Anguilla sits in first class and has a first-class price tag. There are certainly more affordable ways to enjoy the sun and the sea, but for those desiring impeccable service and an exclusive atmosphere, this island is one of the premier vacation spots in the Caribbean.

Before you plunk down your money to vacation on Anguilla (and it will likely be a big plunk), know the ground rules: The rich and famous who go there do so because it is one of few places where they can be assured of a carefree, hassle-free holiday. If you happen to see, say, Janet Jackson sitting at the next table, you will not get her autograph nor ask about her next album. It just is not done.

There are no restrictions about fawning over the island's immaculate white-sand beaches, however. There are 33 to choose from, and many offer excellent snorkeling around coral reefs. Other watersports are in abundance: scuba diving, sailing and windsurfing. When visitors have had their fill of beach and ocean, there's a wide range of fine restaurants to round out the evening.

Don't expect an island that is lush, full of activity and replete with charming architecture, however. Anguilla is very dry, and until recently, life was hardscrabble there for centuries. The benefits of this are almost-constant sun, enduring simplicity and a cohesive populace whose confident self-reliance is the basis for an attitude you might want to bottle and take home.

Although a number of day-trippers arrive from St. Martin/St. Maarten, which lies only 4 mi/7 km to the south, Anguilla (pronounced ahn-GWIL-lah) remains relatively uncrowded compared with other islands in the area. Those who have sampled its relaxed and refined atmosphere seem to like what they've found: They tend to adopt the island as if it were their own private hideaway, returning year after year.

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