Barbuda: My idea of a perfect day

As an adventurous traveler, it was pretty much a requirement that, if I was going to be in Antigua, I would have to visit Barbuda. The question was, how? After much debate about whether to go by ferry, chartered plane, or chartered boat, the budget-minded part of me won out and we took the ferry. We decided to just go for the day since we had already used up a bunch of our “Antigua time” on a spontaneous trip to Guadeloupe.

Passengers waiting to board the ferry in St. John’s, Antigua.

The Barbuda Express ferry offers daily service. A round trip adult ticket is currently (May 2022) EC $255/US $95. You make reservations on the website. You should also follow their page on Facebook and check it to see if there have been any changes to the schedule or boarding location.

In addition to the regular ticket, the ferry service also offers a Barbuda Day Tour for US $169. On our friend’s recommendation, we chose to use a private guide so that we could be on our own schedule and go to a special restaurant. While using our guide cost us about US $75 more in total, I’m glad we made that choice since we could be independent.

The ferry arrives at the port in Barbuda.

The ferry gets a bad rap in reviews on TripAdvisor and Google. After reading the reviews the day before our trip, I was second-guessing our decision to take the ferry. People made it sound dangerous, chaotic, and like a general puke-fest. But we got lucky – both of our crossings (which take 2 hours each way) were relatively calm. Of course we had the advantage of having recently spent a couple days sailing on a catamaran in much rougher seas when we made the trip to Guadeloupe, so we had our sea legs.

We sat next to a very nice Antiguan couple who were on a special day trip. They were very chic and exceptionally good looking. Kevin chatted with the man, Jamal, and we learned that we had very similar schedules planned for the day.

As the boat got underway a crew member came around to zip up the plastic window coverings. Fortunately, he didn’t zip the one in front of us, giving us some fresh air. Unfortunately, after a few minutes the ferry hit a wave the wrong way and a huge gush of ocean splashed right onto the unlucky well-dressed woman next to us. It was like someone dumped an entire bucket of cold water over her head. Thank goodness she had a shaved hairstyle, so her hair was perfectly fine, and the whole thing was a testament to her bright red lipstick and very well done eye makeup. I gave her our towel. Ten minutes later the poor woman started to turn green and was sea sick for the rest of the trip. She somehow managed to handle the whole thing with grace. I might not have been so dignified.

Upon our arrival at the dock in Barbuda, our guide, Imran met us. He had a van that was all ours for the day, which was handy for leaving our stuff when we were out of the van. Kevin needed coffee (we’d had to get up at 5:00 am to make it to the 6:30 check-in) and I needed a toilet (of course), so Imran stopped at the Wa’omoni Restaurant, which is on the road into town.

Our stop for coffee and use of a toilet (behind the building, clean and totally acceptable.) Wa’omoni is the Carib/Kalinago name for the island.

By the way, one of the struggles I had doing research and trying to figure out how to plan our visit, was that I couldn’t really get a sense of how far apart the distances were. So, I’ll tell you – it’s a long, hot walk into town. Take a cab. Our guide was willing to give someone a lift even though we were his clients, which was fine with us. Everyone is friendly and helpful – so don’t suffer the distance, dust, and heat.

Our first stop was at Two Foot Bay National Park, which is on the east shore of the island. Since this is the Atlantic side, the surf is more active and the sea can be more dangerous. On the way there I learned a little about the history of the island, including slavery and the atrocities committed by the Codrington family and their ilk. The fact that the town here is still named Codrington astonishes me.

Kevin and Imran hold up the national park sign that was lying on the ground. Some investment in infrastructure might be in order (or maybe next time I’ll come back with a hammer and some nails).

The road ends at a parking area at the trailhead. We hiked the rocky path to the south along the shore. Keep an eye to your right for a large cave opening.

The invasive sargassum seaweed poses challenges for the eastern Caribbean.
Unfortunately, this graffitied plant is an effective marker to show you the trail to the cave.

Head along the trail to your right to get to the cave. The trail is short and easy.

View from the cave.
Imran tells Kevin about the cave and how it has been used over the years.
View of the opening at the back of the cave.

It is possible to hike up and through the opening at the top of the cave. While there is a handrail for part of the climb, you’ll want to be careful not to lose your footing. My cell phone screen paid the price for a loss of balance on my part.

Once at the top, follow the path back toward the ocean for a grand view over the seashore. The cliffs, cacti, and ocean make for a magnificent setting.

View from above.
Cacti overlooking the Atlantic.
Tasting the fruit of the Turk’s Head or Barrel cactus.
Coral fossils can be found along the trail. Don’t take any, it’s a National Park.
Century plants, a relative of the agave, send up these 20+ foot blooming shoots about every five years.

After our visit to the caves we made our way to our next stop: the Frigate Bird Sanctuary at Codrington Lagoon National Park (again – not happy with the name of a slave trader!)

