The Two Sides of Antigua

The Caribbean island of Antigua offers both touristy and authentic adventures, with equally pleasing results

Credit: andy_tyler

This stunning beachside view is one of the many charming aspects of Antigua

When travelling to Antigua, seek out both the commercial and authentic experience

Randy, my Antiguan driver, rushed me out of my hotel while I was still hungry. We were late for race five of Antigua Sailing Week and breakfast in the dining room was not an option. While speeding past stretches of the leeward island’s white beaches and through a hilly jungle, Randy had his cell phone pressed to his ear ordering me breakfast from a restaurant he knew.

When we skidded to a stop in Nelson’s Dockyard he headed in and grabbed me greasy eggs and limp bacon.

“What about you?” I asked him. He told me he preferred local breakfast. “What’s that?” I called as I jumped aboard my boat, Ondeck’s Spirit of Minerva.

“Chop-up. You won’t like it,” he responded as my boat pulled out.

The view: sleek sailing machines screaming through six foot swells, with low green hills and ruined fortifications from Nelson’s Dockyard as the backdrop. It was scene out of a calendar, or from a sports network. But as my greasy breakfast settled uneasily in my stomach, I couldn’t help but wonder if the local breakfast, whatever it was, would have given me more energy for grinding the boat’s big winches.

“Do you know what local breakfast is?” I asked one of the Antiguan crew when he added his strength to a line I was pulling. “Yes, you won’t like it,” he told me, “but if you want to try it I’ll get it for you tomorrow.”

The next morning I arrived at my boat early enough to be handed a multi-coloured serving of hot food. Local breakfast turned out to be salted cod in a red sauce, served with chop-up: a mixture of veggies, often bright green spinach and creamy orange pumpkin. The sweet and savory combination tasted delicious to me – a detail that caused the local crew to joke back and forth in a raucous and utterly incomprehensible dialect.

Local vs. Tourist Antigua

Antigua residents ride the local shuttle.
(Image: Antigua and Barbuda Department of Tourism

There are two Antiguas. There is the one for tourists – which includes an American-style cuisine, swimming with stingrays, and locals who have, at most, a faint British accent. And then there’s the Antigua for residents – one that includes evenings in casual reggae bars, meals like chop-up and a rich local dialect that takes practice to understand.

The charm of Antigua is that both versions of the 281-square-km island are readily available to visitors. And after spending my days sailing, I decided to head out to a reggae bar to learn more about the local culture. Although honestly, it may have just been an excuse to sample English Harbour rum, eat jerk chicken and hear a few reggae bands.

Soon enough I was elbow to elbow with a variety of locals, all of us joyfully dancing to “One Love/People Get Ready.”

As I danced, I bumped into the crewman who had brought me breakfast, “What do you think?” he called into my ear. I danced off smiling, not knowing if he meant the breakfast, the band, the evening, or Antigua itself. And I realized that explaining how much I enjoy the warm and savory combination of tourist Antigua and local Antigua was too complex a thought for the moment anyway.

“One Love! One Heart! Let’s get together and feel all right….”