Anguilla: Quaint by day, Hot, Hot, Hot by night

Freelance writer Claudette Covey spent three days exploring Anguilla, sampling its restaurants, beaches, nightclubs and tourist attractions. Her report follows:

was off to an inauspicious start. The American Eagle flight to Anguilla was 15 minutes from landing when the pilot announced we were returning to San Juan.

The radar equipment was malfunctioning. Fear not, he said. Another plane was waiting to take us to Anguilla.

Once back at the airport in San Juan, we sat on a bus while mechanics worked on the landing gear of the second plane.

Although we eventually took off, it wasn't the best way to start a trip.

Things got measurably better when the plane landed in Anguilla.

I quickly discovered there's a lot to like on this quirky and quaint little island. It packs punch.

Anguilla measures only 35 square miles, but it boasts 37 churches and 33 beaches.

Although it's renowned as one of the toniest destinations in the Caribbean -- primarily because of its array of four-star restaurants and resorts and beaches -- its people are hospitable and down-to-earth, sort of like "Mayberry RFD," Caribbean-style.

I found there is a pace for every taste. Travelers who prefer activity-laden days will not be disappointed. Likewise, beach potatoes will not be disappointed, either.

One of my favorite beaches was Barnes Bay on the Atlantic side of the island, which features excellent conditions for snorkeling and swimming.

Meads Bay, 2 miles long and ringed by hotels and restaurants, has bigger waves and less coral. Walking this beach, however, is slow going because the sand is extremely powdery.

Five miles from Meads Bay and Barnes Bay is Rendezvous Bay, a great beach for walking because the sand is harder. There are barely any waves, and the current is gentle.

Scilly Cay, a short boat ride from Anguilla's mainland, is known for its lobster, conch, rum drinks and beaches. Scilly Cay is a must for visitors. It's a gumdrop of an island off the fishing port of Island Harbour, famous for, among other things, the number of celebrities it attracts. Howard Stern, David Arquette, Courtney Cox, Sharon Stone, Robert De Niro, Kevin Bacon and Michael J. Fox all have visited this spot.

It's easy to get there. Once in Island Harbour, look for the Scilly Cay sign, go to the end of the dock and wait for the flat-bottomed boat that transports guests on the two-minute ride to the island.

Eudoxie and Sandra Wallace, a charismatic and hospitable couple who know a thing or two about entertaining, operate Scilly Cay.

They serve the best rum I've ever sampled and good food. I recommend the crayfish, which is served with a pasta salad, fruit and grilled bread.

Other choices include spiny Caribbean lobster and marinated chicken, cooked over charcoal. Eudoxie said he serves between 100 and 150 lunches a day during peak season.

A chicken lunch is $25, crayfish is $35 and lobster, $50. Cocktails range from $3 to $5. Scilly Cay is open daily from noon to 4:30 pm.

Another excursion option is a catamaran trip on the Chocolat to Little Bay or Prickly Pear. The catamaran is operated by Rollins Ruan, a jovial, gentle soul whose wife owns Ripples, one of Anguilla's hottest nightspots. A full-day excursion costs $80 per person or $500 for a private charter. Great snorkeling lies off Prickly Pear.

Through Dolphin Fantaseas, which operates dolphin programs here and on Antigua, I met Ayla, Al and Indy, three dolphins who reside in a large swimming pool in a facility at Meads Bay.

I fed them pieces of squid from the edge of the pool, then donned a snorkel mask and a life jacket and swam the length of the pool, with the dolphins following underneath me. The cost is $125 per person.

The Big Spring Heritage Site, located in Island Harbor, opens this month. It features Amerindian petroglyphs (drawings of faces etched in rock) discovered by John Lloyd, a local renaissance man with an avid interest in history and archaeology.

The spot, believed to have been an Arawak ceremonial site, is a modest watering hole shrouded by rocks.

When my group discovered that Lloyd is a stone sculptor and that he also runs the Roadwell Cafe in Sandy Ground with his wife, Diana, we decided to pop in.

Your clients should do the same. Roadwell is where Starbucks meets the Caribbean. The cozy coffee house, which doubles as a lending library and art gallery, has antique tables, chairs and an array of books donated by locals and tourists.

Lloyd's stonework, local artifacts and Diana's paintings also are on display. The menu features coffees, breakfast choices and sandwiches, ranging in price from $2 to $7. The cafe also serves wine and soon will offer hot dishes like roti and pizza.

Sandy Ground plays host to a significant nightlife scene. Ripples, a popular hangout, mixes a hippie aura with a laid-back tropical ambience. The owner, Jacquie Ruan -- wife of Rollins Ruan of Chocolat fame -- hails from London.

The menu offers local specialties such as coconut shrimp, and I recommend the fish and chips. Prices range from about $15 to $20.

Another hot spot is the Pumphouse, once the Anguilla Road Salt Company Factory, now refashioned into a bar and restaurant.

The owners have restored some of the equipment used in the salt-production process, giving the place a trendy -- albeit rustic -- industrial feel.

The Pumphouse features live reggae, serves casual food and is worth a visit. Prices range from $10 to $15.

Although I ran out of time before I could visit Rafe's Backstreet, clients should check out this hot new dance spot.

So much to do on Anguilla and not enough time for me on this trip. I cannot wait to return.

Anguilla, by the numbers
• Blanchard's, (264) 497-6100
• Chocolat, (264) 4979-3394
• Cocoloba Beach Resort, (264) 497-8800
• Dolphin Fantaseas, (264) 497-7946
• Pumphouse, (264) 497-5154
• Rafe's Back Street, (264) 497-3918
• Ripples, (264) 497-8890
• Roadwell Cafe, (264) 497-3210
• Scilly Cay, (264) 497-5000

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