The morning I received an invitation to visit Anguilla Island for a food festival the first thing I thought was:
Is that one of those many tiny islands in the Caribbean?
And so I was a bit humbled to admit I knew nothing about Anguilla.
In fact, I had been pronouncing it in a spanish manner (an-gee-ya) for a few weeks before realizing it was an English pronunciation then I pronounced it wrong (an-gwee-la) for three days until someone told me it rhymes with vanilla (an-gwill-a).
But Anguilla isn’t just any island.
This may be my favourite Caribbean island.
Am I allowed to choose favourites? There’s no bad place in the Caribbean but if someone asked me to suggest an island for a special vacation I would immediately say Anguilla.
It’s been voted best island in the Caribbean for the last two years by Travel + Leisure readers (sorry Cuba). And it’s because not only is it stunning, but it’s also not crowded and so many times you can have an entire beach to yourself.
And while every wannabe instagrammer is living their best life eating a disgusting smoothie bowl in Tulum, Mexico the real celebrities are visiting Anguilla because no one else is there.
Apparently St.Barth’s is the place to be seen and covered on TMZ, Anguilla is the place for celebrities to truly relax because there are 33 beaches and you often don’t have to share them with anyone.
Liam Neeson has been coming here for years, as have Beyonce and Jay-Z, Kevin Bacon, and of course you know Leonardo DiCaprio has been here. Denzel Washington like it so much he bought a villa in Shoal Bay.
For the record I didn’t see anyone, which is ok because I’m more interested in the local food.
Travelers love Anguilla because it’s a true mix of luxury travel without the crowds. Cruise ships don’t stop in Anguilla, there are no massive hotels or casinos.
There are NO franchise restaurants here.
If you want to shop this is not the Caribbean island to visit as there are no malls, although there are small galleries and the hotel gift shops tend to be carefully curated. And while Jimmy Buffet reportedly visits often there is no tacky Margaritaville bar – thank gawd.
The New York Times called Anguilla island “a kind of British St.Bart’s.”
I think that undermines just how special Anguilla really is. Some say it’s like other Caribbean countries before they became overcrowded. I wouldn’t know. All I know is that it’s one of the few places I’ve been that I want to tell everyone about but also keep to myself so it’s left unspoiled.
You want to take your honeymoon here, or an anniversary – or better yet gather all your friends and take a girl’s trip everyone will talk about for years.
The Basics of Traveling to Anguilla Island
Every island in the Caribbean is different so it’s best to get these FAQs out of the way.
History of Anguilla
Arawaks were the first settlers in Anguilla, they came from South America and settled throughout the Caribbean.
The Europeans gave them this name and to differentiate the group the Caribbean Arawaks were often called Taino – a fact that may not be of interest to you but it is to me because the Taino also settled in Cuba.
For some reason in Anguilla they are still referred to as Arawak, but the details don’t matter. What does matter is that they were here first. They named the island Malliouhana, which means arrowhead. It was later named Anguilla, which means eel.
But then Europeans decided to occupy the Americas. For several hundred years the French and English fought over the islands.
The British created plantations, which were fuelled by slaves from Africa. But unlike other Caribbean islands, Anguilla is not fertile. Most of the land is limestone and so the plantations were not successful and the British left.
Less than a century later Anguilla island was forced into a federation with St.Kitts, but Anguillans did not feel that there was a benefit for them. They were able to separate in 1951 and today continue to remain a British overseas territory.
Where is Anguilla Island Located?
Just off St.Maarten island, Anguilla is one of the British Leeward Islands in the East Caribbean that also includes Antigua, Barbuda, Montserrat, Saint Christopher, Nevis and the British Virgin Island.
How to Get to Anguilla?
Most people fly into St.Maarten’s Princess Juliana International Airport and take a 20 minute ferry to Anguilla Island. It’s less expensive and there are more departure options. Or you can fly directly into Anguilla.
FYI: St. Martin/St.Maarten island is home to two colonies. The island is split in two. The St.Maarten side is Dutch and home to the airport. The St.Martin side is French.
Fly into St. Maarten
St.Maarten is a three hour flight from Miami with American Airlines.
I used Calypso Charters ferry. They picked me up at the airport, but it is literally next door to to airport. You could walk across the street.
