Well Q&A: Wellness Antigua-Style at Carlisle Bay

Last updated April 11, 2024

Spa Director Cara Doherty is one of those people who seems far wiser than her years.  When we first talked over Zoom—not my favorite way for a first meeting, but the most efficient since Cara lives in Ireland—she exuded a calm self-assurance. 

As she told me more about Carlisle Bay, located on Antigua in the Leeward Islands of the eastern Caribbean, I realized Carlisle Bay is what I think of as a “resort spa-destination spa” blend.

You can have a quintessential relaxing beach vacation enjoying a Wadadli Antiguan beer and cigar OR you can go on a “personalized health retreat” with yoga, hiking, health consultation, traditional Chinese Medicine treatments and vegan cuisine OR you can combine wellness with indulgence!

And for those who wish to go further, Cara has designed week-long group retreats that blend wellness modalities with Antiguan culture, a true “patchwork quilt” combining the best of what the island and the resort have to offer.  

Sallie: What gets you up in the morning? What is your “WHY?”

Cara: The journey; simply being present in the moment and appreciating the small joys in life—swimming in the sea, growing my own produce, connecting with others and having a positive impact. 

A passion of mine is yoga nidra. The purpose of this guided meditation is a journey to strip back the layers of conditioning and reconnect with your true nature.

This is the aim of the wellness retreats we create at Carlisle Bay—to take a step back from your everyday life with awareness and reconnect with yourself on a deeper level.

Sallie: Please tell me about the wellness retreats you’ve created for Carlisle Bay and what makes them unique?

Cara: Our wellness retreats at Carlisle Bay blend elements of yoga, meditation and mindfulness with the natural beauty and culture of the islands of Antigua & Barbuda.

You will experience a hike through untouched rainforest and pristine beaches, learn the history of the islands, cook local dishes with freshly grown ingredients and traditional recipes, and visit local art galleries and pottery studios showcasing some of the best Caribbean artists and craftsmen.

All this happens in a luxury setting, instilling a sense of spaciousness and ease, infused with genuine West Indian warmth and hospitality.

Sallie: Carlisle Bay has an organic beauty spa named the CARA Spa. Tell us about the spa and your philosophy of wellness. Do you have a favorite treatment?

Cara: CARA Organic Beauty Spa encompasses a more natural and therapeutic way of living to restore inner harmony and balance.

In addition to our luxurious facial treatments and deeply restorative massage therapies, we have a variety of holistic offerings, regular yoga classes and intensive health retreats available.

We proudly partner with ESPA, a skincare brand that takes knowledge from traditional holistic therapies and combines it with the scientific power of the purest natural ingredients from around the world, creating formulations that deliver results you can see and feel.

Personally, I would recommend the ESPA Strength & Resilience Massage. The treatment incorporates yogic stretches, aromatherapy oils, deep muscle massage and reflexology pressure points.

Sallie: How do you honor the culture of Antigua and the West Indies through your cuisine, activities and spa offerings?

Cara: It’s important to come to Antigua and genuinely experience the culture—explore the landscape, taste the flavors of the Caribbean, meet the people that make this island so special.

I would encourage guests to go hiking in nature and appreciate their surroundings. We have guided hikes to Signal Hill and Mount Obama (Boggy Peak) and we also suggest trails for the more adventurous to the Mermaid Pools and beyond.

On our menus, we have local dishes that are characteristic of Antigua. I highly recommend the Jetty Grill at the end of the beach. Chef Samantha will talk you through some of the local delicacies—conch croquettes, barbeque jerk chicken, goat water and more.

In our spa offerings, we have experienced therapists offering deeply restorative West Indian massage and Arawak massage. The Arawak massage makes reference to the indigenous people of the Caribbean; warm compresses and pressure points are used and is the perfect experience upon arrival to rejuvenate fatigued bodies and minds and acclimatize to the warmth and sunshine of island life.

Sallie: I’m a big foodie—please tell me about some of the choices offered at your four dining venues.

Cara: Our main restaurant is called Indigo. It’s open-air and located directly on the beach overlooking the sea. The freshly grilled whole lobster tail with garlic and lemon butter is served with asparagus, truffle and parmesan fries.

East restaurant is located within the pavilion. Entering through wood-carved Indonesian doors, you are transported to Asia with dishes inspired by Japan, Thailand and Indonesia. The tom yum goong and all the offerings on the sushi menu are delicious.

Ottimo, located poolside, offers casual dining with a wood-fired pizza oven. The menu features authentic Italian options and fresh salads with ingredients taken from our chef’s own herb and vegetable garden on the property. Light, simple and classic dishes such as margherita pizza and prosciutto de Parma with melon, arugula and balsamic vinegar are available.

The Jetty Grill is located at the end of the beach, with an open kitchen and barbeque and serves traditional Caribbean cooking. My personal favorites are Caribbean fish tea soup, ducana and salt-fish fritters with Antiguan chop up, goat water—and basically everything on the menu!

Our head chef also has some exquisite vegan offerings. There’s even a tasting menu: spiced barbeque pulled jack-fruit is a real treat when in season.

Sallie: So many of us are seeking balance now and looking for tips to reduce stress and support our immunity. What are some of the most effective “wellness tips” you’ve learned?

Cara: Meditation. It is essential for the times that we are living in and coping with stress to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, allowing the body and mind to switch off and relax.

I am an advocate of yoga nidra, which is a guided meditation allowing the body to progressively relax and turn off the rational mind, enabling you to really feel into the body, creating the right conditions for healing, processing, accessing deeper understanding and a higher state of awareness.

I also love the island as there is a slightly slower pace of life, which means that you can take time to appreciate and enjoy the simpler things—just being in the present moment.

Sallie: If I were planning a vacation at Carlisle Bay what are three “not to be missed” experiences during my visit?

Cara: Hiking the Goat Trail from English Harbor up to Shirley Heights. You can take a quick dip at the Mermaid Pools along the way to cool off and once you make it to the top, you can watch the sunset and see the spectacular views all the way over the harbor. If it’s a Thursday or Sunday evening then you can experience a barbeque with local delicacies, live music with dancing and a rum punch or two.

For horse riding enthusiasts or even for complete beginners, Spring Hill Stables is a fantastic experience: wonderful trails through the hills with scenic views of the south of the island. You can even trek down to the beach and take the horses swimming in the sea.

Fig Tree Studio Art Gallery is a beautiful location in the midst of the rainforest, shaded by giant silk cotton trees and royal palm trees. You can visit the studio and meet Sallie Harker, the owner and artist, who is more than happy to share the background on the variety of artists using all different mediums from Antigua and across the West Indies.

About Cara Doherty

Cara Doherty Carlisle Bay

Cara is spa director at Carlisle Bay on the beautiful island of Antigua.

Having been introduced to yoga at an early age, I have been practicing for more than twenty-five years, and therefore yoga has become an integral part of my life.

I take a gentle Hatha approach to the practice, making yoga accessible to all ages and abilities. My classes encourage the integration of body, mind and spirit—creating alignment within the body through physical practice (Asana) and focusing upon breathwork (Pranayama) to harmonize the free flow of energy.

I also practice traditional Thai massage, using targeted stretches and techniques such as pressure point massage, compression and joint mobilization to create ease of movement within the body, combined with elemental work, treating and rebalancing the system as a whole.

Over the last few years, I have organized retreats across Ireland and further afield, focusing on yoga, meditation and mindfulness. The purpose of these retreats is not only to promote physical well-being but to help develop awareness, focus the mind and cultivate resilience.

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