"Whether you're looking to turn up or relax, the island will accommodate you..."
Whilst our minds churn away images of distant holidays, we can look to the future with positivity and hope by rethinking how we approach our holidays and travel. One way to add meaning to your future travels is by thinking small and thinking local. By this, we mean championing the community in which you are visiting, whether near or far. In pursuit of encouraging this behaviour, we have teamed up with Swete One, a charming bungalow in the heart of Swetes Village in Antigua, to give one of you a chance to win a week's stay with up to six guests. Dates will be arranged when international travel is permitted. Cleaning fee not included.
Run and owned my locals, this charming homestay helps funnel money back into the community and allows you to see the island for the way it should be. We've sat down with founder, Kiera, to talk about her native island, the power of community and the importance of supporting each other in this unusual time.
What's your heritage and your connection to the island?
My granddad is Antiguan and I lived there with my mum till I was about 6, then my mum brought me to London for school. Over the last few years, I have been back and forth for holidays and although I don't live there full time, it is my second home.
How would you describe Antigua and it's energy?
Antigua is PARADISE!! We have 365 beaches, as the locals like to say "a beach for everyday of the year". Every time I visit, I discover new ones and still have so many more to find. The island's vibe is contagious: from days on a boat discovering new beaches, hikes into the hills to see the most magnificent views, to day parties and raves that turn into a breakfast fete.
You can island hop, dancing your night away, and eat your way through the local street food. Whether you're looking to turn up or relax, the island will accommodate you. Antiguan's are some of the most friendly people, who have continued to make every one of my friends and guests, feel welcomed and looked after with their friendliness and hospitality. The mood is just happy, relaxed and carefree. You can't help but switch off and become a real Antiguan.
How would you describe Swetes?
Swetes village is tiny. This means everyone knows everyone, so saying 'good morning' is a must! Our neighbourhood is authentically Antiguan, as it is not one of the new developed 'Bouji' areas. By locals, our area is considered "country", however we are only 15 minutes to town. It's the type of small knit community where our neighbours are super friendly and helpful, so if you find yourself with a flat tire, within minutes it will be fixed for you by a local or two.
Another really lovely thing about Swetes is the colourful landscape. All the houses are painted and we have some of the prettiest churches. If you wake up early enough you may also catch the local kids walking to school or the farmer herding his animals, whilst you have coffee on the balcony.
Can you share a few words on the importance of tourism in Antigua and how it supports the local community?
For most Antiguan's, the tourism industry on the island is their main source of the income. So, as you can imagine COVID-19 has meant that many people are effected, with a huge majority of people now out of work. I really feel for my family and community there and hoping for an influx of people eager to travel to the island when it's safe to do so.
Why was it important for you to build Swete One?
For me, this was about enabling people to fall in love with Antigua - the Antigua I know. As grand and flashy all inclusive hotels are, I think that the one downfall that they have, is that they lack in showcasing the real culture of the island. So I try to deliver something unique and that usually begins with wake up calls from my neighbour Kevin and his bull - yes, a bull and there is no sound like it.
We encourage mingling with the locals, which in more times that once, will lead to you getting a tour guide for the day or a ride on a boat to discover one of the many beaches. Our locals will always share the best spots in which to party that night and local parties are so lit, you only have to ask any of my 12 girlfriends that I had come stay last year, just how good it was. A favourite spot among my friends was the local bar that has $2 Tuesday's aka 50p beers all night. Fridays and Saturdays will see a local aunty or grandmother doing a cookout at the top of the road, which is always banging - from steam fish to goat, to a roti - trust me just try it. Bonds are strong here and the people I've met even through business, are like family to me.
How can we be more mindful in our actions and help support local communities in Antigua and the Caribbean?
So first and foremost, be friendly! The biggest thing my visitors have always commented on is just how many people say hello; everyone on the island is super neighbourly. You then must make sure that you stop for the roadside cuisine and support the local ladies, as the food is delicious. Most importantly drink our local rum, English Harbour or Cavalier and take a few bottles home. There are so many local/tourist activities, so if you do find yourself in a hotel chain, go out of your way to find the local spots and go beyond that of the hotel pool. It's in the excursions with local guides that you will find the real treasures of the island.
How have you seen the community react in this trying time?
There has been some really great support with local charities jumping in to help with food bank donations and lots of the restaurants and bars are trying to do their bit too. However, collectively, it's the family dynamic that I have personally seen really pull together during this time. On our island, your neighbourhood is your community as well as your extended family, so people are rallying together to help one another. Oh and a few of our local artists have been releasing soca songs about staying in and spreading positive vibes.