They take your bags and put them on the boat for you and have free refreshments for the twenty minute ride. Apparently the rum punch is amazing but I found out while on Anguilla so when I left it was 7am and felt like I should not ask for an alcoholic drink so early.
Calypso airport shuttles are $65 one way.
On returning you do need to pay a $23 exit fee at the port. It accepts both cash and visa. You must be at the airport early as they are currently renovating and there could be lines. The food choices are limited and pricey. There is also no airport wifi but Dominos has open wifi.
There are also no outlets to charge electronics. Although it looks like that will change as I saw outlets in progress but they did not have power yet.
Longer Option: Public Ferry
There is a public ferry that leaves from the French side of the island. The ferry is cheaper but you’ll need to take a cab for the ten minute drive and it costs $20 USD.
Public ferry fees are $12 during the day and $15 in the evening.
There is also the departure tax from Anguilla to St. Martin, Marigot Wharf (French-side) via the Public Ferry Service. It is $23 USD.
Flights to Anguilla
You can fly directly into Wallblake Airport (AXA) although it is a smaller airport with less desirable connections and a higher price.
International carries include:
American Eagle: from Puerto Rico
Leeward Islands Air Transport: from St.Thomas and Antigua
Winward Islands Airway: from St.Maarten
Caribbean Packing List
Pack as you would for a sun holiday but don’t forget the following:
- Reef safe sunscreen
- insect spray
- beach cover up (the sun is strong)
- electrolyte powder (did I mention the sun is strong?)
- collapsible metal straw (single use plastic, including straws are banned, and paper straws are horrible)
- snorkel set, this one is highly recommended
Best Things to Do in Anguilla
I did a lot of research about Anguilla island before arriving. To be honest this isn’t an island where there are a lot of things to see. But if you want to get off the beach you can independently tour the heritage trail.
I didn’t get to see all of these because I was on a press trip and I travel to eat!
But I wanted to share my list and I hope to return soon and will be checking these things off my list. There are plenty of water activities, although you’ll never catch me kite surfing. However, it is one of the best things to do on the island and a great place to learn.
Anguilla’s Historic Catholic Church
This historic church is the only Catholic church on the island. It was built with local rock and you can walk inside. It’s next to a Protestant church as well as Wallblake House.
A former plantation, I was told that Anguilla doesn’t have the same history of slavery as other islands. Although it was initially occupied by the French and then the British, the land in Anguilla is primarily limestone – notoriously bad for farming.
Plantations didn’t perform well because the land was not suitable. Instead of the island revolting to reclaim their land similar to countries like Jamaica, European colonialists made the first move and left for other countries. Land was distributed and today most land on the island is Anguillan owned as it continues to pass from generation to generation.
The Wallblake House is owned by the neighbouring Catholic church and is used for community events.
Anguilla’s Farmers Market
If you’re buying local food visit the Saturday market across from Ken’s BBQ on the strip. The building was hit during Hurricane Irma so it’s just the cement shell and not an official market.
But farmer’s kept coming so the locals did as well. Although spots haven’t been designated there’s an understanding of who is where each week.
If you’re buying at the supermarket the weekly container of imported produce apparently comes on Wednesdays so hit the stores on Thursdays.
Guided Rum Tasting
While Anguilla does not have its own rum, in some ways I think that makes a rum tasting even better as there’s no national loyalty.
I went to the beautiful Rum Room at Zemi Beach for a tasting with a group and we had a lot of fun.
But the informal rum tasting at CuisinArt Resort’s KazBar with Jamal Hodge blew me away. I left my bar stool with 6 pages of notes (post coming soon!) and a new appreciation of rum. It was clear he not only had a passion for rum, but the knowledge and energy to inspire anyone to become a rum connoisseur.
Even if you’re not staying at CuisinArt Resort find out how you can book a tasting with Jamal because it’s amazing.
Kite Surfing and Wind Boarding
Kite surfing is huge here, the winds here are calm but strong enough to make for ideal conditions. I’ll never do this but may people list it as one of the best things to do in Anguilla.
Shoal Bay East is often listed as the best snorkelling in Anguilla. But it’s not the only spot.
