The Bight Beach, Norman Island, BVI, Caribbean

The Bight, Norman Island, BVI. n. b. colours are totally natural and unsaturated!

What are the British Virgin Islands?

The British Virgin Islands are a favoured playground of yachties in particular as they offer line of sight navigation and well-organised, well-supplied harbours.
Also known as BVI, The British Virgin Islands are situated in the far eastern Caribbean near Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. BVI is an archipelago of around 60 islands, including four main islands: Tortola with the capital city of Road Town, Virgin Gorda, Anegada and Jost Van Dyke. It is a British overseas territory with English as the common language though there is not much Britishness there.

Once upon a time BVI was a pirates’ home base, a perfect location for intercepting Spanish galleons loaded with New World treasure. The legendary Blackbeard was supposed to have travelled these waters but it’s more likely that he was based around the Bahamas. However, Tortola and Norman Island definitely featured as pirate shelters and treasure stashes and were attacked on a number of occasions to punish and suppress piracy.
These days the only buccaneers in the British Virgin Islands are hedge fund managers and those who love to sail, dive, fish, swim or just to soak up sunshine, for a bounty.
BVI is now one of world’s most exquisite holiday destinations offering some of the world’s best beaches, the best dive sites and best beach resorts.

Nanny Cay Beach on Tortola, BVI, Caribbean

Nanny Cay Beach on Tortola, BVI.

Downsides

• ‘Posh’, ‘luxury’ or ‘exclusive’ are sort of words used to describe the BVI, so your perfect powder BVI beach does not come cheap.

• Direct flights from the UK/Europe do not exist so visitors have to transit somewhere, possibly the USA or another Caribbean island.

• From time to time BVI virgins find themselves share nirvana with high-rollers off mega-yachts or a great deal of packaged people off cruise ships.

Best Beaches in the BVI

Devil

Devil’s Bay, Virgin Gorda, BVI.

BVI has no shortage of fine beaches with 60 classic Caribbean islands and islets to choose from. In addition most islands are situated close to each other making it really easy to island-hop via yachts or inter-island ferries. Marine activities such as swimming, snorkelling, scuba diving and board sailing are the obvious ways to spend time between island hops.

The Baths, Virgin Gorda

British Virgin Islands, BVI, Caribbean, Virgin Gorda, The Baths beach

The Baths beach,Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands.

This is a geologic wonder, an extraordinary beach with volcanic rock formations, a must see and one of BVI’s prime destinations. More

Spring Bay, Virgin Gorda

Spring Bay is Bugbog’s favourite on Virgin Gorda, with strangely bulky rocks on the beach it’s aesthetically pleasing, secluded and much less visited than other Gorda beaches. More

Deadman’s Bay Beach, Peter Island

Deadmans Bay, Peter Island, British Virgin Islands, BVI, Caribbean

Deadmans Bay,  Peter Island,  BVI

A picturesque crescent beach fringed by palm trees which provide comfortable shade, this is the largest sandy stretch on the island. Photo.
Despite its name (supposedly Blackbeard marooned some mutinous crew members there), the stretch is often regarded as one of world’s most romantic beaches, but even more romantic is intimate Honeymoon Beach hidden at the end of Little Deadman’s Bay Beach in Deadman’s Bay.

Long Bay, Tortola

Long Bay, Tortola, British Virgin Islands, BVI, Caribbean

Long Bay, Tortola, British Virgin Islands, BVI, Caribbean

A mile-long white sandy beach backed by palm trees and sea vine with the Belmont Point at the west end and a view of Jost Van Dyke across the water, this is the most picturesque beach in Tortola. Generally a perfect, peaceful choice for families with its long, wide, shallow beach, that’s also brilliant for sunset strolls.

White Bay, Jost Van Dyke

White Bay, Jost van Dyke, British Virgin Islands, BVI, Caribbean

White Bay, Jost van Dyke, British Virgin Islands

A half-mile stretch of white sand protected by an offshore reef, White Bay is popularly considered as the gem of the BVI, and one of the Caribbean’s best beaches.
White Bay is home to the Soggy Dollar Bar, the birth place of the island’s distinct ‘painkiller’ drink, a taste explosion of dark rum, pineapple juice, orange juice and coconut cream spiced up with nutmeg.

Sandy Spit, off Green Cay, near Jost Van Dyke

This tiny, uninhabited islet is collared by one of BVI’s most spectacular strands. There’s just vegetation, pristine powder sand and clear azure water, nothing else, post-card perfection.

Horseshoe Reef, Anegada

This remote, flat island is fringed with a 29 km (18 mile) coral reef, the largest barrier reef in the Caribbean, fourth largest in the world, and an excellent destination for diving with some great wrecks as well as coral and fish, snorkelling and fishing.
The island also encompasses a large salt lagoon with flocks of flamingos along with many unspoilt beaches such as Cow Wreck Beach and Loblolly Beach. And don’t miss the mouthwatering Anegada lobster!

Activities

Diving

The British Virgin Islands generally sit in quite shallow water so practically none of the dive sites go deeper than 30 meters (100 feet). Diving in BVI is generally reef based and some notable wreck dives include RMS Rhone off Salt Island, Chikuzen located halfway between Tortola and Anegada and Rohas known as ‘the Bone Wreck’ after its cattle bones, near Anegada.
Anegada is also known as ‘the drowned island’ as it hosts an 18-mile coral reef that pulsates with marine life but also in the region of 300 historic and fascinating wrecks.
Some of the best reef dives are: Alice in Wonderland also known as ‘the fantasy’, off Ginger Island, with colourful coral overhangs and huge colourful outcrops on the sandy bottom; Indians, off Norman Island with four rocky pinnacles, one of the most popular diving spot in BVI; Fallen Jerusalem National Park with underwater tunnels and caves, off Virgin Gorda; Horseshoe Reef, Anegada is the third largest coral reef in the world, offering fantastic diving and snorkelling.

