratch! The sandstone rocks tell a story of nature over centuries and have left a formation of rock soldiers that stand guard outside English Harbor. Surreal is the only way to describe their magical appeal.

Snorkeling

There are many places to snorkel around the island, but one of the best has to be as a grand finale after a hike on Galleon Beach. The water temperature was perfect and just what I needed after the 2 hour hike to the Mermaid Gardens and Pillars of Hercules.

woman snorkeling in clear blue Caribbean water. Sailboat in background

Pack your mask and snorkel. It’s one of the best things to do on Antigua.

It was easy to find a secluded spot to dive in and explore the area. While hiking, I saw a group with a guide circling around the rocky shoreline and couldn’t wait to get my snorkel gear on and join them.   The water is crystal clear with plenty of nooks and crannies along the edges to explore.

Conclusion-Eco Friendly Things to do on Antigua

What do you think? Did the list of eco-friendly things to do on Antigua live up to the Emerging Sustainable Destination Award?

There is no denying the gorgeous beach reputation Antigua and Barbuda justly deserves. Icing on the cake are the friendly, welcoming residents and year-round sunshine.  By answering the call for more eco-friendly and authentic travel experiences, this exciting natural beauty demonstrates she is listening,  moving the islands into a space of regenerative travel for the future.

Disclaimer: The author was hosted by Antigua and Barbuda Tourism for review purposes.  As always, opinions and experiences are the work of the author. Green With Renvy only reviews places they feel will be of interest to our readers. 

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  1. Love seeing all the variations beyond the beach in Antigua and fabulous that their green initiatives are in action. Thanks for sharing.

    • alison says:

      I have to admit, I was surprised to see the intense focus. Really great to explore the options and I loved that there was so much hiking available. Almost saw more crowds off the beach than on it!

  2. Mo Joyce says:

    That ocean color is unreal!!!!

  3. Amber Myers says:

    What a gorgeous area. I would love to visit one day. The water is so blue.

  4. Beth says:

    I’m so glad that people are committed to keeping Antigua and Barbuda beautiful and protecting the environment. I would love to visit one day!