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The Commonwealth
Antigua and Barbuda


Caribbean and Americas

Did you know:

Sir Vivian Richards, born in St John’s in 1952, was Wisden Leading Cricketer in the World in 1976, 1978 and 1980.

Jamaica Kincaid, born Elaine Potter Richardson in St John’s in 1949, has been heralded as the ‘most important West Indian woman writing today’.

Key facts

Joined Commonwealth: 1981
Population: 90,000 (2013)
GDP: 0.7% p.a. 1990–2013
UN HDI: world ranking 61
Official language: English
Timezone: GMT minus 4hr
Currency: Eastern Caribbean dollar (EC$)


Area: Antigua 280 sq km; Barbuda 161 sq km; Redonda 1.6 sq km
Coastline: 153km
Capital city: St John’s
Population density (per sq. km): 203

Antigua and Barbuda, at the north of the Leeward Islands in the Eastern Caribbean, is composed of three islands: Antigua, Barbuda (40km north of Antigua) and Redonda (40km south-west of Antigua). Antigua comprises six parishes: St George, St John, St Mary, St Paul, St Peter and St Philip.

Main towns:

St John’s (capital, pop. 22,200 in 2010), All Saints (4,800), Liberta (3,100), Potters Village (3,100), Bolans (2,100) and English Harbour on Antigua; and Codrington on Barbuda.


There is a good road network of about 1,170km, 33% paved. St John’s deep water harbour is a regional centre for cargo and passengers and the country’s main port. VC Bird International Airport is 8km north-east of St John’s; and an airstrip at Codrington, Barbuda, is suitable for light aircraft.

International relations:

Antigua and Barbuda is a member of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, Association of Caribbean States, Caribbean Community, Non-Aligned Movement, Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, Organization of American States, United Nations and World Trade Organization.


With about 365 beaches on Antigua, further beaches of pink and white sand on Barbuda, coves that were once volcanic craters, and luxuriant palms, the country was an early proponent of sea-and-sun tourism. Antigua is generally composed of low-lying coral and limestone, although Boggy Peak among the volcanic rocks to the west rises to 402m. It has an indented coastline and a good harbour at English Harbour Town. There are a few springs; drought can be a problem. Barbuda is flat with a large lagoon on its west side. Redonda is a tiny rocky island, and is uninhabited.


Tropical and drier than most of the West Indies. The hot season, when most rain falls, is May to November. Hurricane Luis, the first hurricane in many decades, struck in mid-1995, causing particular damage to Barbuda where it flooded 75% of the island, including the main town of Codrington.


The most significant environmental issue is limited natural freshwater resources which is aggravated by clearing of trees to increase crop production, causing rainfall to run off quickly.


Little remains of Antigua’s natural vegetation, as the island was formerly cleared for sugar planting. Unlike other islands in the Leeward group, it has little forest; mangoes, guavas, coconuts and bananas grow in the south-west. Barbuda is well wooded in the north-east, providing a haven for wildlife. Forest covers 22 per cent of Antigua and Barbuda’s land area and there was no significant loss of forest cover during 1990–2011.


More than 150 species of birds have been recorded. Barbuda is a game reserve with a variety of wildlife: deer, wild pigs, duck, guinea-fowl, and a large colony of frigate birds in the mangrove lagoon. Redonda has become a haven for species such as the burrowing owl, which have been driven out of the other, inhabited, islands.


The first inhabitants were the Siboney, who can be dated back to 2400 BCE. Arawaks settled subsequently, around the 1st century CE. The Caribs arrived later, but abandoned Antigua around the 16th century, due to the shortage of fresh water. Christopher Columbus sighted the larger island in 1493, and named it after a church in Seville, Santa Maria de la Antigua. After unsuccessful attempts at colonisation by the Spaniards and French, Antigua was colonised by Sir Thomas Warner in 1632 and formally became a British colony in 1667. Britain annexed Barbuda in 1628; in 1680 Charles II granted the island to the Codrington family, who held it until 1860, in which year it was annexed to Antigua.

Sugar succeeded tobacco as the chief crop and led to the importation of enslaved Africans to work on the highly profitable estates. After the abolition of the slave trade (1807), the Codringtons established a big ‘slave-farm’ on Barbuda, where children were bred to supply the region’s unpaid labour force, until slaves were emancipated in 1834. As the only Caribbean island under British rule to possess a good harbour, Antigua was the dockyard for the British West Indies, used by the Royal Navy from 1725 until 1854.

Demand for self-determination developed in parallel with a concern to create political and economic linkages with other small Caribbean countries. The labour movement became the main focus of political development, and gathered strength during the economically troubled mid-years of the 20th century. Vere C Bird formed the country’s first trade union in 1939, and later became leader of the Antigua Labour Party (ALP).

The first elections under universal adult suffrage took place in 1951, and were won by the ALP. The country joined the West Indies Federation at formation in 1958; this arrangement

replaced the earlier Leeward Islands federal grouping of which Antigua and Barbuda had been part. The West Indies Federation collapsed in 1962 – too late to revive the old Leeward Islands federation, since most of the eligible Eastern Caribbean countries were in the process of moving towards independence.

Under the West Indies Act 1967, Antigua became an associated state with internal self-government, the UK retaining control of foreign affairs and defence. Vere Bird Sr became the first Premier, but the ALP was ousted at the next elections in 1971 by the Progressive Labour Movement (PLM), led by George Walters. Both parties had their roots in the labour movement; the main difference at that time was that the PLM was campaigning for early independence, while the ALP wanted stronger economic foundations to be developed first.

The ALP returned to power at the 1976 elections. Following the ALP’s victory, Bird led the country to full independence on 1 November 1981. Antigua and Barbuda joined the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States at its formation in 1981.

The ALP remained in power during the 1980s, its position enhanced by divisions within the opposition. However, by the late 1980s divisions also appeared in the ALP, precipitated by allegations of financial misdealing in 1986, and of armaments sales in 1990, both involving senior government ministers. These matters led to ongoing parliamentary controversy.

In April 1992 three opposition parties merged to form the United Progressive Party (UPP). In September 1993, on the retirement of Vere Bird, his son Lester Bird became Prime Minister. In March 1994 the ALP won its fifth consecutive election victory, securing 11 of the 17 seats in the House; the UPP led by Baldwin Spencer took five and the Barbuda People’s Movement one.

History of Antigua and Barbuda

Antigua And Barbuda history by Shahab Wali

Prince Charles in Antigua and Barbuda for his first tour of the Commonwealth nation

Barbuda, English Colony Formed in 1666, Now Destroyed, Population Zero

No Man's Land: Barbuda After Hurricane Irma

Learn more about Antigua and Barbuda on The Commonwealth site Society, Economy, Constitution & politics, History and Travel.

Antigua Vacation Travel Guide

Discover Antigua and Barbuda

Business in the Commonwealth
Web site of the Country

Return to our Commonwealth Page


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