An Island in a Sea of Calm
By DEBORAH L.
Anguilla's many beaches and warm waters are bypassed by cruise ships and jets, but paradise is not cheap
ONE of the great joys of traveling to the Caribbean in winter is being
able to shovel out of East
Coast snow in the morning, and be on the beach that afternoon. Unfortunately, once you get
there, you're likely to find hordes of people who have done exactly the same thing.
Wanting the escape
without the frenzy, my husband and I chose Anguilla for our vacation in
December. Guidebooks suggested that this island, one of the British Leewards, was quiet and not
overly developed. We hoped to find plenty of turquoise water and white sand without the nightclubs
and cruise-ship traffic.
In Anguilla, so much paradise has a price.
are expensive. And meals, which rely heavily on imported ingredients on
this small island, can be
an even bigger problem for value-conscious travelers. Anguilla has several good upscale restaurants, but with a
15 percent tax and service charge, dinner for two can easily cost $150.
husband, Ken Stern, and I planned our vacation to straddle the low and
high season, taking
advantage of the economy rates most hotels offer before Dec. 15. We rented an apartment with a kitchen
($2,655 for 12 nights), and brought along two cartons of staples, including cereal, powdered milk, cheese,
crackers, peanuts and frozen orange juice.
a stroller and two-week supply of diapers for our 6-month-old son, Jack,
New York one rainy day in December. There are no direct flights to Anguilla from the continental
United States, so we flew into St. Maarten, then took a 15-minute ferry ride five miles north.
The taxi ride
from the airport in St. Maartin to Marigot, where boats leave for Anguilla
20 minutes, had reminders of everything we wanted to avoid: Burger King, Caribbean branches of
Fifth Avenue stores and throngs of tourists.
miles long and 3 miles wide, was a world apart. A porter with a wheelbarrow
luggage from the dock to customs. We saw more goats than people (Anguilla's population is under
10,000) on the 15-minute cab ride to our apartment.
From the bumpy
main road that roughly bisects Anguilla, this tiny island doesn't initially
visitor as beautiful. Vegetation is sparse, since little besides mangroves and cactus can grow in the
arid limestone soil, and the island is absolutely flat. Most of the charming 19th century
gingerbread-style houses have been replaced with concrete buildings meant to withstand hurricanes.
Old cars sit rusting in front yards.
attraction is its more than 30 beaches -- miles and miles of pristine,
sand, and warm, crystal-clear water. The beaches are not apparent from the road, but a brief
detour, most often along a bone-jarring dirt path, ultimately gives way to sand and sea.
Our base was the Blue Waters apartments on Shoal Bay West, on the island's
end. The 800-square-foot first-floor unit we rented had an ample bedroom and bathroom in
back, and a large combination living room, dining room and kitchen in front. Wide
mahogany-louvered doors opened onto a porch, creating an airy pavilion some 20 yards from the
whitewashed building that housed our apartment and seven others like it
landscaped for maximum privacy. Coconut palms and bougainvillea bushes separated our outdoor
area from neighboring ones. Except during the hottest part of the day, there was at least one shady
spot where Jack could play in the sand. When he was inside sleeping, we could be outside reading
-- or at night, stargazing -- and still within earshot. The apartment was simply furnished, with
concrete built-in whitewashed furniture and a fully equipped kitchen. There was maid service six
days a week, with plenty of fresh towels for bath and beach. For an extra $10 a night, Blue Waters
supplied a crib. Day and night, we could hear the crash of the surf. There was no air-conditioning,
but cool breezes and ceiling fans made it unnecessary.
We did find an
air-conditioned car invaluable for exploring the island. And while we went
with a subcompact Suzuki Swift, we might have been more comfortable negotiating the speed
bumps, potholes and dirt roads with four wheel drive.
Even with the
rough terrain, it's possible to drive from one end of the island to the
other in about half
an hour, and during our two weeks on Anguilla we traversed it many times. Hotels and restaurants
have capitalized on some of the most dramatic spots, but all beaches are public -- even if it means
walking through the lobby of an expensive hotel.
The best beaches
(and not surprisingly, the expensive hotels) are on the west end of the
island. Though none
were crowded, the Shoal Bay West beach, where our apartment was situated, was small, serene and relatively
deserted. Our favorite beach for swimming was Maunday's Bay, site of the expensive Cap Juluca resort.
