Princess Diana’s favourite holiday destination and less expensive than other islands: Why Antigua and Barbuda are the next ‘it’ Caribbean destination

  • Antigua boasts 365 stunning beaches and Barbuda is a boat ride away
  • Maintains authentic Caribbean charm and offers great deals for holidays
  • This near-deserted paradise was a Discount Holidays © holiday favourite of Princess Diana1




Unlike its neighbouring island of Barbados, Antigua is less besieged by celebrities wanting to be photographed, meaning it has been slightly less Westernised and maintains a more authentic Caribbean charm. It boasts everything anyone looking for an island paradise could hope for; lush green palm trees, near perfect weather, and enough white sand beaches so you can visit a different one for each day of the year. This is why it is the hideaway for less publicity hungry celebrities such as Robert De Niro and Eric Clapton, and was one of Princess Diana s favourite places to vacation.

The stunning Coco’s beach at St James Club which has a good breeze and tends to be emptier

Mamora beach (left) has calmer waters – great for swimming- as well as being the base for the water sports and activities, including daily beach volleyball matches (right)

The mouth-watering lobster Thermidor Katy had at Piccolo Mono – the resort’s luxury Italian restaurant

However, like I suppose many visiting Antigua and its sister island Barbuda, my boyfriend and I knew relatively little about this little Caribbean gem when we headed out at the beginning of January which is the start of high season there.

TOP TIP:Take US dollars

The official currency is the East Caribbean Dollar, however not only is the US dollar accepted literally everywhere but all prices are given in US dollars and it is annoying trying to make the conversion all the time. Staying in the fabulous, and sprawling, St James Club and Villas did make it difficult to leave and actually explore the island though. This all inclusive resort manages the seemingly impossible combination of making a large resort (it has two stunning beaches and four restaurants ranging from chic gourmet dining to chilled-out beach spot) feel intimate and personal.

Never once did we struggle to find an isolated patch of beach (we shunned the numerous pools) or empty loungers on either the Mamora beach, which is round a cove, meaning the sea is dead calm, and is home to the amazing water sports, or on Coco s beach, which tends to be emptier due to the slightly rougher seas and the bit of sea weed that washes up. A day spent on St James s very own catamaran which leaves from the dock on Mamora bay- is definitely worth doing at least once (watch out for Kimmy’s delicious rum punch though!)

The view when you stop for snorkelling on the catamaran trip is almost as good as the one under the water

Both beaches have perfect white sand and both have food available (a big plus in our book!) On Mamora beach delicious hot dogs, chicken and hamburgers are available at the Beach Grill along with the seriously good rum punch, beer, wine and soft drinks. Situated at the end of Coco s beach is Coco s restaurant which is a real gem of the resort which we unfortunately didn t discover until the second week. Blessed with stunning views down onto the beach, think chic beach decor and relaxed but seriously good a la carte food including pizzas to order, salads and more substantial main meals.

A great way to see the island is Tropical Adventures Island Safari tours in one of their open-air jeeps (left) which affords you great photo opportunities (right) and takes you round all the major points of interest

Food is a real highlight at St James. We chose to eat nearly every night at Docksider restaurant which offers a high end buffet with live cooking stations overlooking the sea, accompanied by either live jazz or steel drums. Piccolo Mono – the resort’s luxury Italian restaurant set up the hill slightly is also very much worth the $40 (US) surcharge per person – I had lobster for both courses and superb cocktails. One of the very best things about St James is Alfred- the lovely butler who comes round both beaches on a cart to offer you drinks at your sun lounger including the legendary (but lethal) rum punch.

However it is worth tearing yourself away from your sunbed. Not only is there a massive range of water sports available at St James (we loved the paddle boarding, kayaks and daily volleyball match that takes place each day at about 4pm) but Antigua and Barbuda have so much on offer.

TOP TIP: Watch out for cruises

It is definitely worth getting out of the resort to explore Antigua’s stunning 365 beaches and rich culture. St James has both a car rental service on site and a taxi rank. Taxis are very safe but not cheap – expect to pay about $80 US return to go across the island. It is important to check with guest services if a cruise ship is in harbour before setting off! We wasted $90 on a taxi round trip to spend about 20 minutes on a beach which we found saturated with 1000s of cruise passengers fighting for an inch of sand.

