As a Floridian, and generally not a sun-seeking one, beach vacations aren't typically my go-to. It's been a particularly stressful year for my husband and I, though, filled with tons of work projects and new ventures, and we desperately needed a long weekend away. On our agenda: laid-back luxury, serenity and relaxation, and toes-in-the-sand beach bars filled with live music. We did our research, and Anguilla met every item on the wishlist.
An island just to the north of St. Martin, Anguilla is a bit more isolated and therefore less crowded. It has a really lovely blend of casual vibe with luxury amenities - from five star hotels and villas to world class restaurants - that's hard to find anywhere else. No cruise ships dock here, and it hasn't been over developed, so you really get the island feel that most people are looking for. The bonus is that, with its close proximity to Saint Martin and Puerto Rico, it's easier to get to than some of the more remote islands in the Caribbean.
US Airways and American Airlines both fly nonstop from Miami to St. Maarten (SXM), which is only about a 3 hour flight; alternatively, you can fly Jet Blue from Fort Lauderdale or Orlando with a connection through San Juan, about a five to six hour journey, including the layover. Once you arrive at SXM, it's a quick 20 minute ferry - public, shared or private - or an 8 minute flight over to the island of Anguilla.
We chose the shared sea shuttle option - through Funtime on the way over, and Calypso on the way back - to avoid the 20 minute cab ride over to the public ferry dock at Marigot, St. Martin, on the french side of the Island. And I'm glad we did! The ride was a blissful way to start our vacation, and the views of St. Martin's mountains were gorgeous.
Getting By and Getting Around
After our last few years of widespread international travel, Anguilla was a ridiculously easy and serene change of pace. English is the official language, US dollars are widely accepted, and the island is small and easily driveable. It's uncrowded (nearly empty even, in the shoulder season), there's little need for a set schedule, and everything you could need or want is within reach of the waves and the sand.
We rented a jeep and are SO glad we did - we spent half our trip just driving (stay on the left!) around exploring rocky dirt roads leading to oh-my-amazing beaches. The whole point of our trip was relaxation and de-stressing, so I didn't plan much before we went, but I found Anguilla-Beaches.com to be a great resource when we had questions or were looking for things to do. Thanks, Nori!
Viceroy Anguilla: As we were coming at the end of October, slightly before season really starts, we found that several of our first choices for lodging were not yet open. The Viceroy was offering a great rate, and we jumped on it. And... wow. I've stayed in high end hotels across the world, but this experience was tops for me. Our 'room' (it was really more of an apartment) was ridiculous, the views were breathtaking, and most of the time it felt like we had the resort to ourselves. It was like staying in a friend's chic, modern, oceanside palace, with impeccable service and total serenity.
There are several restaurants on the property, but we spent all of our on-resort time either at the pool or at the Sunset Lounge. I don't think it's hard to see why. If you go for a bite, get the Crispy Rice... trust me.
A few ideas
Anguilla is known for its beaches, beach bars, and cuisine - a heavenly trifecta, don't you think? - so that's what we focused on. There are 33 (!) beaches on the island, and we explored about half of them; it was enough for me to be 100% confident that any kind of beach lover would find what they're looking for here. Some had waves, some didn't; some were wide with soft "pillow" sands, and others were rockier with character. A bunch of them were deserted, and others were lined with laid-back restaurants and bars. The one thing they all had in common was that they were uncrowded, and we were told that would hold true even through the busiest times of year.Beaches & Bars: We found our happy places - toes in the sand, cold beer in hand - at four perfect spots. The most beautiful beach, to us, was Shoal Bay: a long walkable stretch of pillow sand and the most gorgeous turquoise waters. Two bar/restaurants flank the main beach opening, Madeariman and Uncle Ernie's, and you can park there and get chairs and an umbrella for $5.
For more of a bar/restaurant vibe, we loved Sandy Ground and Elvis' Beach Bar. On our pre-dinner (and pre Monday Night Football) visit on an off-season Monday night, we had a blast sitting at the beachside boat bar and chatting with owners Elvis and Brett over a few Red Stripes. These are the kind of experiences we love most, and we can't wait to go back and see this spot hopping during season. Also at Sandy Ground, we had some pretty spectacular fish n' chips at Roy's - totally worth a visit just for those alone.
At Island Harbour, we were pretty happy to discover On Da Rocks ($5 grilled crayfish, yum) and Falcon Nest (cozy open beach bar vibe) while looking out at gorgeous Scilly Cay, enjoying the reggae tunes, and watching the fishermen do their thing. Pure bliss. All that said, Bankie Banx Dune Preserve was our favorite quintessential beach bar experience, and where we found the most people and live music. Directly on the sand in Rendezvous Bay, it's pretty much exactly what you imagine when you think "laid back Caribbean beach bar". Just watch out for those rum punches! So. Strong.
Sunday Funday: Many locals suggested lunch at da'Vida on Sunday, and we're in total agreement. We enjoyed live music by Cypress Roots, the delish tropical cocktails, all the chickens, and some well-into-their-fun-day sloshed Frenchies downing bottles of rosé at the table next to us (and I say that lovingly, because I adore both drunk Frenchies and rosé). A sidenote about those wild chickens: they're everywhere on the island, seemingly wild and roaming, which reminded me a little of Key West - rooster crowing and all. A perfect afternoon and a gorgeous beach spot.
For Foodies: It's hard not to find amazing food on Anguilla. Every thing we tried was heavenly; we were two really happy and well-fed foodies. Our only disappointment in this department was that half the places on our must-go list were closed until mid November; something to keep in mind when you are planning your trip! Our favorites: Veya and Straw Hat.
Ready to go? Let us know, because we're dying to head back - this time to stay in a private villa, with a big group of friends. ;) See you there!