The lagoon is about 12 km long and 2 km wide. It used to be connected to the Caribbean only by a small inlet, but after Hurricane Irma the lagoon was opened up to the sea. This is the largest frigate bird colony in the Caribbean. And Barbuda’s biggest tourism draw. The day we were there, we were the only boat on the lagoon.

A pink boat for our visit.

Imran arranged for our guide, Pat, to take us on a tour by boat. We jumped in and headed across the lagoon towards mangroves to the north.

Pat, our guide on the lagoon.
As we approached the mangroves we began to see more and more frigate birds soaring above. My vision isn’t great, so I grabbed the binoculars I had brought with me and began to try to focus on the birds
Next thing I knew, the birds were right in front of us! I didn’t need binoculars! I hardly needed to zoom in with my iPhone camera!
Pat explained that the birds that are all black are the males, the birds with a white chest are the females, and the white-headed birds are the young.
So many chicks!
The lagoon is shallow and crystal clear.
Pat called this one Tiny Tim and seemed proud of him.
Often it seemed they were trying to catch our eye.

After spending lots of time making our way through the mangroves and seeing thousands of birds, we headed for the beach.

The approach to the beach. Doesn’t look great, right?

On the other side of the spit of land separating the lagoon from the sea, there is a beach with pink sand! This is 11 Mile Beach – one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. Pat explained that the pink is actually pieces of shell that are pink. We had it all to ourselves.

11 Mile Beach.
11 Mile Beach
Of course, I jumped right in.

11 Mile Beach is stunning. I couldn’t help but worry that someday cruise ships will dump their passengers onto the beach. In the meantime, just know that there really is paradise on this earth.

The shallow lagoon on the way back to the dock was beautiful in its own way but such a contrast to the beach.

Once we had finished our lagoon and beach tour, we headed for lunch. We had to make a stop to get a new pair of sunglasses for Kevin, whose sunglasses had broken somehow along the way. Once again, Imran to the rescue – we stopped at a small shop where Kevin bought a new pair of cheap sunglasses.

We also stopped to take a picture of one of the many wild donkeys. The island also hosts wild horses, sheep, goats, boar, deer, and Guinea fowl.

Our lunch was the lunch of a lifetime. We had made a reservation to eat at Nobu, which is a world-class restaurant on the beach. Imran dropped us off and we were treated like VIPs from that moment on.

View of Nobu from the beach.

We were immediately greeted and escorted to one of the lounging areas on the sand. We had two sofas and a coffee table. We said “hi” to our friends from the boat who were seated on another set of sofas next to us.

Of course, we were there for the food, but we delighted to learn how encouraging and supportive Nobu is about getting in the water. They provide a shower to rinse off and a discrete changing area near their restroom.

I was happy to be able to rinse my feet after walking in the sand.
There are also beds on the beach, but I have no idea if they cost extra to use.

We mostly took our servers advice about drinks and food. Our first course was Crispy Rice with Spicy Tuna, which was delicious. We followed that with Yellowtail Jalapeño and then decided to have sushi rolls. We ordered Yellowtail & Scallion, Eel & Cucumber, and, at our server’s suggestion, Crispy Tuna Roll, which is not on the menu and was by far the best.

Of course, after lunch I went to get in the water. Kevin was resting with a drink when our server brought him a pair of beach towels, which convinced Kevin to come join me.

Whether it’s for the food or for the experience, I’d recommend saving your pennies for a visit to Nobu. It’s definitely once-in-a-lifetime.

Princess Diana Beach

Resources:

Imran Thomas: +1-268-726-0946, if calling from outside Antigua and Barbuda, use WhatsApp.

Barbuda tourism

Barbuda Express ferry

When I return:

Now that I’ve gotten the lay of the land, and sea, I know what I would do on a future visit. I would definitely spend several days on the island, with plans to visit the lagoon and the birds for much more time. I’d make arrangements to take a couple of hours to snap photos and enjoy the birds. Ideally, I’d go during mating season, September to April, to see the male frigate birds puff up their red pouches.

I’d visit the Derby Cave Sink Hole that Imran told us about. This involves a hike of at least 45 minutes each way and then a hike into the sink hole.

I’d find a way to get to 11 Mile Beach to spend an entire day there, soothing my soul with pink. And I’d walk Princess Diana Beach to have a picnic and take a swim, but a respectful distance from Nobu so as not to ruin that experience for the guests.

I’d definitely find a good place for snorkeling and I’d do my best to find a way to go scuba diving. Based on a little research, that might be a challenge.

I might also spring for a flight through SVG Air. SVG operates flights to Barbuda as charter flights, so I’d bring a few friends to make it economical. Then I’d find a locally-owned cottage or guest house to stay in – Imran said he could help me find something. And I’d rent a car so that we could explore on our own and take our time. I’d eat at locally owned restaurants and shop at the local grocery. I’d make sure to be there during lobster season.

Barbuda will tug at me, until I return.

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