Known internationally as a sailors’ paradise, the 60-plus islands of the British Virgin Islands also offer landlubbers all the charms of the natural Caribbean and few of the hassles. A necklace of islands and cays strung along Sir Francis Drake Channel between Puerto Rico and St. Kitts, the BVIs have an unspoilt setting, a high standard of living and a low-key atmosphere. Many of the islands are rich with indigenous fauna, including red-legged tortoises and Anegada iguanas.
Tortola is the largest island, and its capital, Road Town, hosts governmental offices, banks, shops,a ferry service and an international cruise-ship dock. It’s alsothe main location for charter boats. The north shore of Tortola is peppered with coves and isolated beaches like Brewer’s Bay and Smuggler’s Cove. The more populous Cane Garden Bay offers many restaurants and bars. The hilly roadways make for a four-wheel-drive challenge but provide spectacular views.
Mountainous Virgin Gorda, with secluded beaches and natural attractions, is the site of the Baths, where monumental granite boulders dominate the beach, creating numerous tide pools and great snorkeling. Jost Van Dyke thrives on its waterside reputation for festivity and provides excellent protected anchorages for yachters. Out to the northeast, day trippers visit Anegada and 18-mile-long Horseshoe Reef – one of the world’s longest – to spend the day bird-watching and snorkeling. Norman Island, supposedly the Treasure Island of Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous story, has no inhabitants other than a couple of restaurants. Here, the Caves is a famous snorkeling spot; the Indians and Marina Cay are also popular. Necker Island is privately owned by Sir Richard Branson, and largely undeveloped Peter Island hosts a resort that welcomes all for lunch and beaching. Guana Island is an officially designated wildlife sanctuary for species like the masked booby.
The BVI Spring Regatta & Sailing Festival is a seven-day event in April, attracting an average of 135 yachts. Divers explore the 200-odd shipwrecks, especially Rhone Marine Park near Salt Island, where the HMS Rhone sank in the 1860s. Game fishing is popular, and surfers gather each day off Tortola’s Apple Bay looking for one of the Caribbean’s best rides. Hikers enjoy walking the Ridge Road to Sage Mountain, a 92-acre park.
Airports: Terrance B Lettsome Airport (EIS) (Beef Island), 10 miles from the capital Road Town on Tortola, Virgin Gorda’s Airport (VIJ), and Auguiste George Airport on Anegada.
Gateways/Flying Times: British Airways and Virgin from Gatwick, and bmi from Manchester to Antigua with connecting flights on LIAT. American Airlines also fly via the US to San Juan and onward with connecting flights to Tortola. London to Antigua: 8 hours 45 minutes. Manchester: 8 hours. Antigua: 1 hour. San Juan: 45 minutes.
Average annual temperatures: Summer 90 degrees F. Winter 85 degrees. Average annual rainfall is 52 inches. Approximate sunrise: Summer 0545. Winter 0610. Approximate sunset: Summer 1930 – 2030. Winter 1700 – 1730.
Restaurants available – Local. Gourmet. International. Most hotels add 15% service charge. Hotels and restaurants may require slacks and shirt for dinner.
Entertainment available includes – Disco. Dinner/dances. Nightclubs. Live Music. Concerts. Plays. Fashion Shows.
The Baths on Virgin Gorda. Sage Mountain rainforest on Tortola. Coppermine on Virgin Gorda. Rum distilleries. Botanical Gardens. Wreck of the Rhone. Gorda Peak. Government House Museum on Tortola. Dolphin Discovery – swim with the dolphins interactive program.