Monday, March 14, 2016

So You Want to Visit the British Virgin Islands?

Ever since 'officially' relocating to the British Virgin Islands (known more casually as the BVI) I have gotten a flurry of emails from friends, family and followers wondering how to make their tropical vacation dreams come true. If you are one such person, this post is for you!

Before I delve into the details (bearing in mind I am no travel agent and a newbie here myself!), a little bit about this place: The British Virgin Islands are located in the Northeastern Caribbean and feature an archipelago of over fifty islands, cays and islets. We are a quick ferry from St. Thomas or St. John, a short (40 minute) plane ride from San Juan, Puerto Rico, and St. Maarten is an overnight sail to the east. If a tropical paradise is what you are seeking, look no further. The weather here is equatorial - hovering around 82 degrees on average -and the sun shines every day with the heat perfectly moderated by the balmy trade winds that blow daily. The beaches are amazing, the water is spectacular, and the outlying islands beautiful. From kiteboarding to sailing, spa-hopping to lounging, there is truly something for everyone here.

Four predominant islands provide the main attraction to the BVI: Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada and Jost Van Dyke. The capital, Road Town, is nestled in the middle of Tortola - the largest island - which is 12 miles long by 3 miles wide. Each island is unique, with distinguishing vibes and attractions. It's no wonder that every week I meet someone who tells me they've been coming to these parts for twenty years and have no inclination to stop or go elsewhere.

If you are curious about visiting this incredible place dubbed "Nature's Little Secret," then read on and I can help point you in the right direction (hint: it's south). There are many links throughout this article to help you navigate further because, as I said, I am no expert and still am new here myself. That said, here's what I know...

When To Come?
November to May is a great window to visit, with various "high peaks" within that time frame (like Christmas, spring break, etc). This is our "winter" and while temperatures are still hot and tropical (just how we like it!) they are comfortable thanks to the moderating trade winds. While hurricane season technically begins in June and continues through November, vacationers still flock here to take advantage of "off season" pricing. June and July see a boost of the "summer travelers" and the BVI Tourist Board are currently working on ways to make this place more enticing to families during this time by offering "kid free" perks and such. The months of August and September are the slowest (and hottest), and also happen to be the most "active" hurricane months. If you travel within the hurricane window there will always be a risk of a storm putting a real damper on your holiday, so trip insurance might be wise. For more information on when to come, read this article on the Best Times to Visit the BVI.

How To Get Here?
We island hopped here all the way from Chicago the first time we came through, the second time we sailed directly from the Bahamas and the third time we came across from St. Maarten. But I am guessing you are looking for a quicker mode of transport. There are a few ways to get here that I know of, with most people coming first to the main island of Tortola, and getting local ferries to shuttle them to the neighboring islands:
  1. Fly direct to Beef Island, Tortola: Because our island is small, our airport follows suit and therefore we cannot host large jumbo jets and planes from the US and Europe. Most flights coming in are on small planes or puddle jumpers from neighboring islands with larger facilities (such as Puerto Rico, St. Thomas or St. Maarten). As such, this option is usually the more expensive because it involves an international flight and a small local flight. Because we travel with small kids we have always gone this route, and typically fly Chicago > Puerto Rico > Beef Island. 
  2. Fly to St. Thomas and Ferry to Tortola: The cheaper way to travel here is usually to fly direct to St. Thomas and take a quick, 45 minute ferry over to the British Virgin Islands. While this route is a bit more time consuming and cumbersome, it can save quite a bit of money. You must plan your flight accordingly, however, as ferry times can be limiting so make sure you arrive at the airport with plenty of time to get you down to the ferry dock so you can make your ferry and don't end up having to pay for a hotel in St. Thomas. Also note: YOU WILL NEED YOUR PASSPORTS to get on the ferry. Make sure to have them ready.

