Updated: Jul 22
We first visited the British Virgin Islands in 2010, aboard a Windstar Cruise. It was love at first sight. We have returned to the BVI 12 times in the past decade. In 2016, we bare boated (sailed without a captain or crew) for the first time. We found the autonomy, adventure and privacy captivating. We have bare boated in the BVI 10 times since 2016 The natural beauty, relaxed atmosphere, and abundant sea life calls us back, repeatedly. Here are 11 must see things in the BVI, whether you are staying on land or sea.
Visit Conch Island off the Coast of Anegada
Eleven miles north of North Sound, Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands, sits the sand and coral island Anegada. This long flat island is a gem in the Virgin Islands archipelago. It is fringed with white sand beaches. To the north those beaches are protected by Horseshoe Reef, the third largest barrier reef in the world. Because of the shallow seas and abundance of coral heads, exploration of the reef is limited to those who hire a local guide. This trip is not to be missed when you are visiting Anegada. You can arrive by Charter Boat or a ferry that leaves from the Road Town Ferry Terminal. It is possible to visit Anegada as a day trip. However I would recommend staying a night or two.
We contacted Kelly Tours to explore the reef, Conch Island, and teach us about Conch and Lobster hunting. Kelly and Thomas, both commercial divers, exceeded our expectations! We learned about how and why Conch Island was created, snorkeled the most pristine coral heads in the BVI, watched the intricacies of lobster and conch diving, and took back to the boat two meals worth of lobster and conch. I can not say enough good things about Kelly, Thomas and their Conch Island Tour.
The "island" is a graveyard of dead conch shells. It is where the commercial conch divers stop to clean their catches before retuning home. Kelly and Thomas were well reversed on the history and eco systems in the area. We made two snorkeling stops at some of the most pristine coral heads I have ever seen. The coral glowed yellow and swayed gently in the waves as the brightly colored tropical fish danced around. It was stunning. At the second stop, Thomas, a commercial diver, skillfully dove for lobster and conch. The fruits of his labors made two delicious dinners for us! For me this excursion was the high point of this visit to the BVI.
Spend an Afternoon Enjoying White Bay, Jost Van Dyke
White Bay is a true slice of paradise, where the aquamarine sea laps against the powdery white sand. This stunning beach is definitely one of the party places in the BVI, with a half dozen beach bars and restaurants. I like to start my afternoon with lunch at Hendo's Hideout. It is one of my favorite restaurants in the BVI. I have never had a bad meal there. I love their Rum & Coke Pulled Pork on a sandwich or a taco. Their Shrimp Tacos are excellent as well. When dining on their deck, you can get a glass of wine in a glass wineglass, something I greatly appreciate. If you have a craving for pizza head down the beach to Coco Loco Beach Bar. They have delicious pizza.
After lunch, we like to spend the afternoon sipping on PainKillers from the Soggy Dollar, catching some rays, and people watching. The Soggy Dollar is a classic beach bar, named for the wet currency sailors use to pay for drinks after swimming into the shore. Every year it is ranked of the world's best beach bars. With cold drinks, corn hole and ring toss, a great gift shop and an outstanding signature drink, it draws crowds every afternoon. If you are interested bar hopping, head to Ivan;s Stress Free Bar on the east side of the White Bay or Seddy's One Love Bar on the west side. The crystalline white beach and azure water are the perfect backdrop to a delightful afternoon.
From Great Harbor and the Jost Van Dyke Ferry Terminal, White Bay is a 2.3 km walk west and over the hill. Taxi's are available from Great Harbor and Little Harbor. We like to walk over and taxi back, if we are staying in Great Harbor. If you are staying on a boat, it is a 5 minute dingy ride to White Bay from Great Harbor. As you approach shore make sure you go far enough west to avoid the reef that divides the mooring field to the east from the anchorage and beach bars to the west.
Enjoy a Caribbean Fine Dining Experience
The Dove had been on my list since I saw it featured on Below Deck, Season 4. We dined their for the first time for lunch during our February 2019 visit. They were superb. Located in a historic West Indian cottage in downtown Road Town, the surroundings are sleek and tropical with multiple level indoor and outdoor dining and a large bar area. I enjoyed a Banh Mi (Vietnamese spicy pork sandwich) and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc off their extensive wine list. Capt K went traditional with a beef tenderloin sandwich topped with a batter fried onion ring and a local beer. We have returned their for lunch a second time in 2021. It was also outstanding. The Dove is open for lunch, happy hour and dinner, Tuesday through Friday and for dinner on Saturday. Reservations are accepted through their website, so you can add them to your itinerary before you travel. thedovebvi.com.