This sheltered cove is bathtub-calm, and a path leads onto the beach from Cap Juluca's public parking lot. Another
long, beautiful beach with good swimming is Rendezvous Bay, accessible through the Anguilla Great House resort.
At these beaches, and many others adjacent to hotels, shade lovers will want to bring their own umbrellas, since
the ones that are set up are reserved for guests.
For $4, anyone
can rent umbrellas and beach chairs at Shoal Bay East, a vast expanse with
clear water. But this is one of the few honky-tonk parts of the island, with a backdrop of
some of Anguilla's off-shore cays and remote beaches took us to more secluded
spots. Little Bay, with a sheltered beach only about 10 yards long and shaded by limestone cliffs, is
accessible just by water. Hoping to snorkel, we took a boat from Crocus Bay (the five-minute ride is
$10 a person round trip). And while there was little to see besides minnows, it was a tranquil place
to spend the morning.
We had slightly
better luck snorkeling off Sandy Island, a strip of beach about 150 yards
where we saw angelfish, butterfly fish and small groupers. The island itself is uninteresting: half a
dozen picnic tables with umbrellas, and a small snack stand. Apparently the place had greater appeal
before Hurricane Luis struck in 1995, narrowing the island considerably.
Enterprises, which runs boats every hour ($8 a person round trip), continues
pre-hurricane pictures in its brochures. No doubt other tourists are surprised -- as we were -- to
find the place almost wiped out.
efforts to promote Anguilla's water sports, we found reef life around the
disappointing. Whether the 1995 hurricane devastated the reefs, or whether Anguilla never had much
to begin with, is difficult to determine. While snorkeling in various spots, including the water outside
our apartment, we noticed a lot of dead coral. In 1990, before the hurricane struck, Anguilla
Government officials deliberately sank four ships which in time will generate their own eco-systems.
My husband, who is an avid scuba diver, was so disappointed with the snorkeling that he decided
not to spend the $80 a day the water-sports vendors charge for a full day's excursion.
If beaches are
one of Anguilla's chief entertainments, food is the other. For many tourists,
dining at the high-priced restaurants whose chefs advertise culinary pedigrees from Europe, Asia and
the United States.
whether Anguilla really is a gourmet's delight; either way, it costs a
lot to find out. After
a couple of mediocre mid-priced meals (about $55 for two), we decided to test our independence.
We soon found that the three of us could eat all day for $25 -- less than the price of one upscale
Some of our best
meals combined take-out cooked meat with fresh fruits and vegetables (imported
from the nearby islands of Dominica and St. Lucia) bought at roadside stands and prepared in our
own kitchen. We served boiled pumpkin, plantains and sliced avocado with Jamaican jerk chicken
from Gee Wee's Bakery, about two miles from our apartment. Dessert was a coconut muffin (also
from Gee Wee's) and a mango and banana smoothy made in the blender that came with our
On several days
for lunch, we queued up with the schoolchildren at a food truck on Coronation
Avenue in Anguilla's
commercial center, known as the Valley. We especially liked the baked chicken, stewed chicken and spicy conch stew
(a local specialty). Saturday foraging at the same location led us to a woman who sells sweet-corn chowder
from a station wagon. To accompany it, we tried her feathery light johnnycakes -- as big as saucers -- and luscious
sweet potato pudding heavy with molasses, cinnamon and cloves.
Food also became
our passport for meeting Anguillans. One resident directed us to the Pepperpot
in the Valley. There we feasted on roti: a thin crepe filled with chicken and potato curry.
Some of the other
tourists we met seemed appalled at our food choices. But we've eaten "people's
food" all over
the world, and managed never to get sick. Our strategy has always been to look for places with high local
turnover -- a guarantee of freshness.
went, Jack was a big icebreaker with the friendly Anguillans. When we stopped
roadside stand to buy fruit, the vendor suggested we purée pumpkin for the baby. To accompany it,
she insisted we take several bananas without charge. At Ripples, a moderate-priced restaurant with
a wonderfully inventive menu, several employees offered to hold Jack while we ate.
