British Virgin Islands
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Experience the beauty of Tortola
The British Virgin Islands are considered by many to be one of the greatest catamaran cruising areas on the planet.
This jewel suits all kinds of lifestyles and activities. From the BVI's crowded party islands, where the night life is hectic to secluded quiet beaches, where you can relax and let your problems dissipate into thin air, there is no shortage of variety.
The BVI's are very diverse in terrain and foliage. The sailing around the islands is one of kind. At any given point in the year, there always seems to be a gentle breeze, and the seas are seldom rough. Snorkeling around the islands is equally amazing and diverse.
Powdery white-sand beaches, lush green mountains, and a sheltered yacht-filled harbor characterize the island of Tortola, where the past of the West Indies meets the present of the BVI. The largest island in the chain, Tortola offers a variety of exciting vacation possibilities.
The protected anchorages at Brandywine Bay, Cane Garden Bay, Hodge's Creek Marina Cay, Soper's Hole and Trellis Bay are ideal for boaters. Secluded palm-shaded beaches at Apple Bay, Brewer's Bay, Elizabeth Beach, Josiah's Bay Beach, Long Bay Beach and Smuggler's Cove make for excellent swimming and snorkeling. There are also many well-equipped facilities for fishing, snorkeling, scuba diving and horseback riding.
Wander through centuries-old ruins such as the Dungeon, Fort George, Fort Recovery, the Mount Healthy Windmill and Callwood's Rum Distillery, which is still in operation, and explore Tortola's history at the BVI Folk Museum in Road Town.
Main Street in Road Town, the capital city, has an array of shops and restaurants; offering everything from local spices, jams, rums, and soaps to handcrafted jewelry, silk-screened fabrics, and local art.
The cuisine of Tortola reflects the island's rich cultural mix, whether it's a four-star dinner at a converted sugar mill or a delicious West Indian roti at a pastel-painted cottage. Local delicacies such as fresh lobster, conch, spicy goat, curries and Johnny Cakes make each meal memorable.
Escape to the cool slopes of Sage Mountain National Park, where traces of a primeval rain forest can still be seen at higher elevations. On the mountain ridge that runs thorough the island, observe local Caribbean life with its gentle rhythms, farms, settlements and churches. At Mount Healthy National Park and Queen Elizabeth National Park, rock outcroppings and vertical ghuts, or dry steam valleys, expose the deep, rich earth of this volcanic island. In Road Town, the J.R. O'Neal Botanic Gardens offers peaceful walks through pergolas and pathways covered with colorful vines, as well as a miniature rain forest and a fern house.
The people of Tortola are friendly and known for their warmth and hospitality. There are a wide variety of places to stay, ranging from campgrounds to luxury resorts and private villas. Tortola is also an ideal point from which to explore the other British Virgin Islands. Regular ferries, private and crewed yachts, and planes travel daily to the other islands of the BVI.
Experience the beauty of Tortola
The dramatically shaped island of Virgin Gorda reminded Christopher Columbus of a reclining woman, so he named it Virgin Gorda, the "Fat Virgin." The third largest island of the BVI, Virgin Gorda measures eight and a half square miles.
In addition to the sheer beauty of the island, travelers are drawn to Virgin Gorda for its yacht clubs, quiet coves, safe anchorages and luxury resorts. On the North Sound, the Bitter End Yacht Club, accessible only by water, offers relaxation in an extraordinary, secluded environment. And with its spectacular setting, Little Dix Bay Resort, designed by Laurance S. Rockefeller, has its own spectacular setting.
Your privacy is ensured at one of Virgin Gorda's deserted pristine beaches, such as Savannah Bay, Pond Bay, Devil's Bay, Mahoe Bay and Spring Bay. Or visit the most popular natural attraction in the BVI, The Baths, where huge granite boulders create mysterious grottos, saltwater pools and a connecting trail that entices visitors to spend a day exploring, swimming, and snorkeling. Explore Virgin Gorda on the rugged trails that run throughout the island, and see the huge variety of unique indigenous plants that thrive in the national parks at Gorda Peak, Devil's Bay, Spring Bay and the North Sound. At the nature sanctuary at Little Fort National Park, marvel at the exotic birds as they swoop over the hills and ocean.
Not surprisingly, Virgin Gorda has been luring people for centuries. Discover the island's African and Indian heritage; trace its Spanish history at the ruins at Little Fort National Park; observe the British influence in Spanish Town and at the Cornish Copper Mines on the island's southwestern tip, where ruins stand sentinel against the azure sea.
