The 10 most beautiful places in the British Virgin Islands
The 10 most beautiful places in the British Virgin Islands
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When Columbus first sailed through the Virgin Islands, the many islands surrounding them reminded him of the tortured women in the story of St. Ursula and thousands of virgins. So he named the archipelago “The Virgin Islands,” and the name stuck. The British Virgin Islands is a place of beauty, from the lush green peaks of its many islands to the sparkling, crystal-clear waters and beyond, all the way to the sea life that lives beneath its surface. Whether you’re looking for solitude, surfing, swimming, snorkeling, sailing, or just sitting on the perfect beach, the British Virgin Islands have a lot to offer.
Located on Virgin Gorda, The Baths are the most famous and perhaps most photographed place in the British Virgin Islands. The site is a deposit of large volcanic boulders, some stacked on top of each other, creating small grottos and “baths” below. From Tyra Banks to the honeymooners you met for dinner last night, everyone who goes to the British Virgin Islands gets their obligatory Baths photo moment.
Located about halfway between Yost Van Dyke and Tortola is a spit of, well, sand. Sandy Spot is a popular starting spot for kites and windsurfers, as the channel between the islands drives the wind in the prevailing direction. Sandy Spit is also a favorite stop for day charter boats whose patrons want a private, albeit exposed, beach.
Peter’s Island is a great place for those who want the exclusivity of a private island, but not the bank account needed for one. The price tag for lodging and dining is certainly more than the big three of Tortola, Yosta and Gorda, but you pay nothing. The beaches are as white as the perfect linens on your bed, and the water is as clear and sparkling as the Perrier in your glass.
The British Virgin Islands offer world-class diving. Some of the most popular dive sites are shipwrecks. Stop by RMS Rhone, who went down on Salt Island in 1867, losing almost all his arms, or check out the wreck site from Isle of Dogs. There are four different ships in the alley. The wrecks offer a great opportunity to explore the ocean in three dimensions, as you can enter the ships to explore.
The Road of the Sea, which runs between St. John of the U.S. Virgin Islands and the various bays of the British Virgin Islands, Narrows is technically British water. Blackbard sailed here, using the steep tops of the islands to hide the mast of his ship. Sailing this waterway is magical, and little has changed since the pirates did it centuries ago, as neither the bays nor the north end of St. John’s have developed.
Cane Garden Bay
The top surf in the British Virgin Islands is in Kane. The long right-hand side of the bay is removed from the right side to the center, and on really big days closes off the whole place. A favorite anchor for charter sailboats, Cane Garden Bay is usually packed with charter boats. In the distance is Jost van Dyke, the perfect place to laze in the sun.
Anegada is almost legendary, an island many, if not most, Virgin Islanders have never been. Unlike all the other Virgin Islands, both U.S. and U.K., Anegada is completely flat. Its flat topography makes it incredibly windy and an ideal place for killers and windsurfers. Most tourists here are wind enthusiasts, but Anegada is still a beautiful place in its own right and thanks to its location and fame, almost empty of people.
In addition to sunken dives, there are many coral reefs surrounding each Virgin Island to explore. If you manage to book a dive at Anegada, take it. Because it is rarely dived, all of its reefs are still alive and positively filled with marine life. Be sure to let your dive instructor know if you see a sea lion. Although they are beautiful, they are an invasive species, introduced by people from the South Pacific and the Philippines. They destroy reefs and have no predators in the Caribbean, and every one killed brings a reward.
On the west end of Tortola and the east end of Narrows is Soper’s Hole. “Soper’s Hole” is a marina and shopping/dining center, but the surrounding area is gorgeous, evoking visions of Jurassic Park. Lush greenery consumes every slope, and the harbor is always filled with mega yachts.
Jost Van Dyke.
Named after a Dutch pirate, Jost Van Dyke hosts the famous New Town party in White Bay, affectionately called “New Year’s Eve” (though technically, the night before, before something, not after it). Yost is the place for rum and fun, or, as the T-shirts at one of these bars say, “A sunny place for shady people.” Soggy Dollar Bar on Jost invented the famous Painkiller chamomile drink and several bars on the beach offered Bushwackers with magic mushrooms mixed in. Throw a few Painkillers and Bushwackers back and forget all your worries until you wake up the next morning somewhere on White Bay, covered in sand, and nursing a powerful hangover.
The 14 most popular tourist attractions in the British Virgin Islands
Amazingly beautiful, the British Virgin Islands (BVI) encompass more than 60 islands scattered like emeralds between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic. In 1666, British planters took over the islands from the original Dutch settlers, and they achieved the status of a British colony. Today, the BVI remains a territory under the British crown and is world-renowned for its excellent sailing and yachting, many dives and dazzling beaches.
