How to Have a Five-Star Beach Vacation in Antigua on a Two-Star Budget

by | Apr 1, 2024

Shirley Heights, Antigua overlooking English Harbour viewed on a beautiful day. Overlooking the beach, Caribbean
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Last updated on April 16th, 2024

Featured image: Diana shares her tips on how to travel on a budget in Antigua | Photo by SeanPavone on Envato

Caribbean Bliss in Antigua for Under $3000 a week

by Diana Eden

My friend Ruth and I have promised each other that, no matter what other travels we plan for the year, we will always give ourselves one week of white sand and turquoise water sometime in the spring. And we have learned to do this without breaking the bank.

This year, my week in Antigua came in at just under $3000, including airfare, transportation (car rental, gas, and cabs), villa rental, and food.

How to travel on a budget in Antigua

Decision #1: Plan well ahead

I start planning a good 10 months out. This year, we chose to return to Antigua with two other single women friends. I searched for the perfect villa rental, and when I found one, I told my group we had to commit to dates and a deposit right away. By the time we returned to the site, “our villa” had been booked for all of February, with only one week left in March. We grabbed it!

I also go to Google Flights (and you can do this on Skyscanner and other booking sites) and search for the best flight option on the desired dates. Then I check the box that promises to send travel alerts to my email if the price goes up or down. If you are 10 months out, it will likely go down at some point, and then I grab my plane fare, too.

Decision #2. Choose the right travel partner

As an experienced traveler with single females of a certain age, I have found it essential to choose your trip-mates with care, knowing that they, too, are in for the type of experience you are planning. We wanted a laid-back beach vacation with lazy days, good food, plenty of rum drinks, naps, and watching sunsets while having dinner.

If you pick fellow travelers who want to do 6-hour bus tours around the island, all-day boat charters for snorkeling, or visits to all the local museums, you may find you are at odds once you get there. Best to know what everyone wants in advance.

Decision #3: Hotel or Vacation Rental?

I am a big fan of renting a villa or condo for both comfort and budget reasons. I like having a space where each person has their own room and bathroom, but there is a communal living room, kitchen, and outdoor area in which to share meals and conversations. A hotel room in Antigua in the Jolly Beach Harbour area where we were would have cost us a minimum of $1800 for the week EACH and going up from there. Our lovely house with a private pool cost us $1025 each for the week, and it lacked for nothing. And we had a pool all to ourselves! 

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A pool in a vacation rental in Antigua

The pool area of Diana’s vacation rental in Antigua / Photo provided by Diana Eden

How to save money once you’re there

Buy wine at the airport. When you arrive at Antigua’s airport, once you pass through immigration, directly ahead of you is a Duty-Free store. If you plan to imbibe wine and spirits during your week, buy them there and save 17% tax.

Don’t rent your car at the airport. Most rentals are a mile off campus, and getting the car back to the airport to pick up luggage when you are tired is time-consuming and annoying. We rented a mid-size car locally (at Jolly Harbour), and though it wasn’t brand new, nor could it go zero to 60 in 3 seconds, it was perfectly fine for driving the few miles up and down the coast to our favorite beaches. With gas and local driver’s license fee, our total was $400 divided by 4 people.

However, you must be OK with driving on the left side of the road and avoiding the many potholes. One local taxi driver told us he taught his wife to swerve if the car ahead swerves, as obviously that person knows where the potholes are!

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Buy groceries locally for breakfast, snacks, and even the occasional dinner. We bought coffee, eggs, etc., for our mornings, cheese and crackers, deli meats for snacks, and some pasta and tomatoes for one dinner. Groceries are not cheap, but they saved us on spending for breakfasts in a café each day. We loved having that first meal outdoors by the pool, hearing the birds chirping and admiring the brilliantly coloured bougainvillea surrounding us.

Buy fruits at the local vendors’ stalls—they are quite reasonable and delicious. The locals will guide you to what is perfectly ripe and ready to eat. Our pineapple and avocados were outstanding.

Listen to the locals

Listen to the locals about the beaches—they know!

“Avoid Tuesdays,” they said, “as multiple cruise ships will be in port and buses will bring big crowds to the beaches that day, but they will leave by 2 pm”. Indeed, on Tuesday there were many more people at the beach, but we walked a little further away from the beach bars and kayak rentals and had the sand and surf almost to ourselves.

Check if the beach bars will give you free sun lounging chairs and umbrellas if you have drinks and lunch with them. The Popup Bar on Jolly Beach did, which saved us paying $5 or more per chair and $10 per umbrella. (Savings: $40.)

You can also avoid these charges if you pick a beach lined with trees, like Ffryes Beach (less than 10 minutes from us). There are plenty of lovely spots to spread a towel under a fig or palm tree.

A beautiful day at Ffryes Beach Antigua

Ffryes Beach, Antigua / Photo provided by Diana Eden

How to save money dining out in Antigua

The restaurants were no more expensive than what we are used to locally at our home in Las Vegas, and there were plenty at all cost levels, cuisine, and presentation. We also found that after a healthy long swim in the ocean, we were hungry enough for a big lunch, and by the time the evening rolled around, a couple of sundowners and snacks were all we needed.

We didn’t scrimp on food at all. The first night, we returned to a favorite of ours, Miracles, which offers a menu of both continental and local dishes. Another night, we went to where a local man told us we would get the best seafood on the island—OJ’s Beach Bar and Restaurant. We all had beautifully cooked and seasoned mahi mahi.

On our final night, we treated ourselves to a very upscale dinner experience at Sheer Rocks. Each party is seated in a little “cabana” overlooking the ocean, with a dead-on view of the sunset. Two types of complementary appetizers arrived that were outstanding, and then we all ordered seafood of some kind. I had a dish with a generous assortment of clams and mussels in the shell, calamari, shrimp, and lobster over a bed of flavorful risotto. We all went for dessert too!

Our dining costs were not outlandish when averaging the 5-star restaurant with the beach bars at local places. We had drinks, desserts, and everything in between without feeling we were denying ourselves anything.

Sunset at Sheer Rocks restaurant Antigua

Sunset at Sheer Rocks / Photo provided by Diana Eden

OJs Beach Bar Antigua

OJ’s Beach Bar / Photo provided by Diana Eden

Totaling up our costs

Our group uses a handy app called TripSplitter (and there are several that are similar) in which you input the expense of the person who paid and then select those who participated. The app will divide things evenly, or if one person orders more expensive dishes than another, it will also split unevenly. At the end of the week, the clever little app does all the math and gives each person an “Even Up” amount to pay so we all end up paying the right amount. It saves a lot of asking for separate checks.

But all in all, we came in just under $3000 for the week each, including our airfare, transportation (car rental, gas, and cabs), villa rental, and food.

Not bad for a week of paradise, no expense spared!

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Diana Eden is a Contributing Writer for JourneyWoman magazine, focused on travel for women over 80. She was born in England, raised in Toronto, lived and worked in New York, Los Angeles, and now Las Vegas. She is a former dancer, actress, Emmy-nominated costume designer, and now author. She recently published her memoir, "Stars in Their Underwear: My Unpredictable journey from Broadway dancer to costume designer for some of Hollywood’s biggest stars."


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