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Anguilla

An island is just an island is just an island.  Until it isn’t.

And this isn’t just any island.  Anguilla is a special place.  One of those rare spots to visit that leaves you planning your return trip before you’ve even left.  And once you go, you too will understand.  This is not just any old island surrounded by many islands that seem similar.  It is a special place that will take your breath away.

First things first, Anguilla is a British territory where everyone speaks great English and the US dollar is whole-heartily accepted.  They drive on the left with the few cars and trucks that are there.  There is no public transport, so no noisy, dirty buses, which leaves cabs, bikes and boats as the main means of transportation.  It is a small island, 16 miles long by 3 miles wide at its largest.  It is also mostly on the flat side, with some of the most amazing beaches I have ever seen.  These beaches also boast some of the best snorkeling anywhere.  There are many coral reefs literally right off the beaches.  As well as some small cays off the North side of the island.  Some even have little bars and restaurants you can visit if you have access to something that floats unless you liken yourself another Michael Phelps.

Now, how do you get to Anguilla you ask?  It goes that the smaller the island, the more difficult it is to get to, unless you are say, Sir Richard Branson, or have access to a small plane, helicopter, or yacht.  If not, you fly to the island of Saint Martin. A larger island, with, yes, a large airport.  You hop a lift to the marina, which luckily is close by, and get yourself on a water taxi or charter.  We booked everything with our travel agent, remember them?  It made our whole trip a breeze.  She had booked all our connections to the hotel, which made it even easier!  No stress traveling?  To an island??  Yes, thank you.  It was delightful.  And as I write these sentences, I long to be back there sipping a rum punch, running my toes through the softest, whitest sand I have ever seen and touched.

So, onward to our hotel.  We stayed at the Viceroy:  http://www.viceroyhotelsandresorts.com/en/anguilla.  Again, with the help from our agent, we were able to secure a killer suite with a balcony, roof deck and small plunge pool/hot tub. I’m telling you, don’t underestimate the power of a good travel agent in this day and age.  We arrived at night, so it was hard to tell anything of the island. But, the bar was open, and the breeze blowing from the north, felt delightful.  Everyone was wonderful and we loved our suite with the balcony overlooking part of the hotel and the ocean seemingly just a stone’s throw away.

The hotel is quite lovely, as is the staff.  It is large and spread out with many sleeping options.  Along with the usual hotel rooms and suites, they also have houses and villas that run alongside the beach West of the hotel.  As an added bonus, there are three pools, with one specifically for the kiddos.  So, if you are without child, as we were, there were two other pool options.  And the best one, overlooking one of the beaches was child free!  And yes, I said ONE of the beaches.  There is one just off the kids pool on the East side of the hotel where all the water sports and activities take place, this is Meads Bay.  There is also one down below the bar/pool/restaurant area on the West end, this is Barnes Bay.   The beach at this end has its own bar, Half Shell, which has a small menu of food and a smattering of loungers and umbrellas out amongst the sand. Half Shell also has a killer half-priced happy hour on cocktails at five o’clock that seemingly no one knew about, except us!

Now onto the important stuff!  Food and Beaches!!!  Just a walk Eastward on the beach from the hotel is a nice stretch of beach on Barnes Bay.  Even with the hotel, and others along here, the beaches are not very crowded. (at least in Mid-April)  What there is though, is excellent cuisine.  Now when multiple people from different places all tell me about the food somewhere, I have to go.  This was the case with Blanchards Beach Shack  http://www.blanchardsrestaurant.com/beach-shack.html.  Their lunch, on the beach, with an ice-cold Presidente Beer is heaven in my book.  They have a huge menu, but you must go for the local plates.  The Big Bowls are a crowd favorite, and are now mine as well.  You get rice, black beans, pico de gallo, corn salsa, jack cheese, Peruvian onion, crema and choice of meat, which I went for jerk chicken. Excellent.  Muy Excellent.  Muy, Muy Excellent.  The blackened mahi looked spectacular as well.  We also tried some homemade corn tortilla tacos with jerk shrimp and said blackened mahi that were quite lovely.  They also have the local rum punch, shakes, yogurt, beer and wine.   Just remember to not feed the wondering chickens.

Close by is the Straw Hat, while not attached to, it does connect to a hotel on the beach  http://www.strawhat.com/.  We came here for dinner.  Which included a nice moonlight walk along the beach, gratis.  So that super soft, amazing sand that makes a day at the beach delightful, can also make a walk along the beach at night a little bit of a workout. (wine didn’t help, but the full moon did)  They have a full bar inside with a couple tv’s if you really feel the need to watch one.  The main attraction is the outdoor patio that feels like you are in the ocean.   And chances are good for some live entertainment.  We lucked out with a weathered local playing acoustic guitar, sax and singing the blues, jazz and some rock.  It made dinner all the better.  So first off, make reservations, because they also serve that hotel next door, so there were some large parties when we were there.  The staff is great, as are the owners, who moved there from the States, and have been longtime residents of the island.  They have a nice wine list, with some great picks at reasonable prices. And the food?  The food is quite terrific, it is tremendous!  The red snapper crudo, so fresh and flavorful.  The heirloom tomato and white bean salad was also quite tasty. Red curry prawns and the New York strip were also great.  I could not complain about one single thing.

