Budget Guide to Antigua’s English Harbor, the Yacht Capital of the Caribbean
“I think I’m the only person here not affiliated with boats,” I say to an Irish sailor on the Caribbean island of Antigua.
“You’re probably right,” he agrees before diving in to a long clarification about the type of boat he owns. It’s a racing boat, not to be confused with a yacht, and he’s a professional sailor, not to be confused with a yachtie.
Like many other places I’ve traveled to in my quest to visit 100 countries, Antigua & Barbuda is a nation I knew little about before visiting. It doesn’t take long on the island to learn that it’s considered to be the sailing capital of the Eastern Caribbean. It’s perhaps most famous for hosting two weeks of yachting events in April, but sailing vessels of all sorts can be found year-round in English Harbor, a naturally protected inlet on the south of the island.
Surrounded by ombre blue water and rolling green hills, the community of English Harbor is equal parts lively and chill, perfectly charming and quiet, and perhaps most importantly walkable, making it a perfect place to base yourself during a visit to Antigua. But the Caribbean isn’t exactly known for being a budget-friendly travel destination, and I can’t think of a more cost-prohibitive activity than yachting. With this in mind during my visit I was on a quest to find an answer to my self-induced question Can you really visit Antigua on a budget? Here’s what I found.
English Harbor is only 25-minutes from the international airport, making it a breeze to get to once you’ve landed and passed through customs. Unfortunately, there isn’t solid public transportation. To get to English Harbor from the airport you would need to first walk 15-minutes up a paved road to the bus stop and then take a bus in the opposite direction to the capital city of St. John’s and transfer to a second bus to English Harbor. I was told this method of transportation would likely take around 90-minutes. There aren’t any shared shuttle services available.
Eager to not spend more time navigating getting my destination after such a long journey from Los Angeles I opted to take a taxi, which costs $40 one way. I did the same on the way back to the airport for my departure flight.
Where to Stay in Antigua on a Budget
The number one way to save on your visit to Antigua is by choosing an affordable place to stay. There are multiple properties in English Harbor that charge over $1,000 a night and many more over $500 a night. The best kept secret here has to be The Waterfront hostel (not to be confused with the much more expensive Waterfront Inn).
The quiet hostel is located directly across from the ocean and features a large open-air porch with spectacular views and WIFI solid enough to serve digital nomads (as long as you don’t have too many video calls, those were spotty for me). I stayed here for two nights and spent $36 a night for a bed in a six-room dorm that never had more than three people each night. During my stay I found this hostel to be very quiet. It’s definitely not a place for parties. Other travelers appeared to be digital nomads, sea lovers or crew waiting to be hired for their next gig at sea.
Where to Eat in Antigua on a Budget
If you are traveling on a budget in Antigua, be exceedingly careful when dining out. The restaurant prices here really sneak up on you. My first night in town I went to Colibri, a French Creole restaurant that regularly makes the best of lists on the island. While I fully blame myself for not converting prices ahead of time, I was shocked when my bill came out showing a price of $58 USD for two small appetizers and a bottle of water. I didn’t even order a full meal or alcohol! After my first mistake I was much more careful to look at prices and found an entree at most restaurants in town will run $20.
If you aren’t able to cook your own meals in a hostel, here are a few more affordable options in town for dining out.
- Roti Sue’s Restaurant – Roti Sue, a local woman who has made the Indian flatbread and curry dish for decades is a bit of an icon on the island, and for good reason. I’ve had dozens of rotis in my travels, but her dough is the softest and most flavorful. A roti wrap here will run $10 USD. Highly recommended travelers of all budgets visit Sue for a good conversation and fresh made meal.
- Skulldruggary Cafe – Another spot that travelers of all budgets need to visit is this pirate-themed cafe located in the heart of Antigua Yacht Club Marina. This is the kind of place that serves as a meeting junction for wanderers of all sorts, so you never know who you’ll meet while hanging here. Sandwiches cost around $10 and coffee is $3. Visit in the evenings for a cocktail or beer and enjoy the lively conversations up-close to boats.
- Covent Garden Supermarket – There are several markets in English Harbor, but most are high end and offer pricy delicacies aimed at the yachting set. The largest grocery store in town is located in between Falmouth Harbor and Nelsons Dockyard and has the lowest prices.
Exploring English Harbor on a Budget
Finally, it comes to the easy part. Transportation, meals and accommodation aside, most of the activities English Harbor offers are free or affordable making it a wonderful place to soak up sunshine and nature. Here’s a roundup of the budget-friendly activities I did during my trip:
- Nelsons Dockyard National Park: Entry here will run you $15 USD, but it’s an essential place to visit in Antigua, and offers plenty of history, amenities and hiking trails to explore. This section of the coastline was first settled by the British in the 1640s. In the 1740s construction of a world-class naval yard began, and today most of the Georgian buildings constructed during the era still stand, having survived battles and hurricanes alike. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to a working dockyard, historical Inn and many ruins. Not to be missed are the boatyard pillars, the only remaining example of this architecture in the world. There’s a free dingy that will pop you across the water so you can explore a different perspective as well.
- Shirley Heights Lookout: Located within the boundary of the National Park, this is the most famous lookout in Antigua. From Nelsons Dockyard, it’s a 40-minute climb via the road. Plenty of tour buses pop visitors directly to the top, but for a visitor on a budget, the climb is well-worth it for both the money-savings factor and the solitude it provides to fully take in the natural landscapes. The view here is the best way to visually understand what a strategic choice the British made in building a military dock here – the topography creates a natural harbor to protect from hurricanes, pirates and enemy ships alike.
- Galleon Beach: If you hike the road up to the vista point, be sure to hike the Lookout Trail down instead. Though much steeper, this scenic trail will have you down to the beach in just 10-minutes. The trail ends near Galleon Beach. There’s a hotel on the sands, but the beach is open to the public. This is a great spot to snorkel – no boat required. You can just take a quick swim out to see many underwater creatures.
- Pigeon Beach: Closer to town is Pigeon Beach, just a 10-minute stroll from the main marina. This was my favorite beach in the area. There’s plenty of shade and the turquoise water is filled with boats and leads to a horizon filled by green hillsides and blue skies.
- Paddle Board Rental: A popular way to explore English Harbor is with a Catamaran Cruise, but those can be quite pricy. To explore the harbor via water on a budget, consider renting a stand up paddle board. The standard rate in town is $45 for a three-hour rental, giving you plenty of time to paddle out and get a different perspective of the coastline (and a great workout too).
Is it Possible to Visit Antigua on a Budget?
When it comes to visiting Antigua there’s a few fixed costs that make it pricy. The flight to the island will cost you and so will the taxi from the airport. However, once you arrive in English Harbor it is easy to have a thoroughly enjoyable experience on a budget. A clean and comfortable hostel offers an affordable accommodation option and there is a bounty of free activities to do that will immerse you in the spectacular ocean and natural landscapes Antigua offers.