The best time to Visit Antigua
People often ask, “when is the best time to visit Antigua”, to which the answer is that there is rarely a bad time to visit Antigua. With year round temperatures of 28C – 32C the weather is generally always good, however there are a number of things worth noting depending on what you are looking for on your Caribbean Adventure.
The High Season – December – April /May: The high season is so named due to the proportionally higher proportion of tourists visiting the island vs the low season when there are significantly less visitors to the island. The reason for these two seasons is predominantly weather related both in Antigua and in the rest of the world. The majority of visitors and holiday makers to Antigua originate from North America and Europe, as such between November and April the weather in those locations tends to be rather cold, windy and wet during the winter months. Although Antigua is north of the equator it is far enough south not to be significantly affected by the northern hemisphere cold winter, giving typical temperatures of around 28C throughout those winter months. This Antigua warm winter sun is one of the main drivers for visitors who wish to escape the cold and fly south for the winter, or part of it.
The second reason for the high season is due to the weather in Antigua, during the winter months, although not cold there is more wind and wind is what sailors love, and it is even better when that wind is accompanied by bright blue skies and sunshine. In general Atlantic sailing yachts tend to switch between the Mediterranean and the east coast of the United States during the summer and the Caribbean during the winter. As such during the high season Antigua becomes a Mecca for sailors and yachts both large and small.
This yachting season as it is also known typically kicks off with one of the largest collections of mega yachts congregating in the tiny island of Antigua, this year, (2020), it is 4th -9th December, specifically in English and Falmouth Harbours. To say this is impressive is a very significant understatement, massive two hundred foot mega yachts are all docked side by side as yacht charter brokers go and inspect the vessels to provide information to their clients who will rent the vessels for the following season. To give an indication of pricing of what one of these behemoths costs to rent for a week, you would be looking at starting from around US$100k per week up to a cool million.
For the vast majority though the mega yachts are just provide a great backdrop to the many waterfront restaurants in English Harbour and Falmouth Harbour.
As a side note on those two harbours, it is worth noting some slightly confusing terms used to differentiate English Harbour and Falmouth Harbour. Firstly the two harbours, located on the south coast of Antigua in the Parish of St Paul are very close to each other, a few hundred meters or so by land, so if you happen to be at the wrong one you only have a three minute walk to the other. The two harbours are accessed by different points from the sea however, and are not connected by any inland water channel so it does make a big difference to those arriving by water as to which harbour is which as it would be a twenty or thirty minute trip to get from one to the other.
Falmouth is a huge bay which is reputed to be one of the largest natural harbours in the world, English Harbour on the other hand has a smaller inlet overlooked by Fort Berkeley leading to Galleon beach and then further around to Nelsons Dock Yard and the historic buildings used by the British navy as far back as 1725. This is very clear to all sailors who visit. However it is worth noting that many of the island residents refer to the entire area as English Harbour, used to encapsulate both harbours and their surroundings. In this way the two following statements might mean different things;
Sailor: “The yacht is in English Harbour” – This is the more correct use, meaning the vessel is in English Harbour not Falmouth Harbour.
Non Sailor: “I’m going for a beer in English Harbour.” This could mean Falmouth Harbour or English Harbour or just that area in general. It is worth noting that there are more shops and restaurants directly opposite Falmouth Harbour hence this statement will often be used to designate the Falmouth Harbour restaurants and bars and not those at English Harbour specifically.
During the high season both Falmouth Harbour and English Harbour tend to be busy and active with all the restaurants open and packed full at the weekends and sometimes during the week so it is best to book if you are planning a lunch or dinner anywhere in the area.
Although the English Harbour area is the main sailing area it is not just for sailors and is definitely worth a visit even if you are not a fan of becoming a salty sea dog. Following on from the Charter show the area then gears up for Christmas and New Years followed by the RORC600 yacht race in February, then Classics Week, (1st April), where you can see some of the largest classic yachts in the world congregating to race.
Following on from Classics week is the Antigua Sailing Week, (26th April – 1st May 2020), this is the biggest event is Antigua’s sailing calendar, with massive yachts battling it out on the ocean just off the coast. If you are adventurous enough you might be able to “chase the race”, in a power boat following the massive vessels as they effortlessly carve through the waves.
Although Antigua is a hotspot for sailing and yachts it is not the only thing the island has to offer and there are numerous activities and places to explore on the island. Despite these activities there are many visitors who just want to enjoy the classic Caribbean holiday, relaxing on a white sand beach, sipping rum punch, bathe in the turquoise waters, eat some at some of the islands excellent restaurants and watch the sun set over the sea at the end of the day.
The Low Season: May/June – November: This is the quiet time of the year for tourists, the weather is slightly hotter and there tends to be little wind. For many this is an ideal time to visit Antigua if they just want to relax and do very little. The disadvantage of this period is that some restaurants may not be open and certain activities might not be occurring during this time especially during the middle around August – September. That being said the summer months in Antigua are some of the most wonderful, the wind drops, the sea water if often as flat as a pond and crystal clear so much so that you can see fish swimming 50ft below a boat without getting off.
The main downside of the low season is Hurricane Season, technically this period is 1st June – 31st November, however the highest levels of activity are mid August through to the beginning of October. Visiting this time has two issues the first is that a hurricane is more likely to hit the island and the second that due to the hurricane season many restaurants are closed and certain areas such as English Harbour resemble ghost towns unrecognisable from a few months prior.
What if a hurricane hits? For the most part the island is well prepared for hurricanes and most hotels and properties will be geared up for the storm. As hurricanes are cyclonic storms that move across the Atlantic there tends to be a few days warning of an impending storm, and the time of arrival can be relatively well predicted. What is less easy to predict is how the storm will hit or if at all. For hurricanes thirty miles can make the difference between 150mph winds and a stiff breeze. If a hurricane does hit the island it will typically pass within 4- 12 hours.
So does anyone visit during this period? Yes they do!! Carnival, 23rd July – 4th August 2020. Antigua has one of the largest and longest carnivals, in the world, ten straight days of spectacular costumes, partying, dancing and great music. During those ten days the party does not end, it is round the clock from party to party fun.
Also for the low season travellers, where the south coast can resemble a ghost town, the west coast tends to have the largest year round communities and resident tourist communities, this means that in the off season the west coast is a great choice. The Jolly Harbour area is a great location on the west coast, as there are many hotels, villas, restaurants and bars that will still be open. This can be a great opportunity if you just want to rent a two bed villa on the water and relax on the beach, due to the permanent ex-pat community in Jolly Harbour the vast majority of the amenities are open year round including, the supermarket, fuel station, bars, restaurants, hair dressers, car rental, marina, scuba diving schools and tour operators, so there is always something to do and you won’t go hungry or thirsty.
So in conclusion, almost any time of year is a great time to visit Antigua, the low season is great for serenity and bargains and the high season great for super yachts and tourist heaven with a booming tourist industry in full swing to cater for all your needs.