Matt and Britney Weidert

Matt Weidert

Antigua Yacht Charter: Beaches, History & Adventure

I’ve been searching for my next Caribbean bareboat destination, and I’ve found it…a yacht charter in Antigua and Barbuda. Update: here's the trip report.

Our crew has spent a lot of time recently in the Bahamas and the Virgin Islands, so it’s time to mix things up for an upcoming 40th birthday party trip.

Read on to find out why I’m excited about Antigua and Barbuda as a charter destination including my plan for a 7-day sailing itinerary.
  • Antigua and Barbuda yacht charter overview
  • Highlights of sailing in Antigua & Barbuda
  • Week-long Antigua yacht charter sailing itinerary
Miles of pink beaches await in Barbuda

Antigua and Barbuda yacht charter overview 

Antigua and Barbuda is a single country, located in the southern Leeward Islands near Montserrat and Guadeloupe (potential offshore destinations for a longer yacht charter trip).

This destination has something for every type of crew. Gorgeous beaches (they attest to having 365 of them), offshore fishing, plenty of bars and restaurants, British naval history, reef snorkeling, and some adventure at offshore Barbuda.
Source: Navionics

What else do I like about it for a sailing vacation?
  • The sailing yacht charter fleet is deep enough, with competitive pricing
  • There are multiple non-stop flights per day from the US including New York and Miami
  • It’s one country, so customs check in to other islands is not necessary (which might be needed in other Windward or Leeward Islands yacht charters, such as St. Martin or the Grenadines)
  • There are some larger, busier anchorages, but also a number of smaller, well-protected anchorages to find some seclusion
  • Many excursion and hiking opportunities, accessible by dinghy
  • Barbuda, home to less than 2,000 residents, offers an escape from it all, and the longest beach in the Caribbean
Falmouth Harbour and the mega yachts

Resources for an Antigua yacht charter

Doyle’s Cruising Guide to the Southern Leeward Islands is likely all you need to plan your trip to Antigua yacht charter.

The guide is updated every couple years and contains key country info, navigational sketches, and important insights for what to do, where. Historical insights, pictures, and personal experiences in these destinations make the Doyle guides so valuable to charterers and cruisers.

When to visit Antigua and Barbuda for a yacht charter

As with my other recommendations for the Caribbean, I enjoy visiting in April to May due to lower prices, settled weather, and longer days. The Christmas winds should be over and it’s usually too early for disruptive tropical disturbances.

You can read my post about when to visit BVI, most of which applies here.

Make sure you are aware of when the Antigua Sailing Week regatta occurs, one of the most popular sailing events in the Caribbean. It usually happens between April and May. It can be a fun time to visit, but with it, crowds!
A beach for every day, this one at Carlisle Bay

Highlights of sailing in Antigua and Barbuda

  • Sail offshore to Barbuda, one of the Caribbean’s hidden gems; anchor in solitude anywhere along the Caribbean’s longest pink sand beach (11 miles)
  • Relax amongst the reefs at peaceful Green Island
  • Drag some fishing lines and catch mahi, wahoo, or tuna in the deeper water offshore
  • Hike to Shirley Heights for commanding views and some nightlife at their famous Sunday evening bbq parties
  • Gaze at 200 foot mega yachts in Falmouth Harbour or rub elbows with the rich and famous at the establishments ashore near historic Nelson’s Dockyard
  • Arrange for a tour of frigate bird sanctuary at Codrington Lagoon
Week-long sailing itinerary | Source: Navionics

Week-long Antigua yacht charter sailing itinerary

Here’s my plan for our upcoming, 7 night, 8 day Antigua yacht charter. Why does this route work?

I use the north/south offshore passage to and from Barbuda to traverse the easterly trades and get us east. As we head west, clockwise around southern Antigua, you should have downwind passages, under normal cruising conditions.
Jolly Harbour where you are likely to start your charter

Day 1: Arrive and sleepaboard at Jolly Harbour

Most of the charter yachts are at Jolly Harbour, but it’s possible your marina might be elsewhere such as English Harbour.

If at Jolly Harbour, Epicurean Fine Foods, is a short walk from the marina and comes highly recommended for your provisioning needs. They’ll even let you borrow a cart with a small deposit.

Otherwise, get settled into your charter yacht, stow away your provisions, and crack a beer! Let’s get this vacation started!
The high-end resort of Jumby Bay

Day 2: Cruise the north shore to ritzy Long Island

After you complete your boat and charter briefing, set your sails and head north, clockwise around Antigua. Enjoy the views of the coast as you cruise for 2-3 hours before you drop the hook at Long Island.

Long Island has a nice anchorage on the west side, and this will be a convenient stop before crossing to Barbuda the next morning.

Don't expect to be welcomed ashore as this is home to the very high-end resort of Jumby Bay where rooms can go for many multiple thousands a night. If you wish to try and use their restaurant for dinner, contact them by phone or Channel 16.

You’ll have to be content with swimming off the back of the boat, snorkeling the nearby reef, and enjoying your first epic Caribbean sunset over the mainland of Antigua to the west. Plan for a meal aboard on this night.
You go to Barbuda for the beaches and solitude

Day 3: Sail offshore to the hidden gem of Barbuda

Some say the beaches on the western coast of Barbuda are unparalleled in the Caribbean and perhaps the rest of the world. So you better believe that even if conditions are not perfect, I’m sailing north to go find out.

Try and plan your visit around conditions that would support a passage to and from Barbuda. It would be unwise to attempt a sail north when a northerly swell is running. Northerly winds would also make for an uncomfortable ride to windward.

