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What Should I Know About Antigua and Barbuda?

A portrait of Christopher Columbus, who explored the islands of Antigua and Barbuda in the late 15th century.
Antigua and Barbuda has 365 beaches, one for each day of the year.
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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 21 August 2014
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Antigua and Barbuda is a small island nation in the Caribbean. It covers 171 square miles (442 sq. km), making it a bit bigger than Washington, DC. It is situated near Trinidad, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Barts, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and a number of other small island nation states or dependencies.

Antigua and Barbuda were first settled in the 3rd millennium BCE by a group commonly referred to as the Archaic People. Sometime in the 3rd century BCE the islands were settled by Arawak speaking people. In the 15th century they were finally settled by the Caribs.

In the late 15th century Europeans, by way of Christopher Columbus, made contact with the islands of Antigua and Barbuda. The Spanish initially tried to settle the islands, but Carib resistance made it ultimately undesirable, and limited contact occurred for the next century or so.

In the early 17th century the British colonized the islands, turning them into plantations for sugar and tobacco, as well as other Caribbean crops. The British moved the economy of Antigua and Barbuda further towards sugarcane over the next century, importing African slaves to work the land. In 1834 the slaves were freed, but a lack of infrastructure to support them kept them in extremely impoverished conditions for the next century.

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From the 1950s on, Antigua and Barbuda were moved along on the path to eventual independence. General elections were held, and a number of national parties formed, mostly along labor lines, reflecting the country’s need for economic and worker reforms. In 1981 the country was declared independent, as a member of the Commonwealth of Nations with Queen Elizabeth II as monarch.

Antigua and Barbuda is famed for its 365 beaches, one for each day of the year. Although actually figuring out the truth of that statement could be a bit tricky, it can’t be denied that these islands have a lot of beaches, and that they serve as one of the country’s primary tourist attractions. Everyone has their own favorites, and the best of the best remain carefully guarded secrets, but within a couple of hours any traveler can easily have found a splendid beach to spend the day at, confident in the knowledge that a new beach awaits the following day.

For history buffs, English Harbor is the big hot spot on Antigua. Full of 18th century ruins, a number of forts, and lovingly restored colonial buildings, English Harbor is easily good for a day’s wandering. Nelson’s Dockyard, dating from the 18th century, when Antigua and Barbuda served as a key location for Lord Nelson’s navy, is another great historical site, now protected as a national park.

By hopping over to neighboring Barbuda, you can enjoy some of the best bird watching in the Caribbean. Barbuda is home to the largest rookery in the region, which houses the regions strange frigate birds, as well as petroglyphs dating back to the American Indian settling of the islands.

Flights arrive daily in St. John’s from hubs in the United States and the Caribbean, as well as London. Cruise ships regularly dock at St. John’s, and there is a steady stream of yachts always arriving or departing.

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