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  • Tortola-Long-Bay3 - The Long Bay Beach Club on Tortola, British Virgin Islands.
  • Carnival-Breeze-in-Tortola - Carnival Breeze moors in the beautiful bay of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands.
  • Tortola-bay-British-Virgin-Islands - A view of the bay in scenic Tortola, British Virgin Islands.
  • Tortola-Long-Bay - A stretch of beach at the uncrowded Long Bay Beach Club on Tortola, British Virgin Islands.
  • Tortola-Long-Bay4 - Long Bay Beach on the island of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands.
  • Norwegian_Escape_Tortola_Pier - Norwegian Escape at the cruise pier in Tortola, British Virgin Islands.
  • The-Baths-Virgin-Gorda - The Baths at Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands, one of the highlights of a SeaDream cruise.
  • Virgin-Gorda-BVI-lagoon - Snorkel, swim or sunbathe at a pristine lagoon in Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands, a Tere Moana destination.
  • Saba-rock-British-Virgin-Islands - Swanky Saba Rock Resort in the British Virgin Islands.
  • Virgin-Gorda-BVI-enclosure - Explore and find a secluded spot with your honey on Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands during your Tere Moana cruise.
  • Virgin-Gorda-SeaDream - A SeaDream ship sails off the coast of Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands.
  • Jost-Van-Dyke-bar-SeaDream - Grab a cool drink at a bar during a shore excursion in Jost Van Syke, British Virgin Islands, during your SeaDream sailing.
  • Windstar-Cruises-Virgin-Gorda - Share a romantic moment in a secluded lagoon during a shore excursion to Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands.
  • baths-Punta-Gorda-British-Virgin-Islands - The Baths on Punta Gorda in the British Virgin Islands.
  • Jost-Van-Dyke-SeaDream - SeaDream calls on Jost Van Dyke, the smallest of the four main islands of the British Virgin Islands.
  • Anagarda-British-Virgin-Islands - Anagarda in the British Virgin Islands
  • Necker-Island-British-Virgin-Islands - Necker Island in a sea of turquoise, near Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands.
  • star-clipper-British-Virgin-Islands - The Star Clipper sailing in the British Virgin Islands.
  • sailboat-Virgin-Gorda-British-Virgin-Islands - A sailboat off Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands.
  • sailboat-British-Virgin-Islands - A sailboat near Anagarda in the British Virgin Islands.
  • Seadream-whitebay.jpg - White Bay on Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands is a favorite of SeaDream cruise guest.
  • white-bay-jost-van-dyke.jpg - Visit scenic White Bay on Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands on a SeaDream cruise.
  • deadmans-man-bvi.jpg - Aerial view of Deadman's-Beach on Peter Island in the British Virgin Islands.
  • Local-Girls-in-Uniform-British-Virgin-Islands.jpg - Local girls in school uniforms in the British Virgin Islands.
  • north-sound-bvi.jpg - North Sound viewed from Bitter End in the British Virgin Islands.
  • peter-island-bvi.jpg - View of Peter Island in the British Virgin Islands.
  • star-clipper-British-Virgin-Islands-2 - The Star Clipper under sunny skies in the British Virgin Islands.
  • Virgin-Gorda-Baths-Norwegian - Visitors walk the beach during a shore excursion at The Baths on Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands.
  • Baths-at-Virgin-Gorda-BVI - A boulder-lined beach at The Baths on Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Isles.
  • Baths-at-Virgin-Gorda-2 - A beach scene during a shore excursion at The Baths on Virgin Gorda.
  • Windstar-Cruises-Virgin-Gorda - Share a romantic moment in a secluded lagoon during a shore excursion to Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands.
  • The-Baths-Virgin-Gorda - The Baths at Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands, one of the highlights of a SeaDream cruise.
  • Virgin-Gorda-SeaDream - A SeaDream ship sails off the coast of Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands.
  • beach-Virgin-Gorda-British-Virgin-Islands - View of Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands.
  • Gorda-Sound-British-Virgin-Islands - North Gorda Sound, or Gorda Sound, is one of the top attractions in the British Virgin Islands. Get there on a SeaDream sailing.
  • Path_Beach_Virgin_Gorda - The path to the beach in Virgin Gorda.
  • Tight_Squeeze_Baths_Virgin_Gorda - A tight squeeze at The Baths in Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Isles.
  • View_Top_Baths_Patio - The view from the patio at Top of the Baths restaurant on Virgin Gorda.
  • Seadream-thebaths-beach.jpg - Visit the Baths in the British Virgin Islands for a memorable getaway.
  • sea-star-virgin-gorda.jpg - A cushion sea star in Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands.
  • baths-virgin-gorda-BVI.jpg - The Baths at Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands.
  • Top_Baths_Restaurant_Virgin_Gorda - At the end of your excursion, a good way to top off your outing is by visiting the Top of the Baths restaurant on Virgin Gorda.
  • Skull-Rock-Baths-Virgin-Gorda - Skull Rock, one of the first landmarks visitors will encounter on the way to The Baths on Virgin Gorda.
  • Virgin-Gorda-arriving - Arriving at Virgin Gorda, home to beautiful beaches and remarkable rock formations.
  • Baths_beach_Virgin_Gorda - Pleasure boats moor off a boulder-lined beach at The Baths on Virgin Gorda in the Caribbean.
  • Virgin-Gorda-cave - Don Bucolo of Cruiseable poses in a boulder-enclosed cave at The Baths on Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Isles.
  • Virgin-Gorda-Baths-Norwegian - Visitors walk the beach during a shore excursion at The Baths on Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands.
  • Baths-at-Virgin-Gorda-BVI - A boulder-lined beach at The Baths on Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Isles.
  • Baths-at-Virgin-Gorda-2 - A beach scene during a shore excursion at The Baths on Virgin Gorda.
  • Caves_Path_Devils_Bay_BVI - The path leading to Devil's Bay Beach & National Park on Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands.
  • Devils_Bay_beach - Devil's Bay Beach & National Park on Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands.
  • Devils_Bay_Perimeter - Rock outcroppings at the edge of Devil's Bay on Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands.
  • Natural_Pools_Virgin_Gorda - Magnificent boulders surround a series of enclosed, sheltered pools for which The Baths are named on Virgin Gorda.