Brandywine Estates offers Mediterranean bistro cuisine with stunning views and a beautiful breeze. It is located on Tortola’s southern coast overlooking the Sir Francis Drake Channel.. We enjoyed several delicious dinners at Brandywine Estates before Irma. They came back stronger than ever, serving their unique Island fare with a Mediterranean twist. Do not miss their Lobster Paella if it is on the menu when you visit. Brandywine Estates is open for lunch and dinner Wednesday through Sunday. Reservations are encouraged. BrandywineEstates.com.
The Restaurant is an elegant option for dinner in Leverick Bay, Virgin Gorda. You will see locals enjoying a celebration dinner and sunset view here. The menu is diverse enough to please everyone. There are many seafood and land lover options on the menu including Capt K’s favorite lamb chops. Their wine list is varied and interesting and they make a mean Martini. The views of North Sound are spectacular. The Restaurant at Leverick Bay one of the best restaurants in the BVI to savor Caribbean cuisine. They are open for dinner every night 6:00pm to 9:00pm. Reservations are recommended. leverickbayvg.com or 1 284 541-8879.
Looking for a restaurant with a significant WOW factor. Coco Maya, on Virgin Gorda, is the restaurant for you. They offer stylish but casual surroundings, beautiful views, an innovative Latin Asian Fusion menu and fresh combinations of Caribbean cocktails. They have a rooftop hydroponic garden where they grow herbs like the basil for their Lemon Basil Margarita and the thyme for their Orange Thyme G&T. The juices are all fresh squeezed, the combinations are refreshingly tropical, and the presentations are artfully created. Coco Maya is open, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 5-10pm, Saturday 1-10pm and Sunday 9am-9pm. Reservations are available at CocoMayaVG.com.
Essential Online Links For Booking Your Trip to the British Virgin Islands
Logistics: There is one international airport in the British Virgin Islands. You can also fly into St. Thomas USVI and take a ferry to Road Town, Tortola. : Taxis are available throughout the islands. Private Transfers are available from both airports: Private Arrival Transfer from EIS Airport to Tortola, Private Ground Transfers, St. Thomas, Ferry Schedules are available at USVI.net, Water Taxi transfers are available through Dolphin Water Taxi
Top-rated British Virgin Islands tours and experiences:
☆Conch Island Snorkel Tour: Contact Kelly at Anegadaconcierge@gmail.com or Whatsapp at 281 496-0961
Top places to stay in British Virgin Islands: Scrub Island Resort, Spa & Marina (Tortola - Luxury) ***Wyndham Tortola BVI Lambert Beach Resort (Tortola - Budget Friendly, ) *** Sebastian's on the Beach Hotel (Tortola - Budget Friendly) ***Rosewood Little Dix Bay Virgin Gorda (Virgin Gorda - Luxury, )***Saba Rock Resort ( North Sound - Luxury,) *** Anegada Beach Resort (Anegada -Budget Friendly, )
My favorite Guidebook for Bareboating in the British Virgin Islands: The Cruising Guide to the Virgin Islands
My favorite Guidebook for the British Virgin Islands: Top 10 US & British Virgin Islands
My favorite Novel about the Caribbean: The Embarrassment Of Mangoes or Vintage Norman Island: True Tales About a Real Treasure Island with Pirates and Buried Treasure
Explore the Bath's National Park
On the southwestern tip of Virgin Gorda is a geological wonder known as the Baths. The Baths top most lists of the must see natural attractions of the BVI. The Baths are a 7 acre National Park between Devil's Bay and Spring Bay. Granite boulders, some as large as 40ft in diameter, form tidal pools, tunnels, arches and scenic grottos at the ocean's edge. Golden beaches frame these standing stones. These massive rocks were formed by thousands of years of erosion to the softer lava rock encasing them. Shaped by the rain and waves, these granite boulders spike out of the sand. You can explore this natural wonder through an established trail. There are sandy, golden beaches on either side of the of these giant beauties and the snorkeling is excellent.
