Well hello there, good people. I am just back from a spot of island hopping in the Eastern Caribbean. I started out in Puerto Rico, popped across to explore Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, then returned to Puerto Rico, just because I enjoyed Old San Juan so much. Then – by way of a 24-hour stop in Tortola in The British Virgin Islands – I continued to Saint Martin/Sint-Maarten for a spell, interrupted by a day in Anguilla, and finally onwards to Guadeloupe.
All the islands have a very different feel, and I will tell you more about each of them in due course. Today is about Anguilla, because, well, got to start somewhere.
East of the British Virgin Islands and a quick hop north of Saint Martin, is Anguilla, one of the Leeward Islands. This coral and limestone isle is small in every sense: 91 km2 and a population hovering around 15,000. It is also very flat; the highest point is only 64 metres above sea level.
With a bit of good will and flexibility of mind, you might see that the island is shaped like an eel; the operative word being might. Can’t really 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 Malliouhana. And the Arawaks were here first, so by rights…
The ferry from Marigot on Saint Martin took 20 minutes. Yet Anguilla feels like another world. Where Saint Martin is bustling, Anguilla is quiet. Very quiet. It is Saturday, early March. Low season, perhaps?
Au contraire! March is high season in the Caribbean. Ideal temperatures.
“Anguilla is always quiet,” says KeeKee, local guide-cum-wood carver. You come here for the beautiful white sand beaches surrounding the island. You come to Anguilla for peace. And peace of mind.
That is all very well. And it appears I have 33 beaches to choose from, all public ones. However, I am in more of an exploratory mood today, so I ask KeeKee to take me to The Valley.
A bit about economy – and ethics
Tourism is a major industry in Anguilla. So is boat building. Something old-world cosy about that, don’t you think?
Less comfortable, perhaps, is another major economic activity: offshore banking. But legislation to counteract white-washing has been in force here for some 20 years, and it seems to be working. As opposed to its Caribbean neighbour, the Cayman Islands, Anguilla does not appear on FATF’s lists of countries with anti money-laundering shortcomings.
On the other hand, the EU added Anguilla to its tax-haven blacklist just a few months ago. And while that may not always be illegal, it is at the very least ethically questionable.
Now, we are about travel inspiration here on Sophie’s World. Still, we need to inform ourselves about how a country behaves before deciding to visit. Ignorance is never an excuse. If I visit a country that is sucking up to tax avoiders – or one with blatant disregard for animal or human rights (not suggesting those are anywhere near the same level of wrong-doing, mind), that must be a conscious decision that I can stand behind. Pros and cons weighed, and a decision made based on my personal philosophy. A brief glance at this blog will tell you I have visited countries in both categories, well aware of the controversy. Conscious decisions!
What to do in Anguilla
Coming off the soapbox, if you google ‘the 10 best things to do in Anguilla’ or the 20 best or 30, chances are at least 90% of them will have the word beach or bay or cay in them. And those palm-fringed beaches are indeed stunning – with lively bar shacks, rum punch, reggae music and an all-round easygoing atmosphere. The most famous of the lot, Shoal Bay, frequently appears on lists of the world’s most beautiful beaches.
If you’re up for a more active day in the sun, snorkelling, diving, sailing and sea kayaking is on offer. The kayaks have glass bottoms and the water is clear as crystal. Dazzling!
But Anguilla has more than beaches. A bit away from them (not that beaches are ever far away here), you’ll find traces of the island’s history, with interesting petroglyphs at Big Spring (more than 100) and Fountain Cavern.
Intriguingly descriptive names, aren’t they? Anguilla has a few of those; there’s Sandy Ground, and I stepped off the ferry at Blowing Point. My favourite however, is the capital:
The Valley: Colonial homes, unusual churches and Princess Di
More of the island’s history can be found in the small, unassuming 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 the white picket fence, serves as home for the priest at St Gerard’s Catholic Church next door.
Or churches, I should say. There are two. The old one looks particularly striking, constructed with pebbles, tiles and a bright red door. It reminds me of a triptych. The new one has a similar structure, but in more discreet pastels. Both instagrammable.
Old and new St Gerard’s Church in The Valley, capital of Anguilla
Most interesting though, is the oddly endearing memorial to Princess Diana at the roundabout near the church(es).