Antigua: Beach du Jour

Antigua promises beach therapy times 365

See that land over there?” asked our driver, Bernard “Barney” Simon, pointing out the window at a jut of forested Antigua. “That’s where Eric Clapton has his rehab center.” Pause for effect. “Anyone wanna go?” Having just sat out a flight cancellation due to Hurricane Irene in various Miami bars, I thought maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea.

But here in the Windward Caribbean Islands, sunny skies had returned, beaming down on miles and miles of fetching beaches. For after all, Antigua has its own secret weapon to restore mental stability: 365 beaches.

A beach a day surely will keep more than the doctor away, and that’s exactly what Antigua offers. Besides its sandy claim to fame, it boasts superb sailing and other water sports, rich history, and some fabulous beach resorts.

Another day, another beach

Why so many beaches? Because organizationally, Antigua is a mess. Whereas some Caribbean islands take the tidy shape of an eel, egg, or triangle, Antigua is just all over the place — almost octopus-like with nooks, crannies, fingers, toes, and various other random protrusions.

Counting the Beaches of Antigua

This equates to a lot of bays and coves where cliffs bookend beaches from long crescent stretches to small, intimate patches.

My question: Are there really 365, or is that a convenient marketing ploy?

“Yes there are 365 of them,” Barney answered without hesitation or apparent apology. “Some of them, you don’t get to them except by four-wheel drive or boat or donkey.”

Barry, a different driver a different day explained that because there are so many small beaches and offshore island beaches such as on Barbuda, Long Island, and Sandy Island, it mounts up.

I set out with an idea that I would “collect” as many of the beaches in six days as I could. Then Irene chopped one day off my agenda, and I didn’t have a donkey, but I was still determined. Determined until I reached Galley Bay, site of Galley Bay Resort, where I was spending a few nights.

Baby Sea Turtle Saviors

I arrived with some fellow travel writers in the dark of midnight, and we decided to have a nightcap in the open-air bar before retiring. As we were winding down from a day of travel, a resort staff guy popped up and asked if we were interested in helping a nest of sea turtle hatchlings that were having trouble making their way to the sea.

Three of us being Floridians, we immediately realized we were dealing with leatherbacks and saw the problem was a spotlight on the beach. We asked for it to be shut off, but instead they handed us a flashlight to try to lead the hatchlings to the sea, after carrying them near to water’s edge. It took the four of us and staffers to round up the dozen or so babies and dissuade them from heading into the wrong light with as little touching as possible.

The adventure alternately exhausted and enchanted us, and suddenly there was another nest emerging, but the flashlight had burned out. So these we had to literally carry into the water and make sure they didn’t wash back up.

It felt like one heck of a welcome and thrill as I repaired to my room and fell into an immediate charmed slumber with hardly a look at my accommodations. When daylight broke the next morning and I threw open the curtains, I found myself in yet another state of beach dream: a room where all that required getting to the beach was sliding back the glass door and taking three steps off the stoop.

Galley Bay Resort

And not just any beach, this. It’s the stuff movie sets are made of: swayback coconut palms, a three-quarter mile stretch cupped by dramatic rock cliffs (from atop of which the home of Giorgio Armani looked down upon us), water like only the Caribbean can design, and white softness that puts baby powder to shame.

Armani's beach shack

It’s the kind of beach where you can easily while away a day marinating in salt water, pretending to read a book when really all you want to do is gaze out at sea, and traipsing down to the bar for a cold Wadadli (the ancient native name for Antigua) beer or creamy Banana Slider rum concoction.

All-inclusive, Galley Bay reinvents the typical buffet-and-pool-games scene with the utmost good taste and all à la carte meals. Spa treatments happen in treehouses and romantic dinners on the beach in sequestered cabanas. (Did I mention this is also a kid-free environment?)

Finding Antigua’s Beaches

After being waylaid for a day at Galley Bay, I did return to my beach-seeking mission long enough to visit some of the island’s more legendary beaches. Although all are public with easy access, most serve as front lawns for Antigua’s popular resorts.

North-lying Dickenson Bay, one of the longest and most spectacular, is nonetheless, by my then-biased opinion, too busy and crowded with Sandals, other resorts, a casino, and cruise-ship shore excursions.

More secluded and locals-oriented, nearby St. James Fort Beach has the added attraction of fort ruins and a string of barefoot beach bars. Long Bay on the east coast, another beauty with calm waters year-round, is home to a popular resort scene.

In the south, Half Moon Bay regularly gets listed among the world’s five most beautiful. At St. James Club on Mamora Bay in the south, where I spent one night, both a bay and ocean beach provide variety and another opportunity to step from doorstep to sand and be spoiled by fine dining and expert spa services.

Near Long Bay, Verandah Beach too is home to an eponymous resort. Once the island’s notorious nude beach, today it boasts two separate beaches – one for families, another for adults.

Its nature trail leads to the famous Devil’s Bridge, the only remaining natural limestone bridge since the collapse Aruba’s in 2005.

Good intentions, bad spell-check at Jabberwock Beach

I looked down upon Galleon Beach and Rendezvous Bay from Shirley Heights, from where Eric Clapton’s home is also visible. I spied Long Island and Prickly Pear Island at a distance off the shore of Jabberwock Beach. I lost count. Still Galley Bay remained my favorite on an island known for its beaches.

Man-about-island Alex De Brito told me that’s exactly why discerning travelers come to Antigua rather than other Caribbean islands. “Not because there’s 365 beaches,” he said. “It’s because they’re clean and safe and beautiful.”

And therapeutic.

IF YOU GO:

Antigua & Barbuda Tourist Offices, 888-268-4227, www.antigua-barbuda.com

Galley Bay Resort & Spa, 866-237-1644, www.galleybayresort.com

St. James Club, 866-237-2071, www.stjamesclubantigua.com

Verandah Resort & Spa, 866-237-1785, www.verandahresortandspa.com

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