Searching for the elusive Barbuda Sands Cocktail

Darcy Rhyno 6 August 2022

On a trip to Antigua and Barbuda, we track down the pink drink that was concocted in honour of Princess Diana's love of the islands

Sure, Antigua’s 365 beaches are reward enough for most visitors, but I’m on the Caribbean island in search of a legendary drink.

In fact, I’ve become a little obsessed as I scour bars for the Barbuda Sands Cocktail, a refreshment tied to royalty, movie stars and unimaginable beauty.

After a week of blank looks from bartenders all over Antigua, the day of my scheduled flight and group tour of Barbuda arrives. It seems that I’ll walk Barbuda’s blushing beaches before sipping their namesake cocktail.

On the short hop, eight-seater flight, there’s nothing to do but contemplate a storied cocktail and its island origins.

The cocktail, made with local rums, takes its name from its colour, which is said to mimic the shade of the legendary pink sands surrounding Antigua’s sister island, Barbuda.

"The cocktail takes its name from its colour, which is said to mimic the shade of Barbuda's legendary pink sands"

A bartender, whose identity is now lost, created it to honour Princess Diana, who fell in love with those rosy strands.

Princess Diana found refuge on sparsely populated Barbuda where paparazzi could be kept at a discreet distance. While her sons water skied, she strolled the lonely three-mile Coco Point Beach.

Diana visited for the last time just four months before her tragic death.

On July 1, 2011, on what would have been her 50th birthday, the country renamed this stretch Princess Diana Beach.

Officials released 50 floating lanterns, saying they “represent a light of hope for peace and harmo, and help spread Princess Diana’s message of building a peaceful future for all mankind.”

Visiting the islands of Antigua and Barbuda

A flock of frigatebirds nest amongst mangrove treesOn top of its stunning beaches, Barbuda is also home to fascinating wildlife, like the frigatebirds

Although the islands form one nation—the commonwealth country of Antigua and Barbuda, independent since 1981—the two differ greatly.

Mostly ancient volcano, Antigua’s steep hills and rich soils make a varied and productive landscape that for nearly 300 years was the site of up to 160 sugar plantations.

Today, most of Antigua’s 100,000 residents live on tourism and subsistence farming.

In contrast, at half the size, Barbuda is a hot, dry limestone desert barely rising above sea level.

Because there’s no farmland to speak of, the 1500 residents survive mostly on tourism. The island remains relatively undeveloped, so sustainable tourism is the goal.

Many have signed a petition against plans by Robert De Niro and billionaire James Packer to build a $300 million resort on Princess Diana Beach.

Discovering Diana's Barbuda

On the whirlwind daytrip to Barbuda, I find myself on a bouncing boat ride aboard Doublimpact, Clarence Nibbs’ converted fishing skiff, skipping across Codrington Lagoon National Park.

Nibbs pulls into shallow waters protected by mangroves and quietly noses up to a colony of magnificent frigatebirds. Gangly, fuzzy chicks are perched wing to wing across the branches. At arm’s length, they regard us with indifference, but Nibbs warns me against reaching a hand toward those hungry beaks.

From the colony, it’s off again at warp speed to the edge of the lagoon behind Pink Sand Beach. We wade through the shallows and over the crest of low dunes to discover unimaginable beauty. For a long time, no one can speak.

"We’re standing on an endless, empty strand, its sands blushing in gentle waves of pink"

We’re standing on an endless, empty strand, its sands blushing in gentle waves of pink, rose and pale salmon as the water laps along its length.

These soft watercolours blush before a sea of surreal turquoise beneath a cobalt sky stuffed with billows of white.

It’s then that I truly understand Princess Diana’s attraction to this place. I imagine her luxuriously alone and lost in wonder at her own pink footprints pressed into sands tinted by trillions of tiny shells.

Shaken awake by Nibbs, beckoning us back to his boat, I discover that I’ve been smiling the whole time.

A taste of Barbuda

Bartender Kevin Isaacs holds up a cocktail glass containing a frothy peach pink drink and strawBarbuda's Pineapple Beach Club is the new home to Princess Di's Caribbean cocktail

Back on the island, we’re driven its length to Uncle Roddy’s, a bar and restaurant with food and drinks bafflingly varied and delicious for its remote location.

Feeding my obsession, I ask bartender Roland Kovacs if he’s ever heard of the Barbuda Sands Cocktail.

"No, but we make Barbuda Passion.” Kovacs moved here from London just three years ago, so his response is not surprising. “We try to bring international, high level cocktail ingredients to the Caribbean.”

He mixes and shakes with Tom Cruise flair, but the Passion is made with gin and arrives orange.

On the return flight, I begin to lose hope that I’ll ever complete my quest. Back at my resort, the Pineapple Beach Club, I make one last attempt.

"The secret to the correct colour, it turns out, is guava juice"

At reception, I ask about the cocktail, and because no guest request is ever dismissed outright, they promise to investigate. A meeting is scheduled with one of the resort’s bartenders.

After a few quiet hours on the beach—lovely, but not pink—I head to the bar.

Kevin Isaac has given it some thought, sent to town for ingredients and is about to take a shot at recreating a legend.

He blends Caribbean distilled coconut and dark rums with lime and pineapple juices. The secret to the correct colour, it turns out, is guava juice. After shaking with ice, he pours the frothy blend into a glass and garnishes with pineapple and a cherry.

One sip confirms its quaffable, Caribbean character. The colour qualifies it as mission accomplished. The Pineapple Beach Club is now home to a legend, the Barbuda Sands Cocktail Redux, a drink befitting a princess and in hues reminiscent of Barbudaful beaches.

Barbuda Sands Cocktail recipe

Ingredients:

30ml Cavalier Gold Rum
30ml Kokocaribe Coconut Rum
60ml pineapple juice
30ml guava juice
A squeeze of fresh lime juice
Ice
1 thick slice of Antigua black pineapple
1 cherry

Method:

  1. Add rums and juices to ice in a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously.
  2. Pour into a hurricane glass.
  3. Garnish with pineapple and cherry.

(Substitute similar ingredients where necessary)

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