Did You Know?
Yellow, blue, white, green, and red are considered the territorial colors of the Virgin Islands. They stand for, respectively, the abundant sun, the ever-present ocean, the stunning beaches, the lush hills, and the eclectic and thrilling local culture.
Most American tourists are extremely familiar with the U.S. Virgin Islands. However, the same archipelago also holds the British territory of the British Virgin Islands.
Each of these Caribbean islands offers something special, and the archipelago is incredibly diverse in its tourist offerings. There are stunning beaches all over the islands, diving sites for the adventurous, mountain climbs for the outdoorsy, and various recreational activities for just about everyone.
Here are some tips for planning a trip to the British Virgin Islands.
The British Virgin Islands
The British Virgin Islands offer something for everyone. So, you must pick and choose what you want to receive before setting off. Unless you are a nomad on a bike (in which case, these islands are a bit difficult to get to), you must make an itinerary.
Why Go There?
The British part of the Virgin Islands is equally appealing as its American counterpart. In fact, the British islands have left a better taste in the minds of many tourists. While the U.S. Virgin Islands often suffer from overcrowding and commercialization of tourist hotspots, the British ones are much more relaxed and quieter. They are perfect if you just want to get away from the hustle and bustle of your daily grind, but also contain enough touristy bits to lure those who want to liven it up. All in all, they are more versatile than the American islands.
How to Go There?
This Caribbean island cluster, weirdly, has no direct air connection to the USA or Europe (any country). If you intend to go by air, you have to go via the U.S. Virgin Islands, which are (St. Thomas Island is the aviation hub) connected to the American mainland extensively. Flights from New York, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, etc., can be easily found. If you don't want to stop over in the U.S. Virgin Islands, you can also reach the Caribbean archipelago via Puerto Rico or Antigua.
Another popular option is taking a cruise. Tortola and Jost Van Dyke are the commonly employed entry points. These cruises can be booked in the U.S., but you will have to book several months in advance, since they tend to fill up very quickly. Speaking of boats, they is also the only way of moving between the various islands in the archipelago. Ferries between the islands are the only way to move about (unless you have a private jet, in which case you might also own your own island), and the timings need to be confirmed with the local authorities when you get there, since they may change without prior notice.
Rented cars or taxis are the best way of traveling within an island. Taxi fares on the British islands are fixed and decided by the government. If you want to rent a car, make sure to ask about the various possible deals, such as weekly package rates, weekend rates, etc. If you do rent a car, remember to drive on the left, in spite of a probably-left-hand drive (due to the heavy import of American cars).
For citizens of the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and most European and Caribbean countries, a passport is enough to gain entry into the British Virgin Islands. Citizens of many other countries are granted a one-month stay on arrival if proof of ongoing or return tickets and availability of accommodation is presented. For a comprehensive list of the countries whose citizens need a visa to enter this British Overseas Territory, the official tourism site of the British Virgin Islands is recommended.
When to Go There?
Being situated in the path of hurricanes, the only time of the year when the Virgin Islands are not welcoming is the hurricane season, which runs from June to early November. Even during this period, travel is regularly conducted, but if you plan to visit during this time, keep weather updates handy and consult the locals. Also, look for trip cancellation insurance, since such a possibility is quite high.
For the rest of the year, the islands are enchantingly warm and sunny; there is barely a 5 °C difference between average winter and summer temperatures. Temperatures usually stay in the 20s in terms of Celsius, and around 70-80 in terms of Fahrenheit. Tropical showers come and go, but they are very light, and very rarely play a spoiler in plans.
Where to Stay?
The Virgin Islands pride themselves in being excellent but typical beach destinations, and consequently don't come cheap. Relatively cheaper accommodation can be found through Airbnb rentals (USD 20-70 per person per night), but there are very few listings (even including the adjoining American territory). Other popular budget accommodation options, such as Couchsurfing, are practically nonexistent.
The best way to get the best deals on hotels is using a package deal. Another, possibly less convenient way of getting lower prices is visiting during the hurricane season, when hotel rates can drop by up to 50%.
The Virgin Islands, famed for their sailing and yachting facilities, also offer crewed and bareboat chartered yachts for accommodation. Promoted as 'Beds Afloat', this is an innovative feature that capitalizes on the region's forte while offering tourists a novel experience. Information about the numerous agencies offering this service can be found on the official website.
