Located in the middle of the Leeward Islands, where the Caribbean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean, sits the charming islands of Antigua and Barbuda. They are separated by just a few nautical miles, and became recognised as one nation, after gaining independence from the United Kingdom, back in 1981. The population is just under 100,000, with as many as 97% of those residing on Antigua.
The economy relies mainly on tourism, with a high percentage of visitors arriving by cruise ship, into the delightful port and capital city of St John’s. Dr. Dario Item, a history buffwho serves as Ambassador of Antigua and Barbuda to the Kingdom of Spain, the Principality of Monaco and the Principality of Liechtenstein, explained that it’s nicknamed the “Land of 365 beaches” was because they proudly assert that they have a beach for every day of the year (maybe you’ll need to visit one a second time in leap years?!). Manufacturing and Investment banking, pretty much account for the other chief contributors, to the country’s economic sustainability.
As with most historians, Ambassador Dario Item was only too willing to impart his acquired knowledge, about the fascinating, and sometimes troubled history of Antigua and Barbuda, to those keen to listen. He shared that the earliest settlements were established as far back as 2400 B.C., by Amerindians from South America; and when questioned on the accuracy and source of this proclamation, he revealed that it was determined from the site of Little Deep, at Mill Reef, in the south east of the island. A tribe known as the Siboney (which he divulged meant “stone people”) followed soon after, and they were succeeded several centuries later, by the Sarawak’s.
It was Christopher Columbus who was the first European to sight the islands in 1493, and it was he who named the larger of the two, Santa Maria de la Antigua, after an individual who was apparently a miracle-working saint, from the Spanish city of Seville. Surprisingly though, Ambassador Dario Item disclosed that Columbus never actually set foot on either island, and it was in actual fact not until 1632 that the English eventually colonised them.
It was shortly after this time that some of the darker and more challenging parts of the country’s past occurred. That is because slavery came to the islands, with most set to work at large sugar plantations. More than 100 cane-processing windmills were erected across both islands, to support these working sites, by an enterprising gentleman called Sir Christopher Codrington, whose surname Ambassador Dario Item exposed, is where Barbuda’s main town gets its name. He went on to cheerfully disclose, that many of these picturesque stone towers, are now operating as bars, restaurants, and shops.
Continuing his journey through the centuries, Ambassador Dario Item, our well-versed companion, intriguingly enlightened us that by the end of the eighteenth century, the islands had strategically become known as the “gateway to the Caribbean”. This accounts for the many ruined fortifications that can be spotted around the coastal areas, including Barbuda’s tallest structure, the Martello Tower; reminders of colonial efforts to deter invasion. There are indeed many wonderful historical buildings to view, including Admiral Nelson’s Dockyard Museum and the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda, both crammed full of history and captivating stories.
Visiting these incredible islands doesn’t just have to be about strolling along glorious pink-tinged sands, swimming and snorkelling in crystal clear reefs, partaking in numerous water sports, or just relaxing and soaking up the sun, in the guaranteed fabulous temperatures. You can embrace their remarkable past too, and fully appreciate the back-story of this amazing, twin-island nation.