The main islands are Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada and Jost Van Dyke. Home to the capital of Road Town, Tortola is the most populated island and the gateway to the archipelago. With the exception of Anegada, all of these islands are volcanic, with dramatic landscapes of lush peaks plunging into crystal-clear bays. Anegada, a fishing spot, is almost entirely flat and consists of coral and limestone with impressive stretches of white sand beach. Virgin Gorda and Jost Van Dyke entice discerning nature lovers and many boaters looking for a more secluded island experience. All of the islands are ideal for diving, snorkeling and sunbathing, including many of the smaller “Out Islands” in the British Virgin Islands. Deep sea, bonefish and reef fishing are also popular things to do.
1 Vann National Park, Virgin Gorda
Vann National Park, Virgin Gorda
Virgin Gorda Baths is a busy anchorage and one of the most famous attractions on the British Virgin Island. This distinctive bay is scattered with giant granite boulders, creating sea pools and grottos that are perfect for snorkeling and exploring. At one point, the boulders form a cave with a sandy bottom, which is one of the most photographed areas in the British Virgin Islands. Baths was declared a national park in 1990 to preserve this beautiful boulder.
Accommodations: Where to stay in the British Virgin Islands
2 Gorda Peak National Park, Virgin Gorda
Gorda Peak National Park, Virgin Gorda
If you’re looking for a change of pace from all water activities, Gorda Peak National Park is a great place to soak up some land-based character. Two well-marked hiking trails lead to the top of Gorda Peak, the highest point on the island. From the observation tower here you can enjoy stunning views of North Sound, Anegada , and other islets and bays of the British Virgin Islands. Rich in biodiversity, the park consists of 107 hectares of semi-hardwoodland, with dry forests concealing its upper slopes and rare plants flourishing within its borders, including six species of native orchids. Wildlife such as reptiles; tree frogs; birds; bats; soldier crabs; and the world’s smallest lizard, Virgin Gorda gecko, are also in the park.
3 North Sound, Virgin Gorda
North Sound, Virgin Gorda Latham Jenkins / photo modified
North Sound, located on the northeast shore of Virgin Gorda, is a major watersports center in the British Virgin Islands. The area has well-protected waters and many marinas where all kinds of boating and water sports are available: diving, sailing, windsurfing, parasailing, water skiing, water skiing, sidewinder boats and trips to secluded beaches. Hiking is another popular activity in the region. Because the canal and surrounding areas can only be reached by boat, North Sound is extremely popular with boaters and private charters.
4 White Bay, Jost Van Dyke
White Bay, Jost Van Dyke Latham Jenkins / photo modified
White Bay is Yost Van Dyke’s most popular beach and one of the most beautiful in all of the British Virgin Islands. Steep hills plunge into this long stretch of dazzling white sand, which is protected by a barrier reef. The reef protects the waters from waves and swells and creates excellent swimming and snorkeling opportunities. A channel through the center of the reef allows entrance for many boats that anchor in the clear turquoise waters. After hours of sun and sea, you can refuel at one of the cozy restaurants along the beach.
5 Cove Smuggler’s Cove Beach, Tortola
Cove Smuggler’s Cove Beach, Tortola
At the westernmost end of Tortola lies Smuggler’s Cove, a secluded, sheltered and undeveloped stretch of the island that attracts beach lovers looking for an escape from the busy resort scene. This relatively peaceful beach offers excellent snorkeling, and sea turtles swim right on shore. Check out the old car used as a prop for the Hollywood remake of The Old Man and the Sea, filmed here in 1990.
6 Anegada Island.
Surrounded by a maze of coral reefs, Anegada stretches for miles offshore, creating perfect reef and bonefish opportunities. The island is so low that many sailors cannot see Anegada until caught on the reef, a fate that has caused more than 300 ships to sink off the island. There are more wrecks from Anegada than anywhere else in the Caribbean, and they now host colorful marine life and are favorite diving spots. Anegada’s landscape includes salt ponds, flowering cacti, wild orchids, and century-old plants, as well as some beautiful white sand beaches. Loblolly Bay as well as Cow Wreck Bay Beach are favorites. The island is protected by Horseshoe Reef, one of the largest reef systems in the world. The wildlife found on the island includes flamingos and the rare iguana. The BVI National Parks Trust protects nearly the entire interior of the island from development, making it a popular destination for adventure travelers, not those looking for a resort vacation.
7 Kane Garden Bay, Tortola.
A crescent-shaped fort, Cane Garden Bay Beach is Tortola’s most popular sandy stretch. Backed by steep green hills, the bay waters are protected from the wind inside a barrier reef. The beach is a busy marina, with numerous opportunities for snorkeling and water sports. Local West Indians, travelers, cruise ship passengers and sailors gather at this famous beach to soak up the sunshine, socialize and listen to island music on evenings and weekends.
8 Soper’s Hole, Tortola
Soper’s Hole, Tortola Scott Grannman / photo modified
This busy anchorage is where the first Dutch settlers of Tortola landed in 1648. As a former pirate’s backwater, today the harbor is a popular entry point and ferry terminal, as the anchorage is both deep and protected. Connected by the bridge are the residential areas of French Cay and Marina Soper , which includes stores and restaurants in West Indian-style buildings.
