Flying to Barbuda in the eastern Caribbean from its sister island, Antigua, is part of the fun. You could take a ferry, which takes about an hour and a half and I’m sure is lovely. But nothing quite beats flying in a seven-seater tin can.
In a world where jumbo jets keep getting bigger, a trip in a twin-propeller aeroplane, with the whir of the engines and the shimmering waters beneath you, is an unforgettable experience. Not that you have long to enjoy it. Just 15 minutes after take-off, you’re deposited in the island’s village capital, Codrington.
Leaving the airport (which takes all of ten seconds), I was immediately greeted by my guide, Kenroy. “How did you know it was me?” I asked. Kenroy smiled at my naivety and replied that I was the only person getting off the plane he didn’t already know. You don’t need to be on the island long to see why.
There are only around 1,800 people living on Barbuda and everybody seems to know each other. It’s more like one big family than an island community, and for the time you’re on Barbuda, you’re part of the family too.
While the much larger Antigua is deservedly well known, Barbuda remains undisturbed, the turquoise waters lapping quietly at the island’s white and pink sand. Princess Diana loved Barbuda’s tranquillity so much that the islanders named her favourite beach there after her in 2011 (pictured below).
Just up from Princess Diana beach you’ll find Barbuda Cottages. Marketed as being “eco-friendly”, these cosy cottages are perfect for couples, or for larger groups – one of the cottages sleeps six. Kelcina, the cottages’ affable owner, showed me the gardens where she’s planting fruit trees for guests to help themselves to. For something more substantial than fruit, Uncle Roddy’s seafood restaurant is a local favourite and is just a bit further up the beach.
It isn’t just human visitors to Barbuda who find the island attractive – the enormous frigate birds do too. Thousands of them bed down in the mangrove trees of the lagoon for the annual mating season, which runs from September to April.
It’s well worth visiting the sanctuary by boat as I did, where the rat-a-tat-tat of the mating calls is as impressive as the great red air sacs that the males puff out beneath their beaks in a bid to woo females. The birds soar on the warm air currents above, casting you in the shade for seconds at a time with their great wings outstretched.
Pulling up on the beach, I was met off the boat by Rosalind who runs the Barbuda Belle resort, a collection of six raised wooden bungalows centred around a clubhouse. The resort is only in its second season (November to August), but it has already acquired a reputation on the island and beyond for its tasteful blend of French luxury and Asian-style chic. The warm-hued wood from which the bungalows are built, and the décor inside, all come from Indonesia, while in the bathroom you will find products by L’Occitane.
The restaurant serves up superb seafood caught from the same waters on view from the restaurant, and the French chef comes via the Franco-Dutch island of Saint Martin, so is no stranger to the Caribbean. The sea views extend into the beautiful and breezy bedrooms, where each morning you awake to the dazzling white sand and calm, clear water. I can’t think of a better start to the day.
If you can bear to tear yourself away from the beach, drop by Martello Tower. It was constructed around 1745 as part of the island’s defences against the marauding French and Spanish. But equally impressive, if not more so, are the caves in which the Amerindians lived for centuries before the arrival of the Europeans.
I followed Kenroy, my guide, up through the rock until we came out onto the cliff top. These first peoples knew the island as Wa’omoni, the exact meaning of which has been lost to us. One suggestion is “Land of Herons”. Either way, as we watched the waves roll in against the reef, it wasn’t hard to see why they chose to call it home.