Beyond the Beach in Anguilla

Most visitors to Anguilla are looking to log serious shore time. To be sure, the tiny Caribbean island’s 33 beaches, with their pure-white swaths of crushed coral sand, are hard to resist. But there is far more to this tropical paradise in the Lesser Antilles than surf and sun.

Here are eight ways to go beyond the beach:

1. Food-truck field day.

Open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, Ken’s Pork is one of the most popular spots lining “the Strip,” a designated collection of food trucks and shacks in the heart of Anguilla’s capital city, The Valley.

No matter what you order—everything on the menu is perfectly barbecued on a halved oil drum—wash it down with a homemade ginger beer or a Mauby, a tree bark-based soda. Then settle into the chill vibe, thanks to a weekend DJ spinning a mix of Caribbean and pop tunes.

For a completely different set of tasty choices, try Hungry’s, a food van with a committed following.

Aside from the tempting and inventive array of delectable quesadillas (where else can you find roast beef and smoked salmon as fillers?), Hungry’s soups (favorites include lobster and corn as well as conch) are happily slurped by locals and visitors alike. Regarding the intriguingly named “bull foot” soup, as my guide noted, “It’s what it says it is.”

2. Low-key caving. 

A colony of Antillean fruit-eating bats (they also eat insects) resides inside Cavanaugh Cave. At the entrance, squeeze past a huge boulder that tumbled during a recent hurricane to find an interior adorned with a series of natural archways.

Above your head, stalactites jut from the 30-foot-high ceiling, where bats hang in isolated hollows. Making their presence known through squeaking sounds, several hundred bats cluster in a heart-shaped depression along one wall.

Thrill seekers have been known to use the exposed roots of a soaring fig tree to descend a 20-foot chasm. (From there, the cave branches out in four directions).

Anguilla’s caves can also be explored by signing up for a “Bats & Botany” tour with the Anguilla National Trust, an organization tasked with protecting the island’s natural resources and promoting its cultural heritage.

3. Medicinal meanderings.

Naturalist Oliver Hodge has an encyclopedic knowledge of the medicinal and cultural uses of Anguilla’s native plants.

Trek with him along one of the island’s many nature trails and you’ll come away with insight into how the locals brew homemade teas from the horse rubdown plant (to treat a cold and fever) and white turpentine tree leaves (to remedy bladder problems).

Hodge also explains how to crush the leaf of the ram goat bush to ease a toothache, or scrape the bark of the white cedar, the island’s national plant, to take advantage of its wound-healing properties. Even if you don’t suffer from any ailment, you’ll come away feeling relaxed and refreshed.

4. Artful gastronomy.

From your table at De Cuisine, there’s not a beach in sight. And that’s the way husband-and-wife proprietors Denise Carr—the restaurant’s executive chef—and Joash Proctor wanted it. “It should be all about the food, not the views,” Proctor told me.

Everything on the seasonal and locally sourced menu is creative, starting with the appetizers, such as the warm crayfish served with roasted peppers and avocado salad. And, since Denise is also a visual artist, the unpretentious space benefits from the influence of her eclectic tastes; the walls are adorned with avant garde pieces made from coconut tree fiber, painted royal palm fronds, and copper tubing.

Hibernia Restaurant doubles as an art gallery. After dinner, stop by the annex adjoining the dining room to browse paintings, sculpture, jewelry, and tapestries the owners picked up in the course of their extensive travels through Asia. The dishes are prepared in a French style, with Thai and Japanese flair. Case in point: wahoo seasoned with shio koji and served with kimchi rice. Don’t miss the homemade ice cream, including the much maligned but flavorful durian fruit.

5. Arid adventures.

Anguilla’s east side seems a different island altogether: windier and drier. Plant life, from the frangipani to the sea grape, is stunted due to the near-constant breeze this coast is exposed to.

After driving along a network of rutted dirt roads, park and hike to Windward Point. (Tip: Bring a walking stick—the Point’s rugged surface is blanketed with sharp limestone that’s stippled with holes and cracks.) The landscape may look desolate, but it’s flecked with curiously shaped star and brain coral, as well as barrel, Mammillaria, and other kinds of cacti.

Observe the sinuous tracks of ghost crabs and ground lizards are obvious in the sand while brown boobies soar overhead. As you hop along the limestone boulders, uninhabited (yet privately owned) Scrub Island, an important bird sanctuary, comes into view.

6. Winged inspiration.

Late afternoon is when you’ll want to grab a pair of binoculars or a spotting scope and head to the island’s brackish water ponds.

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On the pond at Mimi Bay, position yourself along the shore where, beyond the lush buttonwood mangrove foliage, green iguanas can be spotted swimming. Bird calls are in abundance, as are sightings of blue-winged teals, common moorhens, and black-necked stilts.

The birding possibilities are no less exciting at East End Pond, even though it’s literally set beside a busy road. The sandy shore is littered with tiny holes where fiddler crabs scamper in and out, while the large pond itself is populated by myriad species, such as American coot chicks, lesser yellowlegs, and white-cheeked pintails.

7. Driftwood, reimagined.

Cheddie Richardson has been crafting sculptures from driftwood for some 30 years. Originally relying on found black mahogany and red cedar, the self-taught artist now imports wood from South America to fashion pieces that resemble eels, hummingbirds, and other local creatures, as well as abstract works, mostly in cedar, relying on sandblasting to bring out the grain.

At Driftwood Haven, his shop and atelier, he also works with coral and sea stone, which has a marblelike appearance. “The wood determines what it will become,” Richardson says. “I see an image in the wood the way you might see images in clouds.”

8. Home-base paradise.

Guests are not drawn to Las Esquinas, a white-washed boutique B&B on Little Harbour, for its small swath of beach. Instead, they come for the tranquil aura the entire place seems to exude. At Las Esquinas, a hammock sways in the courtyard, homemade coconut chips are set out for happy hour, and owner Robin Ogilvie is always available to unfurl a map and reveal the island’s hidden treasures.

Each of the four uniquely decorated rooms will transport you to destinations Ogilvie, a designer and native of Canada, has either lived in or visited: Morocco, Bali, Mexico, and the Mediterranean. Hang out beside the pool at sunset and maybe you’ll spot hummingbirds flitting among the blossoms of the colorful barrel cacti.

Jeanine Barone is a freelance travel and food writer for National Geographic Traveler and other publications. Keep up with her on Twitter @JCreatureTravel and on her blog

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