Jolly Harbour, Antigua – the best of both worlds
The all inclusive holiday offers a safety net when exploring new far flung places but how about exploring an alternative? The stunning and tropical white sands of Jolly Harbour resort gives you the best of both worlds. Imagine spectacular white sandy beaches, bars, restaurants, sports, shops and excursions and incredible views at every turn.
Antigua famed for it’s friendly people is your perfect winter sun destination. It is also famous for its 365 beaches, one for every day of the year. Antigua’s scenery is stunning with lush green tropical hills and mountains and white sandy beaches in every cove.
Antigua is an English speaking commonwealth country. It’s sad history of slavery for the sugar plantations has been replaced by a friendly and thriving tourist economy. Buoyed up by many cruise ships visiting the deep harbour in the bustling capital city of St Johns. There is poverty on this small 12 mile island but the health and education system is good. You will generally get a smile and a greeting, or toot (see driving) from everyone you meet.
When to Come to Antigua
December to March/April is the best time to come. The temperatures are in the high 20s and comfortable with an easterly breeze. Like all tropical countries, expect a few showers that pass quickly.
About Jolly Harbour
Jolly Harbour, on the west of the island, enjoys beautiful sunsets, cooling easterly breezes and two gorgeous beaches.
Think of Jolly Harbour as a small village. Everything is within walking distance or golf buggy distance, resident’s preferred mode of transport.
There are two beautiful beaches in Jolly Harbour, North Beach and South Beach. They both have beautiful white sand and stunning turquoise water and views of tropical hills and sailing yachts. Bliss.
If you prefer unspoilt isolation then North Beach is for you. See the video at the top of the page. Watch pelicans dive into clear unspoilt coves, hear the waves lapping gently against the sand and nothing else.
South Beach is a great place to grab a sunbed from the Pop Up bar and enjoy waiter service cocktails. You will hear music from nearby Sandra’s bar too. There will be a few local selling their wares but they are not pushy and you will not be harassed.
Food and Drink
There are 9 bars and restaurants to choose from in Jolly Harbour. All are outdoor covered dining. In peak season you will need to book in advance. Please tip generously most wages are minimum at the equivalent of $3 US an hour. The locals really depend on the tips to live. The tips are usually calculated on the bill and are more UK rates than USA. If you can spare a bit of extra cash in hand it will be greatly appreciated. If you are a foody there are some additional superb restaurants dotted around the island.
Although it is safe to brush your teeth in the local water supply, all drinking water is bottled. It is worth stocking up as soon as you arrive if you are self-catering.
Read more about Jolly Harbour Bars and Restaurants
Al Porto’s Italian and Pizzeria over looks the harbour. It is very popular and there is superb live music on Monday nights, booking recommended. They also do a pizza night and pasta buffet too. The food is great. It’s a great place for lobster if that is your thing.
Basilico. This is another italian restaurant situated on the harbourside it is probably your most fine-dining experience in Jolly Harbour.
The Curry House as you can probably guess is an Indian restaurant. It is situated right next door to Basilico and also has a separate bar on the harbourside. The food is good. Don’t expect your favourite dishes to taste just like home, they do seem to have a Carribean twist.
Arleccinos is a steak and seafood restaurant situation in the main square of the marina. The staff are lovely and the food is freshly prepared by the owner chef. Everything is beautifully presented and delicious. It has the worst karaoke night ever thanks to a couple of regulars but don’t hold that against it.
La Cantina this new venue has quickly become a favourite. A bar and Mexican food restaurant it has a lively vibe looking over the yachts and large catamarans. Damien is the resident cocktail expert and character but all the staff are friendly and know their drinks. You can get takeout from here too and the food is superb. Try the Beef Birra with dipping jus.
Petals is a coffee shop and great for breakfast and lunch. The coffee is good. They have a small crew so patience is required while they cook up your breakfast. It is worth the wait. Homemade cakes are available.
Sea Dream situated next to the pool, Sea Dream offers a bit of everything. From burgers and quesadillas to fresh fish and pasta, it is an easy place to take children. If you are taking time at the pool there frozen cocktails are a must.
Pop Up Bar unlike it’s name is a permanent bar and restaurant on South Beach. Tacos, burgers and a selection of relaxed dining experiences. Occasional famous faces have been spotted here.
