Anguilla, the most northerly of the Leeward chain, lies at approximately 18° N and 63° W , and has an area of 90 sq km (35 sq mi). The island is long, flat, dry, and covered with scrub; its rolling hills reach a peak elevation of 65 m (213 ft) above sea level. The average annual temperature is 27° C (81° F ), with July–October being the hottest period and December–February the coolest. Rainfall averages 89 cm (35 in) a year, but there is considerable variation both from season to season and from year to year. The hurricane season, marked by occasional thunderstorms and sudden squalls, lasts from July to October.
The population was estimated at 12,446 in mid-2002. Most Anguillans are of African descent, with an admixture of European (especially Irish) ancestry. The population is overwhelmingly Christian: Anglicans (40%) and Methodists (33%) predominate, but there are also Seventh-Day Adventist (7%), Baptist (5%), Roman Catholic (3%), and other congregations. English is the official language, spoken in a distinctive island patois. Anguilla has no official capital, but The Valley serves as an administrative center. Anguilla had about 105 km (65 mi) of roads, 65 km (41 mi) of them paved as of 1998. Road Bay is the main harbor, and there is daily ferry service between Blowing Point and the French-Dutch island of St. Martin (Sint Maarten), about 8 km (5 mi) away. Air service to and from Wallblake Airport is provided by the privately owned Air Anguilla and two other interisland airways.
Although sighted by Columbus in 1496, Anguilla was not settled by Europeans until 1650, when British colonists arrived from St. Kitts. From 1671, Anguilla was governed as part of the Leeward Islands, and between 1871 and 1956 the island formed (with St. Kitts and, from 1882, Nevis) part of the Leeward Islands Federation. All the Leeward Islands were consolidated into a single territory in 1956 and, as such, were incorporated into the Federation of the West Indies two years later. With the breakup of the West Indies Federation in 1962, St. Kitts–Nevis–Anguilla reverted to colonial status. On 17 February 1967, St. Kitts–Nevis–Anguilla acquired self-government within the newly formed West Indies Associated States. After Anguilla declared its independence of the Associated States in 1969, some 300 British paratroopers temporarily took command of the island. On 10 February 1976, the UK recognized Anguilla's status as a dependency distinct from St. Kitts and Nevis, which achieved independence in 1983.
Under the Anguilla Constitution Order of 1982, the crown is represented by a governor, who presides over an appointed Executive Council and an elected 11-member House of Assembly. The Executive Council consists of the chief minister, three other ministers selected by the governor from among the members of the House of Assembly, and the attorney general and permanent secretary for finance, who serve ex officio both on the council and in the legislature. The governor also appoints two members of the House of Assembly, the remaining seven being elected to five-year terms by universal adult suffrage. In the election of March 2000, the Anguilla National Alliance won three seats, the Anguilla United Party won two, the Anguilla Democratic Party won one, with the remaining seat going to an independent candidate. Justice is administered by a magistrate's court, a Court of Appeal, and a High Court, whose sitting judge is provided by the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court on St. Lucia.
The mainstays of the economy are luxury tourism, offshore banking, lobster fishing, and remittances from abroad. Salt is extracted by evaporation from two briny ponds, and live lobsters are exported to neighboring islands. Tourism, construction, and a developing offshore banking sector have become the most prominent economic sectors in recent years. The East Caribbean dollar ( EC $) is the official currency. The GDP was estimated at $104 million in 2001, or $8,600 per capita. The economy, especially tourism, suffered damage from Hurricane Luis in 1995.
Education is provided by the state and is compulsory between the ages of 5 and 14 years. The government maintains six primary schools and one secondary school; total school enrollment exceeds 2,200. A 36-bed cottage hospital offers limited services. International telephone, telegraph, and telex services are available, and the government-run Radio Anguilla is on the air for more than 10 hours a day; a privately owned religious station, Caribbean Beacon Radio, operates from The Valley.
Dependencies of Anguilla include numerous offshore islets and cays, as well as Sombrero Island (5 sq km/2 sq mi), about 56 km (35 mi) to the northwest.