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Of the two lots of Virgin Islands, the British counterpart is by far the less busy, less touristy and less trodden. While the American Virgin Islands capitalized on their natural drawcards and turned into a thriving scene of travellers' fun and games, the Brits emphasized other industries (such as the ever-reputable money laundering), carefully maintaining sound ecology while at it. This means tourist facilities are costly, but there also less tourists. It also means that the best way to enjoy the islands is by having access to your own sea-faring device, be it a rubber tube or a yacht (though we do not strongly recommend the former). There is nothing quite like dropping anchor at an uninhabited island and spending a few days exploring the wild inland and the untouched beauty of the underwater world. For those with the dough, the British Virgin Islands offer up plenty of those opportunities.
The Virgin Islands were first settled by the Arawak from South America around 100 BC (though there is some evidence of Amerindian presence on the islands as far back as 1500 BC). The Arawaks inhabited the islands until the fifteenth century when they were displaced by the more aggressive Caribs, a tribe from the Lesser Antilles islands, after whom the Caribbean Sea is named. The first European sighting of the Virgin Islands was by Christopher Columbus in 1493 on his second voyage to the Americas. The Spanish Empire claimed the islands by discovery in the early sixteenth century, but never settled them, and subsequent years saw the English, Dutch, French, Spanish and Danish all jostling for control of the region, which became a notorious haunt for pirates.
The Dutch established a permanent settlement on the island of Tortola by 1648. In 1672, the English captured Tortola from the Dutch, and the British annexation of Anegada and Virgin Gorda followed in 1680. Meanwhile, over the period 1672–1733, the Danish gained control of the nearby islands of St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix, the current United States Virgin Islands.
The British Virgin Islands were administered variously as part of the British Leeward Islands or with St. Kitts and Nevis, with an Administrator representing the British Government on the Islands. Separate colony status was gained for the Islands in 1960 and the Islands became autonomous in 1967. Since the 1960s, the islands have diversified away from their traditionally agriculture-based economy towards tourism and financial services, becoming one of the wealthiest areas in the Caribbean.
The British Virgin Islands are located in the Caribbean, between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, east of Puerto Rico. Its geographic coordinates are 18°30′N 64°30′W / 18.5°N 64.5°W. The area totals 151 km² and comprises 16 inhabited and more than 20 uninhabited islands. Most of the islands are volcanic in origin and have a hilly, rugged terrain. Anegada is geologically distinct from the rest of the group and is a flat island composed of limestone and coral. Its highest point is Mount Sage at 521 metres above sea level. There are no bodies of water on the land. There is limited natural fresh water resources (except for a few seasonal streams and springs on Tortola, most of the islands' water supply comes from wells and rainwater catchments).
Out of the roughly 60 islands that make up the British Virgin Islands, the following 4 islands are the main ones.
In addition to the four main islands, other islands include, Beef Island, Cooper Island, Ginger Island, Great Camanoe, Great Thatch
Guana Island, Little Thatch, Mosquito Island (owned by Sir Richard Branson), Necker Island (owned by Sir Richard Branson), Norman Island, Peter Island, Salt Island, Prickly Pear, Eustatia, Saba Rock, Frenchman's Cay, Nanny Cay, Scrub Island, Sandy Cay and Green Cay.
The Baths is a collection of giant boulders at the seaside. They are located at the island of Virgin Gorda near the island's southwest corner. They form national park and are probably the most popular tourist attraction of the British Virgin Islands. The rocks form a series of small caves that flood with seawater, although there is no safety concern. A bigger concern is the fact that The Baths are usually just very crowded with tourists so come very early or late during the day to have some secluded spots for yourself.
The Copper Mine National Park is also on the island of Virgin Gorda, not far from The Baths in the southwest of the island. The site includes impressive ruins like a chimney, boiler house, cistern and mine shaft house and together form a national park and protected area. Between 1838 and 1867, miners worked the mine but since then it has been abandoned. Nowadays, the area with its spectactular coastline form an excellent place for a picnic.
Probably one of the least developed parts of the British Virgin Islands, at least two-thirds of Anegada's shoreline is pristine beach and the turquoise waters offer fantastic snorkeling and swimming. Loblolly Bay and beach is one of the best pieces of sand anywhere in the world and there are several beach bars to have a drink and just enjoy some of the most relaxing places in the Caribbean without the huge cruiseship crowds.
