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British Virgin Islands

British Virgin Island Cruise Port Tips

BVI is known as a sailing paradise. © British Virgin Islands Tourist Board
BVI is known as a sailing paradise. © British Virgin Islands Tourist Board
The British Virgin Islands, located in the heart of the Caribbean, are an equally popular destination for cruise lines and overnight visitors.

The islands, which are made up of more than 50 islands, attract nearly 400,000 cruise visitors and about as many who stay at hotels and resorts.

About 15 of these islands are inhabited. Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, and Jost Van Dyke are the largest islands in the group.

The capital of the British Virgin Islands is Road Town, located on the island of Tortola. It also is the main cruise port.

Being the largest island on the chain, Tortola has the most to do in terms of attractions, accommodations and restaurants.

Attractions and Shore Excursions

The Baths at Virgin Gorda are a popular attraction. © British VI Tourist Board
The British Virgin Islands are unique in that one of the best attractions is simply ferrying between islands in the chain, even in one day.

Ferries mostly go to the island of Virgin Gorda, which has the famous Baths. The Baths at Virgin Gorda are ocean pools with towering boulders overhead. Round trip prices to Virgin Gorda from Tortola are about $30 for adults with discounts for children.

One of the most popular excursions in Tortola is Dolphin Discovery, one of a half dozen dolphin facilities in the Caribbean. This interactive dolphin program gives children and adults alike the opportunity to kiss, hug, and swim with a dolphin.

Discovery Dolphin prices usually range between $100 and $150 per person with discounts for children. It sometimes has reduced prices on its website.

For budget-minded visitors, most of Road Town is explorable on foot, so there usually is little need for a paid tour with a guide. Shopping and restaurants are within walking distance of the port.

Historic sites in Road Town include Britannic Hall, Her Majesty's Prison, Old Government House, Sir Olva Georges Plaza and Virgin Islands Folk Museum.

Forts Burt and Recovery are near Road Town. Burt was originally built on a hill overlooking the harbor to defend the town. The foundations and magazine remain of this historic ruin rebuilt in 1776. The site is free and open daily. It is a two-mile walk or drive southwest of town. Fort Recovery was built in the 1640s as a military gun post. The ruins are intact and are the oldest historical landmark in Tortola. It is a five-mile drive southwest of Road Town.

Some island attractions aren’t easily available via paid shore excursions. Instead, visitors may need to rent a car at the cruise docks to see them.

Although touring Tortola itself is a popular activity for cruise visitors, the country's 21 national parks are a big draw for anyone who likes beaches, hiking, tropical forests, bird sanctuaries and shipwrecks.

The parks located on Tortola include J.R. O'Neal Botanic Gardens, Mount Healthy, Sage Mountain and Shark Bay.

J.R. O'Neil is a 3-acre park in the middle of Road Town. Mount Healthy features the remains of a thickly walled stone windmill that used to be part of an 18th century sugar plantation. Sage Mountain is the highest point in the U.S. and British Virgin Islands at 1,719 feet and offers expansive views of the area. Shark Bay is a nature preserve and the territory's first coastal park.

A private tour of Tortola and deep sea port fishing make for other great excursion opportunities.

Beaches Near the Cruise Port

Cane Garden beach
Cane Garden beach. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license
The most popular beach and one often called one of the best beaches in the Caribbean is Cane Garden Bay. It is a 25-minute drive from Road Town on the east side of Tortola near Callwood Rum Distillery. Shore excursions there cost about $50 per person.

This sheltered and curved bay is popular with boaters because it lacks heavy winds. It also attracts swimmers, windsurfers and local residents. Because of its popularity, it also has a number of bars and restaurants.

Nearby and to the northeast of Cane Garden Bay is Brewer’s Bay Beach. It is known for the ruins of old plantations and distilleries and for the snorkeling among the reefs.

Some cruise lines and excursion operators offer a 30-minute trip to Long Bay Beach at Beef Island. Expect to pay about $45 to $50 per person depending on amenities. The price includes transportation and a national park fee.

Shopping and Restaurants

The Road Town cruise terminal has a complex of shops and restaurants. But Main Street is the place to go for the biggest concentration of shopping and dining.

A few of the restaurants in the town include C&F Bar and Restaurant, Calypso Cafe, Charlie's Restaurant, Drakes Point, Le Grand Cafe, Marche, Maria's by the Sea, Mariner Inn, Midtown, Nature's Way, Origin Kitchen and Bar, Pusser's Pub and Grill, Roti's Palace, Sharky's Mexitalian Grill, Simply Delicious, The Pub, The Watering Hole, Verandah, and Virgin Queen Restaurant & Pub.

Jost Van Dyke and Virgin Gorda

Jost Van Dyke is easy to reach from Tortola by ferry. The island is home to beautiful beaches and some of the most popular and unique bars in the British Virgin Islands.

The Soggy Dollar, a famous swim up bar and legendary creator of the Painkiller, is located on White Bay.

Virgin Gorda is the second largest of the British Virgin Islands and popular for cruisers because it is far less crowded than Tortola.

From Tortola, cruise lines often offer a shuttle to Virgin Gorda.

The Baths are a must-see in Virgin Gorda. Visitors can climb and swim through the giant boulders scattered along the bay by an ancient volcano eruption.

The Spring Bay Beach, located right next to The Baths, is a smaller but less popular beach, with enough boulders to make the landscape interesting.

Getting Around

Cruisers visiting Tortola for the day will find taxis for rent at the ferry docks in Road Town. Rates are standard, but be sure to ask for the rate before getting into the cab.

The ferries are the primary form of transporting visitors from one island to another. The ferries operate by schedule, and are very affordable.

Weather / Best Time to Go

Weather is slightly cooler than the nearby St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, which lie a bit to the southwest.

Average high temperatures are in the low to mid 80s Fahrenheit during the winter and nearly 90 during the summer.

The driest months are January through March with less than two inches of rain per month. December and April through July are a little more wet. The rainy season arrives in August and reaches a high point from September through November.

March and April are the best months to go for a combination of warm temperatures and low risk of rain. March and December are the most popular months for tourists to visit.

Other Tips

  • The U.S. Dollar is the dominant currency.
  • Cruise lines offer fewer shore excursions than other islands.
  • Major credit cards are accepted in most but not all establishments.
Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas.

 > Category: Cruise Ports   

June 03, 2019

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