Road Bay –Anguilla
Surrounded by spectacular coral reefs and fringed by sugary-white beaches of talcum-powder softness, the British Overseas Territory of Anguilla is a collection of one main island and countless uninhabited islets and cays. Part of the Lesser Antilles this main island -measuring just 26km by 6km -is tiny in size and has one of the smallest populations of any of the Caribbean islands which register on the radar of travelers. When it comes to character and charm however nothing is lacking and Anguilla has become a favorite haunt of boaters who love its protected waters and the chance to step ashore and enjoy an incredible collection of sunset-view bars and diverse restaurants.
For the beach lover it probably doesn’t get any better than Anguilla. This small island has more than 30 beaches ranging from boat-access only gems to dreamy swathes backed by eateries, hotels and every facility you might need to while away a few hours. Typically the super-soft sands are bleached white and the ocean waters which lap them kaleidoscopes of crystal blues perfect for swimming and snorkeling. What’s more, many of the beaches are deserted which means seekers of serenity and privacy won’t have to work hard to find their very own tropical spot.
Like many of the Caribbean islands, Anguilla has a rich history whose various chapters collectively present a colorful tapestry. Once inhabited by Taino, Arawak and Carib natives, Anguilla was claimed by the British in the 1600s for the cultivation of tobacco and cotton with a brief era as a French colony. Today’s visitors can explore a range of fascinating leftovers from these past eras ranging from ancient indigenous artifacts and sacred cavers with petroglyphs to colonial fort sites and plantation houses.
Among the full menu of things to see and do here getting out on the water in some way is an almost essential part of any island visit. The possibilities here include serene sailing jaunts, glass-bottom boat tours, the chance to pilot your own Zodiac and you can even head out in the hush of night in a transparent kayak equipped with underwater lights to explore the coral reefs. Of course you can also choose to do nothing more than beach laze and ocean gaze and then, when the sun sets, grab a cocktail at some tropically idyllic beach bar as the sounds of the island’s many musicians fills the air.
A Morning in Road Bay and Anguilla
More often referred to as Sandy Ground than Road Bay, this bustling and beautiful area which sits between the salt pond and the sweeping bay includes the main port, a long stretch of tropically idyllic sugary sands and a collection of shops, bars and restaurants. Wandering this village makes for a great introduction to this special island as well as giving you the chance to take in a bit of souvenir shopping, visit galleries or discover one or two historic landmarks. Pause at some idyllic spot during your wanderings to take a morning coffee pause and then continue your day with a visit to the National Heritage Museum or the historic Wallblake House.
Exploring Road Bay and Sandy Ground
As the island’s principal port and harbor Road Bay and the village of Sandy Ground which back it are as bustling as it gets on Anguilla. You can just enjoy its gorgeous beach or browse the shops which are small scale and charming.
So beautiful is this sweep of fine white sand fringed by Caribbean crystal waters in varying shades of blue that simply strolling the beach is a delight. Take in the sights of the harbor boats ranging from tiny craft to the larger bulks of the cruise ships, pass by the rustic and desert island-like beach shack bars and if you make it to the far southern end you will see the beached wreck of a ship which fell victim to the devastating hurricane of 1995.
Souvenir Shopping and Galleries
While Anguilla is far from being a Caribbean island known for its shopping there are some real little treasures to be found especially for those who like unusual souvenirs and gifts. One of the gems in this category is Sea Spray which incorporates a wonderful little smoothie bar. The charm of this gorgeous boutique is obvious from the moment you arrive at its little wooden exterior painted in pastel pink, orange, blue and yellow. The bright interior is filled with a collection of unique items which are arrayed in such a way as to make this an art-work in itself.
Owned by the warm and welcoming Pam whose tropical-themed handcrafts inspired by her idyllic island home are part of the merchandise, this stylish boutique has managed to achieve its aim of wanting all customers to ‘be filled with joy the minute they walk in’.
Quite what you might find here will depend on what local artisans are currently creating but there is typically a range of wall-hangings, artworks, picture frames, painted candles, shot glasses, home-wares and an array of jams and hot sauces. Arguably the loveliest of the gifts here are the wonderfully affordable handmade jewelry collections produced by Pam herself using shells, pearls and gem-like sea glass which allow you to keep and remember a little part of Anguilla long after you have left the island. Another choice for those who treasure the unique is Anguilla Sands and Salt which offers a variety of keepsakes and souvenirs each crafted using sand gathered from one of the islands amazing beaches.
