Beach Lover's Guide to Anguilla

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Anguilla is the quintessential beach destination for CT&L readers--as well as its editors. We're not big fans of blaring boomboxes, buzzing waterbikes and naked volleyball. We want a soft beach to walk and lie on, clear water to swim and snorkel in and an authentic beach bar with icy rum drinks and fish sandwiches for lunch, grilled lobster for dinner. And when we're done for the day, we want to walk a few steps to a comfortable resort.

Anguilla more than fits the bill. The water, filled with Crayola-colored tropical fish, is often so transparent it's like floating in air. The resorts range from clean, simple and on the sand to some of the world's best. As for the restaurants, you'd have to be a shark to get fresher seafood. And the beaches? Merely the finest collection you'll find on any single island in the Caribbean.

Beach by Beach

SHOAL BAY EAST
Anguilla's most famous beach, Shoal Bay East, has it all: a wide swath of creamy soft sand over a mile long; the island's most extensive buffet of beach bars and restaurants; a comfortable collection of small beach resorts; and an offshore reef that attracts colorful tropicals along with snorkelers, divers and glass-bottom boaters. It's also the only beach that, during high season, draws enough barefoot traffic to keep it interesting for devoted people-watchers.

The main road into Shoal Bay East dead-ends at Uncle Ernie's beach bar and barbecue, epicenter of all the action. In the shade between beach shacks, local entrepreneurs play dominos when they're not helping visitors arrange lounge chairs, umbrellas, snorkel trips, etc. Pick one place to plant your towel and then spend the day walking a few steps into the blue water and then a few the other way for fresh drinks. Or you can see it like a sea turtle, crawling from one beach bar to the next, maybe stopping to hook up with a water-sports operator for an offshore snorkeling excursion.

Day-trippers from St. Martin descend on the beach most afternoons, but anytime you're feeling cramped, simply walk east or west to find plenty of sandy space. Sundays are the biggest beach days, when most of the bars serve up live music.

Where to Stay: Madeariman Beach Club (264-498-3833; www.madeariman.com) tucks four suites and one studio into a garden just steps from the beach. Only palms stand between the beach and Shoal Bay Villas' (264-497-2051; www.sbvillas.ai) studios, apartments and suite.

Where to Play: Uncle Ernie's (264-497-3907) classic spot serves up everything from burgers to lobster; Elodias Beach Bar & Grill (264-497-3363) is great for West Indian beach barbecue.

Hot Stuff: Just to confuse first-timers, there are three Shoal Bays: East, Upper and West. All have excellent beaches. East is the widest and most popular, Upper offers similar attractions on a smaller scale, and West is simply beach, water and private resorts.

UPPER SHOAL BAY
Walk east along Shoal Bay East, go around the point where the beach elbows sharply south, and you'll come upon another mile of superb beach, Upper Shoal Bay. It's better to drive, though, because chances are you'll like this spot so much you'll want to stay (from Bay View Road, simply follow the signs for Gwen's Reggae Grill).

It's at Upper Shoal Bay that you'll walk on the whitest sand on the island--and arguably the entire Caribbean. The dazzling, snow-white scene is the result of a high concentration of oatmeal-like calcareous algae flakes, halimeda, produced by the extensive offshore reef and swept ashore here by currents.

The beach runs from the villa-dotted hills at the southern end, past Gwen's, then along a stretch of nothing but sand. Fine snorkeling is just a fin kick off the beach.

Where to Stay: Serenity Cottage (264-497-3328; www.serenity.ai) has four cottages split into one- and two-bedroom studios; as well as a restaurant and tiki bar.

Where to Play: Gwen's Reggae Grill (264-497-2120; www.gwensreggaegrill.com) is the coolest spot on the beach, with a full bar and barbecue; it's open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., showcasing live reggae on Sundays. Shoal Bay Scuba & Watersports (264-497-4371; www.shoalbayscuba.ai) offers scuba, snorkeling and sailing trips.

Hot Stuff: Though Uncle Ernie's gets all the attention, Gwen's is the best choice when you want to spend the entire day at one place. Great drinks (try her piña colada), superior food, easy snorkeling a few feet off the beach and, best of all, a palm grove--practically the only naturally shady spot on the entire island--complete with a fleet of hammocks.

Reproduced with permission from Bonnier Corporation. All rights reserved.

Published: 4 Sep 2007 | Last Updated: 24 Sep 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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Best Hotels in Anguilla

$122
Average/night*
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Anacaona Boutique Hotel
$160
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Anguilla Great House
$175
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Allamanda Beach Club
$140
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Arawak Beach Inn

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