Experience the island's exquisite cuisine, a wonderful combination of all its influences, and explore the variety of shops offering local arts and crafts, as well as gifts, resort wear and souvenirs.
Virgin Gorda can also be experienced on a day trip. Spanish Town has its own airport, and a regular ferry runs between Road Town, Tortola, and Spanish Town. Another ferry takes passengers from Trellis Bay on Beef Island to Leverick Bay, the Bitter End Yacht Club and Biras Creek.
The secret is out on Jost Van Dyke
Jost Van Dyke has fewer than 200 inhabitants and they are widely known as a welcoming people. The island's name conjures up its rich, colorful past. Jost Van Dyke is said to have been named for an early Dutch settler, a former pirate. Although it measures just four miles by three, with the highest point at 1,054 feet, this rugged island has been home to many people, including the Arawak Indians, Caribs, Dutch, Africans and British.
At Great Harbour, Little Harbour and White Bay there are safe, protected anchorages and unspoiled beaches shaded with coconut palms and seagrape trees.
Discover inviting restaurants, bars, and small shops selling local treasures. For lunch, there are barbecues, West Indian rotis, flying fish sandwiches, grilled fresh fish and lobster. Club Paradise is famous for its conch stew and barbecued ribs. Happy Laury's Snack Bar is known for its pig roasts and honey-dipped chicken.
The Soggy Dollar Bar and Gertrude's in White Bay are renowned for drinks made with the island's famous rum, frosty beers and tales of pirates and sunken treasure. Parties here are legendary, especially at Foxy's. This bar and its owner are known to travelers from around the world for the New Year's Eve and Halloween parties, when Great Harbour fills up with yachts. The "Painkiller," one of the most famous cocktails in the Caribbean, was invented at The Soggy Dollar Bar.
Explore Jost Van Dyke's history in the vegetation-covered ruins of centuries-old sugar mills, or on the old trails that crisscross the island. William Thornton, architect of the U.S. Capitol Building, was born on Jost Van Dyke, and John Lettsome, founder of the London Medical Society, was born on neighboring Little Jost.
In the autumn and winter, observe whales and dolphins from a peaceful hilltop, or visit the East End of the island where you can relax in the natural Jacuzzi formed by the foaming seas. Little Jost and Sandy Cay are a short boat ride away, and on nearby Great Tobago you'll find extraordinary advanced dive sites and a marine sanctuary that shelters a nesting colony of magnificent frigate birds.
Jost Van Dyke is accessible by boat or ferry. Accommodations are available at several small hotels and simple beachside cottages or stay at a campground at White Bay or Tula's. Whether you're staying on land or lying at anchor, you're sure to go home with many memories of this unforgettable island.
A world apart: Anegada
The only coral island in the volcanic BVI chain, Anegada is definitely unique. The Spanish named it Anegada, the "Drowned Land." Measuring 11 miles by three, its highest point is just 28 feet above sea level. The island is surrounded by Horseshoe Reef, the third largest continuous reef in the Eastern Caribbean at 39 miles long, containing both a patch reef and barrier reef.
Cow Wreck Beach, Flash of Beauty, Bones Bight and Windlass Bight are but a few of the beautiful beaches where you can relax under the shade of a coconut palm or seagrape tree. The secluded, powdery white-sand beaches are protected by the sheltering reef and the points that sweep out from the shore: Nutmeg Point, Setting Point and Pomato Point.
Bubbling up from the coral bed, clear springs support a variety of wildlife. Loblolly, seagrape, frangipani and the turpentine tree flourish here, along with feathery sea lavender and wild orchids. Saltwater ponds, mudflats and mangrove swamps are home to an array of exotic birds, including sandpipers, ospreys, terns, kaloo birds, blue herons and frigate birds. In the ponds near Nutmeg Point, flocks of flamingos gather. On the nature trail at Bones Bight, catch a glimpse of the rare rock iguanas native to Anegada.
For snorkelers, the reef offers a maze of tunnels, drops and caves boasting a rich marine life. Schools of mojarra and needlefish thrive in the sandy bottoms, while green sea turtles swim in the sheltered waters. Beyond the reef, spectacular sights await scuba divers. Angelfish, stingrays, triggerfish, parrotfish, blue tang and horse-eye jacks inhabit the drowned holds of the numerous Spanish galleons, American privateers and British warships that have been wrecked here. Anegada has all the facilities needed for most water sports, as well as bonefishing and sport fishing.