The only place he seemed unwelcome was at Oliver's Seaside Grill, one of
restaurants catering to the carriage trade. Despite the waiters' obvious impatience with Jack,
who happened to be cranky that night, we managed to enjoy our main courses: peppered tuna loin
with pineapple salsa, and a smoky, spicy crayfish -- both grilled. The fish soup we ordered as an
appetizer turned out to be a small bowl of watered-down bisque, hardly worth the $9 charge. The
tab for our splurge came to a whopping $95 without drinks or dessert.
There were times
when we missed those quiet dinners alone, and the chance to snorkel together,
rather than taking turns. But as two working parents, we thoroughly enjoyed a vacation with our
baby. Having missed the day he rolled over for the first time because we were at work, we were
delighted to watch him laugh like a lunatic at the swaying coconut palms and squeal with delight at
the sensation of kicking sand.
"It's too bad
Jack won't remember this vacation," my husband said during the flight home.
not, but we certainly will.
Finding the right ingredients
Ferries to Anguilla
leave every half hour from Marigot (a $20 cab ride from the St. Maarten
the ferry takes 15 minutes and costs $10. A ferry from the St. Maarten airport called The Link
leaves once a day ($15, 30 minutes). In high season, there are three American Eagle flights daily
from Puerto Rico, and one the rest of the year.
Where to Stay
The rates below
do not include the 18 percent extra for
tax and service charge.
Blue Waters Beach
Apartments, Post Office Box 69, Shoal Bay West, Anguilla, British West
(264) 497-6292, fax (264) 497-6982. One-bedroom beachfront apartments cost $125 a night April 1 to Dec.
15, $235 in season. Two-bedroom apartments are $175 out of season and $330 in season.
Cap Juluca, Post
Office Box 240, Maunday's Bay, Anguilla, British West Indies; (888) 858-5822,
497-6617. Rates at this 179-acre luxury resort start at $510 a day in high season. Continental breakfast and
all water sports are included. Cap Juluca discourages bringing children younger than 6 during the winter.
Club, Post Office Box 1378, Mead's Bay, Anguilla, British West Indies;
892-4564, fax (264) 497-6440. One-bedroom suites with kitchens range from $270 a night in low
season (April 16 to Nov. 15 and Dec. 1 to 18) to $550 in high season (Dec. 19 to April 15). Most
accommodations have a view of the water, but don't open right onto the beach.
range from $200 to $240 a week for a car with automatic transmission and
air-conditioning. Four-wheel-drive vehicles cost slightly more. Rentals include unlimited mileage and
free delivery to your hotel. As in Britain, traffic moves on the left side of the road, but rental cars all
seem to have the steering wheel on the left.
pre-set prices; for example, the ride from the airport to the west end,
hotels are, is $14 to $18.
Where to Eat
Gee Wee's Bakery,
The West End, (264) 497-6462. There's no ambiance: Tables are outdoors
overlooking the road. But the Jamaican jerk chicken (available to take out for $2.50) is expertly
spiced. Fresh bakery items (most about 75 cents) include coconut muffins, sweet potato pudding
and moist, dense banana bread.
Grill, Long Bay Beach, (264) 497-8780. Lunch might be a better choice at
dramatic waterfront spot; dinners bring a more extensive selection of Continental-Caribbean foods,
but no view. The portions are small and the prices steep. Dinner for two without drinks or dessert:
Valley, (264) 497-2328. A favorite with locals known for its roti -- a
your choice of filling (chicken, potato, meat, or vegetable). The spicy conch stew is also outstanding.
Roti lunch for two with drinks: $11.
Ground, (264) 497-3380. The menu can satisfy everyone from vegetarians
carnivores, pasta lovers to Mexican food enthusiasts. Especially recommended: coconut shrimp
(lightly fried shrimp coated with fresh coconut, served with tomato-pineapple salsa) and fish coco
(snapper fillets cooked in coconut milk and tamarind). Dinner for two, main course only: $45.
The lunch truck
opposite Anguilla Arts and Craft Center serves local specialties (bull's
oxtail stew and conch stew) as well as less exotic stewed, baked or roasted chicken. Most meals
come with vegetables and rice. Prices range from $4.50 for chicken and chips to $10 for conch
stew. Saturday morning at the same spot, you can buy sweet-corn chowder ($4 a pint),
johnnycakes, and sweet-potato pudding from a woman with a blue station wagon.