Updated: Feb 3
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 ten 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. At the end of 2016, we purchased a 43 ft. motor yacht in the BVI through the Moorings Yacht Ownership Program. We have cruised the BVI eight times since 2016 and cruised the Abacos, Croatia and Greece through the reciprocal feature in the Yacht Ownership Program. The natural beauty, relaxed atmosphere, and abundant sea life calls us back to the BVI repeatedly. For more information how we went from Cruise Ships to Bare Boating check out my blog post , From Cruise Ships to Bareboating, Our Journey. If you are interested in Yacht Ownership or booking a vessel for a BVI Vacation with Moorings drop me a note in the comments section and I will have someone from the Moorings contact you by email.
Our favorite BVI itinerary includes both quiet anchorages and busy harbours with other boats, restaurants and activities. In general, it is our preference is to stay on a mooring ball. Boaty Ball is a great tool for reserving mooring balls. You pay a slightly higher price but you are guaranteed a ball. This is especially nice in the more popular anchorages. We prefer not to stay in marinas. Throughout this post, I will point out which anchorages have options for a marina stay. Some of the anchorages are weather dependent. When there are north swells, some anchorages may be uncomfortable or closed. If you are sailing, I would recommend doing this itinerary in reverse, starting at either Cooper Island or Norman Island and heading off to Jost Van Dyke. Because the winds are predominately out of the East, it is a long day of tacking up the Sir Frances Drake Channel from Norman Island to North Sound. Anegada and St. John make a great add-on if you are making a return trip to the BVI or doing a longer charter. Look for my upcoming posts on those islands. This itinerary takes into consideration the BVI recovery post Irma. Soper's Hole, Peter Island, Trellis Bay and some parts of North Sound are still in major construction as they recover from Hurricane Irma.
The Baths top most lists of the must see natural attractions of the BVI. The Baths are a 7 acre National Park on the southwest side of Virgin Gorda, between Devil's Bay and Spring Bay. Granite boulders spike out of the sand forming tidal pools, tunnels, arches and grottos. You can explore this natural wonder through an established trail. There are sandy white 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 mooring 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 or rent a slip at Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbor and take a taxi. Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbor has 93 slips available for overnight and hourly rentals. 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.
After provisioning and becoming familiar with your vessel in Tortola, head to Norman Island, one of my favorite BVI anchorages. Thought to be the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, a protected cove and views of most of the BVI and USVI from its hilltops, it is easy to imagine a pirate lair on the island. Today, it has lively restaurants, a nice beach, great snorkeling, hiking with spectacular vistas and multiple anchorage options. The Bight has a well protected and large mooring field. From the Bight, it is a quick dinghy ride in to Pirate's Bight Restaurant or the floating Willy T, a rusty old frigate turned floating restaurant and bar. On shore, Pirate's Bight has a sandy beach with chaises for those who purchase a cocktail or bite. Sunsets are especially beautiful from this beach. Beginning snorkelers can enter the water directly off the beach with nice coral formations to the the left and a grassy field that attracts turtles and rays to the right. More experienced snorkelers and divers will enjoy exploring the Caves to the west of The Bight. There are Day Use Only mooring balls for vessels or dinghys just west of Treasure Point. Kelly Cove has a smaller mooring field to the east as you are entering the Bight, with nice snorkeling around Water Point. Some of the best snorkeling in the BVI is at the Indians to the northeast of the entrance to The Bight. It can sometimes become crowded with day trip snorkel boats. I recommend stopping first thing in the morning as you are leaving The Bight or later in the afternoon as you are heading into the Bight for the evening. There are Day Use Only mooring balls as well as a dinghy mooring line. It can be a bit rough but the snorkeling is spectacular.
On the eastern side of Norman Island are two anchor only coves with nice sandy bottoms, Benures Bay and Soldier Bay. Aside from the restaurants at the Bight, Norman Island is completely uninhabited. There are a series of trails that connect, the Bight, Soldier Bay, Benures Bay, Spyglass Point and Money Bay on the southeast side of the island. You can access these trails by taking the dirt road between the Dive Shop and Pirate's Bight, where the road curves to the right, take the small trail to the left up the hill. At the top you can go right to Spyglass Hill and sweeping views of St. John, St. Thomas and on a clear day St. Croix. Going to the left takes you to Benures Bay, Solider Bay and Monkey Bay with views of Tortola and Peter Island. Make sure you take lots of water and sun protection.
North Sound was hit hard by Hurricane Irma. Bitter End Yacht Club and Saba Rock are both still rebuilding. By the end of 2020, both will be welcoming guests for cocktails and amazing sunset views. Prickly Pear Island has reopened their beach bar and restaurant. They offer a delightful afternoon of beach time with easy snorkeling to the west of their beach. Divers and advanced snorkelers enjoy the reefs on the north side of Prickly Pear Island and around Eustatia Island.
Leverick Bay offers 25 marina slips, 36 mooring balls, gas, water and ice, a well stocked provisioning store, a day spa and two gift shops. There are also shower and laundry facilities. There is a beach bar with a swimming pool and two restaurants. The upstairs restaurant is Caribbean Elegant with a nice wine list. The downstairs restaurant is casual with fun entertainment at happy hour. For more information on dining in the BVI, check out my article on Best Restaurants, Post Irma, British Virgin Islands.
Leverick Bay is a great jumping off point for exploring Virgin Gorda. As mentioned earlier, Speedy's offers rental cars and Private Day Tours of the island. Once your transportation is arranged you can hike through lush vegetation along the Virgin Gorda Peak. For some incredible panoramic views, visit the abandoned Cornish Copper Mine, enjoy some quiet beaches along Savanah Bay and of course explore the Baths.
