A car isn't essential, but it is the best way to sample all the sights and get a taste of local culture. Mind you, you will benefit from a decent natural sense of direction as nothing's properly signposted. Many of the car hire companies are based at Jolly Harbour. Try calling Iris at Sunny Rentals for great deals on 4x4s (+1 268 764 7610).
Antigua is a main hub for the Caribbean Islands; reach it from the UK with five airlines: British Airways flies from Gatwick, Bmi flies from Manchester, Virgin Atlantic, First Choice and XL all fly from both fly from Gatwick. The flight time from the UK is approximately eight hours. LIAT, Caribbean Airlines, Carib Aviation and Caribbean Star Airlines provide inter-island connections, to popular holiday destinations, such as Barbados, Grenada and St Barths.
North American Country code: +1; Antigua & Barbuda: 268
Dancing in the Dining Room, Antigua West Indies by Donna Goring is a riveting tale of the triumphs and tribulations author's relocation to Antigua.
Do go / Don't Go
Peak season in the Caribbean is from December until Easter. Often the most pleasant times to travel to Antigua is after the tourists have gone home and there are less cruise ships passing on the horizon, and the island takes things down a gear. May and June are also great times to visit, not least because most of the rooms are half the price. Go in July and August if you like the baking heat and flashes of rainfall.
The most important thing to do on any Caribbean island is get to grips with the local brew - in this case the very great (especially ice-cold) Wadadli beer. To really understand how things work, consume at least three of these, possibly followed by a rum punch; then sit back and watch the world go by. Notable varieties of rum punch are available at Jumby Bay's beach bar, or, if a thirst catches you whilst shopping in St John's, try the Spot Café & Rum Shack on the harbour deck at Redcliffe Quay. Thanks to the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean, Antigua is well stocked with excellent seafood - a must-try is the local dolphin (it's a fish, not the Flipper variety). For some of the best seafood (and, for that matter, meat) try the innovative, new-colonial and very romantic Cove Restaurant (see Restaurants). Other key consumption essentials include jerk anything, red snapper and rice and fish curries in coconut shells - available throughout the less touristy restaurants across the island.
Taxis can be flagged in the street but a safer and easier option is to ask the hotel to provide one. Ranks are located at the West Bus Station and at Heritage Quay. If you are going to a more remote restaurant or bar, arrange to call your driver 30 minutes before you want to leave. Chances are they will wait outside while you drink/eat.
10 per cent is expected. But remember, you're on Caribbean time, so service is a little, well, 'laid back'.
Although local currency (East Caribbean Dollars) is necessary, it's a good idea to carry US dollars in cash too. The approximate exchange rate is EC$2.65 to $1.
Mosquito repellent, DVDs (most hotels have players) and a good sense of direction - in some parts of the island there are very few road signs.
There are a few small museums in Antigua, which are simple but charming, and well worth popping into. The Nelson's Dockyard Museum tells the tale of the Georgian dock's colourful history and allows you to see how ship-building used to be before the stealth and steel of today's modern navies. On the arts and crafts side, try the Woods Gallery (in Woods Mall, off Friars Hill Road, close to St John's and the airport). It's a cooperative gallery representing more than 40 artists. You can even get the chance to mingle with local artists at the monthly exhibition party held every first Friday.
To experience Antigua's musical heritage, go for a walk round the Saturday food market in St John's which is replete with some seriously Notting-Hill-Carnival-beating sound-systems belting out local tunes.
In St John's, your best bet is Redcliffe Quay and Heritage Quay. There are lots of little boutiques to browse, also some good duty-free opportunities, especially to buy shoes, sports kit and expensive watches - sometimes up to 40 per cent cheaper than in the UK. Try the Columbian Emeralds chain, available in the airport and Heritage Quay. There are also great little clothes and souvenir shops at English Harbour which is a more photogenic shopping experience.
It's worth the trek along the bumpy roads, and along cliffside goat paths to get to Shirley Heights, for the spectacular views. Or ask your hotel about guide-accompanied hikes up to top of the hills, and get an eyeful for the entire island. Head to Indian Creek and peer across Willoughby Bay - it's a steep climb though, but worth it for a stolen peek over Eric Clapton's Antigua holiday home.
An afternoon snooping around St John's lively food market on Saturdays, gives a taste of a more authentic Antiguan way of life. Have a butcher's at the twin-towered cathedral and restored waterfront area while you're over there too.
January Official start of West Indian cricket season (www.windiescricket.com). February Valentine's Day regatta in Jolly Harbour. April-May The most beautiful boats gather each year in English Harbour for Antigua Sailing Week (www.antiguaclassics.com). One of the most prestigious sailing events on the sporting calendar (www.sailingweek.com) - but don't worry if you're not one the crews - non-yachties can still gatecrash the parties. May/June Caribana is Barbuda's carnival. Late July/August Antigua Carnival sees the island pulsate to non-stop music and dance for a week and a half, reaching a dizzy crescendo with a colourful costume parade (www.antiguacarnival.com). December The world's most spectacular mega-yachts flock to Antigua for the annual charter yacht meeting (www.antigua-charter-yacht-