If you’re a history buff like me, the Caribbean islands provide a treasure trove of sites and artifacts to marvel at. What I particularly love about the island of Antigua is that a lot of old structures are still standing and many have been restored. And unlike in the States, one can still see remnants of the trans-atlantic slave trade. The following are some of the most memorable sites I visited during my stay on the island. You will discover that there is is a lot more to the island than white sandy beaches, nightlife, and tasty island cuisine. FYI the best way to get around from point to point is by car.
The Cannons at Fort James
The little island of Antigua boasts a whopping three hundred and sixty-five beaches—that’s a different beach for every day of the year. Fort James, named after King James II of England, is located on the South side of the island. It is home to some of the island’s hotspots such as Beach Limerz and Millers By The Sea where you can taste exotic island cuisine as well as traditional favorites while being entertained by local musicians. The actual structure of the fort is located on the top of a hill overlooking the harbor. These ruins can be explored, Tomb Raider style. The view of the ocean from the top of the hill is breathtaking. The edge of the hill is dotted with cast iron cannons. They’re a bit rusty but they’re definitely a sight to see. And they make great props for photos. So we’ve got cannons, the ruins of an old fort, and a stunning view.
Nelson’s Dockyard at English Harbor
Nelson’s Dockyard is one of the most historical sites on the island. It is named after the English Lord, Admiral Horatio Nelson. It is a fortress in a lagoon with only one way in and one way out. It’s surrounded by hills with cannons. It’s highest point is called Shirley Heights. On the journey from England to the islands, many of the boats grew barnacles, and enslaved Africans were used to do the most dangerous work of repairing the ships. English Harbor was used as a repair point for the ships before setting them off to England. The stones used in the fortress’s construction were imported from England. The house of the admiral has been restored as a museum.
Pillars of Hercules and Indian Creek
Another exciting sight to see here are the Pillars of Hercules, several forms of solid rock carved by the wind and rain. It’s located close to Indian Creek, another historic site. Indian Creek was an original dwelling for the Arawak Indians. In recent years, many of their canoes have been excavated here. On top of a hill, just above the Pillars of Hercules, are a variety of barrel shaped cacti. These cacti are three to five hundred years old. From this vantage point, you can also see one of Eric Clapton’s summer houses, nestled on the top of a peninsula.
English Harbor is also popular for its Sailing Week event. During this week-long event, sailing boats from various parts of the world compete in a race. It’s a time of partying and revelry.
The Sugar Mills at Betty’s Hope
While driving through the island, you can spot several cone shaped brick structures on the hill tops. Sugar Mills dot the hill tops all over the island but Betty’s Hope is unique in that it boasts a museum-like atmosphere where visitors can come and learn about the history of Betty’s Hope. Betty’s Hope is located near Pears Village. It’s named after the daughter of its owner, Christopher Codrington. The Codrington family, with the help of African slaves, transformed this sugar mill into a molasses production center for their estate. Being such a massive plantation, Betty’s Hope would have witnessed many slave revolts. Sugar production was a huge enterprise in the Caribbean during colonial rule. The English had to have it for commodities in demand such as tea. One of the primary reasons slaves were imported from Africa was to convert sugar cane into molasses. The sugar mills were powered by windmills. These windmills have since decayed but one at Betty’s Hope has been restored. The sugar mills here have all been restored and you can take a look inside them and see how they would have operated in a time before the introduction of steam to the world’s stage.
The Sugar Factory at Pears Village
Heading west from Pears Village is a large abandoned three story building filled completely with metal machinery. This structure is the remains of one of two of the island’s only sugar factories. Following the introduction of steam, the machines did the work of the sugar mills but on a much larger scale. You can still see the remains of the old railroads that once transported the cane to the factory.
The Sugar Refineries at Deep Water Harbor
After leaving Pears Village, a railway runs through St. Johns and Villa and leads to a place called Deep Water Harbor. Once called Rat Island, sugar refineries at Deep Water Harbor transform molasses into brown sugar and then sugar into rum. From here, sugar was exported to different parts of the world.
The Barracoon and Drinking Trough
At the bottom of Nevis Street in the city of St. Johns, is a small white and red colonial building called “The Barracoon”. Inside the building are the ruins of a yard. At the back of this yard are the remains of a brick and stone fence which once was used to enclose African slaves who were brought here from St. John’s harbor.
The Drinking Trough
Near the harbor, in the center of the road, are drinking troughs with metal chains still attached to the cups to hold them in place. The purpose of the trough was to hydrate the slavers as the Africans were being sold in the hot sun.
Prince Klaas Memorial at Country Pond
Off of Independence Drive is a memorial dedicated to the leader of a slave rebellion known as Prince Klaas. The memorial boasts a statue of Prince Klaas and recounts a story that tells of a failed conspiracy against English planters in 1736. The night before the rebellion was to take place, the plot was discovered and Prince Klaas and all who were involved in the plot were executed in a most horrifying manner. Prince Klaas, or Court as he was known to the English, was executed by ‘breaking’ on the wheel, an evolved form of crucifixion. The memorial itself is nicely presented with bright colors and a plaque on which the story of Prince Klaas is embossed.
The Museum of Antigua and Barbuda
Another place of historical interest is the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda. Here you can gaze upon slave lists from the various plantations, bills of sale for slaves, and artifacts from the island’s native Arawaks such as canoes and primitive tools. One item of interest in the museum is an ancient African board game called Wari that was brought over by the slaves. The board is made of wood, with rows of six or eight squares. I was amazed to see the very same game being played by some Antiguan locals when I stepped outside of the museum.
For a view that truly is out of this world and also serves as an impressive backdrop for photos and video, Devil’s Bridge is your place of interest. It takes a bit of driving upward through winding roads but once you reach the top of this massive rock, it is quite mind blowing. From here you can see the turquoise water glistening below as the turbulent waves crash against the rock. A local told me that the temperature down there is so hot that if you throw an egg into the foamy waters below, the ‘devil’ boils them.