St. John’s is the capital of Antigua and worth a few hours of your time away from the island’s wonderful beaches–but not much more.
In fact, you actually get a decent feeling for the town simply driving through it in a taxi when traveling between the airport and your resort. I don’t like this type of cursory tourism, however, so my girlfriend and I made sure to save an afternoon during our stay on Antigua to visit.
We went on market day when loads of colorful tropical fruit lay packed together on tabletops and bins. There wasn’t a bounty of goods like one might expect in an Asian tropical market, but it was still worth a leisurely stroll.
The city is an interesting hodgepodge of modern structures, 19th century colonial buildings, concrete storefronts, colorful Caribbean facades, and rundown shanties. We spent most of our time just wandering the streets, checking out the various stores and witnessing a very typical lifestyle one might find anywhere in the Caribbean.
Although I’m sure it was there somewhere, I can’t say I really noticed a unique Antiguan culture or lifestyle, however. Plop me down anywhere in the city and let me walk a couple of blocks and I’d have no way of telling where I was. The town is without much character and in my opinion, strictly average. Indeed, the only true tourist site is the impressive, 19th century St. John’s Cathedral.
There are a couple of more flavorful streets, such as the one pictured above lined with restaurants and art galleries, but otherwise the city is much the same.
One exception is Heritage Quay, a contemporary shopping center right next to the pier. It is quite obvious that this was built entirely for the benefit of those disembarking from cruise ships. The quay is basically a tourist dive full of souvenir shops, jewelry stores, and a couple of restaurants and bars. For those who enjoy being abused, be sure to get ripped off by the surly hair braiders who hang out in the center square.
I don’t think many cruise ship tourists step beyond edge of Heritage Quay, but the moment one crosses the street, they are transported into the real world of St John’s with its dilapidated buildings, horrible sidewalks, and the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
If you’re a cruise ship passenger, I highly recommend doing so–the Caribbean is a lot more than ports and tourist dives. If you’re actually staying on the island, St John’s is certainly worth a few hours of your time. Check it out, and then get back to your beach.