As I began to tell you in my last post, the British Virgin Islands make the picture-perfect island paradise-- crystal clear water, white-sanded beaches, palm trees galore and rum flowing like water. This area of the Caribbean is especially known for being a boater's paradise and anyone would quickly understand why. The islands are grouped pretty closely making it great for island hopping, and the trade winds and calm waters make for perfect sailing weather. Expect to see lots and lots of catamarans and monohulls sailing about as well as expensive mega-yachts practically dripping in cash floating on by. A popular way to spend your time in the BVI's is by chartering a catamaran with a skipper to take you around for the week, which will absolutely be the way I spend my next vacation in the BVI's. Most boats depart from Road Town or Sopers Hole in Tortola or from nearby St. Thomas and you can work with the skipper to customize your itinerary for the week. Some even include meals cooked by your skipper, but the best advantage is being able to wake up in a different place and explore any island, bay or cove you wish. It is important to note that while the boats are very nice, they don't offer the most spacious accommodations and lack many amenities you would get by staying on shore. Unless, of course, you're a millionaire then the boat can be as lavish as you wish.
If you prefer the comforts of being at a resort, that's totally fine, but I still encourage you to get out and explore as much as possible. Thankfully, there are many resorts and charter companies that offer daily boat rentals and there is a reliable and efficient ferry service within the islands of the BVI's and also between the British and U.S. Virgin Islands. For more information on the ferry service, including ferries that can bring you within the BVI's but also to the USVI's, as well as schedules, visit this website. This website is also helpful with FAQs regarding ferry service.
Now that we've established the basics, you're probably wondering where you should go once you hit the high seas. Well, the options are just about endless and could keep you busy for weeks. If you have only a week like I did, you will need to prioritize. I wanted to get as much out of the BVI's as I could so I decided to stick to those islands. Plus, I had been to some of the islands of the USVI's before. Here are the must-sees.
Note: if you decide to go to the USVI's don't forget your passport! You will need it going to/from the British and American territories.
The island where the millionaires vacation, therefore home to the most luxurious resorts in the BVI's. A quick 20-40 minute ride from the Trellis Bay ferry dock in Tortola depending on what part of the island you're going to. Includes 3 ferry stops-- Spanish Town (the main part of the island), Leverick Bay and Bitter End.
The Baths and Devil's Bay - Located a short cab ride's distance from the Spanish Town ferry dock, at the very southern tip of the island, is this national park the island is known for. The geological phenomenon consists of a collection of giant boulders left over from volcanic lava creating grottoes you can swim and walk through, as well as a white-sanded beach with some of the bluest water in the Caribbean. Note: Since it is a national park, there is a small entry fee but it includes use of facilities and a locker to store your belongings as you climb through the rocks. To access the Baths, hike downhill for about 15 minutes to the locker area where you can store your clothes and belongings. Climb through the caves, crawl between rocks and wade through water before ending at the beach. End your day after hiking back up with a refreshing drink and a snack (tostones, anyone?) at the Top of the Baths restaurant located near the taxi stand. (Virgin Gorda ferry, Spanish Town stop)
Important note: The Baths can get really crowded especially on days that cruise ships are docked in Tortola, so it's worth checking that handy schedule again to know when to go. Here is the link.
Bitter End Yacht Club - This resort offers accommodations but is better known for its sailing school and its large collection of watercrafts for rent. Learn how to sail, windsurf or hop in kayak, Hobie Cat or Boston Whaler for a few hours. The choice is yours, but whatever you do be sure to stop and marvel at the enormous sailing yachts. If you're lucky you will catch a 200+ foot sailing yacht giving birth to a couple of vintage wooden Chris Crafts out of its hull. (Virgin Gorda ferry, Bitter End stop)
Saba Rock Resort - Located on a small island just off the shore of the Bitter End Yacht Club, this resort has a fun bar and restaurant. Nothing fancy, but is a cool spot especially during happy hour. Catch the free water shuttle from Bitter End. (Virgin Gorda ferry, Bitter End stop)
JOST VAN DYKE
About a 30-minute ferry ride from West End ferry dock in Tortola, this little island is one not to be missed for its authentic, relaxing Caribbean vibe. Despite its fame to many travelers, it still remains an unspoiled oasis. The ferry lets passengers off in Great Harbour, but I recommend visiting this island by charter if you can.
Soggy Dollar Bar - Located in White Bay, this little beach shack got its name from boaters who would throw anchor offshore and from wading through the water to reach the bar their dollars would get soggy, ha-ha. Now they accept credit card and there are waterproof devices to keep dollars dry, but there is still no dock in sight making for a fun and sand-bar-like experience. Luckily, the water is as warm as bath water and you don't need much for a day on the beach here. Be sure to stop at the bar for its famous painkillers, a potent drink made with rum, pineapple juice, orange juice, cream of coconut and freshly grated nutmeg. The bartender is amazing to watch as he lines the bar with cups and mixes the drinks like something out of the movie Cocktail. This place, and the beach it's located on, is truly one of the best experiences in all of the BVI's. (White Bay)
Foxy's Tamarind Bar - Not far from the ferry dock is this famous beachside institution. Stop in for a house-brewed beer and a bite to eat while jamming to live calypso music. You may even catch Foxy himself, who is a celebrity around these parts, on the guitar. After the sun goes down this place turns into a big party with a mix of islanders and boaters alike. (Great Harbour)
Foxy's Taboo - On the quieter, eastern side of the island you will find the smaller of the two Foxy establishments. Located dockside in a picturesque bay, this restaurant offers up much of the same fare and brews as the original location in Great Harbour but on a more quaint and relaxing scale. (Diamond Cay)
Bubbly Pool - A natural Jacuzzi located on the Northeast part of the island, formed by waves crashing against a rock formation. When it's high tide and there are waves on the North shore of the island, the water comes rushing in and creates bubbles as if you're in a jetted tub (on calm days and low tide, not so much). From Foxy's Taboo, a 20-minute hike brings you to the swimming hole. Bring a picnic and plan to spend some time enjoying mother nature's wonders. Shoes recommended. Watch out for the poisonous trees, marked by red paint and/or a sign.
So if you're staying on land or if you're on a boat, the goal remains the same-- explore, explore, explore. I stress again that these islands are a must-see to get a feel for the BVI's. Since every island has a different vibe, it's important to see as many as you can and you will find the one that suits you best for for a future trip. Of course if you end up doing a private charter or boat rental, there are many other smaller cays to be found and bays to tuck into. You will be more nimble if you don't have to rely on ferries but ferries do a pretty good job of getting you where you need to go if you prefer to stay at a resort. And that I don't blame you sometimes, there are some very luxurious ones out there! Now, what are you waiting for? Get a move on and plan your trip to the BVI's, or have me do that for you, because Britain is calling!