Antigua in the Past and in the Present

From past to present, Antigua has undergone many changes but it remains an intriguing island

Photo credit: © Linda Johnsonbaugh |

Travelers will find many reasons to vacation on the beautiful Caribbean island of Antigua, which features gorgeous sugar-sand beaches and flawless tropical scenery. That's not all you'll find on the island, however. Vacationers will discover that Antigua also offers a vibrant culture spun by a fascinating history that is as fun to explore as the island's beautiful beaches.


The history of Antigua is like many other islands in the Caribbean, and its past is a story of war, colonialism, and slavery. In the colonial period, France, Spain, and England fought over the island because they each wanted a foothold in the highly profitable sugarcane industry, which had already taken over many of the islands in the region. The cultivation of sugarcane in the Caribbean had a tremendous effect on Antigua's history, and, in turn, on its present-day culture and economy.

Antigua is located in the eastern arc of the Lesser Antilles, about 17 degrees north of the equator.  Because of this, the temperature rarely wavers from the mid-70s to mid-80s, and trade winds keep the islands cool.  There are actually three islands that make up the country, Antigua, Barbuda, and Redonda.  Antigua has a total area of 108 square miles; Barbuda, 68 square miles; and Redonda, just 0.6 square miles.  Today, Redonda is used exclusively as a nature preserve. 

...sugarcane mills still stand...



Thousands of African slaves were brought to the island to work on the sugar plantations that once drove Antigua's economy. These slaves contributed to the ethnic mix of Antigua's current population of 68 thousand, which is predominately made up of descendants of African slaves. Today, many of the sugarcane mills still stand on the island as reminders of Antigua's sugarcane legacy. After slavery was abolished, the sugarcane industry waned and, presently, Antigua's economy relies on tourism for its main source of income, with contributions from the domestic agriculture market.  Approximately 70 percent of Antigua's gross domestic product comes from the tourism industry.  Day-trippers who arrive on the islands via a cruise ship are especially important.  Most of the cruises that sail the Caribbean will make a stop in Antigua, bringing in several thousand visitors per day just from the ship alone. 


The African influence on the island's culture has affected many aspects of the country's way of life, including food, musical traditions that are still popular today, artistic style, and particularly the celebration of Carnival, which commemorates the emancipation of the African slaves. The culture of the islanders has also been touched by British influence, and the people have adopted many traditional British sports and even religions.

Antigua has a long history of allowing free elections, in a nation whose political system is structured to resemble a federal parliamentary representative democratic monarchy.  This means that the head of state is the Sovereign of Antigua and Barbuda, but a Governor-General acts as the representative of the country.  Legislative decisions are made by the parliament, which is represented by the prime minister.  The government is in charge of many of the important aspects of life on the islands, including running about 60% of the nation’s agricultural exports.  These products include cotton, fruits and vegetables, and livestock.

Antigua boasts gorgeous beaches, a rich history, and a culture that is well worth experiencing. With so much to offer, Antigua is a perfect vacation destination for your next Caribbean getaway.


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