There are a very limited number of Day Use Only mooring balls. After picking up a ball, visitors dinghy over to the buoy protected swim area, secure the dinghy to the buoy line and swim in. Depending upon the weather, there can be a strong current in this area adding complexity to the challenge of getting in and out of the dinghy from the water. Because of the popularity of the Baths, I recommend you leave your previous night's anchorage at first light and cruise directly to the Bath's mooring field to get a Day Use Only ball.
Another option is to anchor in St. Thomas Bay (just off Spanish Town) or rent a slip at Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbor and take a taxi to the Baths. Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbor has 93 slips available for overnight and hourly rentals. For land travelers, you can take a ferry from Road Town Tortola to Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda. You can grab an open air taxi to the Baths in the front of the Marina Area. A third option is to pick up a mooring ball at Leverick Bay and rent a car or take the Private Bath's Car Tour through Speedy's.
The admission fee of $3.00 per person is paid at the parking lot entrance. The fee is covered by the mandatory, cruising National Park Pass. Boaters arriving by land, make sure you bring a copy. Also don't forget your water shoes*** underwater camera*** HD mask ***reef safe sunscreen..
Hike to the Top of Spyglass Hill
Norman Island is one of the only privately owned islands in the British Virgin Islands that allow access to their hiking trails. Hiking on Norman Island is way to stretch your sea legs, get some cardio and take in some magnificent views. Non- boaters can take a ferry from Nanny Cay on Tortola to spend the day enjoying the hiking, snorkeling and quiet beaches on Norman Island.
Hiking to the northeast will take you about 2.5 miles out and back to the top of Spyglass Hill, where legend says pirates had a lookout station. From Pirate's Bight, take the trail between the large restaurant and the Dive Shop, stay left on the trail to reach the top. At the top, hiking to the southeast, to the left at the top, takes you 3.5 miles out and back to Benure's Bay and on to Money Bay. The AllTrails App shows you all the trails on Norman Island and gives you specifics on the Bight to Money Bay portion. To the southwest, to the right at the top takes you past the helicopter landing pad and to the top of Spyglass Hill. Make sure you bring a day pack with water, sunscreen, and a sun hat. Be prepared, there is very little shade. The trails are very rocky. Click here to see the shoes I always bring to the BVI, they work both as hiking shoes and water shoes.
Snorkel an "Out of the Way" Place
Whether you are heading to North Sound, Virgin Gorda, or Anegada, a snorkeling, stopover at the Dogs is a great way to break up the trip. The Dog Islands are made up of 5 islets, Great Dog, George Dog, West Dog, East Seal Dog, and Little Seal Dog offering nearly pristine snorkeling opportunities.These islands are named for the barking seals that originally inhabited them. These Caribbean Monk Seals were considered by sailors to be a good source of fresh meat. They are now extinct from over indulging in them. The Dog Islands are now a protected National Park.
There are day use only mooring balls on west side of George Dog and Great Dog Islands. These anchorage can be rolly and the current can be strong. George Dog is more protected than Great Dog. The reefs are beautiful with abundant tropical fish. You may see a few turtles. Also, you will see several patch of golden Staghorn Coral. This out of the way spot is well worth a visit. For non-boaters, check out this snorkeling day trip from Tortola, Visit Secret Beaches and Enjoy Private Guided Snorkel Tour.
Get a Massage on a Floating Spa
Looking for a truly unique spa experience, plan a visit to the floating Ocean Spa on the east side of White Bay, Jost Van Dyke. When Hurricane Irma devastated the British Virgin Islands, she destroyed homes, infrastructure and livelihoods. In her aftermath, Ocean Spa owner Dale Mapp picked up the pieces of the debris she left behind and started rebuilding his life and livelihood. In November of 2018, he opened Ocean Spa, a floating spa. It is built from debris he collected from the wrath of Irma. The Ocean Spa is a shrine to fortitude in the face of disaster and finding”peace in living simple.” The spa offers a place to rejuvenate, and “embrace the healing powers of nature.”