Tortola island is the place to be for beautiful beaches and it has the best nightlife of the islands. There are huge collections of restaurants and nightclubs and the capital Road Town is a decent place to spend some time and enjoy the colourful buildings and botanic gardens. It also has some fine museums, where you can witness some relics dating back to the slavery time.
A largely uninhabited island accessible by private yacht or water taxi from Tortola, Norman Island is said to be the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson's pirate novel Treasure Island. Today the island is home to debauchery of another kind, thanks to the floating bar Willy T's reputation as one of the "must do" party spots in the British Virgin Islands. Norman Island is also home to some of the best snorkeling in the BVIs, including The Caves and The Indians, located just offshore.
Another popular destination for visiting yachties, privately-owned Peter Island is home to an ultra-luxurious resort that welcomes visiting charter yachts. In addition to resort activities such as a spa, fine dining and beachfront hammocks, Peter Island is among the least developed publicly accessible islands in the BVIs, offering the rare opportunity to explore untouched Caribbean flora and fauna on several miles of hiking trails.
None of the numerous sailing regattas held throughout the year match the size of this week long event held at Tortola’s Nanny Cay Marina during the last week of March. More than 150 boats take part in three thrilling races around the Sir Francis Drake Channel. All regatta events are followed by fun victory parties at several Road Town bars.
For over a decade and a half, Virgin Gorda’s capital has hosted this deep sea fishing showcase at the same time as the island’s annual Easter festival. The festival’s main event is a wahoo fishing tournament, but visitors can also sample the fresh catches, attend lively parades, and listen to the spontaneous fungi band performances.
The biggest music festival in the British Virgin Islands takes place each Memorial Day weekend at the end of May. Some of the world’s biggest calypso, jazz, fungi, reggae, and rock artists have performed during this lively three day event on Tortola’s Cane Garden Bay Beach. The music is accompanied by delicious local food and a pristine white sandy dance floor.
Scuba divers will not want to miss this exciting week between May and June. Divers band together to explore the most stunning dive sites, take shipwreck certification courses, take part in a treasure hunt, and even help clean up some of the beautiful British Virgin Island beaches. The biggest of Wreck Week’s parties and barbecues takes place on Cooper Island.
The British Virgin Islands shows off its status as one of the world’s top windsurfing spots during the World’s Greatest Windsurfing and Sailing Adventure in this annual competition. A week long journey between Virgin Gorda’s Bitter End Yacht Club and the nearby Caribbean island of Anguilla, attracts the world’s best athletes and sailors to BVI.
The British Virgin Islands Carnival celebration coincides with the anniversary of the abolition of slavery in 1834. The parade on the first Monday of every year commemorates this special day in one of many lively events held during the biggest festival of the year. One unique event is the annual horse race at Tortola’s Little A Race Track. The festival is filled with beauty pageants, live music, tasty food, and J’Ouvert early morning street parties found across many of the other Caribbean islands.
The British Virgin Islands have a very pleasant and tropical climate with generally warm and humid weather. The seabreeze makes things relatively mild though and water is never far away. Temperatures generally average around 30 °C during the day yearround and 23 °C at night. December to May is the dry season, where July to October is the rainy season, but this generally means some showers at the end of the day instead of days of rain on end. Hurricanes are possible though from August to October.
Most international flights arrive on the main island of the British Virgin Islands, Tortola. Fly BVI is a charter airline serving San Juan in Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Saint Thomas in the United States Virgin Islands and Antigua. Island Birds has charters from San Juan and Saint Martin to Tortola, Virgin Gorda and Beef Island. BVI Airlines offers charter flights in the region as well.
Clair Aero flies from Anegada, a smaller island, to Saint Thomas as well and Aero Gorda flies there from Tortola.
Contact Inter Island Boat Service (340) 776-6597 for these last three international connections by ferry.
Fly BVI flies between Tortola, Anegada and Beef Island. There are 4 flights between Tortola and Anegada as well with Clair Aero. BVI Airlines offers charters between the islands of the British Virgin Islands.
There are at least 6 operators between several destinations within the British Virgin Islands with many connections on a daily basis. Two of them have services between Tortola and Virgin Gorda. Other connections include Virgin Gorda to Beef Island vv, Tortola to Jost van Dyke vv, Beef Island to Marine Cay vv and Tortola to Peter Island vv. Check the schedule (also between BVI and the US Virgin Islands) at the BVI Welcome site. Smith's Ferry now also makes sailings to and from the northern island of Anegada and both Tortola (Road Town) and Virgin Gorda (Spanish Town) three times a week in both directions.
