From the boulder-spattered beaches of Virgin Gorda to the hidden smuggler and onetime pirate coves of great big Tortola Island, the secluded sands of pretty Jost Van Dyke to the reefs and lobster gardens of Anegada, the British Virgin Islands (that’s just the BVI for short) are a picture of the pristine and paradisiacal Caribbean region.
They are diverse and different from each other at every step, with the great granite rocks of The Baths contrasting with the volcanic peninsulas of Tortola and the rest.
Coral gardens and multi-coloured Horseshoe Reef bring a multitude of tropical and exotic marine life too, which also bursts out of the shipwrecks under the sea.
Then there are the locals, forever smiling and ready to cook up a BBQ of smoky mahi-mahi meets English pork cuts – a surf and turf to remember! Here are the best things to do and see when holidaying in the BVI…
1. Bathe in The Baths
A labyrinth of winding tunnels and hidden grottoes, plunge pools and sandy boulders that rings the southern reaches of Virgin Gorda and creates one of the most scenic costal spots in the entire archipelago, The Baths are an undisputed must for any traveler making their way to the BVI. Now a national park, the whole bay is perfect for snorkelers, swimmers, wildlife lovers, nature photographers and rock walkers.
It’s known for the colossal granite stones that pepper the beaches and the shoreline, placing it in stark contrast to the more rugged volcanic makeup of the other Virgin Islands.
2. Sail across to Anegada Island
Like The Baths, Anegada is famed for its contrasting geological story.
Instead of volcanos or granite erosion, it was coral that raised this small cay above the Caribbean swells millions of years ago, giving it a curiously flat appearance – with a high point less than 10 meters above sea level, this one’s hardly mountain-speckled Tortola! Thanks to the low-lying topography, Anegada also comes ringed with one of the most diverse and interesting reefs in the region: Horseshoe Reef.
This turquoise and coral coloured dash that spans southwards from the isle is home to oodles of shipwrecks and bone fishing spots, and also yields some of the freshest lobster catches in the entire BVI. One thermidor please.
3. Hit the trails at Gorda Peak National Park
A land of multi-coloured hummingbirds and waxy orchids, pineapple trees and spiny cacti forests, the Gorda Peak National Park forms the highest point on Virgin Gorda, more than 410 meters above sea level.
The whole area was gifted by Lawrance Rockefeller in the 1970s and is now home to some of the most quintessential BVI trekking you can do.
Take one of the duo of trails that weave to the lookout points up top and you’ll pass areas of rare dry woods and moist montane rainforests speckled with a camouflage of mosses.
The views are excellent too, sweeping down to North Sound and across to Tortola in the distance.
4. Head down to Smuggler’s Cove
You can almost imagine the pirate ships docked in the waters of Lower Belmont Bay, their bobbing sail boats bringing chests of Spanish doubloons to shore! Smuggler’s Cove is secluded and private, without all the beach bars and condos and nearby roadways that have been built up around many of the archipelago’s other sands.
That gives it a truly untrodden, Castaway-type feel, with the swaying palms and sea vine patches to the back sloping gently down to an abandoned shore of lapping blue and crystalline Caribbean waves.
Beachgoers with snorkelling gear in tow can also enjoy the bay’s coral gardens and exotic fish.
5. Hit the waters around North Sound
Pretty little North Sound on the north-eastern edge of Gorda is a place of salt-sprayed docks and harbors.
Hailed as the water sports capital of the entire British Virgin Islands, its jetties are packed with everything from 40-foot charter yachts to nippy little jet skis – most all of which are for rent! And it’s easy to see why sailing around the surrounding waters has become such a favorite pastime too, with the green outlines of Prickly Pear Island and Mosquito Island just across the strait, secluded Oil Nut Bay and the rugged cliffs and hoodoo-like peaks of Pajaros Point in the east to explore.
6. Feel the local vibes at Cane Garden Bay
Backed by a wall of verdant palms and volcanic rocks, Cane Garden Bay is the number one seaside spot on the popular island of Tortola.
It’s got everything you’d expect of a bona fide Caribbean holiday destination, from the sea kayak rentals to the jet skis, the pristine sands to the lapping shore waters so clear they seem unreal! Add to that a smattering of cool beach bars like Quito’s Gazebo and The Big Banana, along with some fine after-dark eateries, and it’s easy to see why Cane Garden draws such big crowds right throughout the season.
7. Get lost in the Sage Mountain National Park
Sage Mountain National Park (or Mount Sage National Park to some) arches like a great backbone of hills out from the southern end of Tortola Island.
One of the wildest and most rugged national parks in the region, the whole area comes dressed in emerald-green rainforest.
It’s ringed by coves and beaches, although the protected area sits atop Sage Mountain itself – marking the 500-meter-high summit of the British Virgin Islands as a whole.
