Just a 30 minute ferry ride from St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, or a 30 minute plane ride from San Juan, the stunning 50-plus islands and cays that comprise the British Virgin Islands have two great assets – accessibility and virgin beauty. Known for years as a “sailor’s paradise,” yacht cruisers were among the first to realise this was indeed one of “Nature’s Little Secrets.” And with a population only 30,000 across all those islands, it certainly isn’t overcrowded!
Tortola is the largest island and seat of government of this mountainous archipelago of gemlike isles. Virgin Gorda, Ginger, Cooper, Salt, Peter and Norman lie to Tortola’s south, while Guana, Camanoe and Jost Van Dyke to its north. Dozens of smaller islands, some with resorts, some unpopulated, lie between. Anegada, the only coral atoll in this island chain, is to the northwest. The BVI is a picture of contrasts. There are protected anchorages in quiet palm-fringed coves with spiralling sheer rock faces that plunge to the ocean. From island to island the vegetation can be dramatically different due to rainfall, soil composition and sun exposure. Lush areas support palms and tropical fruit trees like banana, mango and key lime, along with flowering hibiscus and bougainvillea. A hike up a hill may reveal varieties of cactus, wild tamarind and fragrant frangipani.
The surrounding waters are deep shades of liquid blue, but on Anegada, the waters takes on an ethereal aquamarine shade. A varied and intriguing environment on land and on sea makes these islands appealing to divers, boaters, hikers and those desiring just to relax in a soft rope hammock overlooking a white sand beach.
Culture and History
Culture and history walk side by side on these islands. Amerindians populated them 1,000 years ago and their presence remains in some of the foods like cassava and sweet potatoes, and in the language – hurricane and canoe are among the words that are still in use today. Influences can also be felt today from the Dutch and British settlers who first went there in the mid-1600s. You can still view the stone remnants of forts, rum distilleries and churches dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries. Cultural influences can be felt through the islands’ music and food – whether it be indigenous fungi, reggae or steel pan, or the taste of local savoury chicken, fish, conch and lobster dishes enhanced with exotic spices.
As the capital island of the BVI, Tortola offers visitors a wealth of experiences. Swim or stroll the white-sand beaches, explore ancient ruins or delectable local cuisine, or drop anchor and rock with the rhythm of the azure ocean. Swim or snorkel at the secluded palm-shaded sands of Apple Bay, Elizabeth Beach or Smuggler’s Cove; visit the protected anchorages at Brandywine Bay or Trellis Bay, a boater’s paradise; you can also fish, scuba dive and enjoy other water sports from the beaches’ many well-equipped facilities.
Discover Tortola’s history with a visit to BVI Folk Museum, Fort Burt or Callwood’s Rum Distillery.
If it’s shopping you like, everything from local spices, jams, rums, and soaps to handcrafted jewelry, silk-screened fabrics, and local art, can be found on Main Street in the capital city of Road Town. For a taste of the Caribbean island’s rich cultural mix and local delicacies such as fresh lobster, conch, spicy goat curries, Johnny Cakes and West Indian roti, indulge in a four-star dinner at a converted sugar mill or a quaint meal in a pastel-painted cottage.