Crossing the 't's and dotting the 'i's ...
English is the majorly spoken and official language in the British Virgin Islands, but, despite being British territory, the U.S. Dollar is the official currency. A point to remember about the British Virgin Islands is that apart from major retail chains, not many shops will accept credit cards, so it is preferable to keep some cash handy. Tortola and Virgin Gorda are awash with ATMs, but the rest of the islands may be a bit lacking in this department. Appliances bought in the U.S. won't need adapters.
What to Do?
The British Virgin Islands offer a plethora of activities typical to beach destinations, but where the region really excels is sailing and yachting. Blessed with pleasant trade winds and lovely weather all year round, this Caribbean archipelago serves up some unmissable sailing opportunities. These islands are also a great place to experience and explore Caribbean culture and cuisine. Here are some of the most popular activities and destinations on offer in the British Virgin Islands.
The Best of the Lot
Yachting and Sailing at Tortola
The British Virgin Islands are known as the yachting and sailing capital of the Caribbean, and Tortola, the largest island in the British territory, is undoubtedly the beating heart of the operation. Charter yachts can be hired for travel as well as accommodation.
Smuggler's Cove and Cane Garden Bay Beaches
The best beaches of Tortola, these two are ideal to get your Virgin vacation up and running. Both lie on the western end of the island, and are among the best-known destinations in the British territory. Smuggler's Cove presents snorkeling opportunities.
Cane Garden, arguably the best family-oriented beach in the British Virgin Islands, is a 1.5-mile stretch of smooth and clear sand, serenaded by a gentle, inviting surf. The calm sea, the smooth shore, and the shallow seabed makes this the ideal beach for children. Apart from the capital city of Road Town, Tortola is a relatively calm, quaint island, and not many cosmopolitan restaurants flourish outside the capital. This means that for the foodies, local delicacies come fresh and cheap.
The Baths at Virgin Gorda
Imagine yourself in the midst of a particularly mysterious Henry Moore sculpture, but with soft seaside sand and water filling up the famous hollow spaces. Now imagine the relaxing sound of the sea rushing right by your side, and voilà, you're in the Baths of Virgin Gorda! Situated on the southern tip of the third largest island in the British territory, the Baths are a collection of volcanic rocks on the shore, carved into elaborate shapes by the water.
Of all the British Virgin islands, Virgin Gorda is probably the most relaxing and sleepiest of all. Accommodation can be quite expensive, and there is practically no nightlife, but this is what makes Virgin Gorda so special. Contrasted with the U.S. Virgin Islands, or even its own compatriot, Tortola, Virgin Gorda offers the most intimate glimpse into local Caribbean life, with virtually no external influence on the lifestyle of the locals. The restaurants are all simple affairs, and serve local food. The island only gets crowded when cruise ships make a stop there.
Rhone National Marine Park
Formed around the shipwreck of RMS Rhone near Salt Island, this is one of the most popular wreck dive sites in the world. Due to the relatively open structure and less tiers on the 19th century craft, it is also one of the safest, since there is virtually no scope for penetration diving. Because of this, swim-throughs are easily possible even for beginner or intermediate divers. It is also known for the marine life the ship now hosts.
Coral Reefs in Anegada
Despite the fair smattering of reefs all around the Virgin Islands, Anegada has the best, at least among the British islands. The water in the entire Caribbean region is incredibly clear and blue, which makes for stunning viewing of reefs and wrecks alike.
Sage Mountain in Tortola
The highest point in the Virgin Islands is a rare instance of some real high rise in these volcanic islands. On clear days, islands as far off as Saint Croix, about 40 miles away, can be seen from the top, not to mention the closer British islands.
Nightlife in Jost Van Dyke
This is the only British Virgin Island where the typical tourist will get his usual share of booze amid the typical accompanying entertainment. The unique style of rum punches on this island, just 3 sq mi across, makes it a worthwhile visit. There is also a fantastic beach in White Bay, but only if you manage to stay sober enough to swim.
Make your own itinerary, based on what your primary interests are. If you are looking to have a seaside blast, Virgin Gorda is not the place for you; conversely, someone who lands on Jost Van Dyke looking for a week of relaxation and solitude is in for a shock. Make the vacation fulfilling according to your preferences.