On land, you can read the island's history in the maze of stone walls that surround the Settlement, the main town. In the East End, ancient conch burial mounds and islands attest to the presence of the Arawaks, who called Anegada home nearly a thousand years ago. At the Anegada Museum, maps reveal the location of over 200 wrecks, while cannons, musket balls and ships' timbers are part of the recovered booty. Listen to tales of buccaneers, drowned ships and hoards of gold still undiscovered.
Getting to Anegada is easy. There are regularly scheduled flights from Tortola's Beef Island Airport, and charter flights from St. Thomas and Virgin Gorda. Or bring your boat and find a good anchorage at the Setting Point. To get around the island, there are taxis or jeeps and minivans you can rent. A small number of hotels and campgrounds are available. At restaurants, dine on lobster, reputed to be the Caribbean's best, or relax with one of the island's special rum concoctions - the Rum Teaser or Wreck Punch.
60 islands to choose from - what's your pleasure?
Scattered in an aquamarine sea, the British Virgin Islands flank the broad Sir Francis Drake Channel, which has beguiled sailors for centuries with scalloped coves and sheltered anchorages.
There are more than 60 islands in all, whose names reflect their colorful past. Among these are Buck Island, Fallen Jerusalem, Ginger Island, Great Camanoe, Round Rock and Scrub Island. Visitors soon discover pristine palm-fringed beaches, rugged peaks and rich vegetation. Some islands are uninhabited and designated as national parks.
Idyllic Cooper Island, just five miles from Tortola, offers visitors the perfect getaway with four privately owned properties and a small beach club on Manchioneel Bay. Explore the island on foot and observe the extraordinary variety of exotic plants and birds.
Water-ski, snorkel or dive in the clear blue waters and discover the rich marine life. Scuba, kayaking and fishing facilities are also available, plus a dinghy to explore the nearby islands. Laze on a white-sand beach fringed with coconut palms, bougainvillea, and frangipani, and watch the yachts glide by on the Sir Francis Drake Channel.
A Typical ItineraryBritish Virgin Islands impressions...
I read all the travel books, watched all the travel videos and visited all the websites. I was still blown away by the BVI. Words and even pictures are simply incapable of communicating the simple, laid back grandeur of the islands.
The British Virgin Islands are a truly remarkable place. The islands are very diverse in terrain and foliage. The snorkeling around the islands is equally amazing and diverse, and of course the sailing is remarkable. There always seems to be at least a gentle breeze, and the seas are seldom very rough. The islands make visible, line of site, destinations that even the most novice navigator could find.
This was my first bareboat experience, and I have very little sailing experience prior to my trip. One of the most remarkable discoveries to me was that bareboat chartering is within the grasp of average middle class people. The cost is comparable to a lot of cruise packages and there is no reason the average Joe or Jane cannot go sailing on a beautiful catamaran in the BVI. It's an incredible experience that anyone with even a little sense of wonder and adventure will love.
As I mentioned earlier you don't have to be a seasoned sailor to bareboat charter. Skippers are available, but keep in mind that it's very hard for one person to sail a boat of the size available, so be prepared to lend a hand. Far from a burden, learning more about sailing was one of the greatest experiences of the trip for me, and I am proud of the skills I developed. The bottom line is that if you are remotely physically capable and can put off redecorating the bathroom a little longer there is no reason you cannot be on a catamaran sailing in the BVI.
In addition to skippers, sailing instruction and onboard cooks are available. Bareboat chartering provides you with a clean slate on which to build your vacation. From barebones essentials to luxury comparable to that found on crewed charters is available to you to arrange as you wish.
Provisioning proved to be the biggest pre-charter challenge to me. Fortunately one of my guests generously offered to cook and supplied me with a menu complete with required ingredients. Armed with that information I opted to use the shopping list method of provisioning, which is pretty much just filling out a list of what you want and submitting it ahead of your arrival. The prices came out to only be a little more than I'm used to paying at home, and the groceries were promptly delivered on the morning and at the time that I requested. I also penciled in some items that weren't on the standard list and all of those items were available; even in the brands I wanted.
We found that cooking on the boat was best done on the grill. It was fun and not as hot as cooking in the galley. I also suggest self-lighting charcoal. I hadn't thought about it until I was there, but too much charcoal lighter fluid on the grill can be terrifying on a boat. Fortunately I only witnessed this on other people's boats, but I feared that some would burn to the waterline as I observed what appeared to be volcanic eruptions spew from the transoms of various and assorted yachts where someone got carried away with lighter fluid.
