ANGUILLA — The last time I was in Anguilla was 2018. I was there with my husband on a post-baby getaway, having left our then three-month-old daughter with my in-laws for four days, and to write a piece for Vogue about the island, which had recently been decimated by Hurricane Irma. Much of the 35-square-mile British territory was closed, including many of the hotels I had heard raves about, like Belmond Cap Juluca, Malliouhana, and The Four Seasons. We stayed at the boho-chic Zemi Beach House and had a great time, even though I spent half the time pumping and trying to find ice to keep my "liquid gold" cold.
This year, when I was researching winter break destinations for my husband and two toddlers, I wanted a warm, low-risk place that followed strict Covid protocols and was managing the pandemic better than most places. Anguilla, with its CDC Level One classification, topped the list.
The 411 on the Vacation Bubble
Anguilla reopened to visitors after lockdown by creating a travel bubble: a collection of hotels and restaurants that would accommodate short-term visitors until they tested out after ten or fourteen days, depending on their point of origin. Short-term visitors, at least for now, are not allowed outside of the bubble, but we found plenty to do within the participating hotels and restaurants.
Access into the vacation bubble wasn't automatic. We had to submit an application with proof of health insurance, pay a fee of $500 per couple, and show two negative PCR tests: the first within three to five before our arrival and second one upon arrival, with results usually returned within 12 hours.
Go to IVisitAnguilla.com, the country's official tourism site, to apply for entry and to get continually updated information about hotels, restaurants, an activities in the travel bubble.
Yes, Anguilla's testing and entry protocols are strict, but the island has the results to show for it, with no community transmission of any kind since March. That track record inspired both possibilities and helped tremendously in dialing back the Covid anxiety meter.
People go to Anguilla to rest, relax, and get off the grid. It is not a see-and-be-seen kind of place. You could spend your entire time in Birkenstocks and never wear pants with a zipper, and you wouldn't feel underdressed. Even without a pandemic, there's hardly any nightlife. Which makes Anguilla the true epitome of a laid-back island, only one with amazing food and some of the best hotels in the Caribbean.
Lay of the Land
Anguilla is small — even smaller if you are in the vacation bubble. And not a place for mountain climbing, as the island is much flatter than neighbors St. Martin and St. Barths. Like most of the Leeward and Windward islands arranged like a string of pearls in the Eastern Caribbean, Anguilla has a Caribbean and an Atlantic side. The Caribbean side has glassy water on windless days, a sharp contrast from the frothier and sometimes turbulent surf found on Atlantic beaches. Best of all? There isn't a bad beach anywhere on the island. I have yet to find one that isn't prime Instragram material.
If You Only Do One Thing
Swim at a secluded beach. A favorite was Turtle Cove at Malliouhana — a stretch of pristine sand situated flush against rocky promontories. Hidden from view between outcroppings and battered by the azure Atlantic waves, it felt more wild and untouched than some of the more popular swimming spots.
What I Wish I Had Known on the First Day
Eat grilled crayfish. All the time. It's Anguilla's version of lobster and it's delicious right off the barbie.
Where to Stay (In the Vacation Bubble)
Malliouhana, Auberge Resorts Collection
The moment you walk past the palms and under sleek archways into the open-air, tiled lobby, you're teleported to Cannes or St-Tropez. You instantly feel glamorous, a sensation so powerful it hits you — even if you're traveling with two kids and two dozen pieces of luggage, including a stroller, an inflatable baby chair, and a rolling walker. The hotel, which has spacious and airy rooms — many with balconies overlooking the ocean — are tastefully and elegantly designed with pastel, aquatic, nautical, and tropical-chic touches that make it feel specific to Anguilla. Malliouhana has more of a boutique feel than the island's larger resorts, is spacious throughout, and offers great amenities, including two pools and two beaches, Turtle Cove and Meads Bay. Under the supervision of rising star general manager George Vlachopoulos, the hotel has a new food and beverage program, and a top-notch main restaurant, Celeste. It's worth a trip to the hotel just for the toffee pudding and the short ribs alone. In recent years, Malliouhana become part of the Auberge Resorts Collection and seems poised to return to its former perch as the Grande Dame of Anguilla. If I had to bet where a nightlife scene could emerge on Anguilla, it would be at Celeste: It's easy imagine post-COVID, high-end dance parties under the stars. Also of note is the hotel's gift shop. While small, it's extremely well curated and carries Shan, a line of beautiful, comfortable, and flattering swimwear.
Four Seasons Resort Anguilla
Welcome to the holy grail for families. The hotel offers different combinations of connecting room options, along with palatial villas that seem designed for intergenerational getaways, with layouts that allow for togetherness and separation — a mix that is critical for any successful family getaway. The hotel has every amenity under the sun: three pools, a golf course, two beaches, three restaurants, tennis courts, a high-tech gym, and the Kids For All Season club that has a huge trampoline and programming that runs from 9 a.m. until 8:30 p.m. Did I mention a poolside bar that serves piña coladas in coconuts? It's kiddie (and adult) heaven for all the supervision and entertainment it provides.
The vibe is very upscale. Diego Angarita, the general manager, immodestly calls the Sunset Lounge the best bar in the world. He may be on to something: The combination of the west-facing sunset views of Barnes Bay combined with an appealing Asian fusion menu and cocktails makes for early evening perfection. An extra incentive to stay: Now through August 31, 2021, guests reserving a one-bedroom suite receive a free studio suite.
