If you ask the question, what attractions should you incorporate to make a perfect Caribbean island vacation? The answer would be very close to everything the BVI has to offer.
The BVI, like many tropical destinations, offers a warm and sunny climate, many diverse sandy beaches and outstanding coral reefs in clear turquoise water for diving and snorkeling. The British Virgins, though, are different: history and nature have been kind to this unique archipelago, so kind, in fact, as to make it a sailors' paradise and an unparalleled adventure for land based visitors, that Disney couldn't have done better.
Pirates and their lore have featured heavily in Caribbean history, nowhere more than in the BVI. Norman Island was the island chosen by some swarthy sea dogs as the place to bury a pirate hoard of pillaged treasure as long ago as 1750. And it was in one of Norman Island's caves that a chest of 3,000 pieces of eight was found in 1910 or thereabouts. The long ago skullduggery is responsible for the names given to the bays and promontories. Names like Treasure Point, Money Bay and Privateer Bay. Are you intrigued yet? I'm a freelance yacht skipper and some weeks ago I took a family of four to the caves, and as usual, I dropped a few fake coins into the water. The shrieks of excitement from the two boys were followed by a synopsis of Treasure Island, eliciting open mouths and wide-eyed awe. The black spot and Long John Silver came into the conversation when we sailed passed Dead Chest Cay and Dead Man's Bay, "Yo, ho, ho and a bottle of rum."
While we're on the subject of nautical history, an epidemic of yellow fever and a terrifying hurricane in 1867 were simultaneously responsible for a wondrous and unique dive site off the western shore of Salt Island. The Royal Mail Ship Rhone was transferring cargo at Peter Island instead of St Thomas due to the yellow fever outbreak there. An unexpected and very intense hurricane swept right over the BVI and the captain of the ship decided to break for open water. It was a mistake: the wind backed a hundred and eighty degrees before he had cleared the islands and the maelstrom drove the ship ashore where her white hot boilers exploded and broke the ship into two halves. A hundred and twenty four lives were lost. Over a hundred years later the tragedy would prove to be fortuitous for the BVI. Movie producers liked the site so much that they filmed portions of The Deep here in the 70s. The location of the wreck is perfect for a two tank dive being in 80-ft and 30-ft respectively. On shore, are the eerie graves where many of the victims were laid to rest, covered only by rocks and coral.
The story of Robinson Crusoe must have inspired Robb White when he travelled through the BVI in the 1930s and fell in love with beautiful Marina Cay. He bought the island in 1937 and slowly but surely, with the help of wife Rodie, built a sturdy, little one-room cottage on the summit of the tiny island. In those days the BVI existed on subsistence farming and fishing; there were few tourists. The pioneering couple existed on the ocean's bounty, and legend has it, that Rob would ask Rodie what she would like for dinner and then would dive the extensive surrounding reef and bring back a snapper, grouper or lobster; whatever was her wish. The couple's lifestyle inspired White to write a book, Two on an Isle, later to become a popular movie starring Sidney Poitier. The story describes a romantic life of simple pleasures; the biggest luxury they had was a paraffin fridge. The tiny property is now a Pusser's resort and restaurant with a happy hour bar, and many visitors re-live the Whites' dream, if only for an evening, while imbibing on Pussers' Painkillers and enjoying roistering revelry from an island troubadour.
Disney World encompasses imagination and creativity to produce sparkling entertainment. The BVI has nature to thank for a geological wonder; rightfully termed one of nature's little secrets and an authentic rival to any man-made theme park. The trails through precariously balanced granite boulders and translucent pools of seawater have a fascination all their own. The boulders, carved and sculpted from sea, wind and weather, have names like Skull Rock, Neptune's Hideaway and the Throne. Rock jumping is available – with no turnstiles or lines – but watch the depth. Magical snorkeling can be enjoyed here too; coral formations sprout from underwater rocks and grottoes provide habitats for all kinds of marine life.
Virgin Gorda's North Sound is a protected body of water surrounded by hills and over the years several resorts have sprung up. The Bitter End Yacht Club, touted as the finest watersports resort in the Caribbean, has over a hundred water craft in its fleet. From a good vantage point you can often see a Hobie cat regatta, windsurfers carving a wake and kite boarders searching for that perfect jump. Mega yachts and grand sailing craft have also discovered the Sound adding an air of opulence to the scene. There's entertainment too, from dance bands to popular happy hour shows and the antics of mocko jumbies.
The island of Anegada is a good example of the geological diversity of the BVI. It's a flat, coral island with miles of pristine sandy beaches, and it's on everyone's wish list to visit. Every year I take a large group of Washington DC firemen and their wives and girlfriends to Anegada. Of their seven days holiday they spend two on Anegada. First they rent a surrey bus and tour the island stopping at Cow Wreck beach and Loblolly beach – exploring, snorkeling and quenching their thirst at both. A lobster dinner on the sand under the stars completes the first day. Well, what do they do on the second day, you may well ask? Answer: exactly the same thing! "It's the highlight of our vacation," explains PJ, the group's organizer.
The sail from Anegada to Jost van Dyke, with the wind at your back and the scenic delight of Tortola's north shore to port verifies the quote that the "pleasure is in the journey." In this case though there are rewards in the destination too. Both Sandy Spit and Sandy Cay are delightful islets with good snorkeling on calm days. Both offer that feeling of "having arrived" in a Caribbean paradise; turquoise water, powdery sand beach and waving palms are all part of this paradise package. Nearby is the popular attraction of the Bubbly Pool. When there is a north swell, a small opening in the rocky cliffs of Jost van Dyke's north east coast allows water to be forced into a natural pool. The swirling, frothy Jacuzzi provides a playground for young and old.
It seems that half the world has heard of Foxy's, hidden away in the eastern corner of Great Harbor. Since the early 70s the famous bar and party venue has been serving up fun. And Foxy, the maestro himself, still makes appearances, tells a joke or two and poses for that inimitable photo. White Bay, just to the west, has become the "place to be seen." Hundreds of day trippers and yachtsmen enjoy this superb beach and all the attractions of diverse bars, eateries and shore-side activities like an ATV tour of the island or a leisurely kayak excursion along the coast.
There can be no doubt that the BVI is an exceptional vacation destination. The above sampling of just some of the archipelago's many attractions should whet the appetite of even the most apprehensive dreamer. With the gifts supplied by nature and history, Disney couldn't have done it better.