British Virgin Islands travel guide: What to do & see

our guide

The vibe

The British Virgin Islands were directly hit by Hurricane Irma in early September 2017. Many venues that were catering to tourists are now in disrepair — or worse. Be sure to check into the current state of services if you're planning to visit the islands in the near term.
 

There's no dearth of good storytelling when at sea. The British Virgin Islands (BVI), with its host of sometimes misbehaving international millionaires and billionaires, A-list celebrities and their entourages, is a prime source of such yarns. After all, who doesn't love hearing a little juicy island gossip about the previous night's debauchery while self-medicating with sun, sand and rum?

Located east of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands archipelago is half British territory and half American, with the former consisting of main islands Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada and Jost Van Dyke, along with more than 50 smaller islands and cays. (Also see Cruiseable's U.S. Virgin Islands travel guide.)

Some top options include snorkeling or sunbathing at the Baths of Virgin Gorda, scuba diving to explore some of the 300-plus shipwrecks off Anegada Island, hitting a family-friendly beach, swimming with the dolphins on Tortola or taking part in a full-moon party (see below — just keep your shorts on, buster).

Cruise ships that call on the British Virgin Islands

Top reasons to go

  • Shipwrecks litter the seafloor for Robert Louis Stevenson-style exploration
  • Some of the best bonefishing and lobster trapping you'll find anywhere
  • Variety of terrain, from atolls to volcanic peaks
Share a romantic moment in a secluded lagoon on Virgin Gorda during a Windstar Cruises shore excursion.
Courtesy of Windstar CruisesShare a romantic moment in a secluded lagoon on Virgin Gorda during a Windstar Cruises shore excursion.

