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  • Writer's pictureDon Ellis

“Antigua?”… “No, Anguilla“

Updated: Jun 4, 2022

Pros & Cons of travel to Anguilla during the pandemic


The beginning of your conversation when you tell friends you are going to Anguilla will be to clarify the location. Anguilla is a relatively quiet and unknown island located in the British West Indies. We found this island as we were searching Caribbean islands with low COVID cases and allowing travelers.

View from our Villa looking at Shoal Bay Beach

Preparation


We traveled in July of 2021, not long after the island reopened for tourists. This meant jumping through a few hoops to get approval from the health authorities. Namely, we had to get two health screening approvals, one for St. Maarten and another Anguilla, which took a bit of coordination to avoid doubling up on COVID tests.


Flight. After a bit of investigation, we discovered that it is most convenient, usually, to travel to Anguilla through St. Maarten (SXM). This is due to the fact there are very few flights to Anguilla, with a long layover in Puerto Rico. Compared to the time it takes to go through other cities that will connect you to the Anguilla airport, the fastest route is still to go through SXM and take a short (30 min) charter boat to Anguilla. You can get a flight to SXM directly from several US cities. So, in usual times, this is a much-preferred method to arrival. If I was going to do it again, I may just opt for the flight to Anguilla, but we went through the St. Maarten route.


COVID Tests. Unfortunately, going through St. Maarten meant going through two sets of customs and health screenings. This was further complicated during the pandemic, with different COVID screening rules for each island.

Anguilla requires the rt-PCR taken 3-5 days before arrival.

St. Maarten accepts various tests but requires the test to be conducted 72 hours before departure time for the flight that arrives in SXM. For us, this was our connecting flight that departed at 12:00p.


So, to avoid taking duplicate tests, we arranged for an rt-PCR test after 12:00p exactly 3 days before our arrival. This satisfied both islands. Any day prior or later would have been outside the requirement window for one of the two islands.


We received our test results a few hours after getting the tests and submitted them through each of the portals. I would recommend submitting everything except your COVID test results to Anguilla a week early. They will review and confirm that all that remains is the COVID test results. This is not possible for St. Maarten as their site does not have a login/ability to save your info, so you have to wait until you have your test results to submit.


We heard back from St. Maarten almost immediately. Their application did require health insurance of $30 per adult and $10 per kid, which you were supposed to be able to avoid as a transit passenger, but this wasn't clear how to do, so we ended up paying this, which is required to submit your application and was annoying, given that we weren’t even staying there.


We heard back from Anguilla the next day after we received the initial approval (there are 3 in total: lodging, initial, CMO. You get the lodging approval immediately). We received our final CMO approval the day before our arrival.


Charter Boat. We reserved our boat tide from St. Maarten to Anguilla through Calypso.


Car. You will need a car in Anguilla If you plan to visit other locations on the island. There are several car rental agencies, but we used Bryan’s. They were great and provided us a booster seat for our youngest. In normal times, they would be waiting for us at the boat dock, but with the recent health restrictions, you are not allowed to drive a car until you clear the covid screening, so Bryan’s agreed to drop off the car at our villa.

Arriving


We flew into SXM on St. Maarten and met our driver from Calypso who was waiting for us at the airport and shuttled us over to their boat dock. From there, we filled out our customs forms and boarded our boat.

Upon arrival at the dock, we entered a small building where customs papers were checked and COVID tests administered. Everyone was given an armband to indicate they are awaiting test results. We then booked a taxi just outside the building and headed to our villa.


We arrived at our villa at around 6:00 PM. We were asked to stay there until getting an email confirmation of our test results. We were staying near shoal bay beach and arranged to have food delivered from Madeariman, a great restaurant on shoal bay beach.

Lodging


We searched around a lot on Airbnb & VRBO and ultimately decided to stay at a villa near Shoal Bay Beach. The villa, Kuhl Breeze is owned by Scott Hauser, a local real estate guru. Scott is very easy to communicate with, offered a lot of guidance on the island's health restrictions, and is an all-around great guy (See Prorealty Anguilla). The villa was in a great location. It had awesome views (see pic above) and was just a short drive to a free parking spot for access to Shoal Bay Beach.


Island Pros and Cons

Pros


Shoal Bay Beach. This is where we stayed and were happy that we did. The beaches are beautiful and the water is safe and easy for the kids to swim.


Diving. My oldest son & I went diving here. With the clarity of the water, the visibility is great. We charted the dive through Vigilant Divers. Rob met us at Johnno’s Beach Bar in Sandy Ground and took us on two dives. One was the wreck of the Catheley H. and the other along the reef. We did the scheduled diving option which cost $150 per diver for the two dives and equipment rental was another $30 per diver. They do accept Visa or Mastercard but also offer a 5% discount for cash payment, so bring cash if you have.


Snorkeling. The snorkeling at Shoal Bay is great. You can also head to Crocus Bay and talk to a guy named Calvin, who, for $15 per person will take you on a short (10 min) boat ride to Little Bay. This was one of the best outings we had. We had the beach to ourselves and saw stingrays, tons of fish and jumped off a rock.


Cons

Most of these could be attributable to COVID-19 / Hurricane recovery in progress and may be temporary, but there were a few negatives to consider.

Closed stores. Some of the stores are still just not open or not fully open. Examples would be some restaurants that we selected in advance to try out, just were not open when we showed up or were out of a lot of items. Call ahead if you have a specific place you are wanting to visit and/or just expect that you may need to adjust plans to accommodate a partially opened island.


Trash. Assuming some of this is related to the hurricane, but the island needs some improvements on the trash disposal. The roadsides are littered with trash and there was no trash pick-up or dumpster at the villa so we had to drive our trash to a dumpster down the road.


Customs and Immigration for 2 countries. As noted in prep above, there is some doubling up on the customs and immigration tasks, which is better than the long layover that would be required to fly directly to Anguilla, but still a pain. However, it looks like this might be changing in a big way. Per this article, AA will start offering direct flights to Anguilla. This would be a major improvement in the travel logistics and could mean big things for the island itself.


Returning


More COVID tests are required to return to this US. For this, we arranged for a rapid test at the Hughes Medical Center in Anguilla. This cost another $60 per person.


We also had to register, again, through St. Maartin. Since we were coming from Anguilla, they were fewer restrictions. No COVID test was required.

Summary


Overall, I would give Anguilla an A-. It has very beautiful & quiet Caribbean beaches. Their handling of the pandemic is above average for most Caribbean islands. The retail and food offerings are limited and the island needs some cleanup. I would keep an eye out for the direct flight option and if you are going to travel there during the pandemic, you might want to consider the flight through Puerto Rico, despite the added and expense and additional stop, to avoid having to double up on the COVID testing protocols and approvals.


Enjoy & Safe Travels

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