If you crave quiet beauty and an expedient exit from the cold, Anguilla is the answer with no less than 33 beaches, some rated the best in the Caribbean, a retreat where you can gently fall asleep to the soft crashing waves at night, wake up refreshed and take a walk or run upon the inviting sand.
Scuba divers delight in the coral reef amidst the "wreck diving capital" of the Caribbean with 9 ships deliberately sunk around the island, allowing the more adventurous to explore and weave their merry way amidst vibrant schools of fish. Back on shore, you may watch boat racing, Anguilla's national sport as locals cheer wildly just as we would at a football game. Boats carry distinctive names and sponsors print logos on the sails. Cricket is another favoured pastime.
Since Columbus who sailed nearby in 1493, the island was named Anguilla which means eel, derived probably from its long, narrow shape, a mere 30-minuite drive from one tip to the other. It's 26 km long by 5 km wide. Cars, bikes, and mopeds can all be rented.
With a diminutive size and small population of 13,500, an easy-going atmosphere prevails, locals exuding a serene charm, quite happy to make your acquaintance - from local cabbies (unmetered, with set rates) such as personable Will Hodge to a French-trained chef, Dale Carty, who happily explains that his restaurant was aptly named
Tasty's, where he serves up the ultimate Anguillan dish for us, succulent snapper garnished with rice and peas. On Shoal Bay's glittering mile-long sweep of sandy beach, the most popular of the 33, chatty Auntie Bea, a wrinkled elderly lady, merrily sells us attractively bright, home-made jewelry.
Anguilla is one of the lesser known Caribbean islands with a monthly mean temperature of 27C and little rain, making it a favourite destination for honeymooners and wealthy retirees who frequent the upscale resorts, five-star dining rooms and don't forget the yearly jazz festival which attracts aficionados from New York City. Anguilla also happens to be
a popular tax haven, with no capital gains, estate, profit or other forms of direct taxation on individuals or corporations. But I like the peaceful nature of this island, its simplicity with small cement homes where you often see goats tethered in a yard.
Beach options seem endless: Rendezvous Bay, Cove Bay and Mead's Bay beckon with long curved strands of sand. Smaller pocket beaches include Limestone Bay, known for its snorkeling, and Little Bay, reached only by boat. Captain's Bay and Junk's Hole Bay are more remote. Shoal Bay East is popular while Scrub Island, Prickly Pear and Dog Island are excellent snorkeling destinations. The dazzling white sand and lustrous blue-aquamarine water is intoxicating. From April through November, many of Anguilla's beaches are nesting grounds for leatherback, green and hawksbill turtles.
On land, try golf at Greg Norman-designed
Temenos Golf Club, horseback riding at
El Rancho del Blues, bird watching (136 species), biking and, of course, sampling spirits at the
Pyrat Rum Distillery. There are caves and grottos to explore and the Arawak "spirit eyes" or petroglyphs in the caverns at
Big Springs Heritage Site as well as the 1,000-year-old artifacts at the
Heritage Collection Museum. Art lovers enjoy touring Anguilla's 16 galleries, featuring a mélange of crafts, woodcarving, hand-blown glass and fine art. However, for shopping, take the ferry to
The Wallblake House, a restored 17th century plantation house, is the oldest and only surviving plantation house on the island. You might try Lobster Village at Island Harbor, the Salt Ponds at Sandy Ground or perhaps an island tour for $50 US.
Dolphin Discovery is a pool where one can interact and commune with dolphins.
The Warden's place is Anguilla's 2nd oldest property, dating back to the 18th century.
The MoonSplash Music Festival in March serves up three days of music, food and fun. In May, a regatta features seven yacht races over three days. August is time for Carnival, featuring parades, calypso competitions and traditional wooden-boat racing. Regional and international musicians perform at November's
Tranquility Jazz Festival.
Anguilla is one of the most northerly of the Leeward Islands in the
Lesser Antilles, lying east of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands and directly north of Saint Martin. The
Clayton J. Lloyd International Airport (formerly Wallblake Airport) is only a 5-minute drive from the capital, The Valley, where the police station and Princess Alexandra Hospital are both located. Gateways and flying times are: Antigua: 35 minutes. Puerto Rico: 1 hour. St. Kitts: 30 minutes. St. Maarten: 6 minutes. St. Thomas: 30 minutes. The regional carrier is LIAT, and because there are no direct scheduled flights to or from continental America or Europe, Puerto Rico is therefore a favoured route with Cape Air providing two daily non-stop flights to/from San Juan. At Anguilla, there's an airport departure tax of $20. Regular ferry service links Anguilla and the neighboring Saint Martin, a journey that takes twenty minutes. Aside from taxis, there is no public transport on the island, and be prepared for cars driven on the left.
Known as "the cuisine capital of the Caribbean," dining offers a delectable variety of gastronomic delights with more than 70 restaurants ranging from elegant, intimate gourmet seaside restaurants to casually chic beachfront bistros and affordable roadside grills. The food is influenced by native Caribbean, African, Spanish, French and English cuisine. Seafood is abundant and terrific. We sample prawns, shrimp, crab, spiny lobster, conch, mahi-mahi, red snapper, marlin and grouper - all delicious. Salt cod is a staple in stews, casseroles and soups. Goat is the most commonly eaten meat, utilized in a variety of dishes. Tipping is discretionary because there is a 15% service charge added to the bill. Accepted currency is Eastern Caribbean (EC) and US dollars.
At night, most resorts and hotels offer entertainment, and there are excellent local bands performing at such venues as Johnno's, The Pumphouse, Road Well Café and Ripples in Sandy Ground, Rafe's and the Red Dragon Dance Club in South Hill and the Dune Preserve on Rendezvous Bay.
Everyone here speaks English. From Will Hodge, I learn that the majority of residents (90%) are black, the descendants of slaves transported from Africa and that Christianity is Anguilla's predominant religion, with 29 % Anglican and 24 % Methodist.
And finally, if you enjoy treasure-hunting, the Dutch purportedly built a fort here in 1631, but as of today, no one has been able to find it.
The Anguilla Tourist Board
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.