Top things to do & see in the BVI

A maze of boulders

Snorkel the Baths of Virgin Gorda. The massive, smooth boulders rise from aqua-hued waters to create a maze of grottoes, caves and shallow pools.

Hike the heights

Take in the view from the crest of Tortola’s 1,710 foot Mount Sage and the winding Gorda Peak trail in Virgin Gorda. The latter is a doozy; if you drive, be aware the roads wind dramatically.

See the sea

Watch the shifting tides from a seaside hammock or a barstool at the Soggy Dollar on Jost Van Dyke Island. There are only two bars on this quiet island, and while people-watching is great sport, sometimes it’s best to sit and be at one with the ocean.

Explore shipwrecks

You can dive the more than 300 shipwrecks off Anegada Island where flocks of flamingos skim the water. The RMS Rhone shipwreck of 1867 off the coast of Salt Island has ruins made cinematically famous in "The Deep."

Metaphorically pillage

Be your own pirate on Norman Island, reputed to be the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s "Treasure Island." Seekers of gold and jewels may surface empty-handed but they will have captured the beauty of the island, a treasure in itself.

Best shopping

Tortola has a nice local straw market. Soper’s Hole Wharf and Marina has more upscale shopping. There’s a big local art scene by artists throughout the BVI.

Snorkel, swim or sunbathe at a pristine lagoon in Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands.
Tim McKenna / Courtesy of Paul Gauguin CruisesSnorkel, swim or sunbathe at a pristine lagoon in Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands.

Family-friendly options

Tortola Island is ripe with new playgrounds. There's Benjamin Romney Park on the water, a park on Main Island Road between Zion Hill and the West End, as well as a park close to Red Hook. Captain Mulligan’s, near the entrance of Nanny Cay, has an oceanside trampoline.

Children can pick the dolphins they want to swim with at the Dolphin Discovery within the Prospect Reef Resort, also on Tortola Island (but no, Veruca Salt types, sorry, they can’t take them home). For a wacky activity there’s the North Shore Shell Museum on Tortola opposite Carrot Bay. The house is packed with cool shells that the owner, a seashell hoarder named Egbert, has spent a lifetime collecting.

Accessible only by boat or helicopter, the luxurious 300-acre community that is the Oil Nut Bay Resort has added Sea Life Discovery, a family-friendly activity that exposes kids to the underwater world through scavenger hunt games. There’s also the Nut House where children can get artsy and crafty and the Oil Nut Bay Beach Club that offers paddleboarding, snorkeling, sailing, kayaking, and five hiking trails for those tiring of water activities. 

Anagarda in the British Virgin Islands.
kansasphoto / Creative Commons BYAnagarda in the British Virgin Islands.

YOLO (You only live once!)

  • Stay on Sir Richard Branson’s Necker Island, where the six Bali Houses are the height of exclusivity. During celebration weeks couples can pay $27,475 for a week that includes boating adventures, nightlife trips to neighboring islands, and an endless supply of high-end bubbly.
  • For those who want luxury on a more modest budget, there’s Oil Nut Bay’s Fendi Casa furnished penthouse suite on Virgin Gorda. Perched on a cliff overlooking even more amazing views (it is possible), the penthouse suite has a private outdoor infinity plunge pool. Summer prices start at $1,750 a night for double occupancy in the penthouse.

Don't miss

Where you find glittery azure waters and expensive real estate, you find spectacular marinas like the YCCS Marina Virgin Gorda, and super-yachts that cruise in for events like the BVI Regatta. A more affordable activity is the BVI Music Festival, where you can get your fungi on.

Swanky Saba Rock Resort in the British Virgin Islands.
kansasphoto / Creative Commons BY 2.0Swanky Saba Rock Resort in the British Virgin Islands.

