Even the mountain goats are challenged on the steep roadways of Tortola. It isn't just the dizzying heights on this, the largest of the British Virgin Islands, that makes a van trip exciting, it also is the visual eloquence that instantly compares to the best tropical paradise anywhere in the world. As the vehicle reaches the summit of each new lush tropical vista, it descends suddenly to parallel the white powdery sand of the beaches that snuggle the highway. In every direction, ones eye can behold a cluster of emerald jewels projecting out of a sea that shimmers in the beauty of the tropical sun.
The BVI is a haven, not only for those who love the unspoiled charms of a beautiful, friendly country, but those who are in search of a place that isn't commercial or over crowded. Lovers of the water and everything associated with it are drawn to the BVI where swimming, snorkeling, sailing, and beach combing are superior. Sailing the sheltered turquoise waters on a crewed charter boat is a popular activity and the islands have the largest concentration of bare-boats (rented without crew to experienced sailors) in the world. The islands, cooled by trade winds, are an ideal destination any time of year. Truly, this is heaven on earth.
There is a quiet sense of peace and security throughout these islands that enjoy one of the highest standards of living anywhere in the Caribbean. Because unemployment and the resulting crime is virtually unknown, visitors are never hassled on the street or the beach. The locals are usually very agreeable in sharing their homeland with those from away, probably because the islands are not overrun with tourists. With a land area of 150 square kilometres and a population of only 19,000, the islands are anything but crowded and the BV Islanders cherish this. To ensure the quality of life that they have come to embrace, the people of the BVI have deliberately restricted development. Buildings are not permitted to reach beyond the tops of the gently swaying palm trees that tantalize the ocean waves to softly caress the silky beaches. Even the runway at the Beef Island airport is short, reducing the number of visitors on the islands at any one time by eliminating the landing of large aircraft. The international airport on Beef Island is connected to the main island of Tortola by a small toll bridge where the fee is collected at the one toll booth by an attendant who projects a stick with a can nailed onto the end into the vehicle.
Road Town, the capital of the BVI, is located on Tortola and is home to almost half of the country's friendly population. Main Street, the popular shopping area for the islands, retains much of the character and charm of the old Caribbean. The country's annual festival, held during the end of July or first of August, is a fantastic - and all-afternoon - experience. Large, colourful floats surmounted by reggae groups and steel drum bands are followed by hundreds of brightly costumed dancers who don't hesitate to stop every few metres to give an extended performance to the spectators lining the street.
Visitors desiring accommodations near Road Town will find Prospect Reef fits the bill perfectly. Only a ten minute walk from downtown, it is an oceanside resort with 133 spacious rooms and villas set in a lush, landscaped garden setting. Apart from the Olympic-size lap pool, six tennis courts and fitness facilities, a unique feature is the sand-terraced sea pools. For an unforgettable gourmet meal, try the resort's Callaloo Restaurant, while some of Road Town's low-key nightlife is available at The Scuttlebutt, a congenial harbourside pub.
For those wanting to spend their time on the beach, Tortola's Long Bay Beach Resort is highly recommended. Set on a beautiful hillside estate overlooking almost two kilometres of the Caribbean's finest white powdery sand, the resort features 115 units that include studios beside the pool or clinging to the hillside, two and three-bedroom private villas and beachfront rooms and cabanas. The property has all the facilities and activities necessary for a resort playground, including excellent food.
Virgin Gorda (The "Fat Virgin"), the second largest island, is also very mountainous where incredible vistas abound at every crest of the hillside roadways. The one place not to miss is The Baths, a collection of giant boulders randomly scattered on top of each other along a sandy beach, creating natural open-air grottoes where snorkeling is ideal. The Bitter End Yacht Club really is at the bitter end, the final spot just before the wide expanse of the ocean takes over. Strategically placed within the cacti and palms of Biras Hill, the collection of spacious villas are connected by steep inclined pathways over which guests may walk or request a "taxi" (electric cart) to take them to the centre of the resort's activities near the dock. All the standard attractions are provided with an emphasis on sailing and water sports.
Sailing into the only non-hilly island in the collection, Anegada, has resulted in hundreds of ship wrecks. The short hop is best completed by air. This extremely flat coral island is surrounded by an array of reefs that provide excellent snorkeling along the almost deserted beaches. Tony's Taxi will provide transportation and sightseeing over the mostly sand and beach stone roadways. There is a paved road leading into the main community on the island, The Settlement. A couple of pottery/gift shops, Pam's Kitchen (her desserts and hot sauces are outstanding) and several eateries are highlights. Neptune's Treasure, a family operated restaurant overlooking the ocean next to Pam's Kitchen, features spiced pork, shark laced with garlic, succulent lobster, and, of course, conch. Apart from the secluded beaches, one spot not to miss is the conch islands created over the decades from piles of ancient shells tossed aside by locals.
If getting away from it all is for you, then Cooper Island Beach Club is the place. With no roads, cars or public utilities, you can spend your days wandering the beaches of this large secluded island, or perhaps sunbathe, swim, snorkel, scuba dive or sail. Dining is casual (dressing up is putting on a clean T-shirt) as you savour your meal on the terrace while the setting sun sends shimmers of light across the Sound. Each of the twelve units in the six pastel cottages has its own kitchen, balcony, bathroom with a shower that is "almost outdoors" and a perfect ocean view. Road Town is only a 35 minute boat ride away.
The BVI consists of a double arc of 15 inhabited islands (and dozens of uninhabited islets and cays) and lies to the east of Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Air connections to the BVI are usually made through the airports in San Juan (only about 20 minutes flying time) and the BVI's more commercial neighbour, the US Virgin Islands. There is also a ferry to Tortola from St. Thomas and St. John in the USVI and frequent ferry service connects the BV Islands of Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Jost Van Dyke and Peter Island. Cars and jeeps may be rented for land travel on Tortola, although the driving is on the left and the roadways are often very steep and narrow.
The British Virgin Islands provide all the ingredients for an unforgettable holiday experience
where visitors may enjoy a tropical paradise with friendly BV Islanders who will share their
history, culture, music, laughter and genuine hospitality. It truly is one of "Nature's Little
Photos and story by Dave Stephens & Susan Randles
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* INFORMATION: British Virgin Islands Tourist Board: 800-835-8530 or on the Internet at www.bviwelcome.com.
* DOCUMENTS: For Canadians and Americans, a passport is recommended (birth certificate and photo ID accepted).
* AIR TRAVEL: Several airlines service the BVI: one possible routing is Air Canada (1
888 AIR CANADA or 1-800-776-3000 in the USA), to Toronto or an American gateway (such as New York or Boston) then American Airlines to Puerto Rico connecting with a short American Eagle flight to the BVI.
* DEPARTURE TAX: US$10
* CURRENCY: US Dollar; no sales tax; branch of the Bank of Nova Scotia in Road Town
* ELECTRICAL CURRENT: 110 volts
* LANGUAGE: English
* POLITICAL: United Kingdom Overseas Territory
DAVE STEPHENS and SUSAN RANDLES, a married couple living in Halifax, are professional travel writers and photographers. Their articles and photographs have appeared in many newspapers, magazines, guide books, and web sites.
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