There are countless miles of hiking trails to enjoy here.
Some of the best forested routes include the Mahogany Forest Trail, while paths like the Joseph R. O’Neal Trail offer up dramatic broadsides of the outlying islands.
8. Feel the history in Road Town
Pretty, picture-perfect Road Town, the bustling capital of the British Virgin Islands, sits hugging a bay on the southern reaches of Tortola.
Built on largely reclaimed land and surrounding a beautiful natural harbour, the area is famed for its shipping.
Yachts and fishing boats rub shoulders along the jetties, and chartering has become big business here.
And then there’s Road Town’s history and heritage, oozing out of the paint-cracked walls of the old HM Prison, coming from the colonial whitewash of the old Post Office, and abutting Main Street in colourful Caribbean shacks.
9. Kick-back on the sands of White Bay
White Bay does exactly what it says on the tin: sparkle and shine in hues of alabaster white under the Caribbean sun! That’s right folks, the sands here are famed for their attainment of that quintessentially tropical ivory-white.
But the pulls don’t end there either.
Not when this secluded beach draws in much fewer crowds than other spots in nearby Tortola, and when its waters come transparent to the sea bed.
There are a couple of little drinkeries and some sunbeds lining the beach at its back too, just in case you wanted a mojito or two in between those swimming and sunbathing sessions!
10. Dive down into the Rhone National Maritime Park
It was way back in 1867 that the foundations of the British Virgin Islands’ most curious national park were laid.
It started with the sinking of the RMS Rhone, a Royal Mail ship that was battered by storms and wrecked on the coral beds of the BVI. Since then the hulking shell of the ship has been overgrown by seaweeds and sponges and become a home for a kaleidoscope of marine life.
In 1980, the whole area became a protected reserve, and today it’s the top choice for SCUBA divers hitting the archipelago, with swim-throughs of the once-great vessel and much more on the menu!
11. Have a natural Jacuzzi in the Bubbly Pool
The Bubbly Pool is a curious little geological treat that’s formed from a small wall of rock and boulders on the island of Jost Van Dyke.
Named for the bubbly whitecaps that flow over and into the rock pool whenever the waves hit, the spot mimics a Jacuzzi with the onslaught of the swells.
Travelers enjoy baths as regular waves froth over and into the water, while there’s also a section of pretty sand to kick-back on for the day.
What’s more, the walk over to the Bubbly Pool is a pretty one, crisscrossing the mud paths and salt ponds around Cape Wright.
12. Go ship spotting at Soper’s Hole
Straddling the join between Frenchman’s Cay and the western end of Tortola Island, this small inlet has become one of the most attractive little residential spots in the BVI in recent times.
It’s got history too, with tales of pirates and smugglers abounding between the harboursides.
However, Soper’s Hole is also prime territory for yacht spotting, as countless charter vessels and boats weave in and out of its waters each day.
There’s a string of fine seafood and cocktail joints to chill in around Soper Harbour, where some of the best evening viewing is on offer.
13. Enjoy views and Carib BBQ at Hog Heaven
Perched high above the hills of Virgin Gorda, little Hog Heaven combines some of the best panoramic views in the archipelago with hearty, filling Caribbean cooking.
The joint’s legendary grills and smokers can be found puffing each evening on the northern fringes of the Gorda Peak National Park, offering awesome views over North Sound and Mosquito Island.
(Don’t forget the camera!) And the food? Expect melt-in-the-mouth pork ribs doused in a chilli-laden Arawak sauce, frazzled banana fritters and a potato salad that’s nothing short of legendary!
14. Sink some cold ones at Foxy’s Tamarind Bar
The number one cocktail and beach bar on all of Jost Van Dyke island, and possibly in the entire British Virgin Islands, Foxy’s Tamarind Bar is much-loved by locals and travelers alike.
The spot is stocked with oodles of Foxy’s own homebrew rum, which gives rise to cocktails like the Sly Fox and the Dread Fox – two refreshing in-house specialities.
Then there’s Foxy’s homemade craft beer to sip, made with fine grains and malts; the first of its kind in the BVI. Top it all off with late-night reggae tunes and weekend mahi-mahi and chicken fries, and you’ve got yourself a must-try spot for sure!
15. Sample seafood on the beach at Pirates Bight
Moor up your boat on the edge of Norman Island and make a beeline straight for this off-the-beaten-track culinary gem.
Set in a small and charming Caribbean bungalow of whitewash and Greek-blue just meters from the shore, it’s got some of the best evening dining views for sure! Then comes the menu: a mouth-watering mashup of surf and turf that includes conch fritters and pulled pork, glazed pork sarnies and Thai curries, all backed up by some of the freshest seafood catches in the BVI!