As the weather starts to cool down in the Northeast, it's time to start thinking about swapping snow for sand. One of my favorite winter destinations happens to sport red telephone booths and belong to Her Majesty. No I'm not talking about London, although we all know how much I love that city, I'm talking about a little British Overseas Territory called the British Virgin Islands. Despite its ties to Britain, the culture is more Caribbean than British but you can expect to meet a lot of Brits vacationing here as well as other well-seasoned travelers decked out in their pastels sipping on painkillers. It's worth noting, though, that there is definitely more sophistication and wealth in the air here than other Caribbean islands, making this destination a pricey one in the high-season. Regardless, this place should be on your bucket list for the beauty alone. The BVI's are located in the Caribbean Sea just east of Puerto Rico and primarily consist of the islands known as Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Jost Van Dyke and Anegada but also include various smaller islands and cays. Tortola is the largest and most populated island in the BVI's therefore it's where you'll find the main airport, Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport a.k.a. Beef Island Airport. It's located on the East End of the island (technically on Beef Island which is connected to Tortola by a bridge) just a few minutes from Trellis Bay, and despite being the "main" and/or "international" airport it is relatively small. In fact, the only jet service is via private charters so most of the commercial aircrafts are small puddle jumper propeller planes. Your best bet is to fly direct to nearby San Juan or St. Thomas and then hop on a puddle jumper for your last leg which is quite the scenic ride. Note: If you're freaked by hopping on a plane this small, I always like to think the smaller the plane, the better the destination (in regards to the Caribbean anyway)!
It's important to note that cruise ships stop in Tortola occasionally, although not nearly as much as their American neighbor of St. Thomas. Still, the island can get crowded when ships are docked but if you plan it right you can avoid the ship crowds. This website is super helpful and has accurate and up to date ship schedules so you can plan your day's activities accordingly. Trust me, it's so worth it. Regardless of the crowds, Tortola is a wonderful island worth visiting and here are my recommendations on what to do there.
Cane Garden Bay - Think beautiful turquoise waters, white powdery sand lined with palm trees and steep green hills in the distance. That is what you will find at this beautiful, peaceful beach. Enjoy a leisurely walk along the shore, a refreshing swim in the clear water or just relax with a good book. There are beach shacks offering light fare and refreshments as well as clean facilities and lounge chairs with umbrellas for rent. Note: I highly recommend going on a day that there won't be a cruise ship in port because it gets extremely crowded and takes away from the ambiance.
Callwood Rum Distillery - A perfect end to your day at Cane Garden Bay, stop in at this family-owned working distillery to sample some of the rums made from the island's sugar cane. It is walking distance from the beach or your taxi driver will happily make a stop here for you. The facility is rather small so you won't need much time here, no more than 30 minutes, but it's fun to have a taste of the various rums they make and purchase some to take home. (Cane Garden Bay)
Road Town - Not necessarily a must-see, this town is the capital of the BVI's and where you can stock up on provisions, wander through souvenir shops, and grab something to eat. It is also where the ships dock and is one of the places you can catch a ferry to nearby islands or charter a boat. Stop into Pusser's Pub for a bite to eat and a drink. Despite being a chain, you can rely on good pub grub and a lively atmosphere. (Pusser's Pub, Main St. Across from the Docks)
Red Rock - Casual, outdoor atmosphere overlooking a marina with good food and great service. There is just about something for everyone on the eclectic menu which includes seafood and pasta. Reservations suggested. Closed on Mondays. (Penn's Landing Marina, Waterfront Drive, Parham Town, East End)
The Sugar Mill - Romantic candlelit dinners in a tropical garden of an old sugar mill, this place is slightly more upscale, by island standards anyway. You'll find a good wine list, an ever-changing menu centered around delicious seafood and friendly service. Reservations recommended. (Sugar Mill Hotel, Little Apple Bay, East End)
The Last Resort - Sometimes the journey is part of the experience, which is the case for this lively restaurant located on a tiny island in Trellis Bay. This restaurant is only reachable by boat but landlubbers don't fret-- there is a boat service from the Trellis Bay ferry dock. Just look for the random land phone, pick it up and someone on the other end will send a boat for you. This open-aired restaurant is best for its live music and good-humored entertainment on Thursdays and Fridays. (Bellamy Cay, Trellis Bay)
Pusser's Restaurant - Known for its red telephone booth on the dock, this place is also located on a small island and provides a water taxi from the Trellis Bay ferry dock. Open-aired and on the beach, you can't go wrong. Food is Caribbean-style and dishes include local seafood and jerk chicken. Order a painkiller made with Pusser's Rum, and they will let you choose the potency. The dessert menu is interestingly presented in a red ViewMaster, who remembers those from the 80s? Reservations suggested. (Marina Cay)
D' Best Cup - This casual café has some of the best coffee and breakfast on the island. The cappuccinos and breakfast sandwiches do not disappoint. I am sad to report the Trellis Bay location by the ferry dock has closed down but the two other locations remain. (Village Cay Marina, Road Town & Soper's Hole Wharf & Marina)
Scrub Island Resort, Spa & Marina - Located about 10 min by boat from the East End of Tortola lies a small island called Scrub Island, which is home to this luxurious Marriott Autograph Collection resort. Since the resort is the only thing on this island, guests feel like they are staying on a remote, private island yet have easy access to the main island of Tortola thanks to the resort's private water shuttle. Operating on an hourly schedule to/from the Trellis Bay ferry dock, the water shuttle makes it possible for guests to explore Tortola or catch a ferry to another island. The resort also offers private boat rentals from their marina incase you don't want to adhere to a ferry schedule or want a custom itinerary. The best part of staying here is definitely the expansive views from the infinity pool overlooking the gigantic yachts docked in the marina but other highlights include the resort's North Beach, a warm welcome by the staff offering rum punch, and pizza night at the market on Tuesday's.
Note: North Beach is actually located on the other side of the island, about a 10-min walk from the main resort but worth it because it tends to be incredibly quiet and peaceful. The sand in the water is rocky due to a coral reef, so water shoes are recommended if you plan to swim in the sea. Otherwise there is a small pool to cool off in.
Rates start at around $350/nt for a standard room in the off season and can go up to as much as $600/nt during the winter. Sometimes you can catch a deal on Jetsetter, so be on the lookout. For more info on the resort visit their website.
When you're planning your trip, definitely dedicate a full week to this beautiful place and longer if you can. Trust me, you will want some time for both island hopping and relaxing on a chaise lounge sipping your rum drink of choice. I guarantee once you experience this place you will be longing to get back. My next post will be all about island hopping to the other beautiful islands in the BVI's, in my opinion the best part of vacationing here, so stay tuned!