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Welcome to one of the Caribbean's best kept secrets! A born and bred Californian, fate helped me fall into life in one of the most beautiful places on the planet, the small Caribbean island of Anguilla.
As guests to the island will attest, Anguilla (pronounced an-GWILL-uh) is a veritable gem within the Caribbean landscape. Visitors feel as though they’ve stepped into a Photoshopped beach scene the first time they step ashore in Anguilla, located 200 miles east of Puerto Rico and just seven miles from neighboring St. Maarten. Revered for its vivid turquoise waters and blindingly white sand, this small Caribbean island nation is famed for its 33 pristine beaches, exceptional dining scene and its reputation as a playground for celebrities looking to fly under the radar.
Smaller, high-end cruise lines call on Anguilla — Seabourn, SeaDream, Star Clippers — while you won't find the likes of Carnival or Royal Caribbean. Unlike its glitzy neighbor St. Barths to the south, Anguilla is all about barefoot luxury and relishing in the simple pleasures of sun, sand and the ever-present rum punch.
Anguilla was severely hit by Hurricane Irma in September 2017, but the island quickly recovered, and most venues catering to tourists are up and running again.
A local videoblogger describes her five favorite beaches in Anguilla in this 3½-minute video.
Anguilla’s beaches are its claim to fame, and relaxing beachfront under a thatched palapa certainly counts as an activity on the island. Take a stroll down Meads Bay, Shoal Bay East (the island's most popular beach) or Rendezvous Bay for vast stretches of powdery white sand and turquoise hues that will take your breath away. Another beach option is Cove Bay, with long curved strands of sand.
Top choices for snorkelers include Limestone Bay, lined with pocket beaches, and Little Bay, reached only by boat. Scrub Island, Prickly Pear and Dog Island are other great snorkeling destinations.
Accessible by boat, tourists and locals will attest to the fact that Little Bay is one of Anguilla’s gems. A marine preserve surrounded by dramatic cliffs and super-tranquil waters, it’s the perfect place for snorkeling or for watching the sunset. For the more adventurous, climb up Little Bay’s famed rock and take the plunge.
What better to do on an island than get involved with water sports? Jet skis may be banned in Anguilla (they’ve been deemed too noisy for this tranquil island), but you can get involved with water activities from kite surfing and tubing to stand up paddle-boarding and sailing.
Hop on a boat to explore Anguilla’s off-island cays and you’ll feel like you’ve fallen into a postcard. Perfectly placed slices of sand off of Anguilla’s north side, Prickly Pear Cays, Sandy Island and Scilly Cay all offer a place to snorkel, lounge and dine. Visit Scilly Cay on a Sunday for a perfect blend of live music and mind-blowing cuisine.
Activities on land include horseback riding, bird watching (there are 136 species), biking and stand-up paddle boarding along the vivid coastal waters.
Art aficionados will enjoy touring Anguilla’s 16 galleries, which feature a mix of local and Caribbean crafts, woodcarving, hand-blown glass and fine art. Visit Anguilla’s Heritage Museum for insight into the island’s rich history. Founded by Anguilla historian Colville Petty, the museum displays 1,000-year-old Amerindian/Arawak artifacts and chronicles the 1967 (peaceful) revolution, which eventually resulted in its status as a British Overseas Territory. Pop in for a chance to talk with Petty and glean some local knowledge.
No visit to Anguilla is complete without a night in Sandy Ground, Anguilla’s unofficial nightlife capital. Dine on the beach and then head to Elvis’ Beach Bar and The Pumphouse for the ultimate in beach bar experiences. Other options in Sandy Ground include Johnno’s and Dad's for Caribbean tunes and a local crowd. Further out, there's Bankie Banx's world-famous Dune Preserve on Rendezvous Bay.
Anguilla’s dining scene offers travelers a wide variety of choices, with more than 70 dining experiences ranging from elegant, intimate gourmet seaside restaurants to casually chic beachfront bistros and festive, affordable roadside grills.
The beaches are all extraordinarily family-friendly in Anguilla — swimsuits are not optional on the island, they’re required — and are perfect for little ones looking to splash around. For non-beach options, head to the Heritage Museum or Dolphin Discovery Center.
Round up your friends and charter Tradition, a traditional West Indian sailboat that sets sail out of Sandy Ground. A private charter allows you to choose your Anguillan adventure, cutting across the Caribbean to visit off-island cays or idling at sunset while sipping cocktails on the deck.
Anguilla is warm year-round with summer bringing slightly higher temperatures and humidity.
Anguilla jettisons the notion of a luxury destination requiring you to don your finest when stepping out. While a fine-dining establishment gives you the opportunity to play dress up, sundresses or nice shorts are perfectly accepted attire. For men, a nice pair of shorts and a button down will get you into even the poshest of restaurants.
Anguilla is home to a small port, Road Bay, in Sandy Ground, where ships dock. Only the smallest ships can pull in and tenders are required.
Taxis are available from Sandy Ground for those looking to explore other areas of the island. Rental cars are available for visitors and can be delivered directly to Sandy Ground for guests. In addition to the rental fee, rentals require the purchase of a temporary driver's license ($20) to legally navigate Anguilla’s roads. Have your driver’s license ready to show the rental agency.
Many of the cafes on Anguilla have free Wi-Fi. Just look for the signs.
Documents needed: U.S. and Canadian citizens need a passport.
Language: English, with West Indian flair.
Currency: The Eastern Caribbean dollar (XCD) is the official currency though the U.S. dollar is accepted everywhere.
Safety: Crime is virtually nonexistent in Anguilla but visitors should take standard precautions.
Have you been to Anguilla? Tell me about your experience with a comment or write a short article. If you'll be visiting, drop me a line!
‘‘(Anguilla) doesn't offer a lot of the usual volcanic, green Caribbean scenery, but its 30-some beaches are world-class beauties and many of them remain undeveloped.’’
“Happiness is the sea shuttle from Sandy Ground to Sandy Island. The island has a beach and a little beach shack where the thing to get is the crayfish. That and JoJo's rum punch.”
‘‘Unlike its volcanic neighbors, Anguilla’s flat, limestone landscape gives way to some incredible beaches. Our favorites are Shoal Bay, Meads Bay, and the wild, blustery Junks Hole, where you’ll find offshore reefs that evoke Robinson Crusoe fantasies.’’
“This British West Indies Isle is glam, no doubt. It's a go-to haven for celebs escaping the limelight, and know for its gourmet scene at resorts like CuisinArt. But even the former sous chef at Cap Jaluca likes to keep it real, which he now does on a daily basis, serving some of the island's best food out of a truck near the post office in the Valley. The $14 lobster quesadilla at Hungry's Good Food rivals other showier preparations, and the goat soup (which I ordered only after a strong nudge from a local behind me in line) was surprisingly tender. Best part, though? Taking all of it with me to the beach and plopping down on the sand.”