Katerina’s birthday was coming up quickly and I wanted to do something really special for her. She had said a few times already that we have to go to Antigua. And after she showed me this really romantic hotel on the island I thought it would be the right place for the occasion.
Cocobay Resort, Antigua
To be honest, we had not even heard of Antigua until we saw some pictures of it on Instagram and immediately fell in love. Luckily, we got invited by Cocobay Resort Antigua to spend a weekend here and experience the charm of this Island. So I made sure we planned the trip during her birthday weekend and organized a little surprise for her. It was the perfect way to combine work with pleasure!
Antigua is an island in the Caribbean sea. It’s part of the West Indies, a little South of Puerto Rico and north of Guadeloupe. We travel to the Caribbean a lot and love learning about all the differences in culture, food and people between the different islands. Although a lot of these islands are pretty dependent on tourism, we’ve found that some are not that friendly to tourists. Perhaps the locals have grown tired of the constant stream. But others are extremely warm and welcoming!
Antigua is definitely far in on the warm side of the spectrum. From the taxi driver from the airport, to the staff at Cocobay Resort Antigua, to pretty much anyone we interacted with during the whole trip, we only encountered friendly attitude and endless hospitality.
Flying in from busy and rainy New York city, we were greeted by an open space with sweeping views of the bay. The water has such a striking bright turquoise color it’s almost white. We were so stunned by the contrast of where we came from and where we had just found ourselves that we could barely speak.
Cocobay doesn’t really have a “resort” vibe, it’s more of a boutique hotel. It’s a collection of colorful villas, most of which have their own pool, an outdoor bath and spectacular views of the water.
Each pool greets you with incredible views of the bay in every direction. It was hard to get used to it even after spending a few days here. It really felt like we were in paradise! We were like little kids running around marveling at the vividness of all the colors.
Our favorite pool was the “couples pool” – located low above the water with a day bed and a view. We would order some food and drinks from the restaurant and just sit there surrounded by flowers, tan, relax and fly our drone. This whole place overall has a very couples-friendly vibe. It’s relaxed and quiet, definitely not a place to party or meet new people. It’s more of a place to unwind, read, watch the sunset with a refreshing cocktail.
Visiting Stingray City
One of the main attractions in Antigua is Stingray City. It’s a sandbar near the island where tourists can interact with stingrays in shallow waters. I knew Katerina had done this before in the Cayman Islands and loved it. So I thought it was the perfect activity to organize for her birthday. I was able to book it through the hotel, and I assume it’s that easy in other hotels around the island. We just had to reserve it the day before and be ready at 9am the next morning.
The driver took us to a quick orientation before we split into two groups and headed to the boats. The guide gave us a brief on how to interact with the rays safely. You should not touch them from the top, starting from head and moving back towards the tail and not in the opposite direction. It was important to take off all jewelry or other items that could hurt their sensitive skin. We learned that the really big rays were female, while the males stay pretty small.
The boat ride was pretty quick. It took about 15-20min to the sandbar through some of the most blindingly blue waters we’ve ever seen. The sandbar is basically just an area in the sea where the water is quite shallow, which allows people to get in and play with the stingrays. There is also a platform in the water for people to get in and out of the boats.
Feeding The Stingrays
As soon as the boats approached the platform, we saw groups of large stingrays gathering around in excitement. They are not held captive and can swim around freely. They come to the sandbar because they’ve learned to expect some snacks from people and a little bit of petting, which they seem to enjoy quite a lot. We love the experience so much! Unlike in a zoo, the animals are free to leave whenever they get tired or annoyed with people. They are not forced to do anything.
The guys from the boat had a few buckets of squid and fish for us to feed the rays. They showed us how to give it to them safely. You might have read scary stories about stingrays and feel a little freaked out about the whole thing (I was for sure at first). But it ended up being one of the most fun and memorable experiences I’ve had. The rays actually seem so friendly. They got super excited when people got in the water. And, just like puppies, they started circling around us and swiping up against our legs to say hi. Of course they also loved getting snacks from us. But it seemed like they quite enjoying playing with us too and especially being pet on their heads.
On our last night the hotel management had planned a private torchlight dinner for two on the beach for us. It was the perfect way to celebrate Katerina’s birthday and end this romantic weekend.
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