Little Bay is more difficult to reach, easiest by boat as otherwise you’d need to find the rope that allows you to climb down a jagged cliff. It’s a marine preserve and not many people come here so you’ll have space to explore.
Sandy Island, Crocus Bay and Prickly Pear are also local favourites if you’re keen to explore the island underwater.
If you’re interested in bird watching head to East End Pond, this shallow 13 acre pond is the place to go. It’s a protected area that’s managed by the Anguilla National Trust.
Anguilla is known to have fantastic spas, and both Zemi Beach and Cuisinart offer incredible services.
I really like that Zemi Beach ties in its Taino heritage. But I also loved the deep tissue massage at CuisinArt Resort. I have a lot of issues from working at a laptop while on the road and the massage was very therapeutic – I asked him to crush me and that’s exactly what he did.
Not only are there are number of reefs offshore at Junks Hole there are historic shipwrecks (with cannons still in tact) at Anguilla Island and seven different marine parks.
If you don’t have your PADI certification you can take it on the island.
Deep Sea Fishing
Chartering a boat for deep sea fishing is very popular. You can find marlin, swordfish, black fin tuna amongst other sporting fish around the island.
World Class Golfing
Anguilla is home to an 18-hole Greg Norman Signature Course, and it’s the only golf course on the island.
Located at the CuisinArt Resort, green fees are what you would expect for a Greg Norman course so prepare to pay for the quality of a champions resort. No need to bring your own clubs, the rentals are considered to be amongst the best.
Fountain Cavern National Park’s Petroglyphs
Evidence of Anguilla’s first settlers remains inside the Big Spring collapsed cave. The petroglyphs are known as Spirit Eyes, you can also see petroglyphs at Fountain Cavern National Park.
A small strip of ground with a beach and string of restaurants and shops, Sandy Ground is a popular local spot despite having a lot of boat traffic. There are lots of fun beach bars and other spots where you can find local food and drink at reasonable prices.
A small cay off Sandy Ground Sandy Island was once one of the top things to do in Anguilla, but after Hurricane Irma and a fire in July 2018, much of it was destroyed including one of the iconic beach bars.
However, it is rebuilding and there have been lots of discussions amongst locals to support weekly theme nights. The iconic Pumphouse is gone but soca and jazz at Johnno’s is still there.
The Facebook page is still active if you want to check out weekly events.
Heritage Museum Collection
If you’re looking for a bit of culture Anguilla’s Heritage Museum will surprise you. This small museum is the person collection of Colville Petty OBE, who has been collecting Anguilla island historical and cultural items.
Eat at The Strip in the Valley
This was one of my FAVOURITE things to do in Anguilla. It wasn’t because it was food, but it’s because it’s where you’ll hang out with other locals.
The Strip started with iconic Ken’s barbecue, and later more food stalls joined and so you can get a number of different traditional Anguilla food for local prices. Also you can try some non-traditional food like Indian.
Some stalls are open all day so you can go to Ken’s for lunch. More is open in the evenings and Friday night is the time to go. Food stalls are open until 2am and the Latin bar is open late until 4am.
Anguilla doesn’t really have a late night food scene so this is your best bet after midnight.
Best Beaches in Anguilla
There are 33 beaches in Anguilla and the truth is that it’s pretty tough to find a bad beach on the island. However, not all beaches on Anguilla island are accessible by land, in some cases you’ll need to take a boat to reach them and so many tour operators will include these remote spots as part of a tour.
If you’re looking for a spot with restaurants and beach bars you’ll want to hit up Shoal Bay, Rendezvous Bay, Sandy Ground or Meads Bay.
You can also find bars on Sandy Island and Scilly Cay, but you’ll need to get a boat – don’t worry there are plenty of people who will offer to taxi you there for a small fee.
If you want to get away from everyone consider the other beaches but remember you’ll need to bring your own food and drink, and don’t forget an umbrella – the sun is HOT!
Traditional Food on Anguilla Island
Anguilla island is home to some fantastic seafood, barbecue and lots of great Caribbean dishes with its own unique spin.
I wrote this post on Anguilla food if you’re interesting in eating local. It deserved it’s own post.
