Just 20 minutes by ferry from Marigot, flat, arid, scrubby Anguilla has become one of the Caribbean's choicest destinations, despite its unprepossessing landscape and comparative lack of colonial grandeur. The reasons are obvious: The island resembles one big sugary-sand beach surrounded by luminous turquoise seas. The locals are congenial and laid-back, all beneficiaries of the excellent British education system. You'll find almost no hawking, pushiness, or overt poverty -- and correspondingly low crime rates. The leading resorts and villa complexes define luxury, and the food is among the finest in the Caribbean. And yet the vibe is pleasingly laid-back in even the toniest resorts; it's barefoot luxury at its least pretentious.

Once upon a time Anguilla was one of the Caribbean's best-kept secrets. Then, in the 1980s, this small, serene, secluded island embarked on a careful plan of marketing itself as a top-end destination with a handful of resorts. Quite deliberately, Anguilla (rhymes with "vanilla") turned its back on the package tours, the casinos and cruise ships, the glitzy shopping and nightlife of neighboring Dutch St. Maarten.

Just like Anguilla itself, the island's first resorts were (and remain) boutique gems, serene and secluded. The island has also emerged as the Caribbean's top dining spot, with Anguillan chefs running away with top prizes in annual regional competitions. You will dine superbly here, and you will pay dearly to do so.

Prepare yourself for two guaranteed pleasures: the breathtaking beauty of the island's 30-odd beaches and the genial hospitality of Anguilla's 12,000 inhabitants. Even though Anguilla is one of the Caribbean's most upscale destinations, the island has remained laidback and unaffected. It's an egalitarian society, where politicians and taxi drivers rub shoulders at their favorite beach bars. If you're looking to rest, unwind, and be pampered without pomp or snobbery, then this is the place for you.

Anguilla has no large commercial harbor or bustling international airport, a la St. Maarten. The beaches here are all public, and although some resorts make non-guests park some distance away from their manicured beaches, many of the best beaches are ones you'll discover yourself -- long, liquid strands of tawny sand and bottle-green surf. In addition to the island's justly famous first-class resorts, Anguilla also has a number of affordable small inns and guesthouses. Stay at one of Anguilla's more modest places and you'll still have those famous beaches to enjoy. The budget-minded will also find plenty of dining choices that won't cost an arm and a leg. Simply head to one of Anguilla's many local beach bars and barbecue shacks, where the ambience is barefoot casual.

The northernmost of the British Leeward Islands in the eastern Caribbean, 8km (5 miles) north of St. Maarten, Anguilla is only 26km (16 miles) long, with 91 sq. km (35 sq. miles) in land area. Once part of the federation with St. Kitts and Nevis, Anguilla gained its independence in 1980 and has since been a self-governing British possession.

For years, many Anguillan men were forced to leave the island to find work in shipping, fishing, and trade. Today, the tourist and hospitality industries employ a number of islanders. In fact, in the last few years, Anguilla has seen more building activity than in the last several decades, but at press time the global recession had put the brakes on most large-scale development. On (perhaps permanent) hold is the ambitious Temenos resort/villa complex, which ran out of funds after building the island's first 18-hole golf course, now managed by Cap Juluca. The homey old Rendezvous Bay Hotel had high hopes of reinventing itself as a an upscale hotel and condo complex, but the entire project stalled -- will a smaller-scaled boutique hotel land on Rendezvous Bay in the future? It took the Viceroy Anguilla 3 years to open, but it did, and it's quite a monumental undertaking. A new government has been installed, and among its major mandates is sustainability of the island's precious resources. The one thing that hasn't changed? The truth of Anguilla's slogan: "Tranquillity Wrapped in Blue."

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.