British Virgin Islands Holiday Planning Guide
The British Virgin Islands, officially the Virgin Islands, is a British overseas territory located in the Caribbean east of Puerto Rico. The islands make up part of the Virgin Islands archipelago; the remaining islands constitute the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Spanish Virgin Islands.The official name of the Territory is still simply the "Virgin Islands," but the prefix "British" is often used to distinguish this area from the neighboring American territory. The 150 sq km (93 sq mi) British Virgin Islands consist of the main islands of Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, and Jost Van Dyke, along with more than fifty smaller islands and cays. About 15 of the islands are inhabited. The capital, Road Town, is situated on Tortola, the largest island, which is approximately 20 km (12 mi) long and 5 km (3 mi)wide. The islands have a population of about 28,000 and the majority (approximately 23,500) live on Tortola.
Places to Visit in British Virgin Islands
Islands of British Virgin IslandsTortola
: Characterized by sandy beaches, historic sites, and colonial architecture, the largest island in the chain offers entertainment and tourist facilities while also serving as a good base for an archipelago tour. Anegada
: As the farthest island of the archipelago, this island is known for its for its remoteness and distinct features of a flat terrain and coral reefs, which make it a good diving site.Virgin Gorda
: With its hidden coves, inlets, and pristine sandy beaches, the third-largest island offers a sanctuary from the commercial hustle and bustle of other islands, while also providing enough bars to keep you refreshed.Jost Van Dyke
: Once a sanctuary for famed celebrities like Keith Richards and Jimmy Buffet, the smallest of the main islands today attracts visitors simply for its fine white sand beaches and a smattering of bars and restaurants.Peter Island
: Luxury defines this privately owned haven, which features a single resort and unspoiled nature that you can explore by hiking or biking trail.
Guana Island: This privately owned paradise offers spa treatments, private beaches, and upscale restaurants overlooking the deep blue sea, white sand shoreline, and green hills.Salt Island
: This popular scuba diving site is best known for the Royal Mail packet steamer shipwreck on the western side; you might recognize it from the movie The Deep.
Towns in British Virgin IslandsRoad Town
: The capital town situated on Tortola island, Road Town serves as the center for major charter services and as a good jumping-off point for touring the British Virgin Islands archipelago. Spanish Town
: The shopping mecca of Spanish Town on the island of Virgin Gorda hosts several fishing festivals each year, and activity centers around its thriving harbor, where you can book trips to the other islands.
Popular British Virgin Islands tourist attractionsThe Baths
: The golden sand beach named The Baths is famous for its huge granite boulders that form an array of tunnels and grottos. Cane Garden Bay
: A popular holiday attraction, Cane Garden Bay boasts active sand beaches, vibrant bars, and sports activities like kayaking and snorkeling.White Bay
: Accessible snorkeling brings visitors to White Bay, which takes its name from the soft sand that surrounds it. The popular area is also known for swimming and exploring the coral reefs, while nearby bars are known for great parties. Anegada Island
: As the fourth-largest barrier reef in the world, Anegada Island attracts divers and snorkelers with its limestone and coral rocks.Smuggler's Cove
: Providing privacy, the aptly named Smuggler’s Cove represents an inlet beach that’s a bit harder to reach, making it more secluded than other areas of the British Virgin Islands.Dolphin Discovery Tortola
: One of the most popular tourist attractions, Dolphin Discovery Tortola pairs visitors with these marine animals and gives them the opportunity to swim with dolphins and learn more about the species.Devil's Bay National Park
: A rock-lined shore makes the beach at Devil’s Bay different from others, but it still provides good swimming and some snorkeling surrounded by soft edged rocks. The Bubbly Pool
: When conditions are right, Bubbly Pool provides a frothy bubblefest; at other times this natural rock pool allows for soaking from a spot overlooking the ocean. Savannah Bay
: Largely undeveloped, Savannah Bay offers seclusion and strong currents; a nearby reef attracts snorkelers.Spring Bay
: Sheltered by big smooth boulders, the kid-friendly Spring Bay beach offers great snorkeling and swimming experiences.
Planning a British Virgin Islands Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in British Virgin Islands with Kids
The British Virgin Islands boast plenty of family-friendly attractions and destinations. Treat yourself and your kids with a memorable experience and swim with dolphins at Dolphin Discovery Tortola
. Explore the kid-friendly tunnels and grottos of The Baths
, a beach also known for swimming and snorkeling sites. Just 20 min further lies the Devil's Bay National Park
, where adventurous souls might try rock climbing. Include a family trip to Anegada Island
on your BVI itinerary to experience sandy beaches, coral reefs abundant with schools fishes, and restaurants. A holiday in the British Virgin Islands is not a full experience without renting a boat and sailing around the archipelago. The British Virgin Islands has one of the biggest boat fleets in the Caribbean, and skilled crews know how to handle families with kids of all ages. Include a hike to Virgin Gorda Peak
on your itinerary; it provides restrooms and picnic tables along the way. You’ll find both short and long trails, both well marked and with views worthy of the climb. Families used to hiking may want to try trekking through the mahogany forests of Sage Mountain National Park
, which offers 12 hiking trails.Spring Bay
serves as an excellent option for those with young kids, as the surrounding boulders shelter the beach from waves and create a calm pool and a site that provides easy swimming and snorkeling.