Where To Stay?
There are SO many options on every island and I cannot possible outline every one. But people who vacation here usually do one of three things:
  1. Charter a boat: There is no doubt that these islands are best explored by water. The BVI are one of (if not the) top charter destination in the world and there is good reason for it. Tropical climate, consistent trade winds and an archipelago of beautiful islands that create a relatively protected body of water all combine to make this place a sailor's paradise. If you already know how to sail, you can easily rent a boat for your vacation. As far as budget is concerned, there are options for every level. The most economical is to bareboat (captain the boat yourself), but pricing will be determined by the size and type of vessel you rent (larger boat = more money, catamaran > monohull, etc.). Don't know how to sail but want to travel by sea anyway? Charter a crewed boat. On these charters you will have a captain and, if you choose, a chef on board. The more crew, the more money you will be spending, and these crewed charters can range from the simple to the luxurious. Do your research and make sure to book in advance. Nanny Cay is home to Horizon Yacht Charters and many of our friends work there, so we can vouch for them. Not into sailing and prefer motor yachts? That's okay too! Our good friends run Virgin Traders (also located here in Nanny Cay), offering luxury powerboats ranging from 44-68 feet for both bareboat and crewed charter.
  2. Rent a private Villa or Condo: This is a great option for folks more of the land-lubbing variety. The options are endless, and first and foremost you will want to decide what island you want to stay on, bearing in mind day trips to most islands of the BVI are easily arranged. On Tortola, we work closely with Agape Cottages and can vouch that they have great facilities and are located a short walk from one of the islands's most captivating and bustling beach areas (and my personal favorite), Cane Garden Bay. If you go this route, it might be wise to rent a car as well. Our island doesn't have a bus system and taxis can get expensive. Just remember we drive on the left side of the road!
  3. Stay at one of the many fine Resorts and Hotels: Once again, there is no shortage of resorts and hotels here to chose from, all offering an array of services from basic to all-inclusive to serve a variety of budgets. From one star efficiency to five star exclusive, the BVI have it all. We live at the Nanny Cay Resort and Marina which boasts a hotel, pool, beach and child-friendly atmosphere - as well as a bustling marina community- and it's a great option for the more budget conscious. Looking for something a little more special? Surfsong Resort, Long Bay Beach Club and Sugarmill Hotel are amazing places that offer five star services and accommodations for the most discerning of traveler. But don't stop there, there are so many options - do some research and find what would be the best fit for your budget, time frame and travel companions.