9 Road Town, Tortola
Road Town, Tortola superde1uxe / photo modified
The capital of the British Virgin Islands, Road Town is named after the main harbor of Tortola, Road Bay. Road Town is located in the center of the southern shore of Tortola. It is the commercial center of the entire British territory, and the harbor often overflows with charter yachts, ferries, and cruise ships. Most of Road Town’s attractive stores and eateries are on Waterfront Drive and Main Street with historic forts and sugar mills, some of which are 200 years old. Attractions include Tortola’s Dolphin Discovery; the J. R. O’Neill Botanical Gardens; the Virgin Islands Folk Museum; and the Government House, a classic example of British colonial architecture.
10 Rhone National Maritime Park & RMS Riverwrecks
Rhone National Maritime Park & RMS Riverwrecks
Rhone National Maritime Park is the only national marine park in the British Virgin Islands and possibly the only national park in the world because of its shipwreck existence. A hurricane in 1867 caused the Rona to crash into the rocks off the southwest coast of Salt Island, killing 124 people while the survivors 23 washed up on the shores of Salt Island. Today, the wreck is one of the best dive sites in the Caribbean for intermediate and advanced divers. You can swim inside the coral encrusted steelhead among schools of perch, grunts, soldier fish and parrotfish. The jetties are located in Lee Bay on Salt Island, not far from the shipwreck. The marine park also covers two coral caves 26 meters from the sea surface, as well as Blonde, another dive site with canopies, tunnels, caves and abundant marine life.
11 Sage Mountain National Park, Tortola
Sage Mountain National Park, Tortola
A gift from the Rockefellers to the government of the British Virgin Islands, Sage Mountain National Park floats a ridge running east-west along the spine of Tortola and is the first national park established in these islands. Nearly the entire park is 305 meters above sea level, and the 523-meter-high Sage Mountain is the highest peak in all of the Virgin Islands. Twelve looping hiking trails wind through the forest, and while the park is not a true rainforest, you can see philodendrons, hanging vines, ferns, mahogany, cedar, and manilkar trees. Wildlife includes birds such as martins, hummingbirds and kestrels. Since the British Virgin Islands National Parks acquired the land, reforestation programs have been successful in many areas of the park.
12 Sandy Cay.
The quintessential uninhabited island of Sandy Cay is an uninhabited small island from Little Yost Van Dyke, known in the British Virgin Islands as “All Beach Island.” The waters here are deep, almost to the shore, and great for snorkeling and kayaking thanks to the ravine reefs on the north and south sides of the island. There are also several short hiking trails in the cay, as well as an anchorage that attracts boaters for daytime picnics.
13 Norman Island.
Norman Island superde1uxe / photo modified
Since 1843, various legends have considered Norman Island the site of a buried treasure. Located 10 km southwest of Tortola, it is the largest uninhabited island in the British Virgin Islands. The anchorage on the bay, known for good snorkeling, is usually filled with sailboats, swimmers and boats. Aside from the beaches in the bay and Benudes Bay on the east side of Norman Island, the terrain is mostly undeveloped and impenetrable.
Also of note are the underwater treasure caves , considered the place that Robert Louis Stevenson had in mind when he wrote Treasure Island , Four caves have ideal snorkeling and diving, and one of the caves extends 24 meters under the island, replicating the conditions of the night dive.
Lying 1.6 km south of Norman Island, Santa Monica Rock is one of the best dives in the British Virgin Islands, with a summit that reaches 30 meters. Because the rock lies on the outer edge of the island chain, it’s a good place to spot larger, open-ocean fish such as nurse sharks or spotted eagle rays. The BVI National Parks Trust has established marinas here.
14 Peter’s Island.
Peter’s Island by Joe Slobotnik / photo modified
Just 6.5 kilometers south of the town of Road, Peter’s Island is the largest private island in the British Virgin Islands. The island has a rich history involving famous explorers, pirates and slave traders. In 1978, a witty sailor purchased it and founded the luxury spa resort Peter Island. Today it remains largely undeveloped, but for the shores of Dead Bay as well as Sprat Bay , where the resort and Peter’s Island Marina are located.The island offers great diving and snorkeling, five beaches and trails for hiking and biking.
More to see near the British Virgin Islands
The British Virgin Islands are surrounded by other charming Caribbean islands. To the west is Puerto Rico with its rich Spanish Caribbean culture. A short flight from the British Virgin Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands offer beautiful palm-fringed beaches and excellent diving and snorkeling opportunities. Anguilla, to the east, boasts some of the best beaches in the Caribbean, and glamorous St. Barts is a favorite haven for jetsetters. For more all-inclusive places to stay, check out our article on the best luxury all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean, and if you’re looking for inspiration on other tropical getaways, check out the best tropical getaways.