One of my favourite spots was JW Procter supermarket. It not only features a lot of local farmers, it also brings in food from Dominica and other areas of the Caribbean. So if you’re making a local recipe it will have all of the ingredients.
The bakery is also fascinating as local bakers bring their goods to the bakery and the supermarket sells it on their behalf.
Best Restaurants in Anguilla
There are over 70 restaurants for only 15,000 people. And the diversity is crazy. You can get lots of traditional Anguillan cuisine, but also have incredible French food, sushi or pizza. And unlike other Caribbean islands, the Anguillan lobster is served year round – how could you miss out.
Tipping is customarily 10-15% of the bill. Many restaurants add it automatically, but not all so make sure to check your bill.
Palm Grove Barbecue Grill
Palm Grove Bar and Grill is better known as Nat’s Place. This is definitely off the beaten track. So much so that one of the locals who drove us here couldn’t find it right away.
It’s at the end of Savannah Bay which has an amazing beach, and few people are on it. I recommend placing an order and then hitting the beach.
A family owned business. Nat and his wife started it 25 years ago and the menu hasn’t changed much over the years. His son is now cooking and they serve lobster, crayfish, whole fish and shrimp. There’s also barbecue for people who are too foolish not to order seafood.
The restaurant took off in 1995 Bon Appetit wrote about it, and a year later the New York Times followed.
Today you can still find Nat making the rounds talking to people who come back year over year. Lots of people come but you need some time because everything is cooked to order so lobster takes 25 minutes and the chicken is 40 minutes. So place your order and take a walk on the beach.
The funny thing is that Nat is known for the seasoning on his shellfish and his homemade hot sauce but he can’t actually eat either.
He’s allergic to all shellfish and he finds the hot sauce too hot, yet he refuses to change it.
Read more reviews on TripAdvisor.
Palm Grove Barbecue Grill
Junks Hole (1,578.15 mi), Anguilla
Located in Zemi Beach House, this is the fine dining restaurant on the resort. You can eat inside or there’s an outside patio (hint: perfect if you have kids).
There’s a new chef from Portugal leading a seasonal menu change that features local flavours presented in a new way – like a lobster cappuccino instead of traditional lobster bisque and deconstructed desserts.
Also if you’re intimidated by sommeliers, you’ll love Stone Restaurant. She is incredibly knowledgeable and charming and pairs like a pro.
Shoal Bay East, Shoal Bay Village, West Indies, Anguilla
The Beach Bar at CuisinArt
I was most interested in eating here as there are lots of local and traditional Anguilla food on the menu. I can vouch for the conch fritters and seared local tuna.
The snapper ceviche was not a traditional ceviche but instead surprisingly creamy so I’d recommend the baked snapper instead if you haven’t had local snapper.
Island Harbour is currently being built with a boardwalk and other areas for tourists to visit. You’ll find fishermen docking their boats here so you know it’s going to be fresh.
If I could only eat 3 lunches a day! I didn’t have room to eat here but I heard the fish bits are killer. You can read reviews here.
Island Harbour, Anguilla
One of my favourite spots, Sunshine Shack is just a short walk down from CuisinArt on Rendezvous Bay. There’s nothing better than barbecue, unless it’s barbecue on the beach with frozen drinks and reggae tunes.
It has a 4.5-star rating on TripAdvisor and is very popular. It opens at 10:30am daily (closed Tuesdays) Make sure you don’t come late afternoon if you want lobster. It is so popular there was only one left when we ordered!
Rendezvous Bay Beach
I wouldn’t normally choose to eat at a Japanese restaurant in the Caribbean, but Anguilla is known for its fish.
This may be one of the best hotel restaurants I’ve visited. The sushi was incredibly fresh and the wagyu beef was so good that although I couldn’t eat it all I insisted I’d bring it home and eat it. The next day as I waited in line at security in Miami airport I pulled it out and it was the most luxurious finger food.
Since then I’ve heard many people ask if I had eaten there as it has an excellent reputation. I can vouch that it is well deserved.
Where to Stay in Anguilla
Although Anguilla seems like a luxury Caribbean island, the holiday can be whatever you like. If you want five-star resorts there are many that are known around the world.
Other travelers don’t care about the accommodation because it’s the beach they came for. It is entirely possible to do a non-luxury trip here as well.
