Anguilla’s old fashioned Caribbean charm

By | Category: Travel destinations

AnguillaAnguilla in the northern Caribbean is a small, British overseas territory.  Despite its popularity with the jet set – Justin Bieber spent New Year here and other A listers are regularly spotted –  it has managed to hold on to a simple charm.

I drove down dusty roads and through small rustic villages and past rickety food stalls and driftwood signs pointing to hidden bays.  The climate and beaches are classic Caribbean but where are the all-inclusives, the fast food chains and the cruise ship passengers?

They don’t exist on Anguilla which remains low-key despite being a favourite with American tourists since the opening of Cap Juluca in 1988. There are now a number of hotels, both luxury and affordable, but high rise resorts, casinos and all-inclusive properties are not allowed here – even jet skis are forbidden.

Blanchards Beach Shack 4Instead I found dozens of relaxed beach bars and restaurants such as Straw Hat, Blanchard’s, Smokey’s and Elvis’ beach bar. But for a real taste of authentic Anguilla, I headed to the food stalls at ‘The Strip’ in The Valley, Anguilla’s capital, where a row of stands like Ken’s BBQ do a roaring trade in chicken roti, local beef stew, oxtail and curry goat with locals and tourists alike. This is old-fashioned Caribbean fun with no frills.

The island has built a reputation for being the cuisine capital of the region because of the numbers of eating establishments and the quality of the food – you can dine in sophisticated restaurants like Veya at Sandy Ground and Da ‘Vida restaurant at Crocus Bay as well as the simpler home-style bars and stalls.

Sandy island

Sandy island

But my favourite place to dine out is looking out to sea on Sandy Island,  just a few minutes by sea shuttle from Sandy Ground pier, but it could be millions of miles away from civilisation with just some beach beds, the sound of the waves and a ‘sandy seafood salad’. This is just one of Anguilla’s little off shore islands and cays which are perfect for a day’s escape – others include Scilly Cay, uninhabited Prickly Pear cays or Sombrero Island.

Sailing is part of the island’s heritage and an experience not to be missed is a sail on a traditional West Indian sloop like ‘Tradition.’

Back on the island, I made a visit to the slightly eccentric Heritage Museum where I met local historian and personality, Colville Perry, who has stuffed the small building with photographs, objects and curios.  Anguilla has a fascinating history quite unlike that of its neighbours. The plantation system never took off here as conditions were never good enough for growing sugar, although the British had colonised the island in 1650. In 1967 opposition to including Anguilla in an associated state administered by St Kitts culminated in the ’bloodless revolution.’

fresh lobster at Scilly Kay

fresh lobster at Scilly Kay

Saint Kitts and Nevis gained full independence from Britain in 1983, but Anguilla happily remains a British overseas territory

Anguilla is home to more than 135 species of birds. A great way to get to grips with Anguillan nature is an early morning walk with a guide such as  Jackie Cestero who took me to meet plovers, egrets, sooty terns and even a visiting flamingo at the salt ponds and wetlands around the island.  This also proved to be an ideal way of discovering Anguilla’s little known bays and windswept untouristy beaches such  as West End where upturned, old fishing boats  and giant crabs join bananaquits in an unspoilt area perfect for children’s scavenging hunts, I am told.

From April to November, some of Anguilla’s beaches become nesting grounds for turtles, and, for divers, there is also a good chance of spotting stingrays, eagle rays, barracuda and nurse sharks. Wrecks include the Spanish galleon El Buen Consejo (Good Counsel) which sank in 1772 carrying religious medallions and other treasure so divers flock here to take advantage of the translucent seas.

Bankie Banx enlivening the evening

Bankie Banx enlivening the evening

By night the island springs to life. Bankie Banx, Anguilla’s answer to Bob Dylan can be found hanging out at the beachfront Dune bar, just down the beach from the CuisinArt hotel but most bars and restaurants have live music and the strains of soca and calypso can be heard around the islands.The island has a thriving music scene with festivals throughout the year, the most notable being the annual music festival, ‘Moonsplash’ in April.

Other festivals include the Festival del Mar at Easter, the annual Yacht regatta in May and Summer Festival in August. Weather is good all year round.

After the mass tourism that can be some on some Caribbean islands, what a joy to find the old and traditional Caribbean is still alive and flourishing. It just means you have to go to Anguilla.

 

For more information visit the Anguilla Tourist Board: www.ivisitanguilla.com

 

 

 

 

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