British Virgin Islands See And Do
The BVI's have enough beaches to pick one for every interest and mood. Surfers head to Tortola's Apple Bay to hang ten. Sandy Spit and Sandy Cay off Jost Van Dyke are the place to live out your castaway fantasies. If "yo, ho, ho and a bottle of rum" is more your thing, you can bar crawl your way up and down White Bay on Jost Van Dyke or hit up Cane Garden Bay on Tortola. For snorkeling, try The Baths/Devil's Bay on Virgin Gorda, and Loblolly/Flash of Beauty, and Cow Wreck on Anageda. Couples like the secluded sunbathing at Tortola's Smuggler's Cove. And everyone can appreciate the sunsets from Cooper Island Beach on Cooper Island.
The BVI's are an underappreciated dive destination. There are dozens of good sites, and the conditions are ideal: little current, relatively shallow profiles, 60-to-120-foot visibility, and with all the contorted topography, dive operators can always find a calm lee to drop into. The most famous dive site is the RMS Rhone, wrecked off Salt Island in a hurricane in 1867 and now a marine park and main attraction for the area's burgeoning “wreck alley.” With some sections in 20 to 80 feet of water, the wreck is accessible to divers of all levels. A much more recent wreck, the 246-foot-long Chikuzen, lies intact 75 feet down six miles north of Tortola, and has collected a spectacular number of fish, from candy-colored reef fish to big, blue-water predators. For nonwreck-based diving, try the Indians, four mounds of rock that rise from 50 feet underwater to create a snaggletooth formation towering above boats stopping by to snorkel and dive. If you keep moving, you can cover the entire site in one dive, but it's worth at least two. Painted Walls features large coral spurs that form channels divers can “fly” into, surrounded by a Technicolor display of sponges and reef fish. The site, off Dead Chest near Peter Island, is almost as popular with sea turtles as it is with visiting divers.
There's no other place in the Caribbean where traveling between such a diverse collection of islands is not only possible, but easy and fun. There are several ferry services that run between the populated islands (www.bviports.org), puddle jumpers fly to Anegada and Virgin Gorda (Air Sunshine, Fly BVI, Ltd.), and the most popular day trips include stops at nearby uninhabited isles. Going to the BVI and seeing only a one island would be like going to the Louvre and ignoring all but the Mona Lisa. Below are our favorite lesser-known islands.
Fallen Jerusalem. This national park southwest of Virgin Gorda has underwater caves and tunnels off the northwest coast for snorkeling and the great North Lee Bay Beach for lazing.
Prickly Pear. A national park in Virgin Gorda's North Sound, this has a hiking trail over cactus-covered hills and epic beaches on the north and east shores. Vixen Point has watersport equipment rentals and a beach bar/restaurant called the Sand Box.
Norman Island. A yachters' favorite just southwest of Peter Island, Norman's most visited spots are its Bight—home to the Willie T. and a good land-based bar/restaurant Pirates Bight—and The Caves, a snorkeling spot said to have been Robert Louis Stevenson's inspiration for Treasure Island. You can swim inside the caves amid shimmering schools of fish.
Dead Chest. Legend has it that this tiny, uninhabited national park next to Peter Island got its name when Blackbeard stranded 15 mutinous sailors here with only a bottle of rum for company. Hence Stevenson's "Fifteen men on a dead man's chest/Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum…" quote from Treasure Island.
Sandy Spit and Sandy Cay. You need a boat, but it's worth it for these two tiny dots that are practically all beach off the east coast of Jost Van Dyke. Sandy Spit is the real-life version of the desert island—water, sand and a sprinklng of palms.
Cooper Island. Home of a quiet little hotel with a good restaurant (some yachties moor here and swim ashore just for the conch fritters), Cooper is a nice place to stop after diving the nearby wrecks.
Anegada. While the rest of the major islands in the BVI are all green-hilled gumdrops created by volcanic action, Anegada is a Bahamian-style isle: flat, low, hot, and almost completely surrounded by white coral-sand beaches. It's also famous for its deep-water lobster, and in season, there's no better BVI afternoon than sitting at one of Anegada's beach bars like Cow Wreck, drinking rum and feasting on fresh lobster.
Jost Van Dyke
British Virgin Islands
Sandy Spit and Sandy Cay. You need a boat, but it's worth it for these two tiny dots that are practically all beach off the east coast of the island. Sandy Spit is the desert island you've seen in cartoons.
White Bay Beach. World-class palm-fringed sands, snorkeling reefs (you have to anchor offshore and swim in, so it doesn't work for tots), and beach bars are what this beach on the southern coast is known for.
Great Harbour Beach. Yes, it's the great beach at the main harbor on the southern coast of the island. Though not the most deserted, the big, sandy horseshoe has the best water sports and casual restaurants.
British Virgin Islands
Cane Garden Bay. A long, sheltered curve of white sand on the north coast, this has many water-sports facilities and is lined with restaurants and bars that remain lively well into the evening.
Long Bay. Aptly named, this white-sand mile is busier at the east end, where there are several guesthouses and a resort, but tranquil in the west.
Apple Bay Beach. A surfing center near Long Bay with famous full-moon parties at Bomba's Surfside Shack and a Friday night fish fry.
Smugglers Cove. At the west end of the island, this clear, calm stretch of water with good snorkeling is hard to access by land and therefore very quiet.
Elizabeth Beach. At the east end: one of the widest beaches in the islands. Not to be confused with Lambert Bay, a.k.a Elizabeth Bay, on the north shore, though nobody would mind finding themselves there instead.
British Virgin Islands
The Baths. The otherworldly granite formations here are some of the most photographed and celebrated sites in the Caribbean. Get there first thing in the morning or after three in order to miss the cruise crowds and day trippers. Explore the grottoes, hike the entire boulder path, and make sure to snorkel around the rocks if it's calm.
Mahoe Bay Beach. North of Savannah Bay on an isthmus and easily accessed by way of a long, landscaped driveway, this twin-reef sandy bay is nevertheless peaceful.
Trunk Bay. On the west coast there are many beautiful white-sand stretches, of which this is one of the nicest. Walk over from gorgeous, boulder-strewn Spring Bay.
Visitors will find more boat bunks than hotel beds in the BVIs. It's one of the best places in the world to charter a boat—bareboat or crewed, mostly sail but powerboats are becoming more popular—because the island chain is blessed with easy line-of-sight navigation, innumerable idyllic coves, and ideal anchorages, as well as the best selection of boat-friendly watering holes on the planet. Wannabe yachties can hire a captain who will take responsibility for the boat while also showing them the ropes and letting them do as much or as little of the sailing as they want. The Moorings is the largest charter boat company in the BVI, with a large selection of bareboats and fully crewed yachts, both sail and power. A major expansion of their Tortola base should be completed in early 2008.