It is really difficult to photograph Barbuda and almost impossible to do it justice. It is a truly beautiful place; the little sister island to Antigua but almost completely the opposite. Antigua is the loud, taller, rather showy older sibling while Barbuda is subtle, laid-back and totally rough around the edges. It is just over half the size of Antigua, yet Barbuda houses less than 1% of the total population and is only around 30m at its tallest point.
The Barbudan people were originally imported as slaves by the Codrington family who leased the island from England in 1685 for the price of one fatted sheep. Over the next 150 years the island was mostly used to breed slaves and grow food for the family’s vast sugar plantation estates on Antigua. Although Barbuda has a dark history and the vast majority of the island’s small population now live overseas, those that we met on the island were charming, relaxed and fiercely patriotic.
It was our second visit to Barbuda after a quick weekend trip with our buddy boats in February – we had rather fallen for the island and were keen to return. This time we anchored further north in Low Bay off an epic empty beach which stretches for 17 miles of pristine silky soft sand with a pink coral hue and turquoise water – simply stunning! We dragged our dinghy over the narrow split that separated the bay to the internal lagoon and set off to visit Codrington, the rather ramshackle capital.
Off Barbuda’s northwest coast, Codrington Lagoon National Park protects a vast estuary that supports one of the world’s largest colonies of frigate birds. We visited the colony with our guide, Clifford, in the pouring rain. Yet it was still an awesome sight. In the middle of the vast lagoon, as far as the eye can see, the scrubby mangroves are covered in frigate birds – apparently an area stretching for around one and half miles. Frigate birds mate, build a nest and lay one egg a year, then the male takes care of the baby while the female hunts for food. It takes up to seven months for a baby frigate bird to grow out its original feathers and finally take to the air. With a 6ft wing span, the birds cannot land on the water but can stay airborne for up to a week. Apparently the birds make excellent weather forecasters as they can fly high above any turbulent weather and even correctly predict hurricanes.
We also visited the lovely Two Foot Bay and explored the caves there. We learnt about the medicinal value of local plants, appreciated some very ancient Arawak petroglyphs and discovered more about the history and politics of this wonderful place.
Land on Barbuda today is held communally – as a local you can choose any area to build your home. Driving around the island, we spotted painted trees and bottles hanging from trees – both signs to others that someone is interested in that particular piece of land and is staking a claim. All claims including proposals from big hotel developments are put to a general vote in the town hall with every Barbudan having an equal say.
We loved our two fascinating tours around the island with local guides, learnt a huge amount and left totally enchanted with the place…. And then we ‘lost’ our dinghy.
A night of unexpected thunderstorms and squalls left us with no dinghy in the morning – Zuma was lost to the ocean! We knew we should get going and return to Antigua to try and sort out the admin that comes with finding a new ‘car’ and yet we were reluctant to leave – just one more night…
We spent our last night anchored in gloriously flat water off one of the only three hotels on Barbuda. The hotel was thankfully shut and we had the place almost to ourselves. However the secret of Barbuda is out, just down the beach there is a hotel that Robert De Niro has apparently just bought so watch out this lovely little island may have just hit the big time.