Things to Do in British Virgin Islands with Kids
It goes without saying that swimming in the calm waters of the British Virgin Islands is ideal for families with kids, but BVI has much more to offer than just getting your feet wet. Scuba diving schools offer courses for kids and teens, and the abundance of shallow reefs and shipwreck sites here fuel the interest of casual snorkelers. Observing pink flamingos on the salt ponds of Anegada Island
should be on your family itinerary as well.
Tips for a Family Vacation in British Virgin IslandsTortola
, Virgin Gorda
, and Jost Van Dyke
represent the most popular destinations within the BVI for families, and it’s on those islands that you’ll find most of the family-friendly resorts. The region’s privately owned islands tend to cater more to adults. If you’re looking to stay inland instead of cruising the islands, focus on Tortola
and Virgin Gorda
, which provide most of the tourist and entertainment facilities.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in British Virgin Islands
Cuisine of British Virgin Islands
When on your BVI holiday, you’ll be able to choose from an array of different restaurants, ranging from upscale establishments to seaside cafes. Although most of the cuisine focuses on fresh seafood--like lobsters and shells--local dishes also include exotic rotis and curries. You’ll find flavor influences of places like France, Italy, Asia, and neighboring Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago. When it comes to drinks, rum top of mind here; you’ll find a handful of stores selling it.
Shopping in British Virgin Islands
In the tax-free paradise of the BVI there are no standard shopping malls, instead you’ll have to explore the variety of small boutiques which specialize in handmade products like jewelry, jams, spices, and trinkets. Locals are really fond of pottery, and across the islands you’ll find numerous pottery shops, especially on Tortola
. Virgin Gorda
is famous for luxurious jewelry shops, but you’ll find some in the capital Road Town
too. For electronics, china, linen, apparel, and fine arts visit Tortola
Know Before You Go on a Trip to British Virgin Islands
Interesting Facts About British Virgin Islands
- You’ll find a fully functional trademark British telephone box with a webcam that operates on the Marina Cay Island.
- Salt Island
has only three residents who pay a salt bag as a rent every year to the Queen.
- Out of around 60 islands, only 16 are inhabited
- Alice in Wonderland
is a popular dive site named because the coral reefs resemble the mushrooms seen in the Alice in Wonderland cartoon.
Things You Should NOT Do in British Virgin Islands
Generally speaking, the British Virgin Islands are a rather relaxed holiday destination, but keep a few things in mind. Politeness is very important--you should always greet someone when entering a shop, bar, or restaurant. When heading downtown, don’t wear swimwear. Casual clothes like t-shirts, shorts (but not too short!), and dresses are the norm.
Holidays & Festivals in British Virgin Islands
BVI thrives with music festivals, nighttime moon parties on the beaches, and sailing regattas. The festival season climaxes with the Carnival, a holiday celebrated vigorously around the Caribbean. Some of the festivals you should include on your BVI itinerary are BVI Spring Regatta and Sailing Festival in March and Spanish Town Fisherman’s Jamboree around Easter where visitors can taste freshly caught fish. In May, the biggest music festival--BVI Music Festival--showcases some of the biggest jazz, calypso, reggae, and other music stars. The annual Wreck Week between May and June is a must-see for scuba divers.
Useful British Virgin Islands Travel Tips
Common Greetings in British Virgin Islands
Even though BVI is an English-speaking destination, you’ll find some specificities in BVI manners. British Virgin Islanders cherish their privacy very dearly, so inquiries about personal business and shouting names from afar are considered rude. Politeness is very important in BVI, and you should always greet people when entering a room or ordering food and drinks. Use “good morning,” “good afternoon,” and “goodnight” when greeting strangers or friends, since this is the norm on islands. When addressing older people, use "Mr.," "Mrs.," or "Miss" and the more casual “How?” or “Everything safe?” can be used when approaching younger folks.
Climate of British Virgin Islands
The islands enjoy a tropical climate tempered by trade winds with little temperature variance across all islands. Daily temperatures reach about 32°C (89.6°F) in summer and 29°C (84.2°F) in winter. Even though rainfall is rather low and varyies slightly from island to island, the wettest months are September to November, overlapping with the hurricane season from June to November. The rainfall is much heavier in the hills than on the coast. When planning your BVI holiday, keep in mind that peak seasons fall during winter and in the beginning of spring when the sailing regattas start. Scuba divers should avoid summer due to bad visibility.
Transportation in British Virgin Islands
The British Virgin Islands are known for great sailing experiences and, as such, they have an abundance of charters, sailing boats, and motorboats for rent. If you’re looking to spend an inland holiday, keep in mind that car rental services are mostly located on larger islands Tortola
and Virgin Gorda
, with an exception of a scooter rental on Jost Van Dyke
. Other islands have no services and are easily explored via goat paths and foot trails. Due to the low standards of roads and the hilly terrain, driving can be tricky. Taxis are expensive with fixed prices.
Tipping in British Virgin Islands
When on your BVI holiday, include a 15-20 percent tip in general for most services, with the exception of 10 percent for taxi drivers. Usual norm in hotels is a 10-15 percent service fee included in the bill, but guests often leave $1-5 per day for housekeeping (sometimes in the room with a special note!). Restaurants may automatically include a 15 percent service charge; if in doubt ask and leave 15-20 percent. Tips for scuba diving crews range around 10 percent or $5 per tank.