There’s no greater vacation joy than letting mood set the course for the day—and no destination offers a better mix of well-stocked beach bars with lively crowds, quiet coves to escape to, white-sand beaches and watersports galore that cater to all your moods than the British Virgin Islands.
This Caribbean destination has long been a haven for boaters, thanks in part to the massive fleet available for rent out of Tortola, the main island, as well as the welcoming waters where those with less ocean experience quickly build confidence—and those with ample experience find new challenges and pleasures while taking on the Sir Francis Drake Channel and beyond.
Just a 2-minute drive from the Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport on Beef Island, is Tortola, home to the bigger grocery stores and outfitters to jump-start any trip. It’s a destination worth exploring all on its own, especially by boat, because its coves and bays are both unique pockets of color and character. Soper’s Hole, a popular anchorage, is home to a lineup of pastel homes with picturesque white-gingerbread trim, as well as the iconic favorite, Pusser’s West End, a restaurant and bar with burgers, rum drinks and the chance to stock up on boating attire. Cane Garden Bay is another favorite of boaters, including Jimmy Buffett, for its protected anchorage and the chance to eat just-caught seafood on the beach at Myett’s Garden Inn. Quito’s Gazebo, also in Cane Garden Bay, is a locally owned hotel, bar and restaurant known for the reggae bands that jam out just yards from the turquoise water. You can easily eat your way around Tortola, but you’ll also want to stretch your legs and explore, especially taking on the hike up to Sage Mountain National Park, the highest point in the BVI and a great photo opportunity.
From Tortola, the majority of islands are strung like beads on a curved necklace, all sitting across the Sir Francis Drake Channel. Of that chain, Virgin Gorda is the northernmost, surrounded by a peppering of satellite islands, including Richard Branson’s Necker Island and the Dog Islands, famous for snorkeling. The must-see spot on Virgin Gorda is The Baths National Park, an impressive collection of basalt boulders nestled together to create grottoes and tunnels that you can explore and climb through. Multiple routes weave throughout, each leading to a different high point perfect for taking a group photo or a hand-holding group high jump into the deep waters. For a relaxed meal or cocktail while taking in this epic scenery, head to the Top of the Baths and tuck into a grilled lobster before enjoying a frozen coffee drink or mudslide cocktail poolside.
From Virgin Gorda, it’s a two-and-a-half-hour sail to Anegada, an 11-mile island that is easily the least visited of the inhabited BVI, making it a rare gem well worth the effort. The outdoor experiences here deliver that something extra, such as from Cow Wreck Beach, a haven for solitude-seekers who can walk miles in both directions, sometimes without encountering another beachgoer. Of course, you will find fellow boaters and island-lovers at the Cow Wreck Beach Bar, an open-air hangout with a timeless Caribbean vibe. Anegada also attracts divers and snorkelers looking to explore Horseshoe Reef, the Eastern Caribbean’s third-largest continuous reef, home to eagle rays, Atlantic spadefish, permit and a host of other wildlife.
This outpost island is a big destination come November, when the Anegada Lobster Festival kicks off. Held the weekend of American Thanksgiving, November 25-27, it brings together unique outdoor activities, such as an islandwide scavenger hunt and culinary celebrations centered on this Caribbean bounty.
The island of Jost Van Dyke, found off the back side of Tortola, is one of the BVI’s best day trips, home to a handful of beach bars where the Painkiller cocktails keep flowing as day-trippers enjoy the music and the shallow waters that make for a super-relaxing day. Soggy Dollar Bar anchors the scene and is said to be the originator of the Painkliller, the island’s famous cocktail: a mix of premium dark rum, cream of coconut, pineapple and orange juice (proportions are secret), and topped with freshly grated nutmeg. Beyond the bar scene, Jost offers hiking trails and scuba diving on the dynamic reefs of its Atlantic coast. There’s also paradise found in the form of Sandy Cay, an uninhabited spit of island with a bit of palm forest and the softest sand imaginable, perfect for throwing a football, playing frisbee or simply enjoying the view. Jost offers three overnight anchorages, so plan ahead to enjoy a full day and make a night of it.
Plus, so much of the beauty of the BVI lies in between. On and throughout the main islands, you’ll find more than 17 anchorages, including a few surprises that take you off the beaten path. Take Salt Island. It’s a popular day trip for scuba divers ready to witness the R.M.S. Rhone, arguably the Caribbean’s most storied and best-preserved shipwreck, dating back to 1867. Boaters have the unique pleasure of catching the sunrise and a snorkel or dive before the scuba day-trippers arrive. Salt Island also offers a hiking trail that shimmies up to a few cliffs overlooking crashing waves. Or anchor at Norman Island, another uninhabited island with a restaurant for day trippers, that offers hiking trails and caves to explore.
Spend your days sailing, snorkeling, scuba diving, walking the beach, rating the cocktails at the beach bars, hiking, and exploring—it’s all in the mix here in the British Virgin Islands.
For more information on the BVI and to start planning your next getaway, visit their website.