The British Virgin Islands
Scattered to the east of the U.S. Virgin Islands, the BVI is a self-governing overseas territory of the United Kingdom with more than 60 islands and cays. Only 15 are inhabited, including the four main islands of Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, and Jost Van Dyke. The BVI is known as one of the world’s greatest sailing destinations, and numerous charter boats and ferry services make island-hopping a breeze. Visitors can expect to be charmed by white-sand beaches and the friendly “Belongers” (the BVI locals), who go out of their way to welcome newcomers to the islands.
When’s the best time to go to The British Virgin Islands?
Temperatures don’t vary much throughout the year: 79–88 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer versus 72–82 in the winter. As a result, it’s best to plan your BVI trip with regard to the season-specific downsides you want to avoid. Peak tourist season runs from late November through early April and hurricane season is officially May through October, although May and June can be two of the nicest and most affordable months of the year to visit.
How to get around The British Virgin Islands
Traveling to the British Virgin Islands by plane requires a connection from another Caribbean island, as there are no direct flights from the United States, Canada, Europe, or South America. Most travelers route through San Juan, Puerto Rico, using Cape Air or Seaborne, but you can also connect in St. Thomas, Antigua, and St. Maarten.
Arriving by boat is a bit easier, especially if you’re coming from Red Hook on St. Thomas, USVI. There are BVI Customs and Immigration offices at the ports in Road Town (Tortola), West End (Tortola), Great Harbour (Jost Van Dyke), St. Thomas Bay (Virgin Gorda), and Gun Creek (Virgin Gorda).
Once in the BVI, the ideal way to travel around the many islands is by boat. Ferries, charter boats, and water taxis run regularly between the larger islands of Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Jost Van Dyke, and Peter Island. If you’d rather fly, airlines like Caribbean Wings and Air Sunshine make it easy to travel from island to island on a chartered plane. BVI Tourism’s interactive map is the best way to seamlessly plan your island-hopping excursions. For getting around on land, you can rent a car on Tortola or use the reliable, affordable taxi services on most of the larger islands.
Can’t miss things to do in The British Virgin Islands
- The farthest flung of the BVIs, Anegada is a tiny, flat island surrounded by some of the region’s most vividly blue water. Spend a night in a funky but swish thatched-roof tent on stilts at the Anegada Beach Club for a chance to explore the island’s iguana sanctuary, lagoons filled with flamingos, and herds of docile wild cows.
- Fill a whole day exploring Gorda Peak National Park on Virgin Gorda. Laurence Rockefeller bequeathed the 250 acres of Caribbean dry rain forest to the BVI in 1974, and now it’s a favorite spot for hiking, picnicking, and enjoying sweeping views from the shade of a mango tree, surrounded by hummingbirds, butterflies, and tiny geckos.
- Also on Virgin Gorda, the Baths are a natural playground formed through centuries of volcanic activity. The oceanfront boulders and rock pools make a delightful place to spend the afternoon, winding through the crevices between rocks or snorkeling in the natural caves, tunnels, and grottoes that dot the landscape.
- Don’t miss out on local street food on any of the islands, especially all the different preparations of the ubiquitous conch. Fresh from its enormous pink shell, it’s not the most appetizing of critters, but once thinly sliced it’s delicious in ceviche, on top of a salad, or imbued with smoke from a wood-fired grill.
Food and drink to try in The British Virgin Islands
- The British Virgin Islands is home to many renowned restaurants, mainly concentrated on Tortola, Jost Van Dyke, and Virgin Gorda. Unsurprisingly, seafood is the highlight on most menus. One iconic local dish is “fish and fungi,” which consists of boiled fish and a polenta-style mixture of cornmeal and okra.
- You’ll also find food from around the Caribbean, including Trinidadian roti, a wrap based on classic Indian flatbread.
- Rum is the drink of choice and there are plenty of specialty cocktails to try, including the reliable rum punch and potent delights like the Bushwacker (a creamy, chocolate-flavored drink similar to a piña colada) and Painkiller (made with rum, orange and pineapple juice, cream of coconut, and nutmeg).
Culture in The British Virgin Islands
Despite being a British territory, the BVI is a mash-up of American, East Indian, Dutch, and African cultural traditions. Basketball is more popular than cricket, and bush tea (an herbal brew made from native plants) is favored over black tea. Local scratch (aka fungi) bands with guitars, ukuleles, washtub basses, gourds, and triangles play every festival on the islands, and you’ll often see folk dance troupes grooving to the beat of European and African melodies.
- The British Virgin Islands operates on the U.S. dollar, and most businesses accept cash and credit cards.
- Locals generally adhere to the formality of addressing a person as “Mr.,” “Mrs.,” or “Miss,” and you’ll rarely hear them shouting someone’s name from far away—it’s considered bad manners.
- Ferries and charter flights operate less frequently after 4 p.m., so anyone arriving to Tortola’s Terrence B. Lettsome Airport (EIS) in the late afternoon should check with their hotel to ensure onward transportation will be available.
- As of May 15, 2021, fully vaccinated travelers with a negative PCR test taken within five days of traveling do not need to quarantine upon arrival. However, they do need to have completed a Travel Authorisation Certificate no less than 48 hours before travel, pay a $105 per person fee (children under five are free), and be tested once upon arrival (results are available within 24 hours).
Essentials by travel writer and editor David Jefferys (@dcjnyc). Required Eating by food and travel writer Laine Doss (@lainedoss). Things to Do by travel journalist Brian Major (@BMajorTraveling). Hotels coverage by travel and food writer Lori A. May (@loriamay). Best Beaches by travel writer Terry Ward (@TerryWardWriter).