And why it was the perfect place to get away.

By Rondel Holder
February 19, 2021
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Antigua
Credit: Courtesy of Rondel Holder

As 2021 began, the new year didn't provide the fresh restart we always hope for as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to hold its grasp on the world — making travel more difficult than ever before.

Out of the many reasons I prioritize travel, its impact on my mental health and ability to help me reset is always at the top of the list — and given that traveling this past year hasn't been the easiest, I was in dire need of a getaway. Kicking off the new year, I decided to take matters into my own hands and check the list of countries opened to U.S. travelers to plan the perfect trip.

After looking at entry requirements, weather accommodations, COVID-19 statistics, and the local governments' management of the pandemic, I landed on Antigua and Barbuda for my trip.

Pre-travel Process

Antigua requires a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 7 days of traveling. Printed proof of a negative test result is also required and is checked by both the airline before boarding and by customs upon arrival. In-flight, passengers are required to fill out a health screening form asking about their potential exposure to the virus in recent weeks or current symptoms they may be experiencing. The completed form is collected after landing.

As someone with family and friends in the Caribbean and other parts of the world, I am very conscious that my vacation in paradise is also their home. With that in mind, I self-quarantined after taking the PCR test to limit my exposure in the days leading up to the trip. This extra level of consideration would definitely be appreciated if a traveler were to visit my home, so it was a no-brainer to extend that courtesy — especially as Antigua consistently has had essentially no COVID-19 outbreaks since last March at the start of the pandemic.

Airport, Flight and Landing in Antigua

Airport protocol at both JFK International Airport and Antigua's V. C. Bird International Airport was both was thorough and organized. Masks are required at all times other than eating and drinking, and social distancing is highly encouraged. Upon landing at V.C. Bird Airport, it's hard to walk two minutes without being required to sanitize your hands. You are asked to sanitize before going to customs, before handing over your passport, and even on the way out, your taxi driver will ask you to sanitize before entering their vehicle.

Leaving the airport, all visitors are asked to monitor potential symptoms for up to 14 days and call a hotline if they experience symptoms that may be potential signs of COVID-19.

Current Restrictions in Antigua

On the island, visitors are required to stay at pre-approved accommodations and participate in activities that are also pre-approved. The list of certified hotels, excursions and all other requirements and up-to-date protocol is available on their website.

Visitors are required to wear masks and remain socially distant in public. On our resort, we wore masks at all times except in the pool, on the beach and to eat. Resort, taxi and restaurant staff also all wore masks.

During this time, as with anywhere else in the world, it's important to check hours of operation and capacity limits for different venues and attractions as they may change as needed for public safety. At the time of our travels, the popular Shirley Heights Sunday Night BBQ had limited capacity and we were unable to attend.

Popular excursions and attractions, such as Stingray City and sunset cruises with Tropical Adventures are open and available.

Experience While Traveling

Antigua serves copious amounts of quintessential West Indian island vibes. Driving around the 108 square mile island your eyes are met with vibrantly painted homes, lush greenery, and locals whose smiles are as warm as the sun that kisses your skin.

Traditional Caribbean dishes and fresh seafood are in abundance both at restaurants and street-side vendors. The sounds of reggae and soca gently play in the background and add to the ever-present calm, which comes to a climax on the beach at night — where what seems like every constellation imaginable is in clear view — feeling the breeze rolling off the Caribbean Sea.

Antigua is known for having a beach for everyday of the year with 365 spots to soak up the sun. All beaches are accessible to the public, even if attached to a hotel or private property. And as a beach lover, nothing made me happier than knowing you are bound to see a new, pristine beach within every 2-3 minutes driving on the same road.

Some of my favorites included Pigeon Point, Long Bay, Dickenson's Bay and Ffreyes.

My visit to Antigua was exactly what I needed to safely venture into the world. It was the perfect place to explore, relax, and find peace that'll staying with me for the foreseeable future — or least until the next time I can travel.