Antigua and Barbuda is located in the middle of the Leeward Islands in the Eastern Caribbean, roughly 17 degrees north of the equator.
Antigua, the largest of the English-speaking Leeward Islands, is about 14 miles long and 11 miles wide, encompassing 108 square miles. Its highest point is Boggy Peak (1319 ft.), located in the southwestern corner of the island. Barbuda, a flat coral island with an area of only 68 square miles, lies approximately 30 miles due north. The nation also includes the tiny (0.6 square mile) uninhabited island of Redonda, now a nature preserve. The current population for the nation is approximately 68,000 and its capital is St. John’s.
Temperatures generally range from the mid-seventies in the winter to the mid-eighties in the summer. Annual rainfall averages only 45 inches, making it the sunniest of the Eastern Caribbean Islands, and the northeast trade winds are nearly constant, flagging only in September. Low humidity persists year-round.
Antigua’s tourist office boasts that the island has 365 beaches, ‘one for each day of the year’. It has great reefs and wrecks for diving and snorkeling. On neighbouring Barbuda you can track the island’s fabled frigate birds and visit the Caribbean’s largest rookery.
The Siboney were the first to inhabit the islands of Antigua and Barbuda in 2400 B.C., but Arawak Indians populated the islands when Columbus landed on his second voyage in 1493. Early settlements by the Spanish and French were succeeded by the English who formed a colony in 1667. In 1684, Sir Christopher Codrington, an enterprising man, had come to Antigua to find out if the island would support the sort of large-scale sugar cultivation that already flourished elsewhere in the Caribbean. His initial efforts proved to be quite successful and, over the next fifty years, sugar cultivation on Antigua exploded. Slavery, established to run the sugar plantations on Antigua, was abolished in 1834.
The legendary Admiral Horatio Nelson sailed to Antigua in 1784 and established Great Britain’s most important Caribbean base. By the end of the eighteenth century Antigua had become an important strategic port as well as a valuable commercial colony. Known as the “gateway to the Caribbean,” it was situated in a position that offered control over the major sailing routes to and from the region’s rich island colonies. Most of the island’s historical sites, from its many ruined fortifications to the impeccably-restored architecture of English Harbour, are reminders of colonial efforts to ensure its safety from invasion.
In 1967, with Barbuda and the tiny island of Redonda as dependencies, Antigua became an associated state of the Commonwealth, and in 1981 it achieved full independent status within the British Commonwealth of Nations.
Antigua has a relatively high GDP per capita in comparison to most other Caribbean nations. It has experienced solid growth since 2003, driven by a construction boom in hotels and housing. Tourism continues to dominate the economy, accounting for more than half of GDP.