Many who visit this Caribbean gem of an island end up falling in love with one or more of its sublime beaches and take away with them long lasting and special memories of their time spent there. As each piece in the collection of key-chains, pendants, bracelets and earrings lists which beach or beaches its sand came from this outlet has tapped into an idea which has proved incredibly popular; that of allowing its customers to keep forever a little piece of that paradise beach as a holiday souvenir.
For a large collection of Anguilla goods head to the incredibly colorful Irie Life whose original branch located inside a preserved West Indian cottage is found just south of Sandy Ground in South Hill Village. Their second outlet is found in Sandy Ground itself and replicates all of the easy island-living vibes and rainbow hues which made its first shop such a hit with visitors. Irie Life is best known for its amazing array of clothing, hats, bags and beachwear made from stunning printed materials but it also has a great choice of hand-made arts and crafts including jewelry, carved wall hangings and paintings.
There are another two shopping possibilities located a few kilometers west of the village in the unlikely event you won’t be able to find something to suit you in one of the options already mentioned. Cheddie’s Carving Studio and Limin Boutique are located across from each other on the main Long Bay Village road which makes visiting both at once easy.
Cheddie’s collects together the amazing driftwood sculptures of its artisan owner who you can see at work during your visit. Much of this talented artist’s work revolves around marine life creatures who call the waters of Anguilla home such as dolphins and turtles. So exceptional are these pieces they were chosen to be one of the island’s government gift presentations during a royal visit from the UK’s Queen Elizabeth many years ago. Just across the street, the classy Limin Boutique has a choice of quality clothing, exquisite jewelry and some lovely unique gifts.
Of the gallery choices in Sandy Ground perhaps the pick of the bunch is that of immigrant artist Lynne Bernbaum whose bold and distinctive style draws inspiration from her tropical island-life here on Anguilla and its natural surroundings.
Sandy Ground once had several historic landmarks of its own but tragically its principle ones such as the Old Salt House and Pump House didn’t survive hurricane Irma in 2017. The island still has enough of historic interest however to make up a ‘Heritage Trail’ which comes with a map and small brochure. Blue, white and red markers with a central ‘H’ direct you to the sites and once there offer interpretation panels to briefly explain their significance.
Highlights include the Old Valley Well, the atmospheric ruins of the Old Court house just 4 km from Sandy Ground with its jail cells and a stunning view of the island, the Wallblake House and the National Heritage Museum. (These latter two are given as your after coffee morning itinerary.)If you want to explore all of them the easiest way of doing so is by taking a taxi tour.
Morning Coffee in Road Bay/Sandy Ground
The beauty of Sandy Ground’s powdery white beach will make you want to take a morning break without losing sight of it for one second and luckily there are several options which allow you to do just that. Principally known as a dining spot and lively drinking venue beloved by locals, the color splashed Dad’s Bar and Grill is run by Delbert Mussington, AKA Dad -a well-known musician who often performs in the evenings. Welcoming Dad’s is also open in the morning to give you a simple shaded deck spread with sofas and chairs or some tables right on the soft sands. From here you can enjoy both coffee and a view of fishermen pulling in nets with boats bobbing beyond them in the aquamarine waters.
A couple of hundred meters south of this can be found Roy’s Bayside Grill which originally only opened its doors to customers later in the day. However, this beach-side bar and restaurant got asked so many times to rustle up some breakfast or coffee it started doing it formally and now has a coffee menu which includes espresso, cappuccino, mocha and iced varieties. Offering another of those front row seats to gaze upon Sandy Ground’s tropical waterfront loveliness, you can enjoy your break on the spacious deck or laze on a lounger on the sand shaded by a palm-thatch umbrella. Roy’s also serves up a few coffee accompaniments to keep your energy levels up which include freshly made treats such as cinnamon doughnuts and muffins.
Part of the Heritage Trail, Wallblake House is one of Anguilla’s principal historical treasures and a fascinating place to visit. It is however small and just 4 km to the west of Road Bay which makes it ideal for slotting in between coffee and lunch. Built in the latter half of the 1700s, Wallblake House was originally constructed as a dwelling by a sugar planter, Valentine Blake. While plantation homes are found throughout the Caribbean examples as well-preserved as this, one of the island’s most ancient buildings, are rare. The house is in fact the island’s only surviving example of its kind and therefore of enormous historical value. Known to have been involved in the failed French invasion of 1796 which caused it severe damage, the house was repaired and consequently saw a multitude of owners over the years before it was properly restored in 2004.