There are lots of bed and breakfasts and smaller hotels that cater to smaller budgets and have kitchenettes. Local food here is affordable and supermarkets like JW Procter serve the local population.
Owned by the Cuisinart family known for kitchen appliances, this resort was rebuilt after Hurricane Irma.
On Tuesdays they have a famous Lobster BBQ buffet on the beach for $95 all you can eat lobster, brisket, fish, lamb and much more.
If you have children, this resort has a splash pad so impressive it should be called a kids water park.
Resorts and Residences by CuisinArt
Rendezvous Bay Rendezvous Bay, Anguilla, Anguilla
Zemi Beach House
There are hotels and resorts and then there is Zemi. It was a tough resort to leave and probably my favourite accommodation in 2019. There are a number of different options, some with multiple rooms, or private infinity rooms. If you have a group they have large spaces as well.
I missed the Thursday Caribbean night at Zemi’s where they have live music and a Caribbean BBQ. However, my first experience was breakfast, which has traditional breakfast food but also lots of savoury things like grilled vegetables for people like me who hate breakfast!
And the spa. Get a treatment and stay all day. The Thai inspired grounds are beautiful and you’ll want to stay a few hours.
If someone asked me where to stay to make a truly special holiday I wouldn’t hesitate. Seriously, when can I go back?
Zemi Beach House, Resort and Spa
Shoal Bay East, Shoal Bay Village, West Indies, Anguilla
Anguilla Great House Beach Resort
I didn’t stay here but I wanted to include it as we did ask to peek into the rooms. Anguilla Great House is a fantastic example of budget-friendly accommodation.
It’s an Anguillan-style property with cottages looking onto Rendezvous Bay. And it’s 100% Anguillan owned and all staff are from Anguilla.
Many locals stay here, as well as Italians who want to visit for a few weeks and want a good place with a view of one of the best beaches in Anguilla.
Hurricane Irma completely destroyed this side of the island, and so the Anguilla Great House needed to build from scratch. Cottages are now open, the pool is ready and beach bar is cranking rock classics.
Anguilla Food Souvenirs
One of the things I liked about visiting Anguilla island was the absence of people hawking souvenirs. I only saw it happen once on Rendezvous Bay and the woman was so lovely I think she was welcomed by tourists.
Hotel gift shops tend to be a bit more curated with interesting art, clothing and other souvenirs. Normally I bypass the gift shop but I was nicely dragged into Zemi Beach’s and I understand why. If I didn’t travel with a full carry-on I would have likely bought a number of things as it was reasonably priced.
Food souvenirs are the best souvenirs. Here are a few you may want to consider:
- Rum: Both Zemi Beach and CuisinArt make their own version of banana rum – which is not rum made from bananas (which I thought) but a flavoured rum. Zemi Beach gives samples and it will remind you of bananas foster. CuisinArt also makes several other flavours.
- Hot Sauce: due to the pasty British influencing culture on Anguilla, it is not a spicy island like Jamaica or Barbados. However, locals will use it with fried fish. As smaller peppers like scotch bonnet grow well on the island there are a few hot sauces that you can find in supermarkets and gift shops.
- Anguillan salt: the island has been producing salt for so long they once shipped it up to my home province – Nova Scotia. This is odd as we’re almost completely surrounded by water so I guess we were just being lazy. Local salt isn’t as easy to find today but it is possible if you ask around.
Is Anguilla Safe?
Anguilla island is one of the safest destinations in the Caribbean. It has a low crime rate but that doesn’t mean there is zero crime so don’t be foolish with your belongings.
And while many people think insurance is for robbery or high-risk activities like kite surfing. It’s possible to trip on a pebble and break your arm.
Insurance isn’t as expensive as you think, you can check rates here:
Driving in Anguilla
Anguilla is such a small island it is easy to drive around in an afternoon. With a population of 15,000 Anguillans and only six traffic lights there’s no reason to be intimidated by driving in this foreign country.
HOWEVER: You must remember to drive on the left-hand side. This is a British overseas territory. However, many rental cars have North American-style cars with the drivers’ side on the left so just double check with your rental company.
You must also purchase a temporary driver’s license for $20, which is good for six months.
Map: What to Do in Anguilla Island
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