Anguilla, West Indies
Discover The Caribbean's Secret Gem
Once a secret hideaway, Anguilla has come into its own as a Caribbean hot spot for Hollywood starlets and honeymooners alike. But don't let Anguilla's popularity scare you away: it is certainly well-deserved, as proven by this island's beautiful beaches, posh resorts and overall laid-back charm. There are 33 beaches on this 16-mile stretch of island, and the best part is that they are all open to the public. This is truly a dream for beach hoppers looking to check out a few sandy shores before settling down on one. One of the most popular beaches is Shoal Bay, a 2-mile strip of pearly-white sand on the Atlantic side that has a convenient equipment rental on site for visitors. Rendezvous Bay is another gem, renowned for its stunning seascape and shallow, family-friendly water. With the powdery beaches and tranquil atmosphere, most visitors will find it hard to peel their bodies off their beachside lounge chair. However, there is plenty to explore both on land and under the sea. The island's coral reefs provide snorkeling fans with the perfect backdrop of vivid coral gardens, bright schools of fish and low-gliding stingrays. At Stoney Bay Marine Park there is a sunken Spanish ship dating back to the 18th century that is an underwater treasure trove for scuba enthusiasts. But if you just want to pull that beach chair under a palm tree and spend the day staring out at the azure waters, no one is going to argue with that.
Nearest Major International Airport: While visitors cannot get a direct flight from North America, Anguilla is a short flight from other Caribbean destinations. Most flights connect through San Juan or St. Maarten to Wallblake airport. Island hoppers can also take a ferry from St. Maarten to the Blowing Point ferry terminal.
Ground Transportation: The best way to get around the island is by cab. But for those diehard explorers who wish to trek around the island without a schedule, a rental car is a great option. However, drivers must apply for a temporary license and, keeping to Anguilla's British ties, keep on the left side of the road.
As the temperatures drop in the winter, tourism booms in the Caribbean. Anguilla is no exception to this rule. The high season runs from December through April, and visitors can expect the prices to go up during this time. The average monthly temperature hovers around a very pleasant 80 F.
A trip to Anguilla's famed beaches does come at a cost -- and a high one at that. The island's popularity has exploded in recent years, thanks to vacationing movie stars and plenty of media attention, and of course, those stunning beaches. The grand dame of the beach is surely Cap Juluca with its striking Moorish buildings, secluded rooms and some of the island's best beaches. The prices at CuisinArt Resort and Spa may be steep, but foodies will surely overlook the expense once they get a tour or the resort's awesome hydroponic farm and enroll in cooking classes at the gorgeous stadium kitchen. The Arawak Beach Inn on Island Harbour Beach has 17 pastel beach bungalows that fit the bill for budget-conscious travelers. Many of the rooms are equipped with kitchens to help cut costs even further. On the opposite extreme there are private villas, where the island's wealthiest visitors relax and unwind. Visitors looking for the atmosphere of a private home at a (somewhat) lower cost should consider the resort at Covecastles.
The island's culinary specialties include spiny lobster and other treats from the sea as well as traditional dishes made with goat. Many of the island's best restaurants come with a view of the water and a high price. The most romantic dinner might be served at Malliouhana Restaurant; its sweeping ocean views and dreamy candlelit setting provide the ideal backdrop for an elegant French meal. The meals at Blanchard's can tempt even the most sophisticated palate, and the restaurant's relaxed elegance can't be beat. The tiny cottage that is home to Hibernia only has room for 11 tables, making it a great choice for an intimate and creative epicurean adventure. Finally, for diners looking to keep the tab low and the atmosphere casual, Ripples and The Pumphouse Bar & Grill fit the bill.
The rest of the world has caught on to this not-so-secret hideaway, and Anguilla's resorts are considered to be some of the best in the entire Caribbean. This means that it's important to book early so that rooms aren't filled up. Also, many of the island's resorts shut down for the months of September and October, so plan accordingly.
While You're There
Put on some dark shades and pretend you're dodging the paparazzi like the rest of the Hollywood stars enjoying cocktails and live music at the beach bar at Johnno's.
Hail a boat from the dock at Island Harbour and get onboard for the 3-minute boat ride to Scilly Cay. This private island is a great pick for sunbathing, snorkeling and feasting on the grilled lobster and infamous rum punch.
Shopaholics take note: A 20-minute ferry ride will take you to French St. Maarten for an afternoon of browsing and bargaining at that island's many shops.
To Fake That You've Been There
Invite your friends over for an island-themed barbecue and brag about your run-ins with Jennifer Aniston or Gwyneth Paltrow at one of the many resorts while you mix up a tasty rum punch.
Linking for a Better Vacation
For more information, visit the Anguilla Tourist Board.