Rising dramatically from the sea, the drowned mountain chain that makes up most of the British Virgin Islands is a boater's paradise. Unlike the neighboring U.S. Virgin Islands, the BVI remains a relatively sleepy Caribbean outpost known mostly to sailors, who cherish its many sheltering bays and harbors, hidden beaches, and laid-back marina bars and restaurants.
British Virgin Islands Basic Travel Information
- Location: Between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic, just east of Puerto Rico.
- Size: Tortola: 21.5 square miles; Virgin Gorda: 8.5 square miles; Jost Van Dyke: 3.5 square miles.
- Capital: Road Town
- Language: English
- Religions: Protestant, Roman Catholic
- Currency: U.S. dollar.
- Telephone/Area Code: 284
- Tipping: 10-15%
- Weather: Humid subtropical climate moderated by trade winds; hurricane threat June-Oct.
British Virgin Islands Attractions
Watersports are the main attraction in the BVI, particularly sailing. Whether you are the captain of a boat or just sailing on one, you'll find endless places to explore among the BVI's 40 islands, from snorkeling or diving reefs and wrecks to secluded beaches reached only by sea. On Tortola, Road Town has museums and shops, and you can climb to the top of 1,780-foot Sage Mountain for sweeping views. Virgin Gorda's old copper mine is a must-see for history buffs.
British Virgin Islands Beaches
The Baths on Virgin Gorda are the sine qua non of BVI beaches; set among huge tumbled boulders and caves, the calm waters are great for wading as well as excellent offshore snorkeling. Anegada, a flat coral atoll barely above sea level, is almost entirely beach, surrounded by the Horseshoe Reef. Smugglers Cove, Apple Bay, Cane Garden Bay, and Long Bay Beach are among the best Tortola beaches; Jost Van Dyke is known for its beach bars.
British Virgin Islands Hotels and Resorts
As you might expect in a nation with sailing in its heart, many of the BVI's hotels are combination bars/hotels/marinas. Tortola has the biggest variety and best bargains. Virgin Gorda is known for exclusive resorts like Little Dix Bay and Biras Creek; the Bitter End Yacht Club is a classic Caribbean seaport village. Private island resorts range from the affordable (Saba Rock Resort) to the luxurious (Peter Island) to the outrageous (Necker Island rents for up to $40,000 a night).
British Virgin Islands Restaurants
Tortola has, by far, the greatest dining-out opportunities in the BVI, from upscale international and Continental restaurants to casual West Indian cafes and a selection of ethnic eateries serving Chinese and Italian specialties, as well as barbecue. Virgin Gorda is loaded with beachfront restaurants serving local lobster and conch as well as burgers, pizza, and other lighter fare. Jost Van Dyke and Anegada have almost as many pub/restaurants as residents.
British Virgin Islands Culture and History
Dutch ship captain Jost van Dyke established the first European settlement on Tortola in the early 1600s, and the islands soon become a trading outpost and hideout for pirates, privateers, smugglers, and slave-dealers. The Dutch established plantations but lost control of the islands to the British in 1672. Most of today's residents are descendants of African slaves, but Dutch place names remain prominent and English cultural influences are still strong.
British Virgin Islands Events and Festivals
Besides monthly Full Moon parties – largely an excuse to party on the beach – BVI residents passionately celebrate the August Festival each year to mark the Emancipation Act of 1834. Regattas, fishing tournaments, and windsurfing competitions are also reasons to celebrate, and Jost Van Dyke and Trellis Bay are both well-known for their New Years Eve parties.
British Virgin Islands Nightlife
Many BVI visitors turn in by 11 p.m., but you can find some late-night partying, too, especially when the moon is full. The Full Moon parties at Trellis Bay and at Bomba's Shack on Tortola are lively outdoor celebrations full of music and dancing. The Bat Cave in Road Town is perhaps the best disco in the BVI, but you can find live music in many places on Friday and Saturday nights playing reggae, steel-drum music, calypso, and fungi – the BVI's traditional scratch-band music.