Barbuda: Frigates & Pink Sand

Crack of dawn and the roosters are crowing. We left our accommodations around 5:00 am and headed for Antigua’s main harbor in the town of Saint John. Our excursion to the island of Barbuda is going to fill the day.

Out the door at 5:00 am

We were nervous about finding a parking place on the streets in Saint John. A harbor security guard directed us to a very convenient parking space close to the dock.

We took a photo of the rental car and license plate just in case it was towed away. At least we’d know what we were looking for.

We were directed to be at the dock around 6:30 am. Our ferry departure was delayed by an hour because a cruise ship was docking.

Our little ferry boat was dwarfed by the cruise ship.
Our ride to Barbuda … the Leeward Express.

The air-conditioned inside cabin of the ferry boat had very comfortable seating.

A local man came through the main cabin selling fruit while we were waiting to depart.
We opted to sit outside in the sun on the cargo deck.
Sitting on the cargo deck felt a little like being a stow away.
An orange tarp covered the suitcases and other cargo. This dude made himself comfy on a wooden pallet that was holding the tarp down.
A touch of sea sickness?
Nothing fancy at Barbuda’s small boat harbor.

Barbuda is flat! Unlike Antigua with its scenic mountains and rolling hills, this island is low-lying limestone. It’s easy to see how hurricane Irma ravaged the island in 2019. It was a category 5 storm that destroyed about 95% of the island’s structures. Most of the population was evacuated to Antigua.

The harbor had some industrial equipment and a few fishing boats.

There is a third island that belongs to Antigua & Barbuda called Redonda. It is uninhabited but home to a number of sea birds. The island became an important source of guano before artificial fertilizers were mass-produced.

Redonda is a third island that belongs to Antigua & Barbuda.
(Photo from Birds Caribbean).

After the ferry docked, we connected with Henry our guide and our tour group was loaded into vans to start our excursion.

The bad girls hang out in the back of the bus.
Barbuda Excursion Stops

It was a short drive to a dock in Codrington lagoon, a tranquil 11 mile stretch of water where small boats were waiting to transport our group.

Boats took our group across the Codrington Lagoon to the bird sanctuary and pink sand beach.
This National Park bird sanctuary is home to 30,000 Frigates.

Frigates have a 7-ft wing span and have predominantly black plumage, long, forked tails and long hooked bills. They are seabirds but their feathers are not waterproof. They can stay aloft for up to two months without touching down on land or water. They can’t swim and if they do encounter water, they would become waterlogged and eventually drown.

The name Frigate comes from the French mariners’ name for a frigate or fast warship.

Scientists have evidence that Frigates sleep while flying in short 10-second bursts for about 45 minutes each day.
The male frigates puff up their red chest in hopes of attracting a mate.

Only one chick per pair of frigate birds is hatched and stays in the nest for 8-10 months. Because of this they breed once every other year.

Mother and child frigates. The females have a white chest, a dark head and are larger than the males. Juveniles have a white head.
Young birds have varying amounts of white on the head, chest, and belly and also have a pale tan streak on the upper wing.

The bird sanctuary is amazing. (Information about Frigates taken from Rough Guide to Antigua & Barbuda, National and

The boats took us a short distance across the lagoon to the pink sand beach. Our guide told us to go barefoot since we were going to jump out of the boat and walk through water.
We walked over a small dune and down the shoreline.
Barbuda’s pink sand beaches are known to be the pinkest of all the Caribbean beaches due to the high levels of coral reefs along the coast.
The pink sand beach has a beautiful palatte of colors ranging from sand brown to sky blue.
The beach stretches for eight miles but it is not always visible. The pink hue is visible when shells have been deposited by surging waves.
A closer look reveals crushed shells.
Back to the boats and on to the caves.

After docking, we boarded the vans again. It was a long ride across the island. Two women sitting next to me were talking in another language that I didn’t recognize. When I asked where they were from, one responded in English, ‘what do you mean where are we from’. Then I asked what language they were speaking. She went on to explain that they were originally from Poland but now live outside of Toronto, Canada.

Maggie and Dora, traveling with their husbands, were originally from Poland but now live near Toronto. They were a delightful addition to the tour.

Barbuda has many caves and sink holes primarily because it is composed of limestone. The caves at Two Foot Bay run along the sea cliffs.

It was a about a half-mile hike to the caves at Two Foot Bay.
The terrain is full of fossils.
The farther we hiked, the more interesting the terrain became.
The trail went uphill and became a bit rugged.
This is the view from the entrance of the cave.
A large hole at the top of the cave revealed daylight.

Our guide Kendrick was born in Barbuda and lived there most of his life. When Hurricane Irma came he didn’t evacuate, he stayed in the cave. I’m not exactly clear on the details of his story but the water level in the cave became a problem. Somehow he survived.

Tour guide Kendrick is a native of Barbuda.

Kendrick was a great guide pointing out some of the natural wonders on our route.

This is a medicinal plant that stops bleeding.
This is a brain coral fossil.

Lunch was served at the Hillside View Bar & Grill in the National Park near the caves.

The catch of the day was red snapper.
This is the ‘kitchen’ where the grilling takes place and food is prepared and plated.

After lunch, we boarded the vans and it was a long ride to the “Princess Diana Beach” so named because Princess Diana often vacationed in Barbuda and enjoyed the seclusion of this beach. The beach was re-named after her in 2011 to coincide with what would have been her 50th birthday.

Gosha, a native of Antigua, holds a tamarind pod, plucked from a tree by our guide Henry. It’s a plump pod-like fruit with a sweet tangy flavor often used in Indian cuisine.
Our guide Henry would stop the van and pick fruit for us to sample.
They called this fruit “dums” but it has many other names and a variety of flavors and textures. These tasted similar to a crab apple.
We passed goats on the way as well as a few wild donkeys.
Princess Diana beach is a stretch of sugary white sand with clear blue water. Our time at the beach was shortened due to the morning’s departure delay.
Ritu and Anil originally from Bombay, sat with us on the return ferry boat ride. They now live near Toronto and travel extensively. Peggy enjoyed chatting with them about her travels in India.
The ferry boat returned to Saint John’s harbor around 5:00 pm.
Driving Adventure of the Day — lost in the dark

Driving Adventure of the Day: Our drive from Saint Johns across the island to our apartment in Falmouth Harbor was in the dark … one more obstacle in addition to driving on the left, potholes, chickens, dogs, pedestrians and other hazards. We were using cell phone GPS to guide us and at some point it went out of range and we missed a turn. After we passed a man carrying a large pick-axe over his shoulder, the road got darker and narrower, more secluded and scarier. We had no choice but to turn around and retrace our route from memory which meant we had to pass by the pick-axe murderer again. Very carefully we made our way back to the Saint John’s area, found the correct route and started over.

We arrived back in Falmouth around 9:00 pm. Being famished we found a nice but busy outdoor restaurant and felt fortunate to get seats at the bar since we didn’t have a reservation. We placed our order and shortly after our drinks arrived, the power went out. Everyone got out cell phones lights and continued eating and drinking. The cooks continued grilling using their cell phones for light.

About ten minutes later, they had to shut the grill down because without power, the exhaust fan wasn’t working. They assured us the power would be on shortly. We had another drink. No power. They offered us a plate of French fries. No power. Finally we gave up and went back to our apartment. It was time to end this day.

Flatties Flame Grill (before the power outage) home of spicy Peri Peri Chicken and other South African and Portuguese dishes.

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Jane is a resident of Browndale neighborhood in St. Louis Park, Minnesota.

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