One of the best things to do while you're in the British Virgin Islands is take a day cruise on a catamaran (or traditional) sailboat. We used Patouche charters, and both of the crew members, Clive and Julie, were extremely friendly and helpful. The boat made three stops: Angel Reef, The Caves on Norman Island (which are literally caves that you can swim into), and another that I can't seem to remember the name of. They provided a homecooked meal halfway through the day, and a couple times came out snorkelling with us to show us certain animals. Clive dove down and picked up a sea cucumber for us, then passed it around. The reefs we visited were pristine, and we saw things such as a sea turtle, two squid, and swarms of great black sea urchins. For anyone who loves snorkelling, sailing, and the Caribbean Sea, this is a must.
The smallest of the four “main” islands in the British Virgin Islands group, hilly Jost Van Dyke has only been inhabited for the past three centuries - at least in the post-Columbian era. There is evidence of small Arawak settlements along the shore that date back 1,000 years. A small group of Quakers settled on the island in the 17th century – such things were possible at the time. Unusual for Quakers, a group that opposed slavery, they established plantations that soon depended upon slave labor to operate.
When slavery was abolished in the 1830s, the Jost Van Dyke farms were no longer viable and they fell to ruin. Some of the freed workers remained and built a small, but thriving community.
The colony was more or less isolated until the early 1970s, when private yachts began exploring the smaller reaches of the BVI territory. Tourism is now the island’s economic mainstay.
Although visitation is encouraged and a water system was installed in 2003, resources are relatively scarce, so visitors are asked to help conserve. A friendly and relaxed place, its beaches are magnificent and several offshore coral communities offer great diving and snorkeling opportunities. Island trails attract hikers and if you are a bird or native flower fancier, you will probably be well rewarded.
The permanent population is less than 200 (human) residents. Their island was named for an early Dutch settler (reputedly a reformed pirate). It is ahilly place. The small island is just 4 mile long, but there are plenty of hills – the highest reaches 1,054 feet. The three communities (Great Harbour, Little Harbour, and White Bay) all have protected anchorage sites and there are several resorts and plenty of fine restaurants on the island. Taste a West Indian roti or flying fish sandwich for a local treat.
The Spanish aristocracy was not overly interested in the Virgin Islands – there was no gold to speak of. Besides, pirates had figured out that hidden coves and complex reef systems amounted to a maritime spider web – perfect for snagging passing ships.
Modern Tortola, with 13,000 residents, is the large stand most populous of the British Virgin Islands (only 17,000 people live in the BVI!). The hilly south coast is blanketed with frangipani and fragrant ginger. The north is characterized by inviting white sandy beaches, many of which are sheltered from ocean currents by coral reefs or cove formations. In the northern interior, mango and banana groves thrive. Road Town is capital of the 12-by-3 mile island. With 3,200 residents, it is a subdued but sophisticated community. West Indian charm is reflected in colorful wood-and-stone buildings and several colonial buildings have been restored as quaint shops along Main Street.
Just outside Road Town, scenic Ridge Road leads up to Fort Hill, past some of the island’s charming smaller villages, such as Long Trench and Fahie Hill. Tortola's narrow and twisting roads follow what were once dirt donkey tracks (also footpaths). Pay close attention to traffic – some visitors find it hard to remember that BVI drivers stay to the left! Sky World offers excellent views, but continue to 1,716-foot Sage Mountain, one of Tortola’s finest natural treasures. The highest point in the BVI, mountainside trails offer panoramic views of neigh-boring Peter, Salt, Cooper and Ginger islands(south) and Jost Van Dyke and Sandy Cay (north).
The ruin of Dutch-built Fort Recovery is another interesting Tortola sight – Dutch settlers landed at Soper’s Hole in 1648. Josiah’s Bay is perfect for picnickers or sunbathers, while you can swim at nearby Brewers Bay Beach. Cane Garden Bay, closer to Road Town, is one of the island’s most popular beaches.
Sir Francis Drake Passage leads right past Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda’s main commercial center. The surrounding community is known as the Valley. The ferry landing and airport are both nearby, and although a relatively recent innovation, all roads are paved. The rest of Virgin Gordais rather hilly. Gorda Peak, the highest point, towers above 1,380feet. Two interesting crags off the southern end, Fallen Jerusalem and Broken Jerusalem, are local landmarks. Tiny Necker Island, off the northeastern shore, is British airline magnate Richard Branson’s private domain.
One of the more popular attractions is the natural stretch of coast that is romantically known as the Baths. Huge boulders that rest haphazardly on the beach were probably hurled from the festering mouth of a prehistoric volcano. Pools and grottoes formed by these great rocks offer swimming and snorkeling.
