I was fascinated by the idea of going to Norman Caves, the real life inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island so I was happy when I found a way to visit both Norman Island and Jost Van Dyke on one daytrip. We stopped here in the morning with Patouche Charters, before heading over to Jost Van Dyke. Since our captain was also our crew due to their only being two of us, he instructed us on where to go and what we'd be looking for since he needed to stay with the boat. That suited us just fine, we are good swimmers and have a lot of snorkeling on our travel resumes so we didn't need a guided tour.
I contacted Patouche about a month before we were heading to Tortola and asked about a trip to Norman Island and Jost Van Dyke. Captain Joe said that he would go out with just the two of us so I booked with him. Normally you would meet him at his dock, a short taxi ride away but because there were just two of us he came into port and met us there. Our 1st stop was Norman Island, aka Treasure Island from the RL Stevenson book of the same name, for some snorkeling in and around the caves. Then we hopped back on board for a ride over to Jost Van Dyke where we waded to the beach, had lunch and a few Painkillers at the Soggy Dollar bar, and then back to port.
I can't say enough good things about Captain Joe, we fully realized that he could have cancelled the trip, or not agreed to take us in the 1st place, because we weren't going to be a profitable trip. We did tip him generously since we were his only customers that day but I'm sure he only covered his gas even with that.
Visiting Jost Van Dyke from Tortola
Jost Van Dyke, another of the British Virgin Islands, is easily reachable from Tortola. This was our 2nd stop on our catamaran cruise with Patouche and our catamaran docked at White Bay. Earlier in the visit, there was another group of people from our cruise ships and a few other boats, as the afternoon wore on more and more boats arrived. The catamaran docked so we could walk to shore, on the way back to get back on the boat, the water was almost over my head so bringing a waterproof bag is advisable if you are bringing a camera or a kindle or anything else electronic.
Some sites say the island was named for an early Dutch settler and former pirate, Joost van Dyk. Not many people live on the island, less than 300 people, I'd venture that by the time we left the island, the visitors almost outnumbered the residents!
Most everyone who stops at White Bay makes their way to the Soggy Dollar bar for one of their painkillers, I'll admit to having one myself. For research purposes, of course!
Callwood's Cane Garden Bay distillery
This distillery is allegedly over 400 years old and looks it. The rum, we were told, had a unique quality - you will never, ever get a hangover from it. Sure, right. We paid about $7 for a quart, double the price of a quart of Cruzan in the K Mart on St. Thomas. After an excellent meal at Myett's we retired to the bareboat charter sloop. The next day we sailed to Great Harbor, Jost Van Dyke, and that evening indulged to a large extent with Mr. Callwood's best. Idon't recall exactly how many I had but enough to end up with one arm and leg in the dinghy and the other in the water. Fortunately my better half operates small boats for a living and got us back to the sloop. The next morning I awoke at 6 with a perfectly clear head, no headache, no fog. Mr. Callwood spoke the truth.
The Baths-Spring Bay
After getting off the Speedy safari taxi, you pay the small entrance fee (I think it was $3-4 per person) and then walk down the pathway to get to Spring Bay. As you are reading about the Baths, people will talk about the difficulty of the walk but it's not to this part that they are talking about as it's an easy 5-10 minute walk on a very clearly defined path. Once at the beach, you can get in the water here for a swim as long as the red caution flags aren't out, there's a place to eat/drink, toilets and lockers at this part of the Baths.
The current is reasonably strong here so if you are not a strong swimmer you may wish to wait until you get to Devil's Bay or at least keep close enough to shore to touch bottom. Also watch out for the uneven rocks underfoot and the rocks in the water.
The Baths-Virgin Gorda
When I looked at Cruise Critic it appeared that the #1 suggestion for a day in Tortola was leaving Tortola and taking a ferry over to see the Baths on Virgin Gorda, one of the neighboring islands in the British Virgin Islands. It is the most popular tourist destination in the BVI. There are several ways to get here if you arrive by cruise ship, of course the cruise lines offer a trip, you can go with an organized tour like Tortola Charters which sails directly into the bay or you can do it independently by ferry like we did.
Our trip started with a short walk to the ferry terminal on Tortola, a 1/2 hour ferry ride on Speedy's to Virgin Gorda, a short safari taxi ride to the Baths. Once at the Baths, you pay a small admission fee and walk down an easy trail to Spring Bay where weather permitting you can go for a swim or sit on the beach. The fun part is next, the Devil's Bay Trail where you go under and over gigantic granite boulders to reach the calmer Devil's Bay where you can swim, sit on the beach or go on a rock climbing adventure. When you are ready to leave you take another easier trail back up to the parking lot.
There are toilets, a restaurant, snack shop and lockers near Spring Bay, once you get to Devil's Bay, there are no amenities.
The Baths-Devil's Bay Trail
Now this is the part of your visit that everyone talks about, the Devil's Bay Trail between Spring Bay and Devil's Bay. It's hard to know when you are chatting with cruisers as to whether something is challenging or merely challenging for someone who's not in good shape. The walk between them is somewhat of a highlight for most visitors, a sort of "Survivor" or "Amazing Race" challenge as you walk between, over and under giant granite boulders, climbing ladders, using ropes at one point to hoist yourself along. The trail is not marked with signs, although the sign at the start says there are piles of rocks called cairns to mark the way, so you are left to find your way if you are not there with a bunch of cruise ship passengers. For me, who is in reasonably decent shape, by that I mean I have all of my original parts, haven't had a pacemaker installed and still fit (barely) in an airline seat, there was nothing that caused me to balk. If you recently had hip replacement surgery, on the other hand, you may inquire about getting to Devil's Bay along the path that you take when you return back to the parking lot.