Fresh water is something else you should be conscious of. Fresh water on a boat isn't like at home, there is a finite supply and you should use it conservatively. Showers should consist of dousing, soaping and rinsing. Some find bathing off of the transom and using the fresh water hose easier.
The Catamaran Company provides a full load of fuel before you leave the marina at Village Cay. Although I confess to not monitoring our fuel consumption, our skipper assured me that had we never raised the sails during our time there we would still have had fuel to spare.
Packing is another obvious part of any trip and it's always a chore to decide what to take.
You'll need a bathing suit, some T-shirts, a couple of pairs of shorts and a good hat to fend off the sun. You'll also need some sunscreen of the highest SPF rating you can get and some canvas deck shoes or sneakers. Of course you'll want your toothbrush, some shampoo etc. The Catamaran Company provides snorkel gear of high quality, so there's no need to worry about that. Anything beyond these essentials is up to you, but don't over pack if you can help it. Be sure to use duffle bags since there is little storage space for suitcases on a boat.
Also an essential for this trip is a good camera. You will want lots of top quality photos to torture your snowbound friends and family with, but a boat in the BVI is an inhospitable place for a camera. You can be very careful and use zip lock bags to protect your camera from getting splashed, use disposable cameras, which are available in underwater or submersible versions as well, or consider purchasing an underwater housing.
I purchased a low-end underwater housing that is basically an industrial strength plastic bag with a lens in it and a good secure clamp to prevent leakage. My camera is still in one piece and I have no major complaints, but I think I will spring for a true underwater housing for my next trip. The camera didn't take as good of pictures through the housing lens, but it was such a hassle to take the camera out that it stayed in the housing most of the time. A small lightweight housing that you could comfortably use the camera in whether you were in the water or not would be ideal.
I had the misconception that I might don scuba gear and drop off the transom from time to time for a short dive. In fact the places we went to, which are mostly the popular charter destinations, were much better suited to snorkeling since the reefs were shallow. There are options, of course. What is termed as "Rendezvous Diving" is to have a dive boat come and meet your charter boat and pick you up to take you to a dive site. Most of the books and websites will tell you that this requires two weeks notice, but I found shops willing to do it on much shorter notice, and small capacity boats are available if you don't want to be in a large group. The other option, of course, is to plan your charter around diving. This will work fine provided everyone on board is enthusiastic about diving. If they aren't it could get pretty boring for them.Finding Nature's Little Secret
Arriving by Air to Terrence B. Lettsome Airport, previously known as Beef Island Airport (Airport Code: EIS) there are no direct flights to the British Virgin Islands from Europe or the USA (a contributing factor to the BVI remaining one of 'Nature's Little Secrets'), so all visitors must connect through another Caribbean island such as San Juan, St. Thomas, Antigua, St. Kitts or St. Maarten/St. Martin.
Flights via San Juan, Puerto Rico (Airport Code: SJU) are a common method of flying into the BVI via San Juan Airport, Puerto Rico, which is easily accessible from the US From San Juan, take a flight into Tortola's Terrence B. Lettsome Airport. From there we will arrange your taxi transfer to our base in Village Cay Marina, where your boat awaits you.
Flights are run by the following carriers:
- American Eagle
- Caribbean Sun
- Cape Air
Flights via St. Thomas (Airport Code: STT) Many travelers choose to fly in to St Thomas and then take short ferry ride to Tortola. St. Thomas is also easily accessible from the US. To get to the ferry dock in St Thomas, catch a taxi at the St. Thomas Airport (try to arrange a fixed price in advance) and tell the taxi driver that you need to take the next ferry to Tortola. Request the ferry drop off in Roadtown, which is a short taxi transfer to our base at Village Cay Marina. I am glad to help with the arrangements. Be aware however that ferries from St. Thomas to the BVI only operate during daylight hours; the last ferry is usually around 5pm. The ferry service normally starts at around 7:30am Flights via Antigua (Airport Code: ANU) Travelers from the UK (from London, Gatwick) and Canada may find it easiest to travel directly to Antigua and then take a connecting flight to Tortola on Liat, Caribbean Sun, or private charter flights.
From other Caribbean Islands:
- Air Sunshine Inc
- Bohlke International Airways
- Caribbean Wings
- Island Birds
Now you know where to go and how to get there. All that's left to do is pick your dates, choose your cat and pack your bags! Depart within the next 30 days and save 15%.