In the 17th century, British colonists as well as Dutch and French settlers took great interest in the archipelago. Remnants of the period include the pre-served ruins at Little Fort National Park. The fort is not only a historic site, but also an important wildlife sanctuary. Prickly Pear National Park, on the North Sound, is also a wildlife refuge. The natural areas have become popular among eco-tourists in recent years.
On our trip to Tortola in 2009, we took a half day sail to the Baths at Virgin Gorda with Patouche Charters. The catamaran was a good size for our group and we had wonderful views on the sail to the Baths. Upon arriving at the Baths, we donned our snorkeling gear and followed one of the crew members past the giant boulders under the water to get to the beach. As we snorkeled around the boulders, we saw so many large fish and coral. I had spent time at some of the best snorkeling beaches on St. Thomas and St. John but none of them came close to the incredible snorkeling at the Baths.
When we arrived at the beach, we were led down the trail going through the boulders and caves. After reaching the end, we were offered a half hour to spend as we wished before arriving back to the boat for the sail back to Tortola. We spent the time climbing the boulders.
Upon returning to the boat, we were greeted with snacks and drink. The sail back was incredibly relaxing. We just wished that we could stay longer.
This was our favorite experience on the BVI and one that we will always remember.
As I mentioned in my intro, I went to the BVIs to go scuba diving. If you don't dive, it is still a great place to go snorkeling. I was on the CUAN LAW and loved it. You don't have to be a diver to go on the boat, they do straight sailing trips as well.
I've been to the Baths at Virgin Gorda twice - both times on a day excursion with a cruise. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. There are two beaches connected by huge boulders. The first time I went, we took a car to the beaches and explored the caves (I use this term loosely) created by the boulders. The second time I visited, we took a boat and snorkeled to the beaches. There wasn't much to see when we snorkeled as far as marine life, but the view of the Baths from the water is awesome. I highly recommend adding the Baths to the places on your list to visit.
As mentioned before The Baths is the most famous landmark in the BVI. There are so many boulders around the beaches here that they have formed pools and grottoes underneath the stones. Heidi Klum did her H&M shooting here a few years ago and I bet this wasn't the only advertising that was shot here. For a reason: It's very scenic. And great fun, too.
So let me explain what you can do here:
If you are not feeling adventurous you can drive to the car park above The Baths, pay 3$ national park fee and walk down the stairs to the beach and just relax on the lovely but popular beach.
We were lucky and came here on a very quiet day but you wouldn't want to come here on a "cruise ship day". The local newspapers publish a list with cruise ship arrivals by the way. Like this you can be sure to choose a good day!
Your other option is to go down to Devil's Bay, in my opinion the beach here is even nicer than The Baths. Shadow is hard to find here though!
If you feel like crawling, climbing ladders and wading through water try the path from The Baths to Devil's Bay - or as we did it - the other way around. Climbing over stones barefoot was a little scary for me at first but when I got used to it I started to enjoy it a lot. At some spots you have to crawl underneath big boulders, at other places there are ladders or even a rope that helps you over the obstacles. We even got lost on our way once. It took us a while to figure out which was the correct way to get to the beach.
Very close to The Baths there is a cathedral like dark hall underneath the boulders witch a deep pool. My favourite spot! So if you chose the unadventurous version make sure to see at least this place. It's only one boulder you have to climb to get there (the one with the rope!).
Another option: If you bring your snorkelling equipment you can snorkel from one beach to the other.
Anegada is different from the other islands of the BVI. It not located very close to any other islands, from Virgin Gorda it takes approx. 1 hour by ferry to get here. It's the only coral atoll of the BVIs, the highest point of Anegada is 8 metres above sealevel. Let's hope that global warming won't destroy this special paradise some day. From Tortola and Virgin Gorda you can only see Anegada on a very clear day.
Because of the coral reef around the island, the waters around Anegada are even more clear and turquoise than anywhere else on the BVI. Because of its located the beaches here are even less crowded than on the other islands. We had the most beautiful beaches, Loblolly Bay and Cow Wreck Beach - for me the most beautiful beaches on the BVI - all to ourselves when we visited. Snorkelling and Diving are great here! There are so many wrecks around the island, it must be heaven for wreckdivers.