The sign at the front says it takes about 20 minutes and while I didn't time it, that seems about right.
The Baths-Devil's Bay
After walking through the rocks, you end up at Devil's Bay, the water here is calmer than Spring Bay and perfect for floating around. There are no amenities here, no snack bar, no lockers, no toilets. I didn't snorkel here but my husband did, he said that he saw some fish but he was really far from shore and said there was nothing unusual. Unless you are a really strong swimmer, you might not want to bother lugging snorkel gear with you.
The walk back to the parking lot doesn't require you to go back through the rocks that you navigated coming from Spring Bay, there is another trail which is longer than the trail going down to Spring Bay from the parking lot, I think it took us 15-20 minutes so give yourself plenty of time.
Circumnavigate the Island
Then at the end of our charter of a sailboat in December, we took a taxi tour around the perimeter of the island. Our charter captains called a cab for us. They couldn't get the man they usually used, so they flagged this taxi down and negotiated a rate for an island tour. I think it was about $15-20. He had some folks to deliver from a boat that had come in to their hotels, before he could do the tour. That was OK with us.
After he delivered the other folks, he drove us up to the top of the mountain, and I got out to take some photos, and he let the engine cool off. Then he stopped by his house to feed his dog and let him run, and then delivered us back to our boat.
- Road Trip
- Sailing and Boating
I was surprised to see that no one has yet talked about the most popular activity in the BVI. That being sailing. The British Virgin Islands are known world-wide for the excellent sailing conditions. In fact these islands host one of the largest sailing events in the world, the Spring Regatta.
Having been to the Spring Regatta I would recommend it to anyone. In fact, when I go to Tortola I always try to squeeze it in. The Regatta starts in late March or early April annually. It's located at Nanny Cay which is just Southwest of Road Town.
The Spring Regatta isn't just for sailors. They have a wide variety of fun for the whole family, with music, dancing, contests, yacht races, and just assorted partying.
If you would like to get in on the sailing action yourself, then you've got to rent your own boat. At least for the day. A small unihull yacht can cost as little as $200 a day in the low season. If you don't know how to sail a captain can show you around for about $150 a day. Many people go the extra mile of sailing for the whole week and even hire a cook. There is a great page for more info. on sailing at VacationTortola.com
I enjoy chartering a bareboat (boat without provisions) catamaran, with a captain and sailing to Anegada for the day. The voyage is just breathtaking, and it's an experience that cannot be missed! Once we get there we throw the snorkeling gear on and explore as much of the pristine coral reefs as we can.
If you don't like snorkeling just do what I do, and go explore one of many uninhabited islands. You can have an island all to yourself, or enjoy it with someone you love. I also like sailing to Jost Van Dyke so I can hit the famous Soggy Dollar Bar (named because you have to pay with soggy dollars when you swim in from your yacht) or Ivan's Stress Free Bar (There's no bartender here you just make the drinks yourself and then leave money for whatever you mixed for yourself). These are maybe the best places in the BVI to get a drink and a relax the day away.
- Sailing and Boating
- Luxury Travel
Visit a smaller British Virgin Island
We took 2 day trips while on Tortola. One day we visited Virgin Gorda to snorkel the world-famous Baths. Another day we visited Jost Van Dyke, home of The Soggy Dollar and Foxy's.
We used Speedy's Ferry to go from Road Town, Tortola to Virgin Gorda. The cost was $25/person roundtrip, and it took about 25 minutes each way.
We used New Horizon Ferry Services to go from West End, Tortola to Jost Van Dyke. The cost was $20/person roundtrip, and it took about 25 minutes each way.
You can find very useful ferry information here:
**More information about what to do on these islands on my Virgin Gorda and Jost Van Dyke pages.**
- Family Travel
- Sailing and Boating
Mount Healthy Windmill
This windmill is part of an old sugar plantation. The ruins are restored and include a factory, stables, and workers' huts. You can visit for free during daylight hours. It was fun to wander around and look at this interesting place.
- Historical Travel
I wonder if this place got its name because of the roads that you have to travel to get there. The roads to Rough Point are very scary. They are gravel and dirt roads with steep hills, narrow roads, and scary dropoffs. The road is also very bumpy and not well-maintained. However, all of that aside, the views from the top are magnificent.
- Road Trip
- Family Travel
Smuggler's Cove is right next to Long Bay. You can actually walk all the way down to the end of the beach and then swim around to Smuggler's Cove. We didn't do that; we drove on the bumpy, unpaved road. The water is calm and clear. Everyone talked about the wonderful snorkeling they had here, but we didn't experience that. It was a bit crowded when we visited, but it was still a pleasant beach to see.
- Diving and Snorkeling
- Family Travel
Long Bay - Beef Island
There are two Long Bays on Tortola: the one where we stayed at the Long Bay Beach Resort, and the one in the East End of the island. My husband will definitely remember that there are two because he was stung by a jellyfish at this one. I honestly don't think this is a common occurence. The locals were surprised that he had gotten stung. This is a beautiful, calm, secluded beach, and I highly recommend a visit here.
The beaches on the East End of the island are a lot less popular, not because they are any less beautiful, but they are not as convenient to reach from the main tourist areas.
- Family Travel
- Diving and Snorkeling
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