Where are the best places to snorkel in Anguilla?

Anguilla is a British Overseas Territory and is one of the most northerly of the Leeward Islands in the Lesser Antilles, located in the Caribbean Sea. It lies north of the island of Saint Martin/Sint Maarten and to the east of both Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Spotted eagle ray in Anguilla
Feeding Eagle Ray at Shoal Bay Beach.

The main island of Anguilla, is composed of low-lying coral and limestone with several unpopulated islands and cays, found to the north. Its relatively exposed conditions make for some of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean but can make snorkeling a little tricky at times.

Access to Anguilla (Blowing Point Terminal) is via a 30-minute ferry ride from Saint Martin/Sint Maarten, an island that is divided between the French and Dutch nations. Two international airports exist, Princess Juliana, in the southern Dutch region and Grand Case-Esperance, in the French northern area. Both have direct flights from Europe and North America, as well as inter-island flights from the rest of the Caribbean. Anguilla itself has an international airport, which is serviced by American Airlines, with direct flights from Miami.

Snake eel on a sandy bed in Anguilla
A Sharptail eel in Anguilla.

Entry from the shore is possible in several locations in Anguilla with, probably the best, off the beautiful, white sandy beach of Shoal Bay East, towards the northeast of the island. The beach allows easy access to several outcrops of coral reef, much of it protected from adverse wave conditions by an area of offshore coral reef.

The location to head for is the Manoah Hotel in Shoal Bay village. One small reef can be found in front of the hotel with a further stretch of reef accessed from the sandy point which separates Shoal Bay East from North Shoal Bay Beach. When you enter the water at the point, a short swim along a corridor of sand will take you to the reef edge, where shoals of Blue Tang can be found over a coral and sea fan dominated seabed.

Corky seafinger in Anguilla
Corky Seafinger, soft coral.

This reef can be followed both east and west but navigating back to shore is best through the sand corridor. You might be lucky enough to spot feeding Eagle Rays over this sand area.

Other sites of interest on the main island include Savannah Bay, on the southeastern shore, in an area also known as Junks Hole. The seabed is very shallow in the bay, which is protected from the offshore swell by a headland of rock and former coral reef.

The seabed is dominated by seagrasses with occasional coral and rock outcrops covered in a variety of soft corals, algae and burrowing sea urchins. Fish can be observed but tend to be sporadic. A welcoming restaurant sits on the beach, although not open all day!

Burrowing elegant anemone in Anguilla
Burrowing Elegant Anemone.

Another location on the south coast is Pelican Bay, which is largely deserted. Follow the road that branches left from the south coast road before reaching Blowing Point (probably no signs!). This is another shallow water location, but it supports a variety of small corals and associated fish species as well as an interesting burrowing sea anemone. However, take note, that along with several other eastward-facing embayments, this area is subject to significant accumulation of Sargassum.

On the northwest coast, several spots are interesting to visit, including Meads Bay, Limestone Bay, Barnes Bay and, probably the best of the lot, Crocus Bay, which has some interesting fish populations, including butterfly fish, surgeons and groupers.

The other sites worthy of mention are on the offshore islands, known as Prickly Pear Cays. These consist of two islands located about 8km north of the main island. The cays have clear water, with areas of reef just offshore, where you can see good shoals of fish, potentially including nurse sharks and, as an added bonus, the eastern island has a bar and restaurant. Tour operators run day trips to these islands from St. Maarten.

Boxfish in Anguilla
A Smooth Trunkfish in Shoal Bay.

What is the best time of the year to snorkel in Anguilla?

The climate in Anguilla is tropical, the hottest period is from May to November, when it can exceed 30C. The slightly cooler period is from December to March, occasionally as low as 23C. Rainfall is generally episodic in the form of short-lived downpours, although they may be more prolonged during hurricanes and tropical storms, which occur in the rainy season (September to October).

The wave climate is erratic as it is controlled by both local winds, which are relatively strong throughout the year from the Northeast, but also by the “north swells” originating in the North Atlantic. The best period to visit is considered to be during the months of February to May, which is the second half of the dry season, with little rain and reduced winds.

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