Shoal Bay East is just one of Anguilla’s spectacular beaches.
I’ve always loved Anguilla. It caught my imagination on my first, brief visit some 20 years ago. Back then, my wife and I were staying on St. Martin. We threw some clothes in a backpack and hopped on the ferry in Marigot. On arrival, we booked one night at the Ferryboat Inn, rented the remains of a Suzuki Sidekick and spent our time happily bouncing from beach to beach along some rather rough roads.
Since then, we have visited multiple times, from quick three-night getaways to week plus stays. And it has never disappointed.
So, it was with some trepidation that we booked our recent trip in June of this year (2019), given the tremendous devastation that the twin hurricanes of 2017, specifically Irma, had wrought on this beautiful part of the world. Irma had battered Anguilla. Many of its small iconic beach bars – including Dune Preserve and the Sunshine Shack — were completely destroyed. The big resorts, though solidly built (due in part to Anguilla’s stricter-than-most building codes), took more than their fair share of damage, resulting in closings ranging from several weeks to a year plus.
Yet, Anguilla has recovered remarkably well. Thanks to a sound infrastructure, financial help from the UK and the resilience, spirit and pure determination of the Anguillan people, the island was mostly back on its feet for the 2018 season and enters the 2019-20 peak season in excellent shape. Sadly, there were a few permanent casualties, mainly among the many beach bars, but the Dune, Sunshine Shack, Elvis, Gwen’s and other well-known names were up and running by the time we arrived. And the resorts are open, in many cases, even better than before.
Be warned – if you are seeking a cheap, action-packed getaway, Anguilla isn’t it. Hotel and resort prices in general range from ‘up there’ to ‘way up there’. There are relative deals, however – along with a less crowded scene – to be found off season. And it doesn’t have to be way off season. We have visited in the summer, and in the week right after the Christmas-New Year’s rush and found the prices a bit easier to take. We almost always find uncrowded beaches, friendly people and a relaxed, laid-back and all together great island experience a world away from nearby St. Martin and more than worth the somewhat premium prices.
For Canadians, and most others, the gateway to Anguilla is St. Martin. If you get your timing right, you can touch down, grab a taxi, have a cold beer or two at the charmingly minimalist Arawak Bar on the Marigot waterfront (still, sadly, looking a bit battered), hop on the no-frills public ferry and be at your resort in Anguilla in time for a pre-dinner rum punch. If that’s too complicated or you are in a rush, you can take your chances (if you don’t mind the bumps and an occasional splash) on one of the fast private ferry services that run from right across the road from Princess Juliana airport (bravely progressing towards pre-hurricane levels of efficiency). Most Anguillan resorts will organize this for you. There are also direct flights to its small airport from many neighbouring islands.
Once you get to Anguilla, be prepared to relax. There’s no duty-free shopping, limited nightlife (though the island is blessed with talented local musicians, including a couple of genuine stars) and few touristy tours or attractions. What you will find are truly superb beaches – Rendezvous Bay and Shoal Bay East are just two highlights – to visit and a choice of great places to stay and eat. The roads are better now, even after Irma, so explore the island. It has a lot of offer.
Resort accommodation on Anguilla has a reputation for being amongst the most luxurious in the Caribbean, and this trend seems to be continuing. See our reviews of Belmond Cap Juluca and Zemi Beach House Hotel & Spa for quick glances at a couple of options. But there are less expensive options, and pretty much anywhere you stay is likely to be on or close to a stunning beach.