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12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Anguilla

Alluring and unassuming, Anguilla is a Caribbean gem. Dazzling beaches are the island's biggest draw mixed with friendly locals and an authentic island vibe that package tourism has diluted on other Caribbean islands. Upscale serenity seekers come here to sprawl on the island's silky strands, swim in luminous water, play Robinson Crusoe on Anguilla's offshore islands, and snorkel or dive the fish-filled reefs and wrecks. Fine restaurants, art galleries, birding tours, and museums enhance Anguilla's appeal. Follow the island's heritage trail in The Valley, Anguilla's sleepy capital, to take in the top historic sites. In the summer, peaceful Anguilla comes alive during the Anguilla Summer Festival with boat races, dancing, beauty pageants, and parades.

1 Shoal Bay East

Shoal Bay East is a broad and long sweep of radiant white sand that beach connoisseurs consider to be Anguilla's premier strand. Ideal for swimming and snorkeling, the waters offer some of Anguilla's best coral gardens inhabited by hundreds of tiny iridescent fish.

2 Meads Bay Beach

One of the most popular beaches on the island's west end, Meads Bay presents a stunning one-and-a-half kilometer stretch of white sand beach with clear, calm waters for swimming. Luxury villas and resorts are sprinkled along here as well as some excellent restaurants. Near the turn off to Meads Bay, stop by Cheddie's Art Studio to see the driftwood carvings of local artist, Cheddie Richardson.

3 Rendezvous Bay Beach

Rendezvous Bay is a dazzling four-kilometer crescent of powdery sand and luminous sea. Calm and shallow, this peaceful stretch of coast is great for families with small children. Sunbathers, swimmers, and shell collectors will also be impressed.

4 Maundays Bay Beach

Stretching for one and a half kilometers, Maundays Bay Beach is a sublime stretch of soft powder sand and aqua sea. The Moorish-themed Cap Juluca luxury resort hugs the beach, welcoming guests and day visitors alike. In calm conditions, beach lovers can enjoy great snorkeling and swimming in the clear water. On windy days sailboats and windsurfers skim the bay. This magnificent beach is a popular spot for weddings.

5 Sandy Ground Village

To soak up some local island vibe, head to Sandy Ground Village. Popular with local children, the white-sand beach is lined with restaurants, a dive shop, and a few low-key places to stay. Its fishhook-shaped bay is one of the most protected on the island and is Anguilla's main port of entry for yachts. Most of the onshore activities of the popular three-day Anguilla Regatta in May take place at Sandy Ground with entertainment at the local restaurants and establishments. The Old Salt Factory and Pump-house here is one of Anguilla's historical attractions. Salt was a main industry in Anguilla and one of the country's primary exports until the early 1980s. Visitors can see the site and tour the Old Pump-house. The ferry to Sandy Island departs from the pier, and a large salt pond behind the village attracts egrets, stilts, herons, and other wading birds.

6 Island Harbour

Sprinkled with a few tourist attractions, the sheltered fishing village of Island Harbour is the launching point for local fishermen who park their brightly colored boats along the narrow beach. Stop by late in the afternoon to watch them unload the day's catch. Just off the main road in the village, Big Spring National Park protects a partially collapsed cave containing 28 Amerindian petroglyphs dating from the 9th-15th century. Ask about tours at the Anguilla National Trust. In late March or April, Island Harbour's Festival Del Mar is a two day "celebration of the sea" with a mix of entertainment, competitions, food, music, activities, and of course a fishing contest. Three-minutes by boat from Island Harbour, the small private island of Scilly Cay lures day trippers with its palm-fringed beach and alfresco restaurant, while nearby Scrub Island flaunts a beautiful beach on its western side with great snorkeling.

7 Fountain Cavern National Park

Close to Shoal Bay, the Fountain Cavern is a natural and cultural wonder, and Anguilla's top archaeological site. Two freshwater pools and many Amerindian petroglyphs lie 15 meters underground in a cave. The most significant of these is a tall stalagmite carved in the shape of "Jocahu", the supreme God of the Taino Indians. The Fountain is thought to have been a major regional worship site and a place of pilgrimage for Amerindians.

8 Anguilla Dive Sites

Anguilla boasts a double reef system with a large variety of corals. The island is also known for its intentionally sunken ships that become artificial reefs. Divers will find seven marine parks surrounding the island: Dog Island, Prickly Pear, Seal Island Reef System, Little Bay, Sandy Island, Shoal Bay Harbour Reef System, and Stoney Bay Marine Park. Turtles, stingrays, and garden eels inhabit many of the dive sites, and divers at Scrub Island regularly see sharks and barracuda. Stoney Bay Marine Park is the resting place of the El Buen Consejo, an 18th-century Spanish galleon that shipwrecked off the southeastern shores of Anguilla in 1772. The site is an award-winning underwater park open to certified scuba divers.

Official site: http://ivisitanguilla.com/underwater/

9 Anguillita, Sandy, and Prickly Pear Islands

Anguilla's offshore islands of Anguillita, Sandy, and Prickly Pear are popular day trips for scuba divers and snorkelers. Anguillita offers mini walls and caves where divers often see barracudas, nurse sharks, stingrays, eels, and turtles. Popular Prickly Pear can be packed when boatloads of visitors arrive from nearby St. Martin/St. Maarten, and castaways love Sandy Island, a tiny sliver of sand with a few coconut palms and excellent snorkeling in its aqua lagoon. Trips to Sandy Island and Prickly Pear depart from the pier at Sandy Ground.

Official site: http://www.mysandyisland.com/

10 The Valley

The small, rambling Valley is Anguilla's capital and the geographic, commercial, and political center of the island. A good place to start a tour is the Anguilla National Trust with exhibits on the island's natural and cultural history. Stop by and pick up a map for the free self-guided Anguilla Heritage Tour as well as information on birding and walking tours. One of the main tourist attractions on the Heritage Trail is Wallblake House, a plantation home built in 1787. A fine example of island stonework, Warden's Place, is a former cotton and sugar plantation great house, built by slaves in the 1790s. The restored structure now houses a restaurant and its 200-year-old rock oven is still used to prepare food. For many years, the cotton grown on Anguilla for import to England was ginned in the Old Factory. Some of the original ginning machinery is intact and on display here, and this is also the site of the Anguilla Tourist Office. Art lovers will enjoy the Savannah Art Gallery and Loblolly Gallery, in historic Rose Cottage. Both galleries showcase contemporary Caribbean art, while World Art & Antiques Gallery offers a variety of collections from around the world. For beautiful views over the city and Anguilla head to the top of Crocus Hill, the highest point on the island.

11 Wallblake House

One of the main attractions on the Anguilla Heritage Tour, Wallblake House, is a plantation home built in 1787 by sugar planter, Will Blake (Wallblake is probably a corruption of his name). It's one of the few plantation houses in the Caribbean where the entire complex of buildings including the kitchen, stable, and slave quarters have survived almost intact. The spacious rooms contain interesting exhibits illustrating Anguilla's history.

Address: Wallblake Road, The Valley
Official site: http://wallblake.ai/
12 Heritage Collection Museum

History buffs and visitors who want to learn about Anguilla will love the Heritage Collection Museum. Anguillian artifacts, early 20th-century photographs, old postage stamps, and important documents trace the island's history from the days of the Taino to the present. The museum's curator, Colville Petty, is an authority on Anguilla's history and an author on the subject.

Address: Across from East End Pond
Official site: http://www.offshore.com.ai/heritage/