The British Virgin Islands really are an open invitation to explore. With more than 60 islands spanning approximately 60 square miles, a truly endless combination of adventures awaits. The island chain, a territory of the United Kingdom, is really only English in name. What remains is a melange of cultures, from European to African to indigenous tribes. Its variety is evident in every part of the experience, from the jade-colored peaks that plunge into crystal-clear water to powder-soft beaches, endless diving, luxury hotels, and cuisine whose flavors flow from fresh-off-the-grill seafood and succulent pork.
And while the islands were battered and bruised bu hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, the majority of them are open for business. I was able to experience the British Virgin Islands as part of a media trip hosted by the tourism board, who brought journalists to the region to showcase how well the islands have rebounded from the hurricanes.
Whether exploring the British Virgin Islands by land or by sea, you’re in for a surprise when experiencing this gorgeous and tranquil part of the Caribbean. Here are the best things to see and do on the British Virgin Islands.
Get On The Water
If you’ve got a territory of islands, there’s only one way to get around: Get out on the water. The British Virgin Islands are, without a doubt, the boating capital of the Caribbean. From water taxis and simple dinghy boats to full-blown luxury yacht charters, there’s no end to the aquatic possibilities that await in the British Virgin Islands.
If you’re going to splurge on a catamaran or yacht, you’ll be spoiled for choice in the British Virgin Islands. There are plenty of companies to choose from.
To rent by the cabin, it’s typically around $3,000 per couple. For a full boat charter for up to eight guests for less than a week, prices start near $7,500. For a full week, expect to spend upward of $9,700.
Hop The Islands
While you’re on the water, you’ll want to have a destination in mind. As mentioned, the BVI has more than 60 islands to explore, but the four main islands are great places to start. Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Jost Van Dyke, and Anegada each have their own spirit and personality — and different reasons to visit that make them special. But beyond that, there are much smaller islands that are ready and waiting for visitors to anchor at and explore, giving people that private-island experience minus the price tag.
Tortola hums within its charming towns, which are scattered all across the island. Tucked in the nooks and crannies of each moss-colored peak you’ll find plenty of places to play. From great dive shops and restaurants to bustling Road Town and West Indian settlements, the heart of the action in the BVI begins on Tortola. In fact, more than 80 percent of the BVI’s citizens live and work on this island.
Scooting over to Virgin Gorda, this is the spot to really drink in the natural beauty of the BVI, from the granite megaliths at The Baths to pristine beaches and a perfect lack of overdevelopment.
With only four square miles of land, Jost Van Dyke packs quite the punch. Picture teal-colored water that rings sparkling white beaches, undeveloped, rolling green hills, barefoot beach restaurants, quaint guest houses, and not much more.
Lastly, there’s Anegada, the fringe island that’s a bit tougher to get to but entirely worth the trip. Twelve miles away from the other islands, it’s about a three-hour boat trip to Anegada, but the visuals will stay with you forever. The island is completely flat, which is a contrast from its sisters. But what awaits are pink flamingos, stunningly blue water, and a sprinkling of restaurants that are the definition of laid back.
Explore The Baths
Even if you know nothing else about the British Virgin Islands, chances are you’ve at least heard of The Baths. This is the most iconic natural wonder of the destination. What is it, exactly? It’s a collection of monoliths clustered along the coast that mark a national park. The boulders are volcanic remnants from more than 70 million years ago, and their arrangement has left behind a series of secret caves and enchanting grottoes that fill with water. Not only is this a prime place for snorkeling and swimming, but there is a trail that leads through the caves to a beautiful stretch of pristine beach named Devil’s Bay. Despite the name, it feels more heavenly than anything else.
Bear in mind that the best time of day to visit The Baths is in the evening. When we say it’s the most popular attraction in the BVI, we mean it. So rather than slog your way through hordes of cruise ship passengers, plan your visit for the late afternoon or early evening after the cruise ships have left. You won’t get the perks of the beachside snack shack (which closes early), but there’s a restaurant outside the park called The Top of the Baths, which has incomparably better views.
Go To The Beach
To say the British Virgin Islands has a lot of beaches is an understatement. Not only are the islands replete with coastline, but they have some of the very best beaches in the world. You could spend a lifetime cruising the secret inlets and coves in the BVI and still might not see it all. But a good place to start is definitely White Bay on Jost Van Dyke.
Pulling into White Bay is truly pulling up to the gates of heaven, if heaven consists of highlighter-blue water and picture-perfect white sand. Add to that a small selection of thatch-roofed restaurants slinging seriously fresh fish, and you’ll see why this beach is one of the Caribbean’s best.
On Virgin Gorda you’ll find Savannah Bay Beach to be one of the best. It has more than a mile of white sand, perfect for strolling, and plenty of palm trees under which to hide from the sun and curl up with a good book.
The only other island with beaches as uninterrupted as this is Anegada.
