Sleeping in on vacation is so overrated. Why waste time in your cabin when there is plenty of beautiful sunshine, white sand beaches and 40-foot boulders to explore?
That is what was on our minds when the alarm went off at 5 am on the fifth day of our recent Norwegian Escape cruise. We were scheduled to meet for our shore excursion at 7 am when we would be escorted to a ferry for the short ride to The Baths at Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Isles. We would then get to spend the morning traversing these natural formations, taking pictures and relaxing in the warm Caribbean Sea.
Eight years ago the wife and I had visited The Baths, rated one of the most popular shore excursions for ships stopping at the British Virgin Island of Tortola. Our memories were a bit hazy, but we did remember really enjoying the time we spent at this natural wonder, so we decided to venture back there again. Wavering on whether we would just take the ferry there on our own or book through the cruise line, we decided to play it safe and purchase the tour through Norwegian Cruise Line after comparing the ferry schedule to our time in port.
Getting to The Baths
By the time we got to the Escape Theater, our meeting place on the ship, there were plenty of other cruisers in their swimsuits with towels in hand ready to enjoy this unique beach break as well. With little delay, we were ushered off the ship onto the docks for a short walk to our Speedy’s Ferry for the 35-minute ride over to Virgin Gorda, a small island northeast of Road Town, Tortola.
Out into the open water, I was able to get some great shots of our cruise ship from the open air deck of the ferry.
During the ride over, our guides gave us a short briefing about what to expect and our timeline for the day. Ocean swells at the beach were strong this morning with a “red flag” warning in place, indicating that it was not recommend for swimming or snorkeling. It was noted that this was a “recommendation,” as the guide knew that this group of weary cruisers had not traveled this far to not go swimming.
Arriving in Spanishtown slightly before 8 am, we boarded open air buses for the 10-minute ride to The Baths National Park. Along the drive, our driver pointed out some of the vacation homes and resorts along with way, noting that Morgan Freeman owned a home on the island. When we arrived at the parking lot at the Top of the Baths, we realized the cruisers on our group of buses were the first visitors to the beach. Our marching orders were to be back to the meeting point by 10:45 am, giving us 2½ hours to enjoy the beach, natural pools and caverns that awaited us down along the shore.
Descending to The Baths
There are two paths down to the shoreline. You can take the main path down to the beach or take the route straight to Devil’s Bay, bypassing The Baths. If you're not interested in doing some morning spelunking, then the direct route to this beach might be your ticket, but we came to explore. Camera? Check. Water shoes? Check.
To get down to the beach, there is a 1,000-foot decent along a desert-like path that is mostly manageable with some natural stairs. It took only 15 minutes or so to get to the beach. Along the way, be on the lookout for a skull-faced imprint on one of the large boulders. This is just the beginning of the magnificent formations and rock creations you'll see during your journey.
Once you arrive at the beach, you'll see some large boulders carving out natural swimming areas. There's also the Poor Man’s Bar that serves drinks and snacks during the day. Lockers are also available here to rent. Just keep in mind that if you do leave your belongings in a locker, you'll need to backtrack to collect them later.
While you could relax and enjoy the warm waters at this beach for the remainder of your visit, for most of us the adventure was just beginning.
Make your way to Devil’s Bay
South of this main beach, you find the path to Devil’s Bay. Essentially, you make a big loop around the entire park. During this exciting journey to Devil’s Bay, you have to crouch, crawl, and wade your way through some amazing granite boulders and sea pools. Before entering the first cave, make note of the large boulder known as “the shelf,” which makes a great photo op.
While you do not need to be an iron man to make it through the caves, you do need to be somewhat agile as you will be traversing slippery rocks and maneuvering through tight spaces. For your very first challenge, you will need to crouch your way through a narrow cleft opening into the first cave. Along the way there are ropes, ladders and some stairs built to help you maneuver up and around these giant rocks.
Walking through the caves you'll come across areas of varying water levels depending on the tides, but you can find a way to maneuver through the path in water that is below your knees. However, for those who love to swim, you can also take advantage of these natural sea pools.
As you meander along this cavernous trail, don’t worry about the crowds as they too will be admiring the natural beauty of the caverns and pools. There are plenty of nooks and crannies to discover, so take your time. We were sure to take in everything during our explorations and stopped to take many pictures along the way, and it only took us around 40 minutes to arrive at Devil’s Bay. Throughout your journey, have your imagination and camera ready as there are several boulders said to resemble different shapes like a Whale’s Head and Lion’s Head.
Go ahead, take a swim
We arrived to Devil’s Bay by 9:15 am, leaving us about 90 minutes to enjoy. Lucky for us, the tides had improved, and the beach was now flying a yellow flag. That was all the encouragement I needed to head straight for this pristine water. The wife, who does not swim, spent her remaining time relaxing on the beach.
This is your time to snorkel, swim, float or do all of the above. Be aware, though, that the tide can be quite strong, pushing and pulling you from shore. If you're traveling with children, we recommend staying close to the shore.
After spending about 45 minutes floating in the refreshing, lukewarm water, we decided to start our return trek around 10 am. We wanted to allow time to browse the shops, get our complimentary rum punch drink, and check out the views from the patio at the Top of the Baths Restaurant before boarding the bus back to the port.
We took the most direct path back from Devil’s Bay to the parking lot. Although still uphill, it is a relatively easy climb. Similar to the first path down, it is a dry, dirt path with some natural steps and cacti along the way. Taking our time, we were back at the main entrance in about 15 minutes.
Before you leave
Before leaving The Baths, you should head over to the Top of the Baths Restaurant. You can score some postcard-worthy shots of the surrounding islands and the boulders below from the restaurant’s patio. The restaurant is open from 8 am to 10 pm, serving Caribbean treats for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They also have a full bar, so after a day at the Baths, you might want to stop in for a bite to eat or a drink. Free wi-fi is also available here, so you can send out a few social media posts before leaving The Baths to make all of your friends at home jealous. (That's the goal, right?) A few shops can also be found nearby, including a local art gallery and your typical souvenir shop.
Hopping back on one of the open air buses at 10:45 am, we were back to the ferry docks in no time and heading back to Tortola slightly past 11 am. Our ferry ride back did take slightly longer than our trip earlier in the morning, but we still had plenty of time to browse the nearby artisan village in Road Town and capture more amazing shots of our cruise ship before heading back on board.
How about you? Have you been to Virgin Gorda? What was your experience like?
Republished and updated from an earlier version.