What To Do?
While some might simply want to unplug and get a healthy dose of R&R during their stay here (and there is no shame in that!), if you are the more active type who isn't prone to lounging - there are plenty of activities to keep you busy! Filling a week with activity to counter the 'chill-out' vibe that is so prevalent here will be no problem. Here are just a few suggestions that will be sure to fill your days and leave you wanting more:
  1. Dive into Pardise  - The water here is amazing and the diving and snorkeling excellent. There are a ton of dive companies, and every main island has at least one to chose from. Blue Water Divers is located here at Nanny Cay, and have a great range of trips from night dives to wreck dives.
  2. Beach Comb - the beaches here are amazing. Whether you like the bustling vibe of a beach lined with chairs and bars, or prefer your own private paradise - it's all here. Grab a towel, kick off your flip flops and enjoy.
  3. Island Hop -  Aside from the five main islands of the BVI, there are about fifty others to explore. Rent a day boat or hop aboard the Rebel Yell Power Catamaran and explore! You can hit the beaches and bars of Jost van Dyke during the day, head for sundowners and the nightly Tarpon show at Saba Rock, explore the magic and mystery of The Baths on Virgin Gorda, or zip over to Cooper Island Beach Club for a killer dinner...the options are endless!
  4. Party Hardy - One thing we know how to do here is party. And where do we party? Beach bars. Some of the most famous shoreside haunts in the world are located right here in the BVI. Jump off the legendary Willy T at Norman Island (technically not a beach bar, but a floating bar!), listen to live bands or Foxy himself at Foxy's or swim up to the Soggy Dollar Bar on Jost van Dyke, and dance your heart out at Myett's on Tortola. If a rum-fueled party is what you seek, you have struck gold here! If you are really looking to throw down, time your trip with the full moon and party at the infamous Bomba Shack or any number of full moon parties these islands offer. Oh, and don't forget to sample our famous local drink - the Painkiller, it's delicious. But be careful, mixers are more expensive than rum here so they pack a real punch!
  5. Water Sports - It's all about the water, and here - fun on the water is never far. You can learn to Kiteboard in Virgin Gorda, rent a paddle board in Cane Garden Bay, sail a Hobie Cat at the Bitter End and, if conditions are right, you can even catch a world class surfing wave here! Of course the snorkeling is awesome just about everywhere, so don't forget the mask and snorkel and jump in to have your mind blown!
  6. Learn to Sail - Dreaming of sailing off into the sunset but don't quite know how to sail yet? Minor detail! Why not learn to sail while you are here? There are a number of great sailing schools that offer anywhere from one day to week long courses. Tortola Sailing School offers a whole host of American Sailing Association accredited courses, as does the Rob Swain Sailing School (which is located right here at Nanny Cay) - request my bad-ass friend, Keanna, as an instructor! If you are a woman and would prefer to learn in the company of other females, then the Sistership Sailing School (also at Nanny Cay!) is for you! Warning: Learning to sail in paradise has long-lasting side effects and you might just sell it all and end up on a boat like we did!
  7. Partake in a Local Event or Festival - Islanders like to have a good time, and the BVI are no exception. Enjoying a local event is a great and unique way to experience a place. There are a ton of local festivals, events and regattas to enjoy - check out the schedule and see if there are any that coincide with your visit, or that you'd like to plan your trip around!
  8. Hike the Hills - If you want to stretch your legs and get some exercise here, hiking is a great way to do it. Tortola, the largest of all the islands, has some great hikes - most of which are on or around the beautiful Sage Mountain National Park. But you can find a trail to explore on most any island.
  9. Day Sail - If you are vacationing on land, you *MUST* book a day, or several days, to get out on the water and see some of the other islands. A great way to do this is by booking a day sail and (*cough cough*)... and we just so happen to run the #1 Day Sail Company in the BVI, Aristocat Charters. Our trips are full day, include three stops and are all inclusive... soda, beer, rum punch and a freshly prepared (and very delicious) buffet lunch are all included, as are the snorkel equipment and paddleboards. Did I mention we have the best crew in the BVI as well? Because we do! Bring a towel and some sunscreen, and be prepared to have the best day of your BVI vacation with us!
  10. Rest and Relaxation - Sometimes, people come to our neck of the woods to unwind and do nothing. Pamper yourself at one of the many full-service spas here and enjoy the many amenities of the fabulous resorts. If lounging by the pool with that book you've been meaning to read is all you want to do while you are here, then do it. Park yourself somewhere with a beautiful view, feel gentle breeze on your skin, bask with the sun on your skin and simply relax. You deserve it.
I hope this is helpful for those of you considering the BVI for your next vacation. We absolutely love living here and sharing this place with others is a pleasure, so we hope to see you down here sooner than later! Remember, the lower the latitude, the better the attitude...

Other resources:
BVI Tourism
Ultimate BVI
BVI Newbie
Escape BVI

BVI Tour Center


Unknown said...

Thanks Brittany. I sent your article to my executive team.

Posh, Broke, & Bored said...

The British Virgin Islands are a travel destination that I've not considered before - all my Caribbean adventures have only been in Cuba so far - even though the name has always been in the back of my mind. I can see why it's 'Nature's Little Secret' - those turquoise waters look breathtaking! Definitely one to add to my bucket list! x

Jasiminne: Posh, Broke, & Bored

K said...

We were in the BVI's a few years ago.....DEFINATELY a good spot for rest and relaxation.

Island Time said...

Thanks for this great article. We are coming to Tortola in June to attend Rob Swains Sailing School. Your blog is amping us up for our first step toward living the cruising lifestyle. I imagine there is a good possibility we will see you at the Marina when we are there....cheers, and thanks for sharing your experiences!

Craig and Jen

Unknown said...

What a wonderful BVI review. I've sailed there a handful of times but I learned a lot from your post.


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