Hello, good people! I have just returned from the islands of the Eastern Caribbean. I started in Puerto Rico, went around to explore Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, then came back to Puerto Rico, just because I loved Old San Juan so much. Then, with a 24-hour stopover in Tortola, British Virgin Islands, I continued to St. Martin/Sint Maarten for a spell, stopping in Anguilla for a day and finally Guadalupe.
All the islands have a very different feel and I will tell you more about each one in due course. Today is about Anguilla because you have to start somewhere.
East of the British Virgin Islands and a quick flight north of St. Martin is Anguilla, one of the Leeward Islands. This coral and limestone island is small in every sense, 91 km2: and a population of about 15,000. It is also very smooth; the highest point is only 64 meters above sea level.
With a little good will and flexibility of mind, you can see that the island looks like an eel; being the operative word can. I can’t see it myself, but who am I to argue? Eel in Italian = Anguilla. Why Italian? Your guess is as good as mine. I rather prefer the Arawak name Malliuhana. And the Arawak were here first, so by rights…
The ferry from Marigot to Saint Martin took 20 minutes. However, Anguilla feels like a different world. Where St. Martin is bustling, Anguilla is laid-back. Very quiet. It is Saturday, the beginning of March. Low season, maybe.
Au contraire! March is high season in the Caribbean. Ideal temperatures.
“Anguilla is always quiet,” says KeeKee, a local guide-wood carver. You come here for the beautiful white sand beaches that surround the island. You come to Anguilla for peace. And peace of mind.
That’s all very well. And it looks like I have 33 beaches to choose from, all public. However, I’m in more of an exploratory mood today, so I ask KeeKee to take me to The Valley.
A bit about economics and ethics
Tourism is a major industry in Anguilla. So is shipbuilding. Something old-world cozy about that, don’t you think?
Perhaps less comfortable is another major economic activity. offshore banking. But anti-whitewashing legislation has been in place here for nearly 20 years, and it seems to be working. Unlike its Caribbean neighbor, the Cayman Islands, Anguilla does not appear on the FATF’s list of countries with anti-money laundering deficiencies.
On the other hand, the EU added Anguilla to its tax haven blacklist just a few months ago. And while it may not always be illegal, it is at least ethically questionable.
Now we’re all about travel inspiration here at Sophie’s World. However, we need to inform ourselves how the country is behaving. If I visit a country that sucks tax evaders, or a country that blatantly disregards animal or human rights (not assuming they’re on the same level of wrongdoing, mind you), that’s a conscious decision. A quick glance at this blog will tell you that I have visited many countries in both categories, well aware of the controversy.
What to do in Anguilla?
Once off the soapbox, if you Google “10/20/30 best things to do in Anguilla”, chances are at least 90% of them will have the word beach or bay or cliff in them. And the palm-fringed beaches are truly stunning, with lively bar shacks, rum punk, reggae music and a pervasive relaxed atmosphere. The most famous of the lot, Shoal Bay, often appears on lists of the world’s most beautiful beaches.
If you want a more active day in the sun, snorkeling, diving, sailing and sea kayaking are on offer. The kayaks have glass bottoms and the water is crystal clear. Dazzling!
But it’s not just beaches. A little further afield (not that beaches in Anguilla are ever far), you’ll find traces of the island’s history with interesting petroglyphs at Big Spring (over 100) and Fountain Cavern.
Interesting descriptive names, right? Anguilla has some of them. there is Sandy Ground and I got off the ferry at Blowing Point Wharf. However, my favorite is the capital.
Valley. Colonial houses, unusual churches and Princess D
More of the island’s history can be found in the tiny, nondescript The Valley.
The sleepy capital has colonial architecture and the oldest building is Wallblake House on Wallblake Road. Slaves built this former sugar and cotton plantation in 1787. These days, this house behind a white picket fence serves as a parsonage for the priest at St. Gerard’s Catholic Church next door.
Or the churches, I should say. There are two. The old one looks particularly impressive, built with pebbles, tiles and a bright red door. It reminds me threefold. The new one has a similar structure, but with more restrained pastels. Both on Instagram.
The old and new St. Gerard’s Church in the capital of Anguilla, Hovt
Most interesting, however, is the strangely charming Princess Diana memorial at the roundabout near the church(s).