Antigua offers plenty of raw and untouched beauty

Antigua
Antigua
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The first thing that strikes me about Antigua is colour.

As I travel through bustling capital StJohn’s, reggae music booms loudly through outdoor speakers.

Locals dressed in bright clothing gather outside their equally dazzling houses; a sugary mix of pistachio greens, rose pinks and lemon yellows, set against a sun-drenched blue sky.

Children play cricket using a tree branch as a bat, while a man sells fuzzy coconuts from the back of a truck.

I half wonder if this is the paradise location where they filmed the Lilt advert.

It’s a Thursday but every day feels like the weekend in Antigua with its relaxed vibe and happy-go-lucky islanders.

It’s no wonder so many A-list celebrities and tourists are attracted to the island. But despite the number of people who come each year - a figure likely to increase when a new $75m airport terminal opens next year - Antigua still feels authentic, with plenty of raw, untouched beauty to discover within its 108 square miles.

Better still, the option of staying in all-inclusive resorts means that paradise is now within easier and more affordable reach.

Any reservations I might have had about “wristband” holidays quickly evaporate when I check into the adults-only Galley Bay on the west coast, looking out to the Caribbean Sea.

Defying the stereotype of mass market all-inclusive hotels, it’s a peaceful, romantic hideaway where breakfast and lunch is served a la carte by waiters who remember my name after day one. By day three, they’ve even memorised how I like my eggs cooked.

Much to my excitement, the beachfront Galley Bay also shares its three-quarter-mile-long stretch of white sand with designer Giorgio Armani. His Hollywood-style holiday home is perched high on the cliffs, and I’m told he frequents the hotel’s fine-dining Ismay’s restaurant.

Undoubtedly, Antigua’s hottest selling point is its 365 beaches - one for every day of the year.

I set off on a boat journey to the more remote shorelines to visit picturesque cliffs, coastlines and smaller offshore islands, hoping to meet local wildlife on the way.

In a remote setting at the extreme eastern point of Antigua, Devil’s Bridge national park is a spectacle of spouting surf and dramatic geysers.

The wild sea water has carved out a natural limestone arch over the centuries, but I shudder when I hear the myth behind the name - that slaves leapt to their death as if possessed during Antigua’s period of slavery. Unsurprisingly, swimming is not permitted here.

I spend my day exploring a number of sleepy, secluded coves, swimming ashore holding a rucksack aloft with one arm to keep it dry!

I see just two sun bathers on the virtually deserted beach of Rendezvous Bay; being a good 30-minute walk off the beaten track, few tourists come here.

The crescent-shaped Half Moon Bay has a similar desolate feel, making it an ideal spot for a picnic on the mile-long pink sands.

Although Stingray City isn’t a big secret among tourists, the floating docks are about a mile offshore, so when I arrive I feel like I’m standing in the middle of the ocean, surrounded by coral reefs.

The gigantic but graceful and friendly southern rays soar through the crystal clear, shallow water to greet us in their natural habitat.

Lisa Haynes was a guest of the Elite Island Resorts at the all-inclusive Galley Bay (galleybayresort.com).

Seven nights in Antigua with Virgin Holidays (0844 557 3859/virginholidays.co.uk), including scheduled flights with Virgin Atlantic from London Gatwick direct to Antigua, accommodation at 4V+ Galley Bay Resort on an all-inclusive basis with transfers starts from £2,201pp. Price based on two adults travelling.

For more, go to visitantiguabarbuda.co.uk.