In the middle of Anegada there's a big pond. Flamingoes live here and with a little patience you can spot them. Also the Anegada Rock Iguana can be spotted. We weren't lucky (we spotted a snake instead... YUCK! They aren't dangerous but disgusting!) so we looked at them at the Rock Iguana Rehabilitation Project, next to the big administrative building at "The Settlement", the main town on the Anegada which can't really be called a town. No surprise, only approx. 200 people live on Anegada. The BVIlanders like to spend their weekends here, though!
Talking of which: There are only a few simple places to stay on Anegada. Anegada Reef Hotel is the biggest hotel, there are also some villas. By the way: Anegada is famous for its lobster. Make sure to try it here if you are planning to try it on the BVI!
You really would want to come here on a sunny day! When we arrived on Anegada after quite a rough ferry crossing heavy rain arrived with us just as we went to our first beach. It was quite hard to think of something to do when it's raining! Luckily the sun came back after a few hours (which is long for BVI standards) and we could hit the beaches.
How to get here: Smith's Ferries offer a ferry on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. It leaves Tortola at 7 am and picks you up at Anegada at 5 pm. This makes Anegada the perfect destination for a day trip from Tortola. There's an (international!) airport on the island, too. On Anegada I would recommend a rental car. We paid 65 $ for a jeep for a day and I enjoyed driving through lots of puddles and on sandy roads!
With approximately 3,000 inhabitants Virgin Gorda is the 2nd most populated and the 3rd biggest islands of the BVI. It is also one of my favourite islands. The people here are much more friendly than on Tortola, the landscapes are diverse and there are many great things to do as well as beautiful beaches. You will also find the best hotels of the BVI on Virgin Gorda.
The south end of Virgin Gorda, called "The Valley", is full of rocks. Huge granite boulders are lying around this flat part of the island, not only at the famous "The Baths". The Baths, a beach full of boulders and an adventure track through pools underneath these boulders, is the main tourist attraction on Virgin Gorda, if not on the whole BVI! It's great fun, you have to try it some day!
In the middle of the islands it's getting hilly. Roads (well to be honest, there is basically only one road!) are steep but in much better shape than those on Tortola. There's the Gorda Peak National Park, several nice bays, e.g. Savannah Bay or Mahoe Bay and along the road there are lookout points for great scenic views.
The north of the islands, around North Sound, is a real watersports paradise. I can't be reached by car, you have to take a watertaxi from Leverick Bay or Gun Greek to get here.
How to get there: You can reach Spanish Town, the main "town" of Virgin Gorda, by ferry from Road Town, Tortola. There are frequent boats by Smith's Ferries and by Speedy, who seems to own half of the island by the way. The North Sound Express Ferry will bring you from the airport on Beef Island to Spanish Town and the North Sound, it's more expensive than the other ferries though. We paid 30 $ for the round trip on Smith's Ferries.
There also is an airstrip (with sand runway!) on VG. If you want to explore the island it's probably your best bet to get a rental car for a day. You can also take taxis from A to B.
Update May 2010: The airport on VG is closed at the moment.
One warning: Don't expect too much of Road Town. It's the capital of the BVI but there is not much to do. The "city" consists mainly of administrative buildings, a few shops and the port. Locals come here to work or to shop, for tourists this place is only half as interesting! Whenever we came to Road Town we felt stressed. We were so much used to the quiet BVI life already that Road Town already was too hectic for our tastes.
Things I liked in Road Town:
Main Street is a quiet little street that runs parallel to the main through road. There are some Carib style buildings and a few nice shops here. Try Sunny Caribbee if you need spicy souvenirs!
The only traffic light junction of the BVI is located in Road Town. According to the locals it wasn't really necessary but now they soon will equip the roundabout with traffic lights, too. What a shame! I still remember when they built the 1st traffic lights a few years ago and full size ads in the local newspaper told the people how they work (e.g. "yellow" means that the light is changing shortly. Prepare to stop.)
Wild chicken live everywhere on Tortola, even in the busy streets of Road Town. They walk along the big streets and along the walkways. When we came back to our car on the biggest car park in town there even was a rooster sitting on the roof of our car! Lovely!
Things I didn't like in Road Town:
People in the shops or at the ferryport aren't friendly at all in Road Town. Even when you smile at them they won't smile back. I went into a shop to top up my mobile cars and almost felt I had to excuse myself for disturbing that guy behind the counter. It gives you the impression that the people of Road Town don't really enjoy working.
When there's a cruise ship in the port you should avoid being in Road Town. Cruise tourists in bikinis walk into the shops and bars, even though every guidebook tells you that the locals even dress up when they have to go to the capital. I thought it was tasteless .. and not a nice sight, anyway ;)
The Arts and Crafts village near the ferry port caters for these tourists. If you want kitsch souvenirs and neon bags with sailboats, come here. If not, try to avoid this place!