After leaving North Sound, I suggest a stop at the Dogs for snorkeling. The Dogs are a grouping of four tiny islands with Day Use Only mooring balls. The snorkeling around these islands is outstanding. From the Dogs, head west around Great Camanoe Island or south through the Camanoe Cut to White Bay, Guana Island. Guana Island is a quiet anchorage with a small mooring field. I like it for just that reason. It is quiet and the area around it is lightly developed. It is one of the best places for star gazing. Monkey Point is at southeast corner of the White Bay. It offers another great snorkeling opportunity. Guana Island is privately owned and there is a small resort on the island. While you can not wander around the island, the beach is open to the public and it is beautiful. If you prefer a livelier stop, Scrub Island Resort has overnight slips that offer you full use of the resort's restaurants, beaches, spa and swimming pool. Marina Cay and Trellis Bay offer lots of mooring balls, however these areas are still recovering from Hurricane Irma.
Diamond Cay is at the eastern end of Jost van Dyke. From an anchorage you can explore Sandy Cay and Sandy Spit and hike to the Bubbly Pool, a naturally created pool surrounded by rocks. The B-Line Beach Bar on Little Jost Van Dyke and Foxy's Taboo offer libations and fun. Foxy's Taboo is a great place for a meal. This anchorage is not protected and can be uncomfortable if the seas are high or north swells are running. Little Harbor on Jost van Dyke offers a good alternative.
Cane Garden Bay
Cane Garden Bay is located near the west end of Tortola. Sage Mountain soars above the wide sandy beach, creating a lush green backdrop for Cane Garden Bay. Beach bars and restaurants hug the shoreline. My favorite is beautifully shaded, Myett's Garden & Grille. Since Irma, their restaurant is part of the Pussers family. Behind the beach bars and restaurants are gift shops and a grocery store. At the public docks you can get fuel, water and ice. Up the road to the north is the Callwood Rum Distillery. They have been making rum from sugar cane since the 1800's. When you visit, you get a bit of history and a bit of rum. The sunsets are stunning from Cane Garden Bay. As the Jimmy Buffett song claims, you can see the lights of St. Thomas in the evening. There is a large mooring field, so the people watching is great. This spot is best enjoyed when the seas are relatively calm, north swells are especially uncomfortable here.
White Bay, Jost van Dyke
White Bay on Jost is home to my all time favorite beach bar, the Soggy Dollar and my favorite lunch spot in the BVI, Hendo's Hidout. White Bay has a small mooring field to the east of the reef and an often crowded anchorage is in front of the main beach. If you are not able to find a space here, Great Harbor offers a large mooring field and lots of space for anchoring. It also offers fuel, water, ice and trash disposal as well as a small provisioning store. It is about a mile hike over the hill between Great Harbour and White Bay. We usually walk over and taxi back. White Bay is home to the Ocean Spa. After Irma, Ocean Spa relocated to its floating home in White Bay. To read about its services and interesting story check out my article, Floating Paradise, Ocean Spa BVI.
Whether you stay at White Bay or Great Harbour, drinking a Pain Killer at the Soggy Dollar is a must. The Soggy Dollar is named for the condition of the money used to pay for the drinks. White Bay does not have a dingy dock so you must swim into shore. The Pain Killer is their signature drink. When in White Bay, I like to drink at Soggy Dollar and lunch at Hendo's Hideout. Hendo's pulled pork sandwich and conch fritters are some of the best I have ever eaten. For dinner, I always want a pizza at Corsairs in Great Harbour. Vinny, a colorful Colorado biker turned salty Caribbean pirate and restaurateur, owns an open air place in the center of Great Harbour. You will often find him behind the bar, entertaining guests with his colorful tales. They have an extensive menu, that gets great reviews, but I always get the pizza. It is the best pizza in the islands. Further down the sandy road is the world famous Foxy's. While they serve food, for me Foxy's is a place to drink, listen to music and shop. They have one of the best gift shops in the BVI.
Sailing to the west and through the Thatch Island Cut then east to Cooper Island, you will pass Sopers Hole. Hit especially hard by Irma, they are diligently working to recover. Pusser's and Omar's are back and either make a nice lunch spot before heading on to Cooper Island for your last night in the BVI. Another option would be to sail on to Salt Island, pick up a Day Use Only mooring ball and dinghy to the island. You can hike around the salt ponds, used to harvest salt in the 19th and early 20th century. You can also dinghy over to Lee Bay and the Wreck of the Rhone. The Rhone was a steam ship that sank in a Hurricane in 1867. The water is pretty shallow making a great dive or snorkel. If you are looking for a quiet anchorage, Great Harbor on Peter Island is a good alternative to Cooper Island. As with Soper's Hole, Peter Island is slower to recover from Irma. In the southwestern corner of Great Harbour, Ocean's 7 Restaurant and Beach Bar has upgraded and reopened.
Cooper Island's mooring field sits above a large field of sea grass, the preferred food for sea turtles. You can see dozens of them if you snorkel among the boats. Cistern Point is at the southern end of mooring field. It is a beautiful snorkel spot and the sea turtle and ray sightings are frequent. On shore, Cooper Island Resort is an eco friendly, 100% solar powered facility with a beach bar, restaurant, ice cream/coffee shop, dive shop, rum bar, upscale gift shop and brewery. I especially like their dinner menu which skews towards Caribbean Asian.
After a morning cappuccino, it is time to return your boat to Tortola. For more information on Cruising in the British Virgin Islands check out my post 23 Photos of the BVI to Inspire You to Plan a Trip. If you have any questions or alternative suggestions, please leave them in the comment section below. Ready to book your trip, drop me a note in the comments section and I will have someone from the Moorings contact you about booking a charter or click here to book your trip through Booking.com.