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"Don't go to the Caribbean in the summer" everyone told me ... well I'm very glad we did! The weather was lovely, not too hot but sunny most of the time with a few tropical downpours and everywhere was empty of tourists! Setting off in style from the lounge at Gatwick and enjoying a glass of fizz in World Traveller Plus with British Airways, we were soon 'over the pond' and landing in Antigua. Met by our private transfer we were driven across the island to our home for a few nights, The Inn at English Harbour. Antigua first struck me as being quite barren ... it wasn't particularly built up, but more sprawling villages and no trees, not really as tropical as my expectations! However, the beach at the hotel was lovely and sandy and calm. Our beach room opened out to the jetty from where we enjoyed a swim and watching a little heron under the platform fishing for his supper. The first night we ate on the terrace of the main restaurant looking down on the lights of the harbour. Tired from our long day we had an early night and had arranged with the local rep to hire a car the next day so wanted to make the most of our time.
The next morning, we drove across to 'Stingray City' to the north east of the island and said hello to the mini zoo in the garden whilst waiting for our boat out to the reef! I have to say, I was a little apprehensive about 'swimming with sting rays' ... but they were the most gentle, fascinating creatures I think I've ever been in the water with! It was like holding a giant jelly - the guides made sure they were handled correctly and there were no fences keeping them in, once they had had enough they swam away out to sea. After our marine encounter we drove through 'Fig Tree Drive' through forested hills and banana plantations (figs are bananas there!) to the western side of Antigua and drove up the coastline, stopping in a local restaurant for a late lunch.
Almost back at 'The Inn' (as the hotel is known locally) we made a pit stop at the Yacht Club in Falmouth Harbour just round the corner. It was like walking back into a scene from my overland days - Cloggies Bar is run by South Africans and there were a host of local ex-pats shouting at football on the big screen! We sat outside on the balcony enjoying the view across the harbour with some lovely wine and an evening meal.
The next day was our last in Antigua and we took the hotel's boat across the harbour to Nelson's Dockyard. A fascinating place, but sadly most of the shops and restaurants were closed as it was off season. The small museum was interesting and I stocked up on the local spices and 'hot sauce' souvenirs before we headed over from The Pillars at Admiral's Inn to their sister restaurant (which was open) called Boom! We had a fabulous lunch there and they called for 'Captain Philips' to come round with his speedboat from The Inn to collect us when we had finished!
That evening we took a taxi to nearby Shirley Heights for the Sunday night party - not to be missed if you are in Antigua on a Sunday! It certainly was a great location to watch the sunset over English Harbour and the steel band and the reggae artists were very entertaining but I have to say it was a VERY expensive night out, food and drink was vastly over priced and not great and whilst I had thought it would be full of local people as well as tourists it did seem to be all ex-pats and there was a distinct lack of seating areas! However, we enjoyed a few hours of rum punch and music before taking a taxi back to our hotel for a nightcap before re-packing for the next days flight.
After another leisurely breakfast sharing sugar with the sunbirds (!) our transfer took us back to the airport for the short flight to neighbouring Dominica. LIAT services the Caribbean islands much like a flying taxi service and luckily we were the first stop ... they often run late so if you are the 10th island stop it could be a little risky connecting to an international flight!
Arriving in the dark it took a good 20 minutes to locate our driver but luckily we found him and started the transfer to our hotel. Although we couldn't see much, it was obvious that although only a short flight away, Dominica was completely different to Antigua! Rain poured in rivers down the mountainous roads and tall vegetation surrounded us as we zig zagged around the island .... arriving very late we were shown to our HUGE room at Rosalie Bay and ordered room service before an early night listening to the Atlantic waves crashing outside!
The next morning it was lovely to wake to a new view - looking through the prehistoric shoreline of twisted palm trees along the black sand beach to a very windswept hillside, it was dramatic to say the least! The previous year a hurricane had destroyed much of Dominica including some of the other lodges and parts of Rosalie Bay were still being re-built and relocated. The landscape around Rosalie Bay is beautiful, it's so lush, green and tropical - a birders paradise. I spent three days chasing hummingbirds around the gardens with my camera to no avail!
Rosalie Bay is an eco-resort and home to a turtle hatching project. We went down the beach the first evening to hear about the turtles and what can be done to help them, the poor little things don't have much luck - their nests are often dug out by other creatures so where they can, they relocate the eggs here to a safer area and then help them hatch out. I was lucky enough to watch a couple of the tiny babies crawl their way into the ocean ... and wished them luck as they entered the breakers!
John's special birthday dawned dry and sunny, so after a bacon and beer breakfast (!) we took a driver down to the south of the island where the Atlantic meets the Caribbean. The drive took us through the capital Rouseau and to Pointe Michel where we made a stop at the 'Champagne Reef' .. our guide walked us down to the very rocky shoreline to a mirror glass calm Caribbean Sea and lead us out to the reef just off shore for snorkelling. The underwater life was stunning! Beautiful colours of corals, fishes and turtles swam all around us. We ended our trip in the 'bubbles' which give the reef it's name - hot springs rise from the ocean floor creating fizzy trails of warm water to the surface!
After a quick change and a celebratory beer we drove through the southern town of Soufriere to Scott's Head, the point where the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea meet. We wanted to try some authentic local food, so our driver took us to a 'fishing shack' on the shore where we had some fresh seafood before driving back via the Sulphur Springs in the nearby forest to the hotel for a relaxing massage. That evening we had a celebratory meal but the seven courses proved to be far too much for us!
The next day, not feeling 100% we relaxed by the lovely freshwater pool at the hotel, there is a family of night herons who enjoy drinking from the pool, it was lovely to watch them from the sun lounger and I can recommend the melon and honey smoothies, they are addictive!
Later in the afternoon we followed a nature trail up from the beach into the surrounding tropical forest, a short but really lovely walk, full of huge plants and birdlife. We saw an Agouti (a large rodent about the size of a small pig!) but it ran off before I could photograph it. On our last morning we woke to a real tropical storm - it was stunning! Rain poured off the roof and the beach was covered by a grey mist and steam as the sun tried to come back out.
Then the long journey home .... on the way back to Dominica airport we asked our driver to take us through the area which is still owned by the indigenous people The Kalinago (Formerly Carib Indians) who were the original inhabitants of the island and have a 3,700 acre Territory on Dominica's east coast. After purchasing some traditional crafts from them we waited for our flight (there is literally one tiny cafe and nothing else at this airport so pack a picnic if you have a few hours wait!). Luckily the flight was on time so we had plenty of time in Antigua Airport before our British Airways flight home. This time I treated us to Business Class so we enjoyed our 'flat bed' journey back across the Atlantic!
So in summary, a tale of two islands - very close but totally different! If you want to just relax on a beach then Antigua is great but if you want to explore 'the nature island' then head to Dominica for a truly tropical Caribbean experience!
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