Anguilla boasts that it has the best beaches on the Caribbean. And that’s a mighty boast. It has 33 of them. So my task is to check out this claim. I'm coming from Puerto Rico, which makes this territory number 234 and the last country in the Caribbean that I haven't visited.
Anguilla is a British Overseas Territory in the Caribbean, which consists of the main island of Anguilla, just 16 miles long by 3 miles wide, at its widest point, together with a number of much smaller islands and cays, with no permanent population. It lies directly north of Saint Martin and I almost made it there on a day trip, when I was on Saint Martin. Bad weather put a stop to that. Anguilla is Italian for eel- supposedly referencing the shape of the island.
Anguilla was first called Malliouhana, meaning rainbow, which was what the Carib Indians called the isle before the Spaniards visited. It's thought that Anguilla was first colonised by English settlers from St Kitts in 1650, who grew tobacco. There were the usual skirmishes with the French, who took control a couple of times. Tobacco was supplanted by sugar and then by cotton and slaves were imported from Africa to work the crop. During the early colonial period, Anguilla was administered by the British through Antigua;. But in 1825, it was placed under the administrative control of St Kitts and eventually, Anguilla was federated with St Kitts and Nevis in 1882. The Anguillans were very unhappy about this and remonstrated forcibly over succeeding decades. There were marches- apparently, with women and children at the front to deter retaliation. at one point a republic was even declared. The rebellion was quelled by British troops in 1969, concerned that the other alternative was government by the USA. Anguilla was finally allowed to secede and became first a colony and then a British Overseas Territory.
I’m beginning to think that Anguilla doesn’t want me. Talk about going down to the wire. Visit Anguilla explains that you need a permission certificate to enter. You should email in plenty of time before your visit to obtain initial approval and then get a Covid test and upload it to their portal. After you have got initial approval. They will check this, confirm you have final approval and you pay 50 dollars for yet another test on arrival. You can take a PCR up to 5 days beforehand or a rapid antigen test 48 hours before he plane lands.
But you’re not allowed to get a PCR on Puerto Rico without a doctor’s referral. Receptionists hint that this can be bought .But I'm not up for bribery. I get my antigen test 47 hours and 55 minutes before my scheduled arrival time. And upload it to the visit Anguilla portal. But I haven’t even had my initial approval yet. You certainly can’t wait to book flights until you’ve got that. My flight is on Sunday. Moreover, it’s closing time on Friday and the tourist office online says it doesn't operate on Saturday and Sunday. This is going to be interesting- and stressful.
My initial approval arrives at noon the next day, Saturday. Followed by a final approval at 3 pm that afternoon. I suppose it could have been worse.
The traditional route used to be to fly to Sint Maarten (which from the UK usually involves Antigua first) and then get the ferry over from outside the airport. I was going to make a day trip to Anguilla from Marigot Bay, when I was in St Martin. But the ferry was cancelled, due to bad weather. So here I am trying again. But now they’ve extended the runaway on the tiny airport (Clayton J. Lloyd International Airport - AXA) and jets, carrying up to 80 or so passengers, can fly in. But most of the traffic is smaller passenger flights from neighbouring islands. Or private planes. This is, for the most part, a clientele with money. My flight from Puerto Rico is with Tradewind Aviation. We have our own lounge, with food and drink, and our own departure channel. They’ve even given me a beach bag to use on board. It’s an 8 passenger Pilatus 12- everyone gets a window seat. The other 7 seats on my plane are taken up by a New York family. And we zip over the US Virgin Islands and then the British Ones. Very nice.
The territory's capital is The Valley. Right in the centre of the island, it’s home to about a thousand of Anguilla’s’ 15.000 people. There’s not much to see, because Anguilla was administered by St Kitts for much of the colonial period. There are the ruins of the Old Court House on Crocus Hill, the island's highest point (there’s very little left.) and The Wallblake House, a plantation home built around 1787, that is now owned by the Catholic Church (the parish priest lives there). However, next door’s St. Gerard's Catholic Church and chapel, with its unusual façade: pebbles, stones, cement, wood and tile is extremely photogenic.
My hotel has a great location above Sandy Ground Bay. It’s a fairly flat island and this is one of the higher points. I can see south across the sea to St Martin and north to Road Bay, more hills separated from us by the sandspit that is Sandy Ground Beach, backed by a large salt pond.
The rooms are lovely and the staff ultra friendly. The restaurant meals are exceptionally tasty – grouper, snapper, shrimp with creamy mashed potato. But there is no menu, no pudding and only a few guests dining. All very strange. I think everyone is coming to terms with Covid. The island has only been re-opened for a month or so.
The first beach, Sandy Ground, is just below my hotel. It involves a scramble down a sand and gravel path, to a gorgeous stretch of sand, azure water and no-one else at all .....just two wrecked boats clinging to the bottom of the cliffs. The isolated part of the beach is divided from what seems to be a much busier section of bay by two piers.
Access beyond a new, large concrete jetty, is barred by barricades and signs telling me that this area is under development and I may not enter. So I sneak through a gap on the bulldozed hard hat area and wonder what’s going on. I do hope it’s not a cruise boat terminal. Onto the road the other side and saunter the long way to the rest of the beach. The bay here is covered in bobbing boats and there are several shacks and bars alongside the water. Some of them are even open.
Many of the locals’ houses are in the same condition as the roads. Most of them look unfinished, with cables protruding from the roof. Maybe that’s to avoid tax on completed buildings. They’re in contrast to the secluded modern plate glass apartments and carefully blended in resort style hotels. Anguilla is expensive, despite the fact it’s so low key. All the food has to be imported and it attracts a high end clientele. St Barths is where you go up you want to be seen and Anguilla is where you go if you want to hide away. Apparently.