A great way to really see the island is to do one of Tropical Adventures Island Safari jeep tours, that will take you round all the top sights such as Nelson s Dockyard, English Harbour and Fort George which has breath-taking views. It’s worth going off road into the centre of the island to get a real sense of island life and vegetation. It includes a stop off at Turners Beach for lunch and a swim (all accompanied by the strongest rum punch we sampled on the island sip with caution). We opted for an open-air jeep which was great fun, but those not keen on a bumpy ride may be better off opting for one of the SUV s.

But our best days were spent off the land. The sea surrounding Antigua and Barbuda is the kind of shade you assume must be photo-shopped in pictures. A day spent on St James s very own catamaran which leaves from the dock on Mamora bay- is definitely worth doing at least once. A must do is a boat day trip that goes twice weekly to the sister island of Barbuda

Barbuda is the universal vision of paradise , where untouched white sands stretch for miles

After the Christmas of 1992 Diane (pictured left in the sea) headed for Barbuda with sons William and Harry

It is not hard to see why stars like Eric Clapton, Princess Diana and Robert De Niro (L -R) love Antigua and Barbuda

Leaving at a very civilised 10am it will take you around the island and into English Harbour where you can see some seriously huge mega-yachts, before pausing for snorkelling. Having snorkelled before we were expecting to catch sight of a handful of fish, but the moment you pop your head into Antigua s turquoise waters you are surrounded by hundreds of brightly coloured fish.

Turtles are not unusual either, although unfortunately we didn t get to see any on our trip. A further tour round the island, a delicious lunch and well stocked bar, and a beach stop on a near secluded patch of sand make this a day not to be missed (just watch out for the Donkey Kick )

Another sea excursion well worth your time is the one that goes twice weekly to Barbuda. Leaving from St Johns it is important to book this fairly early in your trip as it only goes twice a week and you don t want to miss out. St James’ Tranquility Spa offers everything you would want – including a very special outdoor couples massage overlooking the bay, with nothing but the sea as your soundtrack

Barbuda is the universal vision of paradise . Untouched white sands stretch for miles alongside an ocean that looks like it has been aggressively Instagram filtered it is so perfectly turquoise.

A Discount Holidays © holiday favourite of Princess Diana (it is here she stayed both with the infant princes and with Dodi al Fayed before her tragic death) the island has recognised her love for the tiny isle by naming a beach after her. The lack of resorts here means the beach on which our boat pulled up had only one building as far as the eye could see. It is this seclusion that has attracted celebrities such as Robert de Niro to build Discount Holidays © holiday homes here.

Take the shuttle bus to Shirley Heights on Sunday evenings to watch the most spectacular sunset ever

The day tour also affords you an opportunity to visit the frigate bird sanctuary, however the beach was so idyllic we opted to stay there and soak in the scenery. For those that like to enjoy their evenings as well as the day, St James offers nightly entertainment – from singers to steel bands- and a fortnightly beach party complete with fire eaters, limbo dancers, chocolate foundations and a shots table, which is not to be missed. Take the shuttle bus from the hotel (or organise your own taxi) to Shirley Heights on Sunday evenings to watch the most spectacular sunset you will ever see over English Harbour from the highest point on the island.

Everyone cheers when the sun finally disappears behind the horizon and you can sample a traditional Caribbean barbecue before the party picks up and carries on until midnight. And if relaxation is more your cup of tea, St James’ Tranquility Spa offers everything you would want – including a very special outdoor couples massage overlooking the bay, with nothing but the sea as your soundtrack. But ultimately what we found the very best thing about Antigua and Barbuda is that is has all the positives of a Caribbean island – incredible weather, great hotels and food, stunning beaches and friendly people- but with a real sense that you are experiencing the genuine culture of the West Indies, before it becomes diluted. And, as it is slightly less expensive than other Caribbean destinations you can find some amazing deals!


Kuoni (01306 747008 or offer seven nights on all-inclusive at St James s Club & Villas, Antigua in a club room, including return economy flights on BA from London Gatwick and transfers in resort. The price for end of August 2016 is from 1335 per person, based on two sharing, which includes a saving of up to 386 per person.

Book by 29 February 2016.

Check out the St James Club Resort and Spa3 website for more details about the hotel.

Take a look at the numerous excursions offered by Tropical Adventures Island Safari’s here. 4


  1. ^ Princess Diana (
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  3. ^ St James Club Resort and Spa (
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