Guests swim, paddle board or dingy to the spa. If you are staying on land you can arrange to be picked up from shore. Relaxation begins as soon as you step into the Spa. Dale and his therapist Gayle, greet us as we approach the spa. We spend a few minutes getting to know them as the sea gently laps against the pontoons and the waves softly roll onto the shore. The busyness of land life floats away. The first thing you notice is how pieces of life before Irma are woven together to create the spa. A gate is used as the back of a bench, a salvaged door has childhood scribbles on it, a piece of galvanized metal roofing has a tree branch through it. Gentle breezes blow in through the curtain covered windows and “portholes” in the floor under the face pillows allow you to watch the fish below. Nature is embraced in every corner.
The Ocean Spa is truly a place of inspiration, tranquility and well-being. As Dale and Gayle work their magic, the breeze cools you while the gentle rocking of the spa soothes you. A Thai style massage stretches out all our tight muscles. My husband proclaimed it “the best massage ever.” This from a man that is very cautious with his praise. It was 60 minutes of pure bliss.
The Ocean Spa had two treatment rooms. They do both individual and couples massages from 9 to 5 Monday to Friday and sunset or moonlight massage by appointment.
If you are celebrating something special, you can book a Champagne Massage, enjoying the view of the bright blue water and surrounding islands while you sip your bubbly. You can book appointments at www.oceanspabvi.com or through facebook messenger.
Enjoy a Cocktail with a View
The British Virgin Islands has the BEST beach bars! Rum concoctions or a cold local brew, a sandy beach, a lounge chair under a palm tree, what could be better. But what if you wanted something more complex than the standard Pain Killer or Rum Punch, where would you go? Is it even available? I have found five places that offer amazing cocktails. I am talking fresh squeezed juices, premium alcohol selections, beautiful presentations and a skilled mixologist behind the recipes. Two of them welcome bare feet, all offer beautiful views of the sparking Caribbean Sea.
My top choice for craft cocktails and locally brewed beer is Cooper Island Beach Club. Not only is it a beautiful spot, they are an eco friendly resort with a 100% solar powered brewery. They offer a variety of craft beers on draft daily. Their cocktail menu is innovative, fresh Caribbean with house made mixers, fresh juices, locally grown herbs in interesting combinations. As an example, their Bloody Mary has hand shaved, fresh horseradish in it. They offer daily drink specials like The Limin' Leprechaun, a Purple Daze made with fresh blueberries and the Cooper Colada served in a coconut. Rum lovers will not want to miss their Rum Bar with over 280 types of rum. During the season, they are open daily for lunch and dinner, with happy hour discounts. Check their website for updated information on opening times and meal service, CooperIslandBeachClub.com. To see more options visit my post, Cocktails with a View in the British Virgin Islands.
Watch the Sunset from Cane Garden Bay
Jimmy Buffett immortalized Cane Garden Bay in his song, "Manana." It is situated on the north shore of Tortola, about 5 miles west of Road Town. You can spend the day at the beach swimming in crystalline water, renting a kayak, snorkeling around the beach's western edge and enjoying the great food from the many beach bars and restaurants. But the main event is sunset. Cane Garden Bay points due west and offers one the most beautiful spots to catch a sunset in the BVI. When the sun goes down, Cane Garden Bay kicks into high gear with happy hours and live music. After dark, the lights of St. Thomas twinkle in the distance.
Hike Out to the Bubbly Pool
On the far eastern side of Jost Van Dyke is a geological delight called the Bubbly Pool. This natural Jacuzzi is formed as waves roll through a crevasse in the boulders that line the northeastern coast of Jost. The waves fill a small pool with effervescent sea water. For land travelers, you can reach Great Harbor, Jost Van Dyke by ferry from Road Town or Soper's Hole, West End on Tortola. This beautiful spot is 3.8 km from Great Harbour and 1.3 km from Little Harbour. If you are walking from Great Harbour, there is a steep incline to reach Little Harbour and another steep incline to reach Long Bay.
The easiest way to reach the Bubbly Pool is to pick up a mooring ball at Diamond Key and Dingy into Foxy's Taboo or grab a taxi from Great Harbour or Little Harbour. The trail starts behind Foxy's Taboo, head south until you reach the hills. Follow west on the trail marked with a sign to the Bubbly Pool. Either way, you will want to bring water, sunscreen and water shoes. Click here for my favorite water shoes and reef safe sunscreen. I like these shoes because they work for easy hiking as well as a rocky beach.
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