At a Glance
The British Virgin Islands is a self-governing overseas territory of the United Kingdom that includes more than 60 islands and cays within a 58-square-mile radius. Of the 60 islands, 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 fall in love with white-sand beaches and to be charmed by the friendly "Belongers" (the BