What Should I Know About Anguilla? (with pictures)

Brendan McGuigan
Brendan McGuigan
Coral reefs, like this one, are found around Anguilla.
Coral reefs, like this one, are found around Anguilla.

Anguilla is a tiny island nation in the Caribbean, not far from the island of Puerto Rico. The country is legally a dependency of the British crown, governing itself but with a special relationship to the United Kingdom. It is less than 40 square miles, with the longest side spanning only 16 miles.

A little fewer than 15,000 people live on Anguilla, with the majority being native Anguillians of African descent. A growing number of foreigners are choosing to make their home on Anguilla, primarily citizens of the United Kingdom or the United States. Many people choose to live on Anguilla because of the beautiful scenery, temperate climate, and laid back style of living.

Anguilla is popular with divers.
Anguilla is popular with divers.

Because of its small size and poor soil, Anguilla is not very suitable for agriculture. The island also has few natural resources. The economy is therefore based primarily on tourism and providing a haven for overseas businesses, in the mode of many Caribbean nations.

Anguilla was originally settled by Amerindian tribal groups who arrived from the South American mainland. Although these groups were often from different tribes and cultures, they are commonly referred to as the Arawaks, and were the settlers of many of the Caribbean islands in the pre-Columbian period. The earliest artifacts date back to more than 3000 years ago, and the first traces of permanent settlements are a bit over 1400 years old.

The Western discovery of Anguilla is open to some debate, with some factions claiming that Columbus spotted the island in the early 1490s, and others saying the first contact was made by the French in the mid-1500s. No matter who first spotted the island, it was the English who made the first long-lasting settlement — although the Dutch claim to have had an earlier fort — in 1650.

The English cultivated crops on Anguilla, in spite of a number of hostile forces. The Caribs repeatedly raided the English settlement, and the French later joined in, eventually capturing the island for a time. Crop yields through all of this stayed fairly poor, with Anguilla’s weak soil and somewhat rough climate providing a far from ideal environment for the popular crops of corn and tobacco.

Most of the British left the island after slavery was abolished in the 1830s, and the remaining population was primarily freed slaves. These freed slaves continued to live on the island, staying alive by fishing and working the remaining crops for a scarce yield. Around this time Anguilla was also placed by the British into a confederation with nearby St. Kitts, part of a combined unit that would remain until the 1960s — in spite of strong protests by Anguillians.

The Anguillians issued a formal secession from the combined state in 1967, and evicted all St. Kitts police from the island. The British made overtures to reach an agreement with the interim Anguillian government, and sent a number of British officials over the next few years to try to come to an agreement — none of which stuck. By 1971 the British had worked out a relatively agreed upon interim plan, where Anguilla was allowed to secede from St. Kitts — although it was not until 1980 that Anguilla was fully recognized as an independent British dependency.

Anguilla is a fascinating country, with a rich and vibrant history. It makes an ideal tourist destination, with friendly people, beautiful weather, amazing coral reefs and diving, and a range of accommodation choices. While the legal currency of Anguilla is the East Caribbean dollar, the US dollar is accepted virtually everywhere. This, combined with English as the national language, makes it a very easy place to visit and explore.

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    • Coral reefs, like this one, are found around Anguilla.
      Coral reefs, like this one, are found around Anguilla.
    • Anguilla is popular with divers.
      Anguilla is popular with divers.