Belmond Cap Juluca
Set on pristine Maundays Bay Beach with stunning views of mountainous St. Martin across the Anguilla Channel, this five-star hideaway exudes the island’s barefoot luxury ethos. With 66 rooms and 42 suites, it's not too big and not too small. We loved our beachfront two-bedroom casita with plunge pool, indoor and porch dining areas, living room, kitchen, and direct beach access. If you're looking for divine seclusion with the picture-perfect backdrop, this villa sets a new standard for entirely self-contained tropical paradise. Speaking of the beach, make sure to venture down towards the end of the property to have lunch at the , a taco truck and open-air bar that happens to be one of best places to spend an afternoon on Anguilla.
Zemi Beach House
Located on Shoals Bay, Zemi Beach House is the new-ish cool kid on the island. The bohemian hotel feels a bit off the beaten path, as it's not in the same corridor on the western end of the island as Malliouhana, The Four Seasons, and Cap Juluca, but is a full-scale resort with three pools, a kids' club, multiple restaurants, and a range of accommodations, from beachfront rooms to villas set on a sun-drenched stretch of Atlantic coast sandy beach. The large spa, expected to open later this year, has the island's only hammam.
Where to Eat (In the Bubble)
Anguilla is a such foodie island that even visitors coming from culinary world capitals will be impressed by the offerings. While not all restaurants are in the vacation bubble — two of our favorites, Jacala and Hibernia, unfortunately, aren't — there are still plenty of options inside the bubble.
Whether it's breakfast, lunch, or dinner, Celeste consistently turns out some of the most inventive and fresh food on the island. For breakast: island rancheros (fried eggs with sweet potato tortilla, black beans, guacamole, and pineapple pico de gallo) and their version of Johnnycakes with scrambled eggs, melted cheese, spinach, and tomatoes. If you go for dinner, which I highly recommend, don't miss the grilled octopus, blackened shrimp salad, roasted beet salad, whole red snapper, and the 16-hour short ribs. The choicest dessert: the Caribbean banana split.
Half Shell Beach Bar
At The Four Seasons
When you discover this beach shack of a restaurant on Barnes Bay, you'll feel like you've found a secret spot tucked amid exclusive villas. This gem, with just a handful of tables, is one of the loveliest places to have lunch on Anguilla. If the beautiful scenery isn't enough of a draw, go for the Dean Supreme, Half Shell's beloved drink made with moringa, a tropical plant called a miracle tree for its numerous health benefits. The virgin version without coconut rum tastes just as good (if not better) and is just as invigorating. (The other ingredients are bananas, orange juice, mango puree.) Not that you'll drink on an empty stomach when conch fritters, avocado hummus, Caribbean rotis, and grilled shrimp salad are this good.
An Anguilla institution, Blanchard’s turned into a food bank during the island's lockdown, giving away thousands of bags of provisions to locals. Now it's open on certain nights for vacation bubble guests. (Consult the website to find out the most up to date information.) The homestyle restaurant, which also has a beach bar shack, is the place to eat roasted Brussels sprouts, crab and lobster cakes, jerk shrimp, and out-of-this-world carrot cake.
We visited CuisinArt, one of the larger and more established resorts on the island, one day when it was too windy and rough on the Atlantic side to swim. Its location on Caribbean-facing Rendezvous Bay combines some of the glassiest water anywhere on Anguilla with a postcard-perfect, white-sand beach. Before you enjoy a cocktail and a dip, have lunch at Mosaic restaurant, where chicken kabob and coconut beans and rice make for a perfect satisfying, but not too heavy, midday meal. Then settle into your beach chair with a mojito and enjoy the view out to St. Martin.
At The Four Seasons
The fine dining restaurant pays homage to the island's history as a salt producer — and serves amazing grilled meat and fish. Crayfish is a standout, as is beef tenderloin, both cooked simply — with salt. And therein lies their appeal. Finish with their "soap" dessert — a confection of salted caramel and chocolate improbably shaped like of a bar of soap.
At Cap Juluca
Talented Peruvian chef Cesar Landeo brings the flavors of his homeland to Anguilla, resulting in hands-down the best ethnic restaurant — and the the hardest reservations to score — on the island. (Before Covid, St. Barths yeacht-setters used to cruise over just for lunch.) You'll want to go more than once to work your way through the entire selection of small plates, but if you can only go once, order fried calamari, tuna tartare, salmon ceviche with yellow chili tiger milk, and shrimp causas. Save room for dessert: Ponderacion, passionfruit ice cream wrapped in delicate pastry with pisco sour sorbet.
Cip's by Cipriani
At Cap Juluca
The only other location of this establishment outside Venice, this casual yet elegant Italian restaurant is the place for Mediterranean cuisine made with fresh Caribbean seafood. The ideal dinner, which we had twice during our stay, starts with burrata, followed by linguine with crayfish, dry chili, and cherry tomatoes, and is capped by the fish of the day, perfectly grilled, served with celery puree.
How to Get There
Anguilla has an airport, but as of this writing, commercial flights are not allowed. In previous years, the boutique airline Tradewind Aviation ran a scheduled shuttle from Puerto Rico. The most common way to arrive is by plane into St. Martin, which is serviced from New York by JetBlue, United Airlines, and Delta, then take a Calypso or FunTime ferry over to Anguilla.
When we went in 2018, we rented a car, but this year, because of the restrictions of the vacation bubble, we were not allowed to rent one.
When to Go/Weather
Locals say there isn't a bad time of year, but the summer does get hot and hurricane season is typically September to November. Generally, the best months are December to April.
Tipping is appreciated, particularly since 95 percent of the economy relies on tourism, an industry that has been adversely impacted by the global pandemic.
What to Pack
Every single bathing suit you own. This is the ultimate beach vacation destination.
Ready to go? IVisitAnguilla.com, the country's official tourism website, is where you can apply for entry and get continually updated information about hotels, restaurants, an activities in the travel bubble.