Other operators between several islands include North Sound Express and Speedy's. New Horizon Ferry travels between West End on Tortola and Jost's Great Harbour on Jost van Dyke.
Renting a car is a good option to get around the main islands of Tortola and Virgin Gorda. Although the islands are not very big, especially Tortola is rather hilly and traveltimes can add up. If you want to cover a lot of the islands, it is better to rent a car than taking taxis all the time. Both international and local companies rent cars, and prices start at around 40 USD a day and weekly rates are often more economical. Driving is at the left, you have to be 25 years old to rent a car and you also need to purchase a temporary driving permit at rental companey or police station.
If you are travelling by road other than having your own wheels, there is a good chance it will be a in taxi or minibus bringing you to your resort, beach, airport or ferry terminal. There are no fixed bus schedules.
Nationals from the following countries require a visa:
Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Belarus, Benin, Bhutan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Myanmar, Cambodia, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, China, Colombia, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cuba, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Georgia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Cote d'Ivoire, Jamaica, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, North Korea, Kuwait, Laos, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Macedonia, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Morocco, Myanmar, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Palestinia, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Russia, Rwanda, Sao Tome & Principle, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Somalia, Sudan, Suriname, Syria, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Thailand, Togo, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Yemen.
Everyone else can stay for 30 days without a visa.
For further information, check the Governmental website.
See also Money Matters
The US Dollar, or "greenback", is the national currency of the British Virgin Islands. One dollar consists of 100 cents. Frequently used coins are the penny (1¢), nickel (5¢), dime (10¢) and quarter (25¢). 50¢ and $1 coins also exist, but are rarely used. Frequently used banknotes are the $1, $5, $10 and $20 notes. $2, $50 and $100 notes can also be found, but are rarely used.
The official language of the British Virgin Islands is English.
Inevitably, freshly caught seafood is the dish of choice for most people. Lobster and various fish are available from the many restaurants in the BVI. The choices throughout the islands vary from very high-end dining options to beachside cafes. Local dishes include rotis and curries inspired by Guyana and Trinidad cuisine, to Italian, French and Asian influences. The national dish is considered to be Fish and fungee.
If you're renting a boat, you already have your bed too, but for landlubbers, the larger islands offer resorts, budget bungalows, and a few things in between. To get off the beaten path there are many options if you're willing to island hop by boat.
There are larger hotel options on Tortola, as well as many intimate, locally owned inns that are hidden treasures. Private islands like Necker Island (owned by Sir Richard Branson) and Guana Island can be rented. Peter Island Resort is a very exclusive private island resort (and is connected by a free ferry service from Road Town). Other high end resorts are on Virgin Gorda, but there are many villas and smaller hotels there as well. Jost Van Dyke offers laidback options and Anegada has adventurous packages for the active traveller.
Many visitors to the BVI stay on land will rent private guest houses rather than stay at larger hotels, and there are a large selection to choose from through the islands.
Rum, not surprisingly, is the drink of choice in the islands. Many rum-based delicious concoctions can be found at bars on the main beaches and roads. Because beaches in the BVI are so pristine, many do not have refreshment stands so it would be wise to bring at least water. However, a lot of the beaches have nearby restaurants and bars, so it's easy to saunter over for a drink when you're done relaxing on the sand. The "Painkiller" - a drink made from rum, coconut, and topped with OJ - is highly recommended, as is the Bushwacker. However, each bar has its own specialty drinks so it's worth it to sample your way through the BVI. Watch out for the No-See-Um, a refreshing banana, coconut and pineapple drink made with 151 proof rum - it'll get you before you see it coming!
See also Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to the British Virgin Islands. It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to the British Virgin Islands. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and vaccination against hepatitis B and typhoid are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.
Dengue sometimes occurs as well. There is no vaccination, so buy mosquito repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Also wear long sleeves if possible.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also Travel Safety
The BVI has much lower incidence of crime than many other Caribbean areas, and wandering about alone, even at night, is not considered particularly high risk. However, as with all foreign travel, tourists should use good judgment and avoid certain areas.
Despite the perception of the Caribbean being laid back in relation to drugs, possession and supply of narcotics is a criminal offence and penalties can be severe.
See also International Telephone Calls
The country calling code to the British Virgin Islands is 1-284.
To make an international call from the islands , the code is 011.
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Ask thegeegs a question about British Virgin Islands
Lived there for 4 years, got to know a lot of the local color, carnivals, restaurants, bars and more. Also USVI also - St John and St Thomas specifically
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