Miracles of the Caribbean is situated slightly out of the main Jolly Harbour resort but still within walking distance. It is a beautifully lit space with quirky tin roof and other touches to give you a real Antiguan feel. The food is genuine Caribbean fayre and delicious. Everything is accompanied by a television screened music of varying quality. Embrace it as all part of the experience.
Sport and Recreation
Sailing is the main recreation in Jolly Harbour and you can book experiences at Amarrs Tours (see below).
The resort has a swimming pool next to Sea Dreams where you can get a frozen cocktail or two. Plan ahead and book a 2 day scuba diving course. The course begins in the pool and then on the 2nd day you can explore the local reef. Be ready to spend the first night on completing a video theory course.
There is also a tennis court and a passable golf club and a gym (near Al Portos restaurant). Visit the row of shops in the harbour and book an excursion with Amarrs Tours. There is rainforest ziplining, island exploration and catamaran trips. There is also the famous beach pig feeding experience. The catamaran excursions are excellent fun, expect plenty of rum punch and good food as your visit beaches. Combine it with reef snorkelling for an even better experience.
You can hire a car or golf buggy from Pineapple Rentals. There is a bike rental place in the main square situated within the boat shop.
Shopping and facilities
The harbour shops includes a small souvenir boutique, two beauty salons. It is also home to the most amazingly stocked pharmacy you have ever visited. Treasures include souvenirs, toys, and yes all the usual medicines, plus mossie repellant, OFF, which is recommended. Epicurean is a large supermarket on the site. You will be surprised to find Waitrose items amongst the local goods. Local Rum and local beer, Wadadli, which is very affordable.
More shopping. Take a taxi or hire a car to St Johns to visit side by side Heritage and Redcliffe Quay. Heritage Quay includes high end brands and duty free shopping. Make sure you take your passport and proof of when you are leaving the island to qualify for duty free. Proof may include your flight booking reference not just the flight number. The site of vast cruise ships at the end of the key is a stunning spectacle.
Redcliffe Quay is a quaint, artisan, historical stone area. Visit Zemi Art Gallery to pick up unique gifts from a local crafter. It’s a stunning shop and you will see him at work on his latest creations. Bring cash in small bills because as a small trader they avoid using the card machine for little transactions.
Top Banana is a great place to stop for a drink and snack or their renowned pizzas.
The Eastern Carribean Dollars ECD is the local currency and is tied in value to the US Dollar. Either is accepted except in the smallest establishments but you will always get your change in the local currency. It is probably easiest to get US dollars to start with.
Jolly Harbour has its own well equipped medical centre with a wide range of service including first aid.
Where to stay
We recommend self-catering
With so many restaurants to choose from and a supermarket on your doorstep, we recommend self-catering. There are plenty of private villas to hire via VRBO or Air BnB. Nearly all on the north side are 2 bedrooms with decks onto the water. If you are looking for true luxury then villas overlooking South Beach are stunning.
Calibri Court is an alternative to hiring a villa. These stunning 3 bed apartments enjoy their own landscaped pool area and overlook the golf course. On site management is at hand and they can offer airport transfers too.
There is only one hotel to speak of. Jolly Beach Resort which is unfortunately all-inclusive but does enjoy an amazing position on South Beach. Guests must be over 12 years old. It has recently been receiving some renovations and is looking spic and span. We understand from previous guests that rooms are basic but comfortable. When such stunning scenery is on your doorstep who is looking at their room.
This island is a jewel, with friendly people and stunning scenery. Both British Airways and Virgin fly direct and Jolly Harbour is 40 minutes by taxi. The taxi ride should cost you about $40 US. Flights get booked up pretty quickly with First Class and Premium selling out first!
Car hire is available at the airport, ask anyone for directions to find it. Don’t expect to get the car you ordered and be pleased if it looks a bit battered. The potholes on the island can be epic. A quick toot is everyone’s means of communication. It can mean, I’m giving way to you, thank you, hello and I’m passing. It is very rarely in anger. Watch out for pedestrians, dogs and cars stopping for a chat or food.
There really is no other resort on Antigua with so much within walking distance to enjoy. There is something for everyone at Jolly Harbour. Whether you are an active explorer or cocktail and lounger kind of girl. So book some winter sun and dodge the all-inclusive to get a real experience of the spectacular island of Antigua.