Supported by a quartet of luxury hotels, a cadre of volunteers is leading a recovery effort as expansive and beautiful as the island’s legendary beaches
THE SWELLS ARE BIG TODAY; the winds, bigger. But on May 30—Anguilla Day—locals still take to the ocean for their annual around-the-island sailing race that celebrates their homeland’s independence from St. Kitts in 1967.
In rustic, shallow-draft schooners with oversize sails (the traditional, hand-built watercraft Anguillans have used for centuries in trade and sometimes smuggling), crews of as many as 25 work in the tightest quarters to keep their boats upright and tacking. All around them bobs a wild barge-and-boat party of locals who’ve come out to watch the action and cheer on their friends. On shore, hundreds more islanders cluster in spots to picnic and watch, many spending the whole day mirroring the route from land.
It’s a really rough day on the water this year, and one boat—a favorite to win—capsizes. But after the crew swims quickly to safety, the post-race party at the funky outpost of Sandy Ground feels like the best night ever.
That’s because this is the first Anguilla Day since the northern eye wall of Hurricane Irma passed over the low-lying, 35-squaremile island, destroying most of its homes and schools, uprooting
trees and power poles, making 90 percent of its roads impassable, leaving damages exceeding $190 million, and killing one resident.
But what Irma took away, this feisty, warm-hearted island took back—and fast. Ringed by 33 beaches of fine white sand, Anguilla has attracted a community of high-end resorts and real estate owners who dug deep and fast to move the tourism base back into action. Starwood Capital Group, the vast hotel holding company, formed Anguilla Stronger, a consortium of real estate owners and four of the island’s largest hotels. Their combined purchasing power and infrastructure brought in food and supplies for islanders, procured rebuilding materials for homes, and supported organizations involved in human services on the island.
The base camp for Anguilla Stronger—a trailer office and a trio of refashioned shipping containers on the property of the Starwood’s Four Seasons Resort—is a model of efficiency and goodwill; employees and volunteers wear matching T-shirts while they sort products, pack up bags of necessities for weekly distribution, and make deliveries to islanders. They help load new doors and windows into a truck for a couple rebuilding their house. They hit the road for the afternoon, checking in on elderly islanders living in damaged homes, popping by a day care center, and delivering tote bags full of new books to an afterschool program and then hanging around to listen to the kids read some of them aloud.
When the main rounds are done for the day, Four Seasons employee and Anguilla Stronger organizer Travis Simpson heads to the beach to check in on his friend Garvey Lake. The young men grew up together; Simpson went to work in hotels, and Lake opened the SunShine Shack, one of a cluster of beloved beach bars and restaurants on Rendezvous Bay. Irma wiped the whole beach clean, taking away Lake’s livelihood as well as the Dune Preserve Beach Bar, the renowned hangout of Anguilla’s best-known musician, Bankie Banx.
When Lake returned to a completely destroyed building the day after the storm, he put off repairs for two weeks to help a neighbor get his business rebuilt first. Now back in its opulent yellow glory, the reborn SunShine Shack sports Lake’s mantra of “Live Up, Love Up, Live On” right above the bar. “Hang out! It’s a beautiful day!” he hollers at Simpson, calling for a round of beach drinks and settling in at one of his picnic tables in the sand. And Lake is right: The wild seas of Anguilla Day have subsided, and Rendezvous Bay is a tranquil shimmer of turquoise. It’s a day for talk, and laughter, and plans for the future. It’s an Anguilla kind of day.
Clayton J. Lloyd International Airport is easily accessible by air through Puerto Rico, St. Martin, Antigua, and St. Kitts, as well as by ferry from St. Martin.
Perched on a bluff between Barnes and Meads bays, the bone-white, dramatic Four Seasons Resort and Residences Anguilla (right) possesses ample gifts: spacious rooms (80 percent of which have ocean views), beautifully appointed villas (some of which are beachfront), three pools, tennis courts, and an elegant spa. The open-air Sunset Lounge more than lives up to its name, and Cobà, the most upscale of the three restaurants, may be one of the most romantic spots in the Caribbean. Rates start at $650; fourseasons.com/anguilla.
On Shoal Bay East, Zemi Beach House Resort & Spa is a luxuriously bohemian boutique hotel with a spectacular spa that inhabits an 18th-century Thai estate imported to the property. There’s beachfront and fancier dining on-site, plus the enduring pleasures of the Rhum Room, with a roster of more than 100 small-batch, single-estate rums. Rates start at $358; zemibeach.com. The Reef by CuisinArt, a sleek, modern resort on Merrywing Bay, reopened this spring with myriad updates, including a top-to-bottom interior refurbishment, new restaurant and bar concepts, and a refocus of its spa on whole-body wellness. Rates start at $475; thereefbycuisinart.com. Just up the beach, the CuisinArt Golf Resort & Spa reopens in November with redesigned rooms, new restaurants, golf programs, and a spa. Rates start at $550; cuisinartresort.com. WIMCO Villas provides top-shelf concierge services for 55 luxury properties—from delightfully personal to expansively modern— across the island. Inquire about the select villas in the collection that are participating in a “free night” promotion this fall; wimco.com.
Already reopened late in 2017 with improvements including new windows and doors that opened up bigger Caribbean Sea views, the pale pink Frangipani Beach Resort on Meads Bay will debut a new rooftop lounge and Balinese spa in November. Rates start at $500; frangipaniresort.com. Under new ownership and reopening in November, Belmond Cap Juluca has emerged from a $121 million refresh. The result—improving its haute-romantic strand of beachfront guest rooms on Maundays Bay, reimagining its stunning openair restaurant, and adding a new sea-edge infinity pool and spa complex—is breathtaking evidence of Anguilla’s return as a Caribbean getaway of the highest order. Rates start at $904; belmond.com.
Anguilla Stronger volunteers minding the organization’s distribution center
Famed Anguillan musician Bankie Banx
Four Seasons Resort and Residences Anguilla