Planning for our Caribbean trip began as soon as the dates were released for the England cricket one day international series in the West Indies that began on 25th February 2017. My partner, Paul is cricket mad and we hadn’t been to the Caribbean so it seemed like the perfect excuse to go! The Caribbean islands we visited were picked by the islands the cricket games were being played which saved us the task of trying to decide ourselves and this meant Antigua and Barbados were our pick! (Read about my time eating out in Barbados here).
Having decided that, we had to work out how we were going to go about planning for the trip. There are cricket packages but they were expensive and I didn’t want The whole trip to be about the cricket, the three days at the games were more than enough! Other packages didn’t give us what we wanted to so we did it ourselves, something we normally do but doesn’t seem to be the norm for travelling to the Caribbean and not the cheapest way of doing things but gave us what we wanted out of the trip!
Having never done an all inclusive holiday we decided the Caribbean was the place to give it a go. Paul and I aren’t massive fans of sunbathing, we are both very pale and get easily burnt and also get bored quickly. We like Sightseeing and doing activities when on holiday and have always felt an all inclusive would be too restrictive for what we wanted but we wanted to try it. Having researched our options we picked Sandals Grande Antigua for the first four nights of our holiday. We desperately needed some down time anyway having not taken any annual leave for a while, Sandals was adults only which we wanted and they had an allergen specialist so I thought that would help me have more options to eat being Coeliac. I have written a separate post about my stay at Sandals for anyone thinking of doing an all inclusive trip to the Caribbean, read it here.
Having had four nights of rest and relaxation we moved to a self catering apartment. There were a few reasons for this with the main reason being that we felt the all inclusive was too expensive to justify paying when not on the resort during the day. It was a lot cheaper to stay in an apartment for the next five nights and we hired a car to get out and about. This may have been different if we had done the holiday as a package deal and got a good rate for Sandals/the holiday rather than paying the nightly rate.
We stayed at South Coast Horizon, chosen mainly for the price as there wasn’t much availability due to the cricket being on. I picked this place out of the few available options due to the kitchen, it’s different location to Sandals and the availability of car parking. We stayed in the honeymoon suite due to availability which had a living area, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom. The selling point of this accommodation was the balcony overlooking the sea and the sunset every evening. The accommodation was fine for what we needed, the kitchen better than I expected although basic as I’d read reviews from people who had said that there wasn’t enough equipment to be able to cook with, an issue we didn’t experience. The bathroom was shocking though, the spa bath was filthy and the shower was barely a trickle and there were no toiletries as stated so I ended up going and buying shampoo and having to wash my hair in the sink to have enough water to get the soap out 😂 Managed for the few days but wouldn’t have been very impressed if I was actually there for my honeymoon!
Driving in Antigua
We needed a car at South Coast Horizon but be warned if you’re planning on hiring a car in Antigua – the roads are terrible! They are bumpy and full of pot holes so I’m glad they drive on the same side of the road as the UK so that wasn’t something else I needed to concentrate on. We got stopped by goats, stray dogs, tractors, cars driving in the middle of the road to avoid their pot holes – so many reasons that you really need to focus on the road! We hired the car through Avis as a recognised name but the car we were given was battered, it was the worst car we’ve ever hired. Having said that I’m sure it is an experience we will remember for a long time to come, for the wrong reasons!
There are no restaurants onsite at South Coast Horizon. On one of the evenings we drove to the nearest restaurant but i cant remember the name of it and can’t find it on the internet. There wasn’t a gluten free menu and little tricky getting across my gluten free needs. I stuck with the safest dish of grilled fish and potatoes and they confirmed it was gluten free. The restaurant was beach themed with live music and we enjoyed our meal out.
Antigua cricket ground
As expected the cricket ground didn’t have anything suitable for those with coeliac, I brought food with me and topped it up with a packet of M&Ms and an ice lolly! Total torture as there are loads of stalls grilling chicken that smelt amazing but the grills were also covered in bread rolls being grilled and hot sauce which I didn’t bother asking if it was gluten free (could be worth asking if you aren’t coeliac and not sensitive to cross contamination from the bread).
During the holiday, including at the cricket I also ate several packets of these plantain chips found in supermarkets and a couple of local shops, labelled gluten free.
Near to where the cruise ships dock there was a small restaurant and I had seen it advertised so we decided to eat there as we were nearby when we started to feel hungry for some lunch. I asked about gluten free to be told they had gluten free pasta and chips but I decided to stick with grilled prawns and rice as something more naturally gluten free and less risk of cross contamination. The food was washed down with a non-alcoholic coconut crush which was sweet and creamy. It was great sitting up on the balcony people watching and we knew it was going to be expensive due to its touristy location but £44 for lunch is expensive especially when Paul just had a wrap and soft drink, the rate of the pound against the dollar certainly won’t have been helping us!
Located at Coco Bay, Sheer Rocks restaurant came out as number one choice on tripadvisor for gluten free in Antigua. In fact I think due to its amazing (but very expensive!) food and spectacular location this would be the number one place to eat in Antigua period, Coeliac or not. We were originally planning to have an evening meal there on the Saturday night – having googled the restaurant I’d discovered that the location is perfect for watching the sunset with cocktails and I’d made a reservation for a daybed for this. There are two of these that are free on a first come first served basis so definitely best to reserve. Based on recommendations I’d booked a sunbed for 5pm and a meal for 6:30pm. Unfortunately I couldn’t make this as I was really unwell and as it was a very cloudy miserable grey day I don’t think we missed out much in terms of the sunset.
