10 Gems of the BVI

Ten captains, charterers and charter operators reveal their (not-so) secret hot spots in the British Virgin Islands.
Snorkeling in the BVI
Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced snorkeler, the BVI offers an underwater paradise waiting to be explored. Courtesy Roland and Vanessa Schaeffer, Lagoon 62 Callista

Dramatic underwater rock formations. Hideouts of schooling juvenile sergeant majors no bigger than a baby’s fingernail. Stretches of beach with sand as fine as powder. Anchorages without other boats—better yet, no cell phone service. Hermit crab races. Heart-thumping trail hikes to panoramic views. Honeybee rum cocktails. Conch ceviche.

Secret? Special? Sailing west to east, reaching into the trade winds, these unforgettable attractions of the British Virgin Islands exude the timeless beauty of a magical destination sailors would be crazy not to love.

Conch Island
In Anegada, the affectionally nicknamed “Conch Island” is defined by hillocks of centuries’ worth of discarded conch shells. Courtesy Horizon Yacht Charters

However you label the diverse ingredients of a Caribbean sailing vacation, one thing is true: Anchorages, beaches, not-to-miss moments and delectable tastes are always new when seen through the eyes of another person.

In that spirit, we canvassed captains, charterers and charter operators in the know. Here’s their intel.

Great Tobago and Little Tobago

Woman on sailboat in the BVIs
Experienced divers can explore the waters around Mercurious Rock, east of Great Tobago where the open ocean meets land and shoals of fish congregate. Courtesy Dream Yacht Charter

These two westernmost islands are the territory’s only nesting site for the magnificent frigatebird, and home to terns, pelicans, laughing gulls, and tropicbirds. Graced with rugged cliffs, protected by the BVI National Parks Trust, surrounded by submerged rocks and reef systems, this site rewards experienced navigators, divers, and snorkelers. Loggerhead turtles, reef sharks, blue-spotted eagle rays, tarpons, jacks and wahoo are abundant. Use the Parks Trust mooring on the west side of Great Tobago. This area is prone to swells. Day visits only.

—Nim and Fabiola Hirschhorn, Lagoon 450S Luna, Dream Yacht Charter

Little Jost Van Dyke

The “simple life, no strife” B-Line Beach Bar is tucked in its own bay and easy to miss if you’re not looking for it. Situated on the south side of Little Jost Van Dyke, access is by dinghy or a swim in. It’s owned by Bonkey Callwood, who serves some of the territory’s best cocktails, including some made with honeybee rum. Good food, too. shoot the breeze or take up the challenge of the beach cornhole game. 

—Andrew Thompson, founder & director, Horizon Yacht Charters

Sandy Cay

Up for more competition? Head southeast to Sandy Cay. Dinghy ashore, set up the track by drawing a few lines in the sand, build teams from the bands of hermit crabs crawling around — and cheer them on. You’ve now (un)officially participated in the hermit crab races of Sandy Cay! Whether it’s a sprint or an endurance trial, you’re in for excitement, surprises, and hilarity. This crazy competition originated with the Callista Crab Challenge.

—Roland and Vanessa Schaeffer, Lagoon 62 Callista

Smuggler’s Cove, Tortola

Smuggler's Cove
Due to its somewhat remote location and lack of development, Smuggler’s Cove maintains a tranquil and secluded atmosphere. Visitors can enjoy the feeling of having their own private paradise to go along with a tasty libation. Richard and Shannon Hallett & The Moorings

Nigel’s Snack Shack, a rustic pub set back from a gorgeous beach on the northwest tip of Tortola, offers the perfect break from swimming and snorkeling. Owner Nigel scores big points for his storytelling, personalized customer service, grilled dishes and mixed drinks. Arrive early to spend a few hours at this small anchorage; watch out for the coral heads as you anchor.

—Richard and Shannon Hallett, Moorings 5000 Abby Normal To

Rainbow Canyon, Pelican Island

Next door to the popular Indians rock formations, Rainbow Canyon is a gem of a dive and snorkel site that’s often overlooked. It’s a fabulous option when the Indians are packed, and more protected when the winds blow. Look for the Parks Trust mooring balls on the southwest side of Pelican Island. For divers, there are beautiful rock formations with plenty of hiding spots for lobsters and octopus. Highly recommended!

—Jeff and Caitlin Nichols, Fountaine-Pajot 58 Port to Vino

Money Bay, Norman Island

Island in the caribbean
Money Bay, Norman Island, is known for its rugged beauty, stunning anchorages, and rich pirate lore, inspiring the setting for Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel “Treasure Island.” Giovanni Damiani and Martina Merkel, Privilege 65 Lolalita

Secluded Money Bay on Norman Island’s south side is the spot for a break from cell phones, civilization, and other boats.  A cove in the eastern end of the bay provides protection for one boat to spend a night here in most weather conditions. Water visibility is often very clear and there’s great snorkeling along the rocky shoreline. Brown Pants dive site is nearby. A short dinghy ride to a rocky beach leads you to a fantastic hiking trail that extends the length of the island to the Bight, with great panoramic views along the way.

—Giovanni Damiani and Martina Merkel, Privilege 65 Lolalita

Salt Island

Here’s an invigorating day trip: Sail to Salt, a little more than two miles east of Peter Island. Anchor in Salt Island Bay. Set out on a hike with snorkel gear for a dip at the deserted bight of South Bay. The rarely explored windward side gives a vibe that makes the outing well worth the effort.

—Roland and Vanessa Schaeffer, Lagoon 62 Callista 

Prickly Pear Island

Of all the possible waypoints at Virgin Gorda, this could be the best one of all, protected from easterly winds. A basic beach camp on Prickly Pear Island, in Gorda Sound, facing Eustatia Island, is a swimming, standup paddle boarding and kayaking wonderland. Spend a couple of hours and kayak around PP. Just amazing.

—Richard and Shannon Hallett, Moorings 5000 Abby Normal To

Oil Nut Bay, Virgin Gorda

If by now you’re feeling like you could use a little pampering and a pool, the best option by far is Nova Restaurant at Oil Nut Bay, Virgin Gorda. The channel is well marked going out between Saba Rock and the Bitter End Yacht Club. Markers guide you all the way to beautiful docks. Mooring balls are also available. My personal favorite.

—Cindy Chestnut, co-owner, Conch Charters

Anegada is known for its population of wild flamingos that inhabit the salt ponds and wetlands in the interior. Sometimes, apparently, they venture out to the reef as well. Nim and Fabiola Hirschhorn, Lagoon 450S Luna, Dream Yacht Charter

Anegada: Flamingo Pond, Horseshoe Reef, Conch Island

Conch Island
Nim Hirschhorn eases the dink through the peculiar conch-shell waterway of Anegada’s “Conch Island.” Nim and Fabiola Hirschhorn, Lagoon 450S Luna, Dream Yacht Charter

If the territory’s only low-lying island is on your itinerary, then make the most of it and stay a night or two. Anegada, 11 miles long, is protected by Horseshoe Reef, which is as long as the island itself and runs to the southeast. Hire a local guide for a jam-packed day of snorkeling the reef in the shallows and visits to Flamingo Pond, where a flock of the orangish-pink birds thrive, and Conch Island, hillocks of centuries’ worth of discarded conch shells.

—Nim and Fabiola Hirschhorn, Lagoon 450S Luna, Dream Yacht Charter