In theory, Anguilla uses the East Caribbean Dollar in currency. In practice, all the restaurants and bars price everything in US dollars. Though the lady in the supermarket did quote my bill in both currencies.
The remaining 32 beaches necessitate a car. ‘Hurrah’, I think I’m back to driving on the left . Except they’ve given me a car with an American configuration. The roads are narrow, quiet and in bad condition. There are nevertheless traffic lights and roundabouts. I’m navigating with my phone on my lap again. Google isn’t up to Anguilla at all. The lady who tells you what to do thinks I’m driving on the right hand side of the road and the roundabout instructions are consequently all back to front. But not always, just to be totally confusing. She can’t tell the difference between unmade roads that disappear into scrub and tarmacked routes and she’s certainly not up to date with the one way streets. And there are no signposts at all. Catastrophe.
Crocus Bay Beach, below Crocus Hill, is the nearest beach to the Valley. It’s picturesque, with more of the gorgeous soft white sand and ultra clear water, but this time the cliffs form more of an arc. There’s an upscale hotel restaurant, Da Vida, that lets you use the beach beds free if you eat there. The staff are attentive too. But I’m not going to recommend it, as I got very nasty food poisoning after partaking of ribs and a pina colada. It wiped out the rest of my time in Anguilla. And cost me 825 US Dollars.
Shoal Beach, on the north east coast, pushes the accolades even further. It’s billed as one of the best beaches in the world. Perhaps it deserves a place on my top 20. It is stunning. The softest of white sand and swirling turquoise and sapphire seas . But the ocean hasn’t quite the same magical quality as the Bahamas. Not too crowded, a few beach bars. Some high end hotels. A five dollar car park. If I knew the roads better I would have found the little free park the locals use.
What better way to spend a day? I’ve found a shady nook and thrown my towel and sarong onto the grass to stop them getting too sandy. Sadly, this is no ordinary grass. It’s armed with wicked little burrs that attach themselves to my garments and are utterly tenacious. They impale my feet if I step on them and cling to my hands as I attempt to remove them. It takes an hour. And now my fingers are sore and full of splinters.
Next up on the East End is Island Harbour. This is a fishing village and the bay is dotted with colourful small boats. Palm trees line the shores and provide atmospheric shade. It’s compact and neat and in the background the Scilly Cay – a small resort island.
Captain’s Bay Beach is also recommended as a perfect curve of sand. This is where Google really lets me down. I follow the north east coast road until it becomes a dirt track and then a very rocky potholed dirt track. Google exhorts me to turn right, but there is nothing to the right, except a rocky bush covered hill. I’m not risking that, and I’ve come to a dead end. I can see Captain’s Bay in the distance and beyond that the whole of the eastern tip of the island. That will have to do. It’s extremely perilous, trying to turn the car on the sloping track.
A trundle three miles west from Sandy Ground to, appropriately enough, the West End and Meads Bay. It’s an even wider version of Shoal Bay, with no shacks (except for posh restaurants with Shack in their name) a line of expensive villas, restaurants and resorts set well back from the water, so that they don’t intrude. More prominent, right on the headland, is the Four Seasons Resort. The west end is definitely the poshest part of town.
I’m ensconced on a sunbed right by the water that belongs to the Straw Hat restaurant in the Frangipani Resort. They’re free if you eat there. I’ve been given a flag to signal with if I desire anything. Paradise. My servant is, appropriately, named Angel.
The Four Seasons monopolises Barnes Bay, on the other side of its headland. This has slightly more golden squishy sand, but with rocky islet interest. Further west it’s quiet, though there are several more fancy resorts and villas.
South now. The crescent of white sand that constitutes Maunday’s Bay is exquisite. Possibly a contender for best beach in Anguilla. Except that it’s completely overtaken by the very swish Cap Juluca Resort. All beaches in Anguilla are free and they’ve let my car in on the resort road when I say I’m going to the beach. But I don’t suppose the sunbeds are free and it all looks very manicured and exclusive. I feel I’m intruding. It’s not for me.
The other side of the Cap Juluca Resort is Cove Bay. This is a total contrast. Sheltered, but wild and uninhabited. No buildings, just a broken concrete pier.
Beyond Cove Bay is Rendezvous Bay. This one is the longest Anguillan beach. It faces the island of St. Martin, nine miles away, and Grand Case, where I stayed when I was there. White sandy shores surrounded by palm trees, coconut trees and wild sea grape trees. Lovely, but lined with tastefully whitewashed villas and resorts and with slightly less character. There’s a fun bar, Dune, a labyrinth of decks, live music and a boat called Ganja.
The men in Anguilla are sadly still living in a different century. I’m hit on from the moment I get into the taxi from the airport. ‘Hi lovely.’ wafts down the street after me and the chef in the hotel restaurant won’t leave me alone. He pulls up a chair and rattles on while I’m eating, telling me how wonderful he is and what a shame I have an (invented) husband. It’s definitely a shame, as the food is delicious. But I’m going to have to find somewhere else to have my dinner.
I’ve read that the snorkelling in Anguilla is not great, but there are trips on boats on offer and some bays are said to be worth exploring. However, there’s a relatively strong easterly throughout my trip and boats don’t seem to be running. So I’ve give snorkelling a miss.
I’ve managed to cover all the main beaches on the island. Best beach in the world or even the Caribbean? I’m not so sure. But best beaches, as a collection, in the Caribbean, undoubtedly. They’re all utterly gorgeous.
I’m very sad to leave this beautiful and friendly island. Especially, as my beach time has been cut short by my illness. This time it’s an 80 passenger E170 back to Miami and home.
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