And a third dining option that lived up to its hype was Veya, http://veya-axa.com/. It is in North Hill Village, so if you are on the South or Western edge of the island, you will need a ride.  If you don’t have a rental car, which you really don’t need, you will need a cab.  Just make sure to hash out the price beforehand.  As our ride there was a total different price than our ride back!  This is a great romantic spot where you feel as if you are dining in the trees.  Small and airy, it is a one of a kind spot.  Sporting an inspired and mostly affordable wine list makes me want to go back on our next trip and try more bottles.  Then dinner.  Which was prepared exquisitely with just the right amount of spices and flavors.  Vietnamese style crispy calamari was a hit.  Wow.  My taste buds loved it!  The dipping sauce, nuoc cham was so good I wanted to ask for some to go, so I could pour it on my eggs the next morning.  There was a special red snapper this night, which we just had to get.  And no surprise, we loved it.  Grilled to perfection with just the right amount of spicing.  As was the roasted pork tenderloin.  All the sides were on par with the flavors, and harmoniously played along.  I think next time I would try the tasting menu.  Five courses for 95.00$.  If the quality is this good, a steal in my opinion.

Annnnnnd the Beaches.  Oh ya, remember I talked about how amazing they are here.  Just look up any travel website, and see what the top rated beaches in the world are, and I guarantee you at least one from Anguilla is on that list.  The Viceroy is located on a rock outcropping that separates Meads Bay to the East with Barnes Bay to the West.  The sand on both sides is as white and soft as I said, with water that is so clear, it looks as if a tanker of Evian crashed on the reef.  Meads Bay has a longer and wider beach with many dining and lounging options.  Barnes Bay is smaller, more narrow, and not easily accessed. But from the Viceroy it can be your own private paradise, as there are few people who wonder down here.  It is also a little rougher and has coral close to some parts of the beach.  So it is not the best for any high impact water sports.  Meads Bay has many different beach names along its coast, but all of it is lovely and worth exploring.

Then there is the one everyone talks about.  And with good reason, Shoal Bay East.  Ahhhhhhhh.  I get all warm and fuzzy inside just thinking about it.  I play sounds of calm ocean waves hitting a beach.  I look at the pictures I still keep on my phone.  It is a sight to behold.  It is a bit of a haul across the island from the Western side, and the Viceroy, but again we cabbed it.  If you are planning a day excursion and start early enough, there are rental car companies that rent just for the day.  I believe it was 50.oo$ for a day and you also have to get a one day license, which was around 20.o0$.  If you want to explore the whole island, it is your best bet.  Now to the beach!  There is a small parking lot where the road dead ends literally into the beach.  There are some touristy places here, and some locals will try to rent you chairs and umbrellas right there, but the real beauty is further up the beach.  Keep going East towards “the bend”  where the water is so amazingly crystal clear and calm, you’ll think it’s a mirage.  There are many coral reefs spitting distance from the beach that make it seem like you are in a huge bathtub.  Up by the bend there are fewer people, and by less, I think maybe 6 people were within 100 yards of us.  Bring your snorkel gear, because it is truly epic here.  Just off shore is more snorkeling than could be done in two days.  It’s calm, quiet, and off the charts gorgeous with lots and lots of fish.  What more do you need?  Oh a drink you say?  Well up by the bend is Elodia’s Beach Bar.  They have the best Rum Punch I have ever tasted in my life.  And it is 5 bucks if I remember correctly.  I had a few, so maybe it was 6 bucks.  Anyways, it was delicious, and very much-needed after a long snorkel fest.  It has the fruit juices; guava, pineapple and orange.  Three rums; Mount Gay from Barbados, Myers from Jamaica and Malibu coconut rum.  Disaronno, a dash of Angostura bitters and a sprinkling of nutmeg.  All to make the best punch on this island, if not any island.  There is also ice-cold beer for a few bucks (which after Viceroy prices was well needed).  You can also rent beach chairs and umbrellas from them as well.  We choose to sit on towels all old-fashioned like.  And since we spent most of the time in the water, why spend the bucks?

These words are just that.  Words.  On a computer screen.  To really appreciate anything I’ve said here, you have to go.  It really is a one of kind place.  On the boat ride to the airport on Saint Martin, we met a couple who have come here every year for 12 straight years.  They live in New York, and usually do Christmas here with their family. They are also thinking about buying a place, as it has a stable government and nearly no crime.  It is that kind of place.  It is quiet.  It is calm.  It is damn near the closest thing to paradise I myself have found.  I’ve seen some other types of paradise, but that is for another time.  It is the perfect place to unplug and forget about life for at least a day or two.  Work on your tan, drink some rum in a proper setting, listen to the ocean and feel the softest sand between your toes.

A map of the island with notable beaches marked

A map of the island with notable beaches marked

View from the pool onto the beach of Barnes Bay

View from the pool onto the beach of Barnes Bay

Barnes Bay as seen from The Viceroy

Barnes Bay

Half Shell Bar

Happy Hour at Viceroy’s Half Shell Bar

Half Shell Bar

The Viceroy as seen from Half Shell Bar on Barnes Bay

The Viceroy from the beach of Barnes Bay

The Viceroy from the beach of Barnes Bay

El Presidente Beer at Blanchard's. Paradise

El Presidente Beer at Blanchard’s. Paradise

White sand and blue water of East Shoal Bay

White sand and blue water of East Shoal Bay