The twin Island state of Antigua (pronounced An-tee’ga) and Barbuda is located in the middle of the Leeward Islands in the Eastern Caribbean, roughly 17 degrees north of the equator. Antigua has 365 beaches, one for each day of the year. The island is approximately 108 square miles (280 sq. km.) and has a population of around 80,000.
Temperatures generally range from the mid-seventies in the winter to the mid-eighties in the summer. Annual rainfall averages only 45 inches, making it the sunniest of the Eastern Caribbean Islands, and the northeast trade winds are nearly constant, flagging only in September. The cool trade winds maintain low humidity and comfortable year round living. Rainfall is heaviest during the summer.
The official language of the country is English and the local currency is the Eastern Caribbean Dollar which is linked to the US dollar at the official exchange rate of US $1.00 = EC $2.68.
Antigua was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493, who named the island Antigua after the Santa Maria La Antigua church in Seville, Spain. The British were the first Europeans to establish a settlement in 1632 and, except for a brief period when the settlement was occupied by the French, Antigua remained a British colony until 1967. Antigua and Barbuda gained independence on November 1, 1981.
One of Antigua’s most interesting places, English Harbour, was developed as a base for the British Navy in the great age of sail, the harbour served as the headquarters of the fleet of the Leeward Islands during the turbulent years of the late 18th century. Although greatly expanded at that time by Horatio Nelson, it was gradually abandoned in the 19th century and was closed in 1889. Today Nelson’s Dockyard has been completely restored and it is now the only Georgian dockyard in the world. Above the harbour, at Shirley Heights, are the partially restored fortifications of the harbour’s colonial observation post; the view from Shirley Heights extends out over the harbour and far across the Caribbean to Montserrat and Guadaloupe. On Sunday evenings Shirley Heights hosts a barbeque, live steel band and reggae music.
Antigua is a major yachting centre and every year hosts one of the world’s major yachting competitions, the annual Antigua Sailing Week which is held at the end of April.