Tortola Guide, British Virgin Islands

Long bay beach pan, Tortola, BVI, Caribbean beaches

Long Bay beach on Tortola’s north shore.

Tortola, capital of BVI, a great Caribbean bareboating port

Road Town, Tortola, BVI, Caribbean

Road Town on Tortola is the capital of the British Virgin Islands. And this is the road.

Tortola, Spanish for turtle dove, is the largest (19km by 5km)island in the BVI. It is a lush, mountainous land topped by Saga Mountain National Park and BVI’s tallest peak at 1716 feet (523m).

Tortola’s big selling point is its ports and harbours that are efficient (by Caribbean standards) and user-friendly for mariners big and small: yachties on long or short trips in modest owned boats or rentals; super yachts manned by professional crews; and mega cruise ships.
But you don’t have to be a sailor to enjoy Tortola’s laid-back charm. Although it may not embrace any world-famous beaches it does have some pretty good beaches which are rarely crowded and a native joie de vivre.

Things to Do in Tortola

Smuggler's Cove beach, Tortola, BVI, Caribbean beaches

Smuggler’s Cove.

Apart from hitting the beaches you could. . .

• Visit Road Town, the capital of the BVI, which bustles with mooing, grazing herds of tourists when cruise ships are in harbour but the rest of time the town maintains the Caribbean’s easy going character, despite it being the hub of local government and finance. Road Town is short of impressive buildings but there are a couple of historic structures such as Old Governor’s House (and museum) and VI Folk Museum.
Behind Waterfront Drive, near the Ferry Dock and the tourist information office is Main Street, Tortola’s prime shopping area, with some colourful West Indian buildings. This is a great place to find decent souvenirs such as jewellery, artworks and crafts from local artists, or Caribbean delicacies such as rums and hot spicy sauce.
The town’s star attraction is probably the three acres of tranquil J. R. O’Neal Botanic Gardens, filled with both indigenous and exotic plants,  including a fern house and orchid pavilion.

• Saga Mountain National Park and Ridge Road is a tropical forest mountain park with its highest point at 1716 feet. Vegetation includes luxuriant ferns, elephant ears as well as white cedar and Honduran mahogany. It offers twelve pleasant hiking trails including Mahogany Forest Trail and Rainforest Trail, through the forest with loops forming circular routes, picnic areas and a car park.

• Trellis Bay, Beef Island. The adjacent island to Tortola, connected by a bridge, is Beef Island, where the international airport is located. A few minutes from the airport is popular Trellis Bay known for its beachfront craft shops, art galleries, cafe and restaurants, as well as family-friendly full moon parties (really? no drugs? ) if you are lucky to be there on the day.

• Callwood Rum Distillery. This tiny rustic 18th century factory near Cane Garden Bay features the original structure of a sugar cane distillery and still operates and produces rum as in the old days. For a small fee visitors can tour the site with a guide, sample and purchase rum (including my favourite, 80% proof ‘Pantie Remover’).

• Soper’s Hole Marina, West End is a lovely marina and shopping plaza on Frenchman’s Cay, connected by the bridge to Tortola’s West End where the dock for the ferries to/from US virgin Islands is located. It is primary for sailors (with a plenty of mooring spots) but not a bad place to visit for a drink and meal or shopping, though some of boutiques are rather exorbitant.

• Nanny Cay, a small community comprises a hotel and townhouses, with a marina, a swimming pool, bar and restaurants as well as shops. It also has a lovely protected, crescent shaped, sandy beach.

Best Beaches on Tortola

Head to the north coast for the best powder white sand beaches while the south shore is for ferry docks, boat jetties and yacht harbours.

Long Bay Beach

Famously fine powder sand on Long Bay Beach, Tortola, Caribbean beaches

Famously fine powder sand on Long Bay Beach. OK, so it’s May, end of the season and not exactly a tranquil day!

This mile-long, white sandy beach is backed by palm trees and sea vine with Belmont Point in the west and a view of Jost Van Dyke island across the water. This is without question is the most picturesque beach in Tortola. Generally it’s a peaceful choice for families with the long, wide, shallow beach, and pretty good for a romantic stroll at the sunset time.

Smuggler’s Cove

A crescent shaped sandy stretch, next to Long Bay with calm water, excellent swimming and snorkelling. It is a local’s favourite, so normally tranquil but lively at the weekends when families with kids get together and have a picnic under the trees behind the beach. Photo above.

Brewers Bay

One of Tortola’s least developed beaches. This quiet, sheltered, sizeable beach with very few people is ideal for swimming enthusiasts. Be aware that the road to get to the bay is awkward.

Apple Bay

Tortola’s prime surfing beach with its rolling tides. In winter, particularly January and February are the best months to catch the waves. The bay is also popular for a beach bar called Bomba’s Shack, especially famous for its wild full moon party, though not kid-friendly in the evenings! Which may be a good thing if you have no kids with you. . .

Long Bay, Beef Island

Another Long Bay but this one is on Beef Island near Tortola’s international airport. It is long (surprise! ), unspoilt and safe, ideal for swimming because there is almost no undertow.

Trellis Bay, Beef Island

Trellis Bay, Beef, Tortola, BVI, Caribbean

Trellis Bay, Beef Island, Tortola, BVI

The beach itself is so-so but it is a fun place with the beachfront craft shops, art galleries, cafe and restaurants. Also do not miss its family friendly full moon party if you are lucky to be there on the day.

Cane Garden Bay Beach

The largest and most popular hang-out beach as well as an anchorage for yachties on the north shore, with lively bars and restaurants lining the sand. It is a great place for swimming and all kind of water sports.

Cane Garden Bay panorama, Tortola, Caribbean information

Cane Garden Bay beach.

How to get there

Tortola is gateway to other island destinations in BVI, as the (Terrance B. Lettsome International)airport on Beef Island next to Tortola is BVI’s only commercial airport. But no direct, long-haul flights are available, so most international flights to Tortola from North America or Europe involve changing planes at either San Juan (Puerto Rico), Antigua, Saint Martin and St. Thomas.

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).

Local Transport

Many well-off visitors take a charter boat with or without a crew to sail to some of smaller, more private and uninhabited islets, but you can visit main islands by regular public ferries. Although driving on Tortola can be challenging with its steep, winding roads and cliffs, renting a car is not bad idea to see the island at your own pace.