Made up collectively of 60 islands and cays collectively, island hopping doesn’t come easier than it does in the British Virgin Islands. Thanks to famously calm seas and fair trade winds, it’s a breeze to cruise around the breathtaking archipelago, making the BVI a paradise for novice sailors, experts, and charter guests alike. For those without a private vessel, the islands—many of which are less than an hour apart—are also accessible by ferries and water taxis. Now, with a new American Airlines route providing daily nonstop service from Miami, traveling to the BVI is simpler than ever, too.
Exploring by boat enables travelers to see more of what these remarkable isles, including the four main islands of Tortola, Anegada, Virgin Gorda, and Jost Van Dyke, have to offer. Whether you’re seeking an adrenaline-pumping hike or a relaxing day on the beach, it’s possible to hop from dock to dock in search of the perfect itinerary (and Painkiller cocktail). Here’s how to make the most of your vacation when visiting these tropical, unspoiled islands.
Explore the heart of the BVI on Tortola
The capital isle of Tortola is most travelers’ first stop, acting as an excellent introduction to the BVI’s culture and natural wonders. Anchorages at Soper’s Hole, Brandywine Bay, and Trellis Bay provide top-notch origin points for sailing; Nanny Cay Marina will be hosting the upcoming BVI Spring Regatta and Sailing Festival from April 1-7, 2024. One of the Caribbean’s premier annual racing events with 90 yachts from around the world, it has developed a reputation for serious competition and celebration alike.
You’ll discover much of the island’s action on iconic Cane Garden Bay, known for its turquoise water, where you can kayak, surf, or snorkel from the beach. Stick around Quito’s Gazebo, a vibrant beachside restaurant, for reggae beats and delicious cracked conch. Afterward, taste Tortola’s past at the family-run, 400-plus-year-old Callwood Rum Distillery, the oldest continuously operated pot distillery in the Caribbean. Further ashore, outdoor enthusiasts can hike the trails at Sage Mountain National Park, home to the highest peak in the U.S. and British Virgin Islands or head offshore to the North and South Drops for world-class game fishing.
Where to Stay: For those arriving by boat, Nanny Cay Resort & Marina has one of the most convenient locations in the BVI. Those seeking privacy will love the tranquil hideaway of Nora Hazel Point, a stylish estate on the island’s quiet side. Nestled on the scenic northern coast of Tortola, Long Bay Beach Resort offers beachside massages, and recently announced the opening of renovated tennis and pickleball courts.
Soak up Virgin Gorda’s natural beauty
Widely considered one of the most beautiful islands in the Caribbean, Virgin Gorda brims with untouched beaches, nature sanctuaries, and gin-clear water. Its most popular attraction is undoubtedly The Baths National Park, where towering granite boulders (some as large as 40 feet) form a series of maze-like rock pools, grottos, and tunnels. Hike down the short trail through the Baths toward picturesque Devil’s Bay National Park to swim and snorkel on the tranquil, horseshoe-shaped beach. Afterward, you’ll have earned a potent Painkiller cocktail at Top of the Baths, a restaurant and bar with panoramic views of the BVI.
A short boat ride away from many of the islands’ most iconic dive sites, including the infamous RMS Rhone—one of the most popular wrecks in the Caribbean—Virgin Gorda is the perfect homebase for a scuba diving adventure with top outfitters like Dive BVI and Sunchaser Scuba. Celebrate more of BVI’s maritime treasures during BVI Wreck Weekfrom June 16–22, 2024.
Travelers have their pick of resorts on Virgin Gorda and its surrounding cays. Stay at Rosewood Little Dix Bay, one of the most sustainable eco-resorts in BVI, or at Saba Rock Resort situated in the center of the “North Sound Playground” favored by divers, kiteboarders, and sailors. Nearby, Bitter End Yacht Club offers a full lineup of watersports and the North Sound’s oldest watering hole. If you prefer traveling by air, Oil Nut Bay recently received approval for a heliport (available exclusively to its homeowners and guests) which will allow direct flights and day trips to St. Thomas, Puerto Rico, St. Barths, St. Maarten, Anguilla, and other nearby islands.
Tap into your wild side on Anegada
Anegada is known for the Anegada Horseshoe Reef, which shelters the low-lying coral island, collectively covering approximately 133km.
When you aren’t diving or snorkeling in search of shipwrecks and tropical reef fish, you can visit the famous Conch Mounds—towering dunes of empty shells first formed by the Arawak people thousands of years ago. Other popular activities include, learning to kitesurf with Tommy Gaunt, horseback riding with Francis Family Farms, and admiring the flamingos at the Anegada Salt Ponds.
Finish the day with a sunset stroll on Cow Wreck Beach, where visitors can walk for miles without seeing another person. With water reaching only waist deep, it’s the perfect spot to take a dip and lounge in the sand. For dinner, savor fresh lobster at Sid’s Pomato Point or enjoy your own catch; Anegada has some of the best fishing in all the BVI. If you’re visiting during November 24–26, 2023, be sure to stop by for the 11th-annual Anegada Lobster Festival.
Go glamping in the beachfront palapa retreats at Anegada Beach Club or book one of Ann’s Guest Housesoverlooking Cow Wreck Beach. Four Diamonds Park Villas offers luxury accommodations overlooking the ocean and the saltwater Flamingo Ponds.
Get away from it all on Jost Van Dyke
Despite its diminutive size, Jost Van Dyke packs plenty to see and do in its lush three square miles. You won’t find more idyllic oceanside dining in the BVI, particularly on White Bay Beach, a long stretch of pristine white sand dotted with award-winning bars. Most notably, White Bay is home to Soggy Dollar, the birthplace of the legendary Painkiller, where travelers typically swim up from their boats leaving their dollars soggy when it comes time to pay for the drinks.
Afterward, enjoy a meal of conch fritters or chicken roti at Hendo’s Hideout. Foxy’s, a Jost Van Dyke institution known for its BBQ and annual New Year’s Eve party, is the perfect spot to fill up on fresh Mahi-Mahi and BBQ ribs before dancing the night away to live music.
Take time to sail around Jost Van Dyke’s magical, rugged coastline and look for playful bottlenose dolphins and other marine life. Before leaving, stop at Sandy Cay, a 14-acre nature reserve once owned by Laurence S. Rockefeller and an important nesting site for endangered sea turtles and birds, such as the bridled tern.
Situated on one of the Caribbean’s top-rated beaches, The Hideout in White Bay is Jost Van Dyke’s first luxury boutique resort. Groups can rent Glass House BVI, an off-the-grid villa that sleeps 12. Those looking to keep the party going can check into the island’s newest accommodations, Sandcastle Hotel, located at the world-famous Soggy Dollar. Anegada is known for the Anegada Horseshoe Reef, which shelters the low-lying coral island, collectively covering approximately 133km.