Enclosed within a picket fence, Wallblake House is picturesque when viewed from its elegant exterior while the kitchens, stables and slave quarters can all be seen on a tour of its interior. If you are not able to visit on a day when tours are arranged the wonderful Heritage Collection Museum is an alternative option.
The Heritage Collection Museum
Located at Anguilla’s north-east tip in the East End around 12 km from Sandy Ground and Road Bay can be found a magnificent museum. Privately owned and another stop on the island’s Heritage Trail, this little gem is impossible to miss with its orange, white and blue stripes.
Despite its compact size the museum fits a great deal in with exhibits that collectively tell the story of Anguilla. This begins with the native Arawak people and then through the era of the original British settlers (which includes the history of the sugar plantations and their associated practice of slavery) and onto modern times. This latter includes accounts and exhibits which relate how the island has recovered from devastating 21st century hurricanes.
As you wander this bright and modern space you will be able to view, among other things, old photographs, Arawak artifacts unearthed at archaeological digs, plantation relics and learn the story behind the Anguilla revolution in the 1960s. A main focus of the museum is that of showcasing the indomitable spirit of the island people both collectively and individually and their ability to triumph against adversity whether that be the brutality of slavery, rising against injustice or the devastations of natural weather disasters. While the museum itself is a wonderful place to visit many agree its true treasure is its historically passionate and kind owner. An absolute goldmine of information on the subject of his beloved island, Colville Petty makes himself available to relate anecdotes and stories or answer any question his museum visitors put to him.
Lunch in Road Bay and Anguilla
Road Bay and Sandy Ground have a good collection of restaurants serving lunch and offering spectacular sea views but if you’d like to see a little more of Anguilla beyond the port area midday dining is a great opportunity to do so. Nowhere is very far away on this tiny island so exploring further afield typically involves no more than a few minutes in a taxi. In the case of Blanchards Beach Shack the ride is about 15 minutes west to Meads Bay and worth every second of that effort. In every way a quintessentially idyllic beach shack and totally free of any pretension, this restaurant is nevertheless frequently hailed as one of the best dining experiences in the whole of Anguilla and some even extend that to the Caribbean.
Meads Bay itself is a true beauty and at Blanchards you can dine right on the beach surrounded by swaying coconut palms and a view of turquoise sea with the snowy-white of the table-umbrellas almost exactly matching the color of the silky sand. Despite the high quality and the unparalleled setting the prices at this casual restaurant are incredibly reasonable with the cuisine an eclectic mix of Caribbean and international offerings. Incorporating organic ingredients when possible, Blanchards has plenty of fish and seafood including crayfish when it’s available. Otherwise you can expect everything from tacos to jerk chicken and coconut curry mussels to cheeseburgers. To wash it all down you can choose from a wide range which includes wines, sangria, beer or one of their frozen drinks which come in both alcoholic of fruit juice varieties.
Fora lunch which might just give you the closest thing to a Robinson Crusoe experience you are ever likely to have make your way first to the Sandy Ground pier. Here you can board a shuttle service motorboat with the very apt name of Happiness for a five minute ride to the almost impossibly idyllic paradise of Sandy Island. Conjure up images of the most dreamlike tropical castaway perfection and this tiny little islet would be it; all that is here on its stark white sands besides a collection of palm trees is one small shack which is said to have the best crayfish lunches anywhere in Anguilla.
Also on the big menu are fresh fish dishes, grilled lobster, barbecued chicken and ribs and for those who struggle to settle on just one choice among such a mouthwatering bounty there are mixed platters for a little of everything. Big appetites can enjoy appetizers and desserts too while exceptional rum punches complete your feet-in-the-sand desert island experience. Sandy Island and its magical restaurant have been around since the 1980s although the shack has been rebuilt several times over since then after hurricane destruction. During the 1995 hurricane Luis the whole islet actually disappeared, only to reappear again four years later when re-deposited by the nature forces of another hurricane. The island’s owners have an incredibly philosophical attitude to such destruction, preferring instead to see it as ‘renovation and renewal’ of their idyllic escape.
The exquisite beauty and sublime tranquility of turquoise sea-surrounded Sandy Island brings you instantly to a paradise which feels a million miles away from modern whirl. However, in reality, you can be back on the mainland within five minutes…. if you can ever bear to tear yourself away.
