As I reluctantly wrap up posts of my visit to the British Virgin Islands, the grand finale focuses on the views that enchanted and remain entrenched in my memory. Tortola and the surrounding islands are without doubt a beautiful part of the world and have the topography, people, food and climate for a very attractive destination. And if you are visiting from the Americas the proximity and ease of getting there is a boon.
The Islands were discovered in the 1400’s by no less a personage than Christopher Columbus. They are now an autonomous territory of Great Britain and geared today to tourism and financial services. But the yoke of slavery working the sugarcane plantations that came with the European discovery of the New Workd remain a key part of its history.
A ‘must’ visit is to the tiny museum situated in the 1780’s Lower Estate Sugar Works in Road Town. It is easily found and close to the main ferry terminal. A leisurely half hour with personalized commentary from a proud Tortolan offers a glimpse into life now and past. After that a walk along the Old Main Street is a feast for the eyes as brightly painted structures in chartreuse, orange, purple, green and pink dazzle the eyes.
Coffee, mouthwatering pastries, home made soups and salads in the Old Customs House and shopping a wide array of West Indian spices and art at the Sunny Caribbee and local photography and art at the Allamanda Gallery round off a stroll on Main Street.
Her Majesty’s Prison is being converted into a museum and the old iron barred cells in use until recently, evoke a shudder as you pass by on Main Street. But beware!!! The lanes are very narrow and jaywalkers are not welcome. The Tortolans will run you down without batting an eyelash.
The islands are volcanic and the hills rise straight up. It makes for hairy driving on the ‘other’ side of the road. My heart was perpetually in my mouth every time we raced up or down or were overtaken on the narrow roads and sheer drops of Joe’s Hill. There is great hiking on Sage Mountain along a multitude of trails amidst flora, fauna and little darting geckos. Driving the Ridge Road is highly recommended after the hike. It follows the spine of the Island East to West, and views of the surrounding islands and Road Town cradled in multi hued blue shimmer are breathtaking.
At the East End of Tortola the Ridge Road winds down to the Airport and Beef Island, and access to Camanoe Island (seen below) is a short 10 minute boat ride.
An unexpected delight is discovering Aragorn’s Studio in Trellis Bay Village on Beef Island. Metal sculptures, pottery, art and beautifully carved colorful fish offer a cornucopia of temptations. The Fireball Full Moon Party happens once a month on the beach and though my timing did not coincide with a full moon, I was told its quite the event and not to be missed.
Aragorn also provides organic produce from his Full Moon Farm. It is amazing that anything local is available since all food is imported despite an abundance of wild roosters, chickens and goats who are the bane of local residents trying to nurture a garden.
The island light is amazing and probably inspires all the artists who flock here.
So make haste and book your vacation to the BVI and my guidance will hopefully lead to a fantastic time 😊.
> Getting there: Multiple ways to get to the Virgin Islands. Regional airlines such as Cape Air, Seaborne, Liat, Air Sunshine fly directly into Road Town and connect from San Juan, Puerto Rico, St. Maarten, St.Thomas and Antigua. There is also a ferry from St.Thomas to Road Town which is what I used. It takes an hour, and there is nothing like the wind in your hair and the sun on your face as the Catamaran skims over the waves. The ferry terminal is only 10 minutes from the airport and though there are multiple choices the most reliable is the Road Town Ferry, a Massachusetts owned company.
>Sailing: Chartering a sailboat and sailing it yourself or with a crew is very popular. The Moorings (moorings.com) is a renowned marina and offers charters of all sizes and shapes, crewed and non-crewed. I met many groups of families and friends sailing the US and British Virgin Islands. The islands are all clustered together and the many inlets and bays are gorgeous.
>Private Ownership: A few of the islands are privately owned such as Guano, Peter, Norman, Necker and Mosquito and close access is restricted.
>Length of stay: I recommend a minimum stay of a week. If I have a regret it is that I was only there for 3 full days. I would have loved to visit Anegada and feast on the local lobster. Also the spirit and laissez faire attitude needs a little bit of time to seep into every fiber of your being.
>Information and Guidance: The bvitourism.com website is comprehensive and helpful. It’s many offshoots lead you to shopping, restaurants, places to stay, dos and donts, sailing etc.
>Skeeters: Beware the mosquitoes! They are relentless and for people like me who are homing beacons for the little devils, lathering up with repellant is an absolute must and effective.
Adios till next time!