Every small island in the BVI's has it's own flavour and secrets. Arrive and stay in Tortola (main island) and take boat trips (leaving from Road Town) to the other smaller islands. Virgin Gorda is by far the most beautiful, the best way to explore it is by renting a scutter, make sure you get to the Baths and you cross the Devil's Path.
Check the full moon calendar and make sure you experience a Full Moon beach party.
Two flags rule over this tiny isle – the French and the Dutch. Philipsburg is the Dutch capital and the place to head for a serious shopping splurge. Marigot, meanwhile, is the French capital, where you can divide your time between bistros and boutiques. Add to the mix dreamy Caribbean coves, kaleidoscopic reefs and lashings of sunshine and you’ve got all the ingredients for tropical bliss.
• Give your credit card a duty-free workout in Philipsburg. From cut-price island crafts to cutting-edge designer gear, you’ll find it all here. Front Street’s your starting point, the town’s main artery that has lanes, alleyways and courtyards leading off in all directions.
• Head up to Paradise Peak, St Maarten’s highest point. On your way up, pass Loterie Farm, where lime-green rainforest provides a home to iguanas, humming birds, monkeys and mongoose.
• Set off on a snorkelling expedition through Shipwreck Cove, where Technicolor reefs light up the underwater world.
• Tick off the island’s two major forts - Fort Amsterdam, the first Dutch military outpost, and Fort Willem, built by the British back in 1801. Both serve up superb panoramic views so don’t forget your camera.
Butterfly Farm & Marigot
Owl. Tree Nymph. Blue Morph. They’re not characters from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but some of the butterflies you’ll see on this trip. You’ll visit the Butterly Farm at Le Gallion beach, where you’ll learn all about these winged beauties. More than 40 species in every colour of the rainbow call this mesh-covered dome home, with up to 600 full-grown adults fluttering through the gardens at any one time. You’ll see them in every stage of life from caterpillar and chrysalis to new-born butterfly. And, if you’re lucky, you’ll get to handle them, too. From here, you’ll travel to the four street-wide capital of French St Maarten, Marigot, where you’ll have some free-time to explore. Admire the gingerbread house-style homes. Pick up tax-free bargains from designers like Chanel, Cartier and Ralph Lauren. Or take time out for coffee and pastries at one of the smart cafés. It’s like being on the French Riviera. Finally, you’ll stop briefly to see the natural marina in Simpson Bay, before heading back to the ship. £28.00 (3.5 hrs)
St Maarten Island Tour
Flying under two flags, St Maarten has got something of a split personality. But despite being one half Dutch and the other French, its whole is as Caribbean as it gets. And on this trip you’ll get to see both sides of this two-faced island, with your guide giving you snippets of history as you go. You’ll travel from the Dutch capital to Marigot on the French side, passing through dinky villages hardly touched by time. Once you reach Marigot, you have some free time to explore this four street-wide city. All patisseries, pavement cafés and designer boutiques, it’s easy to see why it’s known as the French Riviera of the Caribbean. Rounding off the trip, you’ll stop at Lookout Point to admire the view over Simpson Bay Lagoon before heading back to the ship. Just so you know… This tour sometimes operates in reverse. £22.00 (2.5 hrs)
Afternoon Beach Bash
There’s nothing complicated about this trip. It’s a transfer to and from the best beach on the island. All silver-white sands and turquoise waters, it’s easy to see why Orient Beach is dubbed the ‘French Riviera of the Caribbean’. It’s over a mile long. It comes with everything from watersports to beach masseurs. And it’s backed by restaurants and bars. Factor in your own sunbed and an endless supply of rum punch, and you’ve got one relaxing afternoon on the beach. Just so you know… Umbrellas, watersports etc. are available at extra cost. The transfer to the beach takes approximately 20-30 minutes. £19.00 (3 hrs)
Hidden Forest Hike
Set on the French side of the island, Loterie Farm is prime rainforest territory. Carefully converted from a 19th-century sugar plantation to a 150-acre nature reserve, this place does conservation on a grand scale. Rather than rip down the rainforest to make room for their ideas, the owners turned it into a giant adventure playground criss-crossed with zip lines, treetop assault courses and eco-trails. And this trip certainly makes the most of the farm’s jungle-like setting. Taking your seat in a safari truck, you’ll be whisked to the top of ‘Pic Paradis’, St Maarten’s highest point. After you’ve admired the view - you can see across to St Barth’s and surrounding islands from up here – your adventure really begins. Following a guide, you’ll set off on a two-hour downhill hike under the 200-year-old rainforest canopy. You’ll weave through mango, guavaberry and silk cotton trees. Take a break at Chewbacca Rock, a clearing 270 metres above the ground. And amble down gently sloping pathways to the bottom where you’ll be greeted with a well-deserved drink. Just remember to keep an eye out for the natives, if you’re lucky you’ll spot some of the monkeys, iguanas and mongooses that live here. Just so you know… You’ll need sensible walking shoes as the downhill hike is on uneven, rugged terrain with some fairly steep gradients in some areas. Minimum age to participate in this tour is 6 years old. £32.00 (3.5 hrs)