I made a second reservation for the restaurant this time during the day. On the Monday we were due at the airport for 4pm for our flight to Barbados so I reserved a day bed from 12-3 which worked extremely well. On the Monday morning we had time to pack and check out before heading to Sheer Rocks for 12. We then had a leisurely few hours sunbathing on the sunbed, drinking cocktails (mock tails for me to be able to drive us back to the airport), using the plunge pool overlooking the sea and having a lunch of delicious tapas. When I’d emailed about a reservation they assured me they could cater for Coeliac and their response time to the email was impressively fast.
When it came to ordering food I went up to the counter and ordered. There was no gluten free menu and had to rely on the member of staff who said to tell him what we wanted and he’d tell us if it was ok, and advised on two dishes per person. I normally sway towards more naturally gluten free food when eating out if I’m a bit unsure and ordered grilled prawns, Parma ham and Parmesan, a grilled vegetable, feta and chorizo salad and asked about the pork ribs. I was told all were fine and they checked I didn’t have a nut allergy when I ordered. However, when the food came the waitress told me that the ribs contained soy. This started a bit of a debate between Paul and I over whether this meant the allergen soy or soy sauce. I avoided them as I was unsure and couldn’t be bothered to ask loads of questions but that was a bit annoying when I had checked at the time of ordering. The food I did have though was the best we had in Antigua. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Sheer Rocks for either the food or for the location, the fact that both had the wow factor means that this would be the place not to miss in Antigua!
When we arrived at South Coast Horizon we went straight to the supermarket for supplies. The closest was Epicurean. I had read from my research that gluten free food was very expensive and that was definitely the case, especially converting the price into pounds resulting in bread being nearly £10 a loaf and a pack of schar biscuits over £6. Such a shame as it’s the first time I’ve seen Schar honeygram crackers that I really want to make s’mores with but I just couldn’t justify the price. Everything gluten free was available – gluten free bread, cereal, spaghetti and biscuits if it was required but like I said at a cost so very glad I’d brought my own. I’d brought cereal, biscuits, Schwartz packets for chilli con carne, and some other goodies that I’ll blog about later with me from the UK. In the supermarket we bought milk, yoghurts which were all labelled glutenfree, mince, onion, peppers, chicken, rice and some drinks. Some food was not a problem and chicken was very good value compared to prices in the Uk. Some things like the peppers worked out expensive so avoid items that have to be imported to the island if possible.
I also found some jerk seasoning that was certified as gluten free so I could have some jerk chicken one of the evenings that we cooked. It was so good we went and bought a second pot to bring home!
Suncream also worked out a lot more than I paid in Boots so make sure you take plenty with you!
Facebook page Sun RA_Antigua
Sun Ra came up as part of my research before my trip. I passed the restaurant on the way to Nelson’s Harbour so this would have been the time to visit. We didn’t need food at this time though so didn’t stop but it gets good reviews and they replied to my email stating that they could prepare something gluten free and that the chef also specialises in vegan food. I often email restaurants ahead of trips to confirm that they can cater for gluten free properly in terms of cross contamination ahead of visiting if I can so that eating out is less stressful at the time. The replies are also helpful – how quickly they reply, the understanding of gluten free and cross contamination and whether they even bother at all all give a better understanding of what the restaurant will be like for gluten free and whether it is worth bothering with!
Sightseeing in Antigua
Stingray City was recommended by my instagram friend Gill (#thegf_gf) and I’m so glad it was or we may have missed it! We went out on a boat to a platform where we snorkelled with stingrays and it was unreal! Such an amazing experience. We did this ourselves by driving to the location and just turning up. The cost to do it from there not as a package was US $50 and we were really lucky with the timings, we arrived about 10:30 am and managed to join the 11am tour. I don’t know how often they run and there wasn’t a lot of information online which is why we were so pleased we timed it so well. There were quite a lot of people on the boats going out, a good thing in the sense that they let us join the 11am trip but it was too many people in our opinion and a few less would have made the trip even better as we were really crowded in the water and quite rushed through the photos as well. I would still recommend doing it though as it was such an incredible thing to do.
A beautiful beach near to South Coast Horizon was Darkwood Beach, a quieter beach with a beach bar. It is also near Sheer Rocks if you are travelling to the South Coast for that.
We also drove to see the main tourist sights on the island – Nelson’s Dockyard, Shirley Heights lookout and Devil’s Bridge. There is a huge BBQ at Shirley Heights on Thursdays and Sundays but when we visited they were setting up – very slowly – and we decided not to wait but it may be worth timing your visit better so that the BBQ is well under way when you arrive so that you can try it out [I don’t know if anything was gluten free but it sounds like a great event].
Our nine days in Antigua were amazing filled with sunshine, beaches, cricket, jerk chicken, grilled fish, snorkelling, sunsets and relaxation. Researching into Antigua beforehand didn’t bring up many gluten free options but I managed everywhere on fish and rice, all inclusive and supermarket food topped up with food I took with me. Don’t let dietary restrictions stop you from visiting this beautiful island as we thoroughly enjoyed our time there, just make sure you visit Stingray City and that you give yourself time at Sheer Rocks with a prebooked sunbed!