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British Virgin Islands

Photo © Utrecht

Travel Guide Caribbean British Virgin Islands

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Introduction

Blue Caribbean Sea

Blue Caribbean Sea

© All Rights Reserved Utrecht

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.

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Brief History

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.

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Geography

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).

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Regions/Islands

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.

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Cities/Towns

  • Road Town is the country's capital
  • Spanish Town is the capital of Virgin Gorda
  • The Settlement is the main town on the island of Anegada
  • Great Harbor is the main town on Jost Van Dyke.

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Sights and Activities

The Baths

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.

Copper Mine National Park

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.

Anageda

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

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.

Norman Island

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[1]. 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[2]. Norman Island is also home to some of the best snorkeling in the BVIs[3], including The Caves and The Indians, located just offshore.

Peter Island

Another popular destination for visiting yachties, privately-owned Peter Island is home to an ultra-luxurious resort that welcomes visiting charter yachts[4]. 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.

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Weather

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.

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Getting there

Plane

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.

Boat

  • There are about 4 operators which have ferry services between St. Thomas (Charlotte Amalie and Red Hook) and Tortola (West End and Roadtown). Contact Road Town Fast Ferry for options. From Road Town on the British Virgin Islands there are ferries about every 50 minutes to Charlotte Amalie on the island of St. Thomas in the United States Virgin Islands. From Red Hook to Road Town is about 35 minutes. Contact Caribbean Maritime Tortola Fast Ferry (340) 777-2800), Smith's Ferry (340) 775-7292 or Native Son Inc. (340) 774-8685 for details about schedules and prices.
  • Speedys operates ferries between Virgin Gorda and St Thomas, sometimes via Tortola.
  • There are about 4 or 5 sailings in eacht direction between Cruz Bay, St. John (USVI) and West End, Tortola (BVI).
  • There are also two ferry operators offering service between St. Thomas (Red Hook and Charlotte Amalie) and Virgin Gorda.
  • To end, there are 2 crossings a day on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays between Red Hook, St.Thomas and Cruz Bay, St. John (USVI) for Jost Van Dyke (BVI).

Contact Inter Island Boat Service (340) 776-6597 for these last three international connections by ferry.

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Getting around

Plane

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.

Boat

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.

By Car

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.

By Bus

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.

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Red Tape

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.

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Money

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.

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Language

The official language of the British Virgin Islands is English.

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Health

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.

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Safety

See also Travel Safety

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Keep Connected

Phone

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.

References

  1. 1 "Where's Where" (1974) (Eyre Methuen, London} ISBN 0-413-32290-4, Norman Island.
  2. 2 http://www.virginisles.com/activities.php#nightlife
  3. 3 http://www.b-v-i.com/mappage.htm#The%20Caves
  4. 4 http://www.peterisland.com/yacht_club/harbor_info

Quick Facts

British Virgin Islands flag

Map of British Virgin Islands

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Capital
Road Town
Population
22,000
Government
Overseas territory of the UK
Religions
Christianity (Protestant, Catholic)
Languages
English
Calling Code
+1284
Nationality
British Virgin Islander

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This is version 33. Last edited at 19:20 on May 15, 13 by Sander. 19 articles link to this page.

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