Smuggler's Cove Beach on Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. (photo via Wirepec/iStock/Getty Images Plus)
The Virgin Islands got their name from Christopher Columbus, who was the first to discover these islands and referred to them as “St. Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins.” It was later shortened to its current name.
The British Virgin Islands (BVI) archipelago has long been considered one of the world’s most beautiful groupings of islands and cays.
Today, the BVI is an overseas territory of the United Kingdom, with approximately 30,000 inhabitants. As a tourist, you will find a warm welcome, unparalleled beauty, and endless adventure.
Because of the BVI’s millennia of antiquity, this region is rich in history, from the sea to the shores to the mountain peaks. Pirates, the dawn of world trade, and early inhabitants are remembered in the forts, mines, museums, churches, cemeteries, and plantations that dot the islands. There are several opportunities to delve into the past from coast to coast throughout the islands.
Visit the sites of the ancestors to gain a unique perspective of this Caribbean paradise.
Tortola harbour in the West Indies. (photo via PeterEtchells / iStock / Getty Images Plus)
Tortola is the largest island in the archipelago and is the most likely starting place for your visit to the British Virgin Islands. Here, ancient ruins of medieval settlements mingle with luxury beachfront resorts and new communities.
Tortola has some of the most beautiful white sand beaches in the world, offering romantic walks and dips in the shade of gently swaying palm trees.
Other features of the area include lush mountains, secluded harbors, and some broad plains.
Harborfront Road Town, the core of the country’s commercial and tourist economy, bustles with cruise ship tourists and locals who fill its streets for lunch or shopping. Its main road is narrow and lined with small old wood and stone structures.
Little Dix Bay, British Virgin Islands (Photo via Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon)
Sage Mountain National Park
Sage Mountain, the area’s first National Park, represents the beginning of conservation efforts in the territory. The property at Sage Mountain was purchased from farmers and given to the Government of the British Virgin Islands as a national park thanks to a significant gift from Laurence Rockefeller.
Sage Mountain, at 1,700-plus feet, is the highest peak in the BVI and offers panoramic views of the entire archipelago.
Rain is produced by the mountain when warm, moist air rises from the east and south and cools as it crosses the peak. This falls as rain on the park’s north side and encourages the growth of the various types of plants found on the north and south sides of the mountain range.
Despite the low rainfall on these islands, the primary forest on the northeastern end of the park is characteristic of Caribbean rainforests. The main entrance to the park is a five-minute walk from the parking lot.
When tourists are not sunbathing and enjoying the fine sand, they don snorkeling gear and explore the underwater depths. The calm bay of Smuggler’s Cove Beach is ideal for this activity, and the water is also suitable for swimming.
This is about as peaceful as a beach getaway, and the stunning Caribbean setting adds to the overall experience. Smuggler’s Cove in Tortola is arguably the best snorkeling destination in the British Virgin Islands. A reef lies offshore and can be explored by both novice and experienced divers.
Sea fans, sponges, and different types of corals are among the unusual animals that can be seen on the reef.
Beach chairs are available for rent for those who prefer to do nothing but relax, and a beach bar and snack store are also on hand for those who need a respite from the heat, sand, and water.
Smuggler’s Cove in the British Virgin Islands is located on the western end of Tortola and is just a short distance from Long Bay. Long Bay is home to the only full-service resort, making it a popular tourist destination.
Cane Garden Bay and Brewer’s Bay are two Tortola bays that tourists should take notice of, as they are among the liveliest stretches of sand in the Caribbean.
Besides sailing and snorkeling, one of the best things to do in the British Virgin Islands is to spend time at the beach, and either of these will satisfy your desire for fun in the sun.
White sand beach in Anegada, British Virgin Islands. (photo via cdwheatley/iStock/Getty Images Plus)
Brewers Bay is said to be one of the best beaches in the BVI. The coral reef is excellent for snorkeling, and the beach is less crowded than nearby Cane Garden Bay.
Although Brewers Bay offers fantastic snorkeling, getting it takes work. The road access consists of multiple hairpin bends and high climbs, which some people find a bit dizzying, but it’s no big deal if you take it easy. Of course, if you go on your own and rent a car to visit Tortola, make sure the vehicle is preferably four-wheel drive.
Callwood Distillery is a sugar cane plantation and distillery with 400 years of rum-making history. This place has persisted for four centuries, with a short hiatus last year due to the installation of a new roof, until it was back in operation four months after Hurricane Irma.
This could be the oldest working rum distillery in the Caribbean. The coal-fired boiler still burns, and spent barrels of rum age down the rocky staircase, with walls filled with hand-bottled Arundel rum. They make only 95 liters daily here, using pure cane juice grown directly on the property.
It’s a remarkable place to wander, a dusty corner of rum mythology, a wholly forgotten distillery whose rums rarely make it beyond the Beef Island airport. Bottles of rum are reasonably priced, and samples of all four types of rum are also available for cheap.
British Virgin Islands marina (photo by Brian Major)
Virgin Gorda is the third largest of the British Virgin Islands and was so named by Christopher Columbus because its shape reminded him of a reclining woman. The island is considered one of the most beautiful in the territory, which is considerable praise given how magnificent the islands of the archipelago are in general.
Visitors to Virgin Gorda will find walking trails lined with greenery, many nature preserves, and a breathtaking panorama from Gorda Point.
However, natural beauty is not the only type of beauty available. Virgin Gorda also has some historical sites, including relics of early African, Spanish and indigenous settlements. The island’s main town, Spanish Town, is a must-see for its excellent cuisine, gifts, yacht clubs, luxury accommodations and local culture.
It’s also home to world-class diving. Some things to consider:
—The British Virgin Islands are a diver’s paradise.
—While snorkeling offers a shallow perspective of the vibrantly colored reefs below, scuba diving gives you an insight into the marine life on the reefs.
—Dive very close to a sea anemone to get a good look at it, or glide through a school of colorful fish you’ve never seen before.
—Beach diving is possible near offshore reefs, and several companies offer boat trips for an offshore experience.
—Some trips combine diving and snorkeling, which is ideal for groups that include divers and non-divers who want to snorkel.