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British Virgin Islands

British Virgin Islands Travel Tips

Cane Garden, Tortola, BVI
Beaches like Cane Garden offer one of the best reasons to visit BVI. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license

A British Virgin Islands vacation guarantees a quiet beach getaway. BVI isn’t nearly as busy as other Caribbean islands or as commercial.

The British Virgin Islands receive less than one third as many visitors each year as the nearby U.S. Virgin Islands, according to statistics from the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO). Only slightly more people visit BVI by cruise than for overnight vacations—about 400,000 a year each. The island chain ranks 14th in total Caribbean tourism, the CTO says.

The four main BVI islands are Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Jost Van Dyke and Anegada. The four also have the majority of the hotels and resorts. More than 60 islands total make up BVI. Tortola is the main port of call for cruise ships.

Tortola is the largest island in the chain at about 21 square miles. It has the most accommodations and things to do. It also has the main cruise port. Virgin Gorda is only eight square miles in size, makes an easy day trip from Tortola and has quiet beaches and coves.

The easy-going Jost Van Dyke has fewer than 200 inhabitants, a small number of hotels and likewise is easily accessible via boat or ferry. Anegada requires a quick flight from Tortola to experience the white sand beaches, snorkeling, diving and shipwrecks.

Because of the large total number of islands, BVI is unique among the eastern Caribbean islands for ways to ferry over to other islands on day trips.

Hotel and Resort Tips

Hotel and resort visitors usually fly into Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport. It is on Beef Island, which connects to Tortola via a causeway. Anyone who isn’t staying at a Tortola hotel or resort will likely ferry to other islands.

Most of the hotels and most of the least expensive hotels are on Tortola. More expensive and higher quality hotels are on a few of the outlying islands, such as Scrub Island, Peter Island and Jost Van Dyke.

BVI Attraction Tips

One of the most well-known attractions in BVI is the Baths at Virgin Gorda. They consist of pools and grottoes created by giant boulders piled up along the beach.

Visitors can swim or snorkel through caves and rooms created by the boulders. Adding to the uniqueness is shards of sunlight that peak through the boulders from above.

Otherwise, Tortola has most of the major attractions and shore excursions. Tortola tourist attractions include Dolphin Discovery with a chance to interact in the water with dolphins. The historic forts Burt and Recovery date back centuries.

Tortola’s Main Street is both a shopping and historic district that is common to Caribbean cruise ports. The Callwood Rum Distillery has been in operation since the 1700s and still uses the original boiler.

BVI has popular beaches including Long Bay and Cane Garden Bay on Tortola, White Bay on Jost Van Dyke, Loblolly Bay on Anegada and Deadman’s Bay on Peter Island.

Noteworthy standard attractions include scuba diving—the islands have been called one of the top five dive spots in the world. 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.

Among the parks is Rhone Marine Park at Salt Island. It is the only marine park in BVI thanks to the Wreck of the Rhone. The wreck is the Royal Mail Steamer, which sank with 125 people on board during the hurricane of 1867.

Tourism / When to Go

Lambert Beach on Tortola
Lambert Beach on Tortola. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license

The most popular months to visit are December and March followed by January, February and April, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organization.

The high number of visits during the winter and spring months is common in the Caribbean for northerners wanting to escape winter cold and snow.

The least popular month is September at the height of the Caribbean hurricane season, the CTO reports. October and August also are unpopular times to go because of weather risks.

U.S. and Canadian overnight visitors require a passport or an original or notarized copy of their birth certificate and photo ID. Cruise visitors simply need to have their ship ID cards available when leaving the ship and returning.

BVI Weather

The average daily temperature year-round is in the low 80s. Average highs reach about 90 Fahrenheit during the summer and about 85 Fahrenheit during the winter.

The season for occasional hurricanes and tropical storms is July to October. Rainfall averages less than two inches a month from January through March and more than five inches a month from September through November.

The climate is subtropical and humid with temperatures moderated by trade winds.

Getting Around / Transportation

Taxi service is available on Tortola and Virgin Gorda, according to the BVI Tourism Authority. Rates are available online at the BVI tourism website.

Car rental agencies are located at Tortola, West End, airport and several other locations on Tortola.

Both ferries and smaller water taxis operate throughout the islands. Some operate only within BVI islands while others travel between BVI and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Currency / Tipping / Taxes

The U.S. Dollar is the standard currency. Service tipping is normal in the Caribbean at 10-15 percent.

Most hotels add a service charge. Give porters and bellboys $1 per bag. Major credit cards are accepted at most places.

There is no sales tax, but there is a 7 percent hotel accommodation tax.

Culture / Geography

English is the official language and Christianity the dominant religion.

The economy is one of the healthiest in the Caribbean with 45 percent of the Gross Domestic Product depending on tourism.

The geography consists of coral islands that are relatively flat and volcanic islands that are steep and hilly.

Other Facts

  • Calling code: from the U.S., dial 1 (284); from United Kingdom, dial 001 (284)
  • Airport: Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport (EIS)
  • Driving: Anyone staying for less than 30 days is not required to buy a temporary driver’s license.
  • Medical care: Peebles Hospital is a public facility on Tortola; additional health clinics are available
  • Local banks: Bank of Nova Scotia, National Bank of the Virgin Islands,Banco Popular de Puerto Rico, VP Bank (BVI), First Caribbean International, First Bank Virgin Islands.

Sources / More information

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.
July 20, 2023

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