Get to know St Maarten’s marine world a little better on this ocean adventure. You’ll be driven from Philipsburg to Grand Case, where your voyage will start. Board the Seaworld Explorer – a unique semi-submarine with an underwater observatory. Instead of the boat submerging, you do. As you make your way to Rocher de Creole, a guide will be on hand to teach you all about St Maarten’s sea life. Then watch as our daring scuba diver swims alongside clouds of rainbow-coloured fish, feeding them and leading them past the viewing chamber. You’re also likely to see sea turtles, eels, barracudas and stingrays – so don’t forget your camera. Later, you’ll be able to relax and enjoy the scenery from the top deck as the boat cruises back to dry land. £28.00 (2.5 hrs)
If you feel the need for speed, this water adventure is for you. Don your captain’s hat and hop into the driving seat of a two-man Rhino Rider – a zippy little inflatable motorboat – for an adrenaline-pumping tour of St Maarten’s waters. You’ll be shown how to operate the boat, and then a guide will lead you through Simpson Bay Lagoon to Marigot, the French capital. Here, you’ll get a great view of St Maarten’s largest historical monument, Fort Louis. It was built back in the 18th century to protect the island from invaders, and you can still see the original stone walls and cannons today. Next, you’ll zoom off along the coastline to Happy Bay. The afternoon is yours to explore this secluded and almost deserted beach. You can hike the trail, snorkel the reef, or simply lie back and soak up some rays. Just so you know… Footwear suitable for wet conditions required. Minimum age to participate in tour is 10 years old. Minimum age for driving Rhino Rider is 18 years old. Two people share one Rhino Rider – weight restriction per boat is 400lbs. £49.00 (3 hrs)
America's Cup Sailing Regatta
On your marks, get set, go! It’s all hands on deck as you compete in this nail-biting regatta. Everyone will have a job to do as two classic yachts, each nearly 70 foot long and with a mast the height of an eight-storey building, battle round a 12-metre course. Your captain will explain the tactics, and the rest is up to you. Take control of the steering wheel, raise the mast or lead the cheering. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never sailed before – you can get as involved as you want or just sit back and enjoy the complimentary beer and soft drinks. As you cross the finishing line, a photographer will capture the moment on camera. And whether you win or lose, it’ll be celebrations all round at the victory rum punch party. It’s easy to see why this trip has been voted the best shore excursion in the Caribbean for the tenth year running. Just so you know… The minimum age is 12 years old. Soft-soled shoes are recommended. £59.00 (3 hrs)
I loved this beach! It seems like more hotel guests spend time in the pool than on the beach. They must be all crazy! Oh well, it meant that in the mornings we were almost the only ones in the water :) Fantastic!
The water here was incredibly warm and calm and the time I spend in, on and around the water here was the most relaxing time I had on the BVI I think. At the beach there are comfortable deck chairs available as well as umbrellas that provide some shade. But why lie around at the beach if you can lie around in the sea? Little Dix has fantastic floats, foam mats, you can just lie down on and float around the sea. Wonderful. I want this beach and one of those floats at home, please!
This beach belongs to the Little Dix Bay Resort but as there are no private beaches on the BVI it's open to public. If you want to enjoy this half a mile crescent paradise you can walk through the resort or come by boat, just leave chairs and floats for the hotel guests.
You can try to spot the rare Anegada Rock Iguana on the island but you have to be really lucky to see one I guess. We got the tip to look in The Settlement at the rehabilitation project to at least see some baby iguanas. The animals are brought up here until they are big enough to survive in the wild, wild cats and cattle are their biggest enemies on the island. Let's hope that with the help of this project the endangered species will survive.
This is a lavish full-service resort that should satisfy most honeymooners' dreams of a romantic...more
Well Bay, Beef Island, VG1120, Caribbean
Good for: Business
Deadmans Bay, Tortola, , Peter Island, 00801 2409, Caribbean
Good for: Business