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British Virgin Islands

11 Top British Virgin Islands Tourist Attractions

Baths at Virgin Gorda; © Big Stock Photo
Baths at Virgin Gorda; © Big Stock Photo

The best tourist attractions in the British Virgin Islands include Dolphin Discovery, the historic forts Burt and Recovery and Tortola’s Main Street.

The Tortola cruise port is a major starting point for tourist attractions and shore excursions in the British Virgin Islands.

Tortola is a bit unusual among all Caribbean cruise ports because cruise passengers often go elsewhere instead of touring this small city. Boating among the BVI islands is one of the most common shore excursions.

Other noteworthy shore excursions include scuba diving. The islands have been called one of the top five dive spots in the world, and they are especially known for shipwrecks. BVI also has an unusually high number of national parks. But it does not have any golf courses, which is rare among Caribbean destinations.

Tortola is also a bit unusual among Caribbean cruise ports because it has little to see in the town. Instead, adventurous cruise visitors go elsewhere. Still, many of the attractions listed below aren’t available as guided shore excursions. Cruise visitors will have to see some of them on their own.

1) Hop the Islands

British Virgin Islands snorkeling
Snorkeling is a popular tourist attraction at the British Virgin Islands. Credit: Depositphotos

Possibly the No. 1 shore excursion is simply boating around the islands, which are clustered together and offer beautiful views. The major islands are Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Jost van Dyke and Anegada, plus many more. It is little wonder that BVI is a popular boating destination. Visitors can island hop via charter boat, ferry or airplane. For example, a four-hour shore excursion to Jost Van Dyke island plus beach time will cost about $80 to $100 per person including lunch. Longer sailing tours will cost $150 to $200 or more.

2) Baths at Virgin Gorda

The most famous natural attraction in the British Virgin Islands is made up of pools and grottoes created by boulders strewn across a beach. Swimmers and snorkelers can explore caves and rooms created by the boulders and lit by beaches of sunlight sneaking in from above the formations. Visitors to Road Town, Tortola, can take a $30 ferry to reach Virgin Gorda for a day trip. Snorkeling shore excursions cost about $85 or more per person.

3) Cane Garden Bay Beach

Cane Garden Bay Beach is the most famous and popular beach on Tortola island. A shore excursion will cost about $50 per person for a four-hour trip. The drive lasts about 15 minutes each way. A taxi is a better choice for budget travelers because the distance from the port is only about five miles. Another option is the pretty and quieter Beef Island, which is connected by causeway. A four-hour excursion including lunch and snorkeling equipment will cost about $100 or a little more.

4) Callwood Rum Distillery (Tortola)

The distillery at Cane Garden Bay possibly dates back to the 1700s and is the oldest continuously run distillery in the island chain. Some of the original buildings and even the original boiler are still being used to make rum. The old guard house also remains and is now being used as an art gallery and gift shop. It is open from 7:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The distillery is five miles west of the cruise port.

5) Forts Burt and Recovery (Tortola)

Forts Burt and Recovery are small ruins that may hold some interest for history buffs. Burt was originally built on a hill overlooking the harbor to defend Road Town. The English rebuilt it in 1776 and named it after William Burt, Governor of the Leeward Islands. The foundations and magazine remain of this historic ruin. The site is free and open daily. It is a two-mile walk 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.

Sailing among the islands is a popular BVI attraction. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license

6) Diamond Cay National Park (Jost Van Dyke)

Diamond Cay is a bird sanctuary and home to terns, boobies and pelicans. The island along with Sandy Cay, Sandy Spit, a portion of Little Jost Van Dyke, and the surrounding marine area have been included in a proposed protected area. The endangered leatherback turtle nests on Sandy Cay and two species of lizards live on Sandy Spit. Boaters can anchor close to reefs to go snorkeling or use a hiking trail on Sandy Cay.

7) Rhone Marine Park (Salt Island)

The Wreck of the Rhone is the only Marine National Park in the British Virgin Islands. It is the most celebrated dive site in the BVI and a major recreational attraction. The park includes examples of fringing reef habitat and seagrass beds.

The Wreck of the Rhone is the Royal Mail Steamer, which sank during the hurricane of 1867 with 125 people on board. The original ship was 310 feet long and 40 feet wide, but it now lies in two parts underwater. A large part of the ship is still intact and visible, including decking, rigging, steam engine and propeller. Commercial operators visit the park daily with divers. Other dive sites include Rhone Reef, Blonde Rock and Painted Walls.

8) Little Tobago/Great Tobago National Park (Great Tobago)

The Tobago Cays are two islands with rugged cliffs and sea beds that slope down 165 feet. Great Tobago is the only nesting site in the BVI for frigate birds. Nearby, divers can explore the waters around Mercurious Rock, with exceptional shoals of fish.

9) J.R. O’Neal Botanic Gardens (Tortola)

The four acres of J.R. O’Neal Botanic Gardens includes indigenous and exotic tropical plants, a pergola walk, lily pond, waterfall, tropical bird houses and miniature rain forests. It is less than a mile north of the Tortola cruise terminal on Botanic Road.

10) Gorda Peak National Park (Virgin Gorda)

Gorda Peak starts with a 1,000 foot contour and climbs up to the island’s highest point of 1,370 feet. The 265-acre park has a wide variety of indigenous and exotic plants and has been extensively reforested with mahogany trees. Visitors can use an observation tower at the top for spectacular views of the surrounding islands.

11) Joshua’s Bay Plantation (Tortola)

This former sugar factory was converted into a rum distillery in the early 20th century. Visitors can see original steam and diesel engines that powered the machinery. The history building also houses a restaurant, art gallery and store.

Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas. He is the author of four books about cruising in the Caribbean, Alaska and Mexican Riviera.
June 06, 2023

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