Lifestyle

Fantasy islands: vacation like a celebrity

Part 2: J. Lo’s hideaway

If you’re looking for casinos, all-inclusive resorts, shopping malls and fast-food franchises, you’ve come to the wrong island. Anguilla (rhymes with vanilla) has the laid-back ambience of the Caribbean before cruise ships and mass tourism. Electricity only came here in the 1980s, but today luxury villas cater to the whims of regular visitors such as J. Lo, Robert de Niro and Janet Jackson. Those stars are reputed to love the island’s kickback-and-relax mentality.

Chances are you’ll be struck by the same friendly attitude. On many Caribbean islands, histories of grand plantations and slavery created bitter racial politics and seething resentment. But Anguilla’s rocky limestone soil proved such a failure at growing sugar and cotton that plantation owners couldn’t afford to keep their slaves. So the freed slaves acquired their own land and fended for themselves. Hence there’s no class system and a refreshing absence of social tension.

There is also, to be honest, a lack of foliage. Locals call the island The Rock and the title is fitting. Unlike its lush West Indian neighbors, Anguilla is dry and flat with scrubby vegetation that sustains herds of wild goats, but not much else. On the other hand, the island’s 30-plus pristine beaches, all open to the public, are among the best in the world.

I spent a week checking out accommodations along Anguilla’s 25-km length and five-km width. At Rendezvous Bay, on the south coast of the island, I had three km of sugary sand and aquamarine sea almost to myself. From April to mid-December, rooms start at $100 per night; suites with kitchens, sleeping up to five, go for $195 and up. On Sunday nights the alfresco Cedar Grove Café serves up a West Indian buffet and live local music. Tennis courts, sailboats and kayaks make this resort ideal for families (264-497-6549; RendezvousBay.com).

On the north coast, Carimar, on Meads Bay (264-497-6881; Carimar.com), rents one-bedroom apartments in villas with kitchens starting from $175 per night from mid-November to mid-December. No, you won’t have a butler, but you will be able to frolic on a blissful beach, practically next door to where J. Lo and Beyoncé fork out as much as $50,000 a week for five-bedroom villas. To make the deal even sweeter, Carimar accepts Canadian dollars at par.

There’s a slew of other accommodations available. To view some of the options, visit AnguillaAuctions.com, operated by the Anguilla Hotel and Tourism Association, and bid on one of the donated prizes. Four nights with breakfast at Cap Juluca ( CapJuluca.com) was a recent offering with a minimum bid of $400. Rumor has it that Janet Jackson hangs out at this luxurious haven, voted the top hotel in the Caribbean, Bermuda and the Bahamas by Travel + Leisure magazine readers. The two-km beach is studded with Moorish-inspired villas that start at $345 per night.

What is there to do in Anguilla? Tennis, diving and dominoes(the national pastime) are prime daytime activities, while nightlife is more about sandals and cut-offs than evening gowns. You’ll find a live band at the Pumphouse, a local landmark, most nights. Or check out Bankie Banx, a local musician, who performs at The Dune Preserve, a beach shack that looks like the aftermath of a hurricane. (Kevin Bacon is apparently a barefooted regular.) At Gwen’s Reggae Grill beach bar, $10 gets you a heaping plate of slow-barbecued ribs with salad and rice; an additional $3 buys you a Carib beer and the opportunity to spend the afternoon destressing in a beachside hammock.

Getting to Anguilla involves flying Air Transat to St. Martin, then hopping a ferry for a half-hour ride. The island has no bus system so you should count on renting a car (about $250 per week, plus $30 for a temporary license). People drive on the left side, but you’ll find the transition easier to handle than you think. After all, the island has only two stoplights and almost no traffic, except for those wild goats. The average speed limit is 60 km/h. Sound like your speed?

CONTINUE TO:
Part 1: Bill Gates’ love nest Part 2: J. Lo’s hideaway

From the September/October 2004 issue.

Subscribe to MoneySense magazine