Anguilla’s Road Bay is a wide, lazy sweep of clear water colored every shade of Caribbean blue. It’s lightly populated by local fish and fun boats, a handful of cruisers, the daily dozen bare boats, an occasional mega yacht and some very curious turtles. There’s always room to anchor except on August Monday when the bay turns into a watery parking lot for the local boat races and party of the year.
The bay is home to the village of Sandy Ground, aptly named for its shockingly white sand. Mismatched buildings run from one end of the beach to the other, backed by a ribbon of road. Beyond that lies a 130 acre salt pond, halting growth and ensuring that Sandy Ground will never leave the last century.
Yachtsmen begin their visit at the two storey block building, officiously marked: ‘CUSTOMS AND IMMIGRATION’. A sign on the door declares: ‘Proper attire required’. Inside is all air-conditioned, computerized, uniformed business, until you sit before an Immigration officer who asks with sincerity, “First time to Anguilla?”
An affirmative answer earns a smiling, “Welcome to Anguilla!” And if you reply in the negative, you’ll receive an even warmer, “Welcome Back.” That is the essence of Sandy Ground: genuine, friendly, and as real as it gets on an island known for its uber exclusive hotels and restaurants.
Finding a spot to celebrate the most pleasant clearance in the Caribbean is as easy as walking next door to Johnno’s, a long-standing beach bar where tourists and locals mingle like cousins at a family reunion. Let your guard down, relax, and prepare to learn some local lore. Most Anguillians are related to each in some way or another and after a raucous bar-side visit, you’ll think you’re related, too.
Sandy Ground is small geographically but large, loud, and libatious. At the north end of the beach, built amidst the fishermen’s homes, you’ll find Elvis’ Beach Bar, where, by true definition, you can eat and drink with your feet in the sand. Repeatedly rated as one of the top ten beach bars in the Caribbean, it specializes in full moon parties and a dangerous drink made with Mamma Wanna rum. Elvis, one of the islands famed bartenders, is usually in the house, succinctly managing the bar built from an island boat.
Across the road on the pond is The Pump House, the artiest party venue in the village for all of the right reasons. It really was, in its day, the pump-house for the working salt pond, and inside, bands set up amongst the giant engine relics. Other museum pieces adorn the structure: the main gaff from the famous Anguillan schooner, Warspite; a jumbo cauldron from the days of king sugar; and bits and pieces from vessels taken out by the big storms.
The new-comer to the beach is Dad’s, owned by Delbert Mussington and Alexandra Lemaster. In business for only a year, they’ve already collected the World Travel Award for Best Night Life. Live music plays four nights a week “’til midnight on the weekdays, two on the weekend,” Mussington explained. “On holidays, the government gives us an extra hour ’til three!”
Dad’s, like most restaurants in Sandy Ground, features fresh fish and lobster right from the boat. The increasingly popular lionfish is also on Dad’s menu.
Sand Bar, another new restaurant joins the well-established Barrel Stay, Roy’s, and Dolce Vita; all within a short walk of your dinghy.
Another new face in Sandy Ground is Sea Pro, a yacht concierge service offering every water sport toy you can think of, including a jumbo water trampoline. If you want a trip to Sandy Island or the Cays, you can leave your own boat in Road Bay and travel with one of their fleet. Local crew for fishing expeditions know just where to go for the big one. Their office can handle most any need you have including provisioning and travel.
So, the secret is out—Sandy Ground is one of the last gems of the Caribbean, untouched by mega marinas and hotels. Alter course and go there now.