Fishing

Visitors are required to get a permit for a fee to fish, while spear fishing is prohibited. Saltwater fly fishing is popular. Anegada offers excellent bonefishing. Some reef fish such as barracuda, grouper and parrot fish carry toxins called Ciguatera so ‘Catch and Release‘ fishing is recommended.

Surfing

Although not a mecca by world standards, there are some reasonable surf beaches with a low-key, easygoing atmosphere. The best time for surfing in BVI is roughly from November to March, though quality surf may appear thanks to storms between September and November.
Here the some of BVI’s best surf spots: Apple Bay, Tortola with a scandalous beachfront bar; Cane Garden Bay, Tortola, the busiest surf in the BVI with some great waves, ideal for a long ride; Josiah’s Bay and Roque Bay (also known as Lava Flow), Tortola, two of the only beach breaks in BVI; West End, Anegada, with wave rolling up at the tip of the world’s fourth largest continuous reef, best for experienced surfers.

The main British Virgin Islands (with St John of USVI on the left)

Currency: BVI’s official currency is US dollars since 1959.

Electricity: 110-220v/60hz system with US/Canadian style plugs.

Language: English is the universal language though a local dialect can be heard. Spanish is spoken by some immigrants from Dominica and Puerto Rica.

Virgin Islands Weather

Although infrequent storms hit in the low season from June to November, the Virgin Islands is basically a year round destination with a tropical climate moderated by eastern trade winds, little temperature change through the seasons and relatively low humidity.
The typical daily maximum temperatures are around 32°C (90F) in the summer and 29°C (84F) in the winter. The minimum temperature are around 24°C (75F) in the summer and 21°C (70F) in the winter. Statistically the wettest period is September – November and the driest period is February – March.

The high season is the drier, cooler months of mid December-March and Easter, when visitors’ wish to escape from their cold, grey winters. It’s obviously best to avoid this time if you are a budget traveler. Apart from high prices who wants share paradise with cruise ship invasions? (Unless you go to one of private island resorts).
The photos on all these BVI and USVI pages were taken in May, a little cloudy at times but not a problem for the visitor, just the photographer!

November to May offers the best sailing conditions; peak time is around Christmas and BVI Spring Regatta, a one week event in late March to early April.

Getting there

Most international flights to BVI from North America or Europe involve changing planes at either San Juan (Puerto Rico), Antigua, Saint Martin or St. Thomas.
Then you have to fly into Terrance B. Lettsome International on Beef Island off Tortola, the only commercial airport in the BVI. This is the primary gateway to the British Virgin islands, though some charter airlines fly directly to Virgin Gorda Airport or Auguste George Airport in Anegada Island.

Alternatively, take a short ferry ride from Charlotte Amalie, the capital city/port of St. Thomas (US Virgin Islands) to either Road Town or West End of Tortola, taking about an hour and costing about $50 round trip for an adult. Note that late arrival in St. Thomas means an overnight stay as the ferry service shuts down after 17: 00. Ferries between USVI and BVI (pdf).

Visas

Nationals from western countries such as US, Canada, EU, Japan, New Zealand and many other countries may stay in BVI up to 30 days without a visa. But note that non-American visitors who enter BVI via US airports including St. Thomas Island (US Virgin Islands) require ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization).

Getting Around

The best way to get around BVI is obviously by boat. For people who love to sail, the BVI, especially Road Town, Tortola, is the bare boating capital in Caribbean, an ideal place to rent boats or charter one with a crew.
Visitors who are not interested in sailing can also go island-hopping easily as several inter-island ferry/boat companies run services between Tortola and Virgin Gorda, Anegada, Jost Van Dyke, Peter Island, between Beef Island and Virgin Gorda, between Virgin Gorda and Anegada, between North Sound Islands andGun Creek, between Beef Island and Marina Cay, as well as from/to US Virgin Islands to BVI.

Car and motor cycle rental is available on main islands.

Deadman

Trellis Bay, Beef Island, Tortola.

Food

Freshly caught fish is an obvious choice, especially mahimahi, yellowtail, grouper, red snapper and wahoo, with a spicy lime sauce, a Caribbean taste. Try lobster particularly luscious Anegada lobster if you can though usually over-priced so make sure to get local’s recommendation. Roti (or Roti Wrap), is excellent as a snack, curry stuffing with vegetable and either chicken, beef or Fish rolled with roti indian bread. Rum is the island’s speciality so you can be offered many rum based cocktails at the local bars. The Painkiller (rum with OJ, pineapple juice and coconut cream) is a must-try!

Safety

BVI has a good reputation among the Caribbean islands as being one of the safest though travel with common sense is always a good idea. Caribbean Safety.

Health

Tap water is safe to drink but don’t eat fish you have caught! See Ciguatera

Accommodation

There are some large hotels in Tortola but most visitors stay on board yachts or in exclusive resort villas, especially on Virgin Gorda, though budget beach lovers could investigate bungalows/condo rentals and guest houses, or private holiday villas for larger groups.
BVI offers some of world’s most upscale island resorts such as Peter Island and Necker Island (owned by Sir Richard Branson).