An Afternoon in Road Bay and Anguilla
Anguilla is a sensational destination to explore by watercraft as its coastline is a patchwork of secret coves and off-shore cays which are not accessible by land. As a result, getting out on the water in some way during your time on Anguilla is an essential part of any itinerary although quite how you go about it is up to you. Options range from craft which need your muscle power to paddle them to luxury yachts and historical sailboats. Between them these options cater to all –from those who simply want a quick jaunt to a hidden beach to those looking for a whole day on the ocean.
Arguably the best fun can be had as, led by a guide, you pilot your own 2-seater Zodiac around the island’s spectacular coast. Thrill seekers can get up some speed on the open ocean while those who want to enjoy the scenery can skirt the shoreline a little more sedately to explore the secret beaches which are only accessible by water and too tiny to appear on any map. Tours typically take a few pauses to allow you to snorkel in the shallow crystal waters or simply enjoy your spectacular surroundings on some tiny pocket of sand which you’ll have all to yourself.
Sail boat tours are another way of gazing at Anguilla’s gorgeous coastline and skimming across its sparkling range of blue hues with most of them offering snorkeling and swimming stops along the way. For those who prefer to have their water adventures independently there is the opportunity to rent small motorboats or for something of the utmost tranquility you can explore by kayak. Kayak rentals can be found at several places and there are even some which have glass panels in their floor to allow you to spot fish and turtles swimming beneath you.
One of the most popular and rewarding kayak paddles sets out from the lovely Crocus Bay with rentals possible from Da’Vida’s beach bar and restaurant. A 20 minute serene paddle from here will bring you to the tucked away gem known as Little Bay. This tiny hidden cover is only accessible by water and is a dream for swimming and snorkeling with rainbow-hued tropical fish and turtles to keep you company. If you time your return paddle to coincide with the sinking of the sun you will have glorious sunsets and a bronze glow to guide you back to Crocus Bay too, something which tends to rank as a truly memorable experience.
Pre-Dinner Drinks and Dinner in Road Bay and Anguilla
Despite its tiny size Anguilla offers plentiful drinking and dining choice for everyone no matter whether you want a super-casual beach bar and grill or elegant cocktails and a meal in a venue which exudes sophistication.
While pre-dinner drinks of all kinds are on offer Anguilla’s most common finds are rum and an amazing diversity of rum punches which are made from it while a great selection of wines is also not hard to come by. Where the cuisine is concerned the most common island themes are French, Asian and Caribbean but there are other international-flavored choices too with seafood in great abundance.
If you don’t want to make much effort and want to keep things close to Road Bay this buzzing area has several beach bars which offer sundowners-in-the-sand experiences. The Sandy Ground selection includes such possibilities as the iconic Elvis’ Beach Bar with its lovely roof deck and the equally legendary Johnno’s which has been part of the island scene for decades now. Sunset sessions though are also a great opportunity to see a little more of this Caribbean gem and as it is so small nothing is hard to get to. The gorgeous Shoal Bay East in the island’s north is everyone’s idea of tropical perfection come to life –a range of mesmerizing blues lapping at a two mile stretch of powdery white sands and fringed with coconut palms.
For those who want to enjoy a laid-back island-vibe drink or two with locals at a beach bar there are several options such as Uncle Ernie’s and Tropical Sunset but arguably the go-to place here is Gwen’s Reggae Grill. At this wonderful warm and welcoming little spot you may be forgiven for thinking there is more than one Gwen as she appears to be everywhere at once –laughing with her guests, serving drinks and grilling lobster. Most will tell you that this spot’s popularity is entirely due to its much-loved effusive owner but its absolute beach-front location which places you amid such tropical beauty no doubt also plays a part. Your first choice will be whether to opt for wine, cocktail, frozen drink, beer or one of Gwen’s legendary rum punches. Your second choice will be where to relax and enjoy it with a choice of covered patio, benches in the sand, umbrella-shaded loungers at the water’s edge or a hammock.If you happen to visit on a Sunday you can have all this plus live reggae music as you watch the sun sink over the sea.
If you had rather more sophisticated sundowners in mind Shoal Bay East also has more than one option. Several high-end hotels have taken root in this gorgeous location, one of which is the ocean-front Zemi Beach Hotel and Spa. Exuding contemporary chic, this refined choice has no less than three different settings for you to choose from and has expert mixologists on hand to whip you up some incredible cocktails.