Get Under The Waves
Divers will be delighted when they head beneath the water’s surface surrounding the British Virgin Islands. Be prepared to feast your eyes on sunken shipwrecks and beautiful reefs through crystal clear water. Most of the dive operators are on Tortola, but there are plenty on Virgin Gorda and Jost Van Dyke. The most famous dive site off Tortola is the sunken RMS Rhone shipwreck, which is off the coast of nearby Salt Island. If you’re new to diving, there is plenty of opportunity for beginners, especially around the gentle reefs of Scrub Island, Pelican Island, and Deadchest Island, so says PADI. Regardless, wildlife abounds, particularly among the shipwrecks, which sees barracuda, yellowtail lobster, snappers, and even nurse and reef sharks.
Sleep In Luxury
From dreamy guest houses to high-end villa rentals, the BVI has some of the most luxurious hotels in the world. Some resorts are still in the process of renovating and reopening following the devastation of Hurricanes Maria and Irma, but most have reopened and are showing off flashy new amenities. One of the best to know is Scrub Island Resort, Spa and Marina, which sits on a 230-acre private island at the east end of Tortola. The resort has 52 guest accommodations as well as villas, plus a spa, restaurants, two beaches, and a 55-slip marina.
There’s also Necker Island — the private island getaway owned by Sir Richard Branson. This private island paradise was nearly destroyed during the hurricanes, and while they are still in the process of rebuilding certain parts of the island, it is very much open for business (to those who can afford it — the island is open primarily for buyouts).
If you do decide to take the plunge, what you’ll be greeted with is luxury like you’ve never imagined before. Designed to look like a Balinese paradise, the hand-carved, artisanal buildings, gorgeous artwork, amenities, food, linens, and more are among the best in the world. The Great House expanded from nine to 11 rooms following the renovations, and they are rebuilding the famous Bali High complex with a new extended pool. What’s more, the island is committed to sustainability and has introduced three new wind turbines this year, which allows operations to run off of 80 percent renewed energy. And if you’ve heard the rumors about the island being home to a family of lemurs, I can confirm that is 100 percent true.
While the majority of hotels and villas in the British Virgin Islands do swing toward luxury, the reality is you do not have to break the bank to sleep there. There are plenty of affordable options, as well, like The Heritage Inn. Overlooking Jost Van Dyke and smaller islands like Great Thatch and Great Tobago, this quaint, boutique hotel has comfortable rooms, fantastic food, and a home-style experience for a much lower price tag.
Eating On The British Virgin Islands
With a veritable seafood store at its doorstep, be prepared for the freshest fish, shrimp, lobster, and more when dining in the British Virgin Islands. But beyond seafood, the British Virgin Islands is turning out some truly fantastic new chefs who are causing a stir outside the island chain as well. From beachside shacks to elegant fine dining, here are the not-to-miss dining experiences in the BVI.
Each fall, the British Virgin Islands celebrates the flavors and festivities surrounding food at the annual Food Fete. The fete is comprised of a calendar of events that spans the entire month of November. From the Gourmet Soiree, which showcases local and international chefs serving food with Caribbean twists, to the Taste of Tortola, which highlights the best cuisine of Tortola, to the Cooper Island Rum Festival and the Anegada Lobster Festival, there is no better way to taste the very best that the BVI has to offer.
Located on Virgin Gorda, CocoMaya is part restaurant and part lounge with a sumptuous bar area serving delicious wines and cocktails, plus an open-air dining room that has a menu serving everything from pork satay and Korean chicken tacos to sushi and pad thai noodles. Be sure to request a table in the sand for a truly barefoot luxe experience.
Meet the iconic, official cocktail of the British Virgin Islands. This coconut-and-rum classic has its own special place in the British Virgin Islands. It’s said that the drink was invented at the Soggy Dollar Bar on Jost Van Dyke, and you can still drink one there today, but you can find them at any BVI bar — anywhere on any island.
Shopping On The British Virgin Islands
The British Virgin Islands aren’t necessarily heralded for their shopping. They aren’t known for a particular craft, either. Being a cruise ship destination, much of what you’ll find in Tortola’s Pier Park are the standard Caribbean-style jewelry and knick knacks. That said, there are a few boutiques that are worth exploring.
Pusser’s Company Store
If you thought the Painkillers really did the trick, you may want to bring some signature BVI rum home as a souvenir. Pusser’s Rum is what the Painkiller was invented with, and today you can purchase the signature ingredients at this Road Town shop.
Aragorn’s Local Arts and Crafts Center
To say there are no artisans in the BVI would be misleading. Those who do create on the islands are probably showcasing their crafts at Aragorn’s. This studio has brought together a collection of the islands’ local art. Aragorn himself is a printmaker, potter, and sculptor. In addition to art, the shop also sells organic produce, salt from the old salt ponds on Salt Island, and traditional banana bread.
Considering an island vacation? Read up on Hawaii vs. the Caribbean: eight key differences to help you decide.