Getting to know The British Virgin Islands
Just a 30 minute ferry ride from St. Thomas in the USVI, or a 30 minute plane ride from San Juan, the stunning 50-plus islands and cays that comprise the British Virgin islands have two great assets – accessibility and virgin beauty. Known for years as a "sailor's paradise," yacht cruisers were among the first to realize this was indeed one of "Nature's Little Secrets."
Tortola is the largest island and seat of government of this mountainous archipelago of gemlike isles. Virgin Gorda, Ginger, Cooper, Salt, Peter and Norman lie to Tortola's south, while Guana, Camanoe and Jost Van Dyke to its north. Dozens of smaller islands, some with resorts, some unpopulated, lie between; Anegada, the only coral atoll in this island chain, is to the northwest. The BVI is a picture of contrasts. There are protected anchorages in quiet palm-fringed coves with spiraling sheer rock faces that plunge to the ocean. From island to island the vegetation can be dramatically different due to rainfall, soil composition and sun exposure. Lush areas support palms and tropical fruit trees like banana, mango and key lime, along with flowering hibiscus and bougainvillea. A hike up a hill may reveal varieties of cactus, wild tamarind and fragrant frangipani.
The surrounding waters are deep shades of liquid blue, but on Anegada, the waters takes on an ethereal aquamarine shade. A varied and intriguing environment on land and on sea makes these islands appealing to divers, boaters, hikers and those desiring just to relax in a soft rope hammock overlooking a white sand beach.
Culture and history walk side by side on these islands. Amerindians populated them 1,000 years ago and their presence remains in some of our foods like cassava and sweet potatoes, and in our language – hurricane and canoe are among the words that are still in use today. Influences can also be felt today from the Dutch and British settlers who first came here in the mid-1600s. One can still view the stone remnants of forts, rum distilleries and churches dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries. Cultural influences can be felt through the islands' music and food – whether it be indigenous fungi, reggae or steel pan, or the taste of local savoury chicken, fish, conch and lobster dishes enhanced with exotic spices.
Ports of Entry
Soper's Hole: Many visitors arriving by ferry or private boat come into Soper's Hole at Tortola's West End. This former pirate haunt, is now a sheltered yacht anchorage. It is home to Soper's Hole Marina, a picturesque marina and shopping area, which is located across the harbor from the ferry terminal on Frenchman's Cay.
Road Town: Centrally located, Road Town is the capital of Tortola and its seat of government. Here visitors will find shops, restaurants, hotels, a botanical garden and museums. Main Street, a short walk across from the ferry dock contains many shops housed in historic West Indian buildings.
Jost Van Dyke: Great Harbour is a picture postcard pretty bay lined with beachside bars and several shops. For those entering at this sand-rimmed harbor, shoes are not required.
Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour: Virgin Gorda is an island gem, which boasts some of the BVI's most beautiful beaches, including the famed Baths; the Coppermine historic site and Gorda Peak National Park. Restaurants, shops and other businesses are walking distance from the Yacht Harbour.
Gun Creek: Located in Virgin Gorda's North Sound, Gun Creek is the BVI's newest port of entry. A number of luxury resorts and a new mega yacht marina are among the Sound's many attractions.
Terrence B. Lettsome Airport: The Territory's main airport is located on Beef Island; it is connected to Tortola by the Queen Elizabeth II bridge. It borders the popular yachting anchorage of Trellis Bay, where travelers can connect to ferries to nearby islands including Scrub, Marina Cay and Virgin Gorda. The airport's hours of operation are from 7am – 10 pm.
Virgin Gorda International Airport: This small airport has a dirt airstrip and is set along Virgin Gorda's scenic east shore in The Valley. It is open to most commercial airlines – private planes must seek permission to land from the Air Safety Support International. Hours of operation are sunrise to sunset.
Auguste George Airport: A mere 28 feet above sea level Anegada and is the BVI's only coral atoll. The airport is centrally located on this small beach-ringed island. Hours of operation are sunrise to sunset.