And while staying in Barbuda, be aware of any potential trade wind shifts into the west that could expose the anchorages.

Make it an early start so you can maximize your time in Barbuda. Pass carefully through the Horse Shoe Reef channel or backtrack to the west around the reef. Get those sails out and hopefully enjoy a beam reach on the ~30 nautical mile passage. This is also a great day to put out your fishing lines. Check out my sailboat fishing guide for tips and lure suggestions.

Sail for Low Bay and take your pick of an anchoring spot along the 11 mile long beach. Consult the Cruising Guide for areas to avoid and practice visual navigation techniques. There are reports of unmarked hazards.
Frigate bird sanctuary at the Codrington Lagoon National Park

So what to do?
  • Consider dropping the hook near one of the reefs visible on charts, to the west of the beach, for some snorkeling
  • Simply enjoy strolling and swimming at the picture perfect, idllyic beach
  • Get in touch with one of the island guides listed at Barbudaful and arrange for a tour of the Codrington Lagoon National Park frigate bird sanctuary (you must do this with a local)
Barbuda is home to less than 2,000 residents, many who were very much impacted by devasting Hurricane Irma. You can still expect to see a lot of evidence of the storm’s damage to Barbuda. The locals are very welcoming to yacht visitors.
Expect epic, unobstructed sunsets at Barbuda

Day 4: More beaching at Cocoa Point, Barbuda

Before leisurely making your way south to Cocoa Point, you can consider visiting the town of Codrington or exploring other parts of the island with a guide, such as the Darby Cave Sinkhole.

Set your sights for Cocoa Point and anchor anywhere off the beach. Behind the coral reef will offer the best protection.

My plan for the day here? To dinghy (or swim) ashore at a local watering hole such as Shack-A-Kai and enjoying a relaxing beach day. I’m planning to get in touch with a local to arrange for a beach bbq dinner and bonfire.

Uncle Roddy's is another recommended place to hang on the beach and grab a bite. They close in the evening. You can anchor out front, but to do so requires careful navigation into Coral Group Bay. Check the Cruising Guide chart sketch.

If it’s more your style, check out the Nobu Beach Club just along the shore to the north (if it’s open for the season). I was surprised to learn it existed! Apparently it’s the brain child of Robert de Niro and additional development of the project is expected in the future. The locals are apparently not happy about this project.

Day 5: Cross back to Antigua and relax at picturesque Green Island

Get another earlyish start for your crossing south to the east side of Antigua. If you are really enjoying yourself, stay another day!

Green Cay is another peaceful spot on the east coast of Antigua, although you won’t have it all to yourself. By the time you arrive, the day-boat catamaran tours should be all but gone. The west bay or farther into Nonsuch Bay are good options.

Head ashore to walk the beach or relax on a float after a long day on the water. If you are a windsurfer, this is one of the more popular areas in Antigua behind the reef. Check the Cruising Guide for the areas that are private and off-limits.

No services ashore here, but we’ll fix that tomorrow!
We had a great sunset for the party at Shirley Heights

Day 6: Historic Nelson’s Dockyard and Shirley Heights

Next, we are going to go and visit the World Heritage site, Nelson’s Dockyard. Named after the most famous admiral in British naval history, the site was restored in the 1950s.

Today, it consists of parks, trails, museums, and is surrounded by shopping, bars, and restaurants. You are back to civilization and have plenty of exploring to do.

You can grab a slip or anchor in either English Harbour or Falmouth Harbour next door. Either works to enjoy this area. English Harbour is much tighter, however. If you really want the full experience, consider tying off to the dock at Nelson’s Dockyard, stern to.

For one of the best views on Antigua, hike the mile or so up to Shirley Heights for commanding views of the harbours. Try and time it for the famous Shirley Heights bbqs and live music held on Thursdays and Sundays.
Nelson's Dockyard with yachts moored stern to

Day 7: Relax at scenic Carlisle Bay

Take your time as there is not much of an agenda for today. Before you leave the area, check out the Pillars of Hercules at the entrance to English Harbour. You can snorkel them, or hike over. It’s a fascinating geologic formation carved into the cliff face from years of wave action.

Galleon Beach is another one of those beautiful 365 beaches, also nearby.

Lazily proceed west down the coast to Carlisle Bay, home to an upscale resort by the same name. Think about getting those fishing lines out again and troll across the waters south of Antigua where the depth contours start dropping off.

The resort is friendly to yachties, so consider going ashore for a cocktail or visiting their restaurant. Enjoy the scenery, snorkeling, swimming, and beach in this beautiful bay. There are several other restaurants nearby, or use this as a jumping off place for an inland excursion on Antigua.
Fort Barrington at Deep Bay

Day 8: Deep Bay on your last day of the yacht charter

Make your way a short way past Jolly Harbour to Deep Bay. This is a beautiful spot, and won’t let you down for your last night’s stop.

Ashore you can take a short hike to Fort Barrington for excellent views of the western coast. The Andes shipwreck, at the mouth of the harbor also makes for interesting snorkeling. A mast sometimes sticks out of the shallow water.

If beach bar hopping sounds more your style for a final day, continue north to Dickenson Bay. The Sandals resort is located here (you’ve been warned - think jet skis!), but there are several bars and restaurants as well, such as Ana’s on the Beach. It has a floating dock/bar you can access by dinghy. Avoid this one if a northerly swell is running.

The next morning, give yourself enough time to sail or motor the short trip back to Jolly Harbour to refuel and complete checkout with the charter company and finish off your Antigua yacht charter.

When is your next yacht charter?
Consider booking with the Yacht Warriors.

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