Head to the elegant Rhum Room with its plentiful sofas to take your pick from over 100 small-batch rum varieties or soak up those sensational Shoal Bay views framed by coconut palms at the sophisticated Bohio Bar and Lounge whose range of blues and natural tones are a reflection of the sands and sea itself. The venue’s third choice –the Zemi Beach Club -is a beautifully stylish take on the beach bar theme where rattan chairs encircle tables sculpted from amazingly-shaped tree trunks right on the sand along with a lovely wooden deck area.
Dinner in Road Bay and Anguilla
The island cuisine is a truly incredible mix of Caribbean, African, French and other European influences with abundant seafood choices everywhere you go. With something of a reputation for foodies, you really can’t go wrong wherever you choose in Anguilla whether you decide to keep your dining ultra-casual at a Caribbean-view beach shack or opt for a higher-end experience.Anguilla’s idyllically beautiful coast and scenery tend to mean dining settings are also in the exceptional category but not all of the island’s most atmospheric restaurants are set waterside.One case in point is Veya which offers a magical tree-house-like dining experience in North Hill Village just east of Sandy Ground.
Enveloped within an enchanting garden with a stylish koi pond feature, Veya offers a lower level cocktail lounge deck and an upper floor alfresco dining space on its wraparound veranda. Here, the wooden furniture, decor and floor glow warmly in the twinkle of beautiful lights while outside the lush tropical greenery forms a partial screen. With an exceptional atmosphere that is hard to beat, everything else here also offers an equal degree of sublimity with the food quality, artful presentation and attentive service second to none. The couple who serve as both chef and owner describe their menu as ‘cuisine of the sun’ collecting together a fascinating and eclectic mix of dishes from warm climate places around the world including Vietnam and Morocco. With ample portions and everything arriving at your table like a work of art, Veya also has live music several nights a week which begins at 8pm.
If you opted to head to Shoal Bay East for your sunset drinks you might care to follow on in the spots suggested when you decide to dine or even mix and match as, although both Gwen’s Reggae Grill and Zemi offer great food, they offer very different experiences. Gwen’s is ideal for all those who want a casual feet-in-the-sand venue that epitomizes the laid-back island life vibe and who want a Caribbean barbecue dinner. Ribs, chicken, crayfish, burgers, fish and more are all here and to wash it all down the warm and welcoming owner is said to make one of the best rum punches anywhere on Anguilla.
Zemi’s fine dining and elegant surroundings are at the opposite end of the scale. This classy hotel and spa has two restaurant choices one of which is the more casual open-air 20 Knots with tables on the sand offering something of a beautiful marriage between luxury and laid-back. The hotel’s other option is the air-conditioned comfort of Stone where exceptional menu choices from both sea and land are paired with fine wines.
An Evening in Road Bay and Anguilla
Music is a big part of the culture generally in the Caribbean islands and Antigua is no different. Additionally however, thistiny island seems to have produced an incredible number of talented musicians, several of which are so successful they have international followings. So, should you want to enjoy your evening with some live music you won’t have any trouble finding something. Plenty of venues have at least one night a week of entertainment with reggae, calypso and soca the most often found musical genre. Sundays are especially full of live music offerings while beach bars such as Madeariman and Gwen’s Reggae Bar and Grill have some action one or more evenings in the week. The one venue which offers live music regardless of the day is the beautiful Four Season Sunset Lounge in West End where an elegant crowd gathers to sip on after-dinner cocktails as Caribbean beats fill the night air. Pick of the live music venues though really has to be the Dune Preserve Beach Bar in Rendezvous Bay. Ramshackle and rustic, this iconic place set on a white sand beach is a mish-mash of recycled driftwood, boats and coconut trees which has local musician entertaining the laid-back crowd almost every night of the week.
What makes this venue extra special is that Dune Preserve is owned by Anguilla’s most famous musical son, Bankie Banx, whose career saw him performing with such names as Bob Dylan and Jimmy Cliff. Bankie still performs at his magical beach shack sometimes and if you are lucky you will be here when he decides to have a jam with his friends.
A totally different and incredibly magical way to spend your evening is to take a guided night kayak tour with Liquid Glow located just north of Shoal Bay East. This outfit’s kayaks are totally transparent and also fitted with far-reaching LED lights which means everything beneath you in these crystal waters is illuminated and visible. Watch as turtles swim serenely past with their remora fish attached to their shells or have a front row view of lobsters scuttling around on the rocky seabed.
The kayak lights not only give you amazing underwater views but also attract the marine life so don’t be surprised to be surrounded by scores of tropical fish in every color of the rainbow and ranging in size from tiny to huge.