Best bets for dining

  • The typical West Indian cuisine isn’t what attracts people to the Top of the Baths Restaurant on Virgin Gorda. It’s the spectacular views. Sunset while overlooking Sir Francis Drake Channel is the best dish.
  • Yes, the views are stunning at Hilltop Restaurant, the highest point of the Biras Creek Resort,  but the chef's skills dishing out Caribbean-fusion cuisine at the100-seat restaurant also dazzle.
  • While doing the "Treasure Island" thing on Norman Island, don’t miss William Thorton’s floating restaurant. There’s also the local favorite, Pusser’s, at Marina Cay.

Best time to go

BVI is a year-round paradise. While winter is more popular, off-season features the best deals. There's a rainy season, but it is manageable as the weather stays consistently in the 80s F.

Nightlife

  • full-moon party (typically 12 a year) at Bomba’s Surfside Shack on Tortola is worth scheduling your trip around. The bar is built from cast-off tin, license plates, driftwood, and, cheekily, women’s panties.
  • Live music is a ubiquitous BVI amenity, especially in Tortola’s Cane Garden Bay. Don’t miss out on Quito's Gazebo — and expect to be serenaded by Quito himself if popping by on a Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday.
  • The Soggy Dollar Bar is good for more than watching the tide. The swim-up bar is one of only a few bars on Jost Van Dyk (another popular stop is Foxy’s Bar) and is a stand-out drinking establishment thanks to the notorious "painkiller," a sneaky rum-based drink.

Fun facts

  • Local islanders call themselves Belongers.
  • BVI is the home to “fungi,” a high-energy calypso-style music.
  • BVI was first settled by the Dutch in 1648 before being annexed in 1672 by the British.
  • The BVI Spring Regatta & Sailing Event is a seven-day sailing event that includes cruises, smaller races, and the three-day main-event regatta.

When you arrive

Getting around

Tortola, Virgin Gorda and Jost Van Dyke are typical stop-overs for cruise ships. Once there, navigate and explore via ferry or private boat, airplane and seaplane.

Car rentals: When renting a car, you'll need a  temporary BVI driver’s license (get one for $10 from your car rental firm or the BVI's Vehicle Licensing Department by producing a valid driver's license from another country).

Public transit: There are taxis, and bus service is available, though with limited routes. 

Need to know

Documents: You'll need a valid passport.

Language: English is the official language.  

Country code: 284

Currency: U.S. dollar

Safety: BVI is a pretty safe place. The islands have a low crime rate and wandering about alone is not particularly high risk. However, use good judgment and take the usual precautions when traveling.

Your take

How about you? Have you been to the British Virgin Islands? I'd love to hear the top highlights for you — please leave a comment or share a photo or two!

See anything wrong? What did we overlook? Be a co-creator!

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Shira Levine
I am a storyteller based in Los Angeles and bred in Manhattan and Washington, DC. My career spans magazines, newspapers, non-profits and the United Nations. My global expertise extends to the travel, culinary, real estate, luxury, small business and

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Overheard

“Don't leave the BVI without trying a Painkiller made with Pusser's Rum (now available in the States). But when buying a bottle to take home, ask for the truly local Callwood Rum.”

Islands magazine

“Jump on a ferry or water taxi and start exploring. Choose from many reliable companies that make traveling between islands a breeze. You can, if fact, make many stops in one day: enjoy breakfast on Virgin Gorda, an afternoon barbecue on Jost Van Dyke, and watch the sunset from Tortola's gorgeous coast.”

Travel + Leisure

“After you disembark in Road Town, take a ferry to Virgin Gorda or Jost Van Dyke to experience the BVIs as you’ve imagined them.  Splash around in the otherworldly Baths in Virgin Gorda or head to Foxy’s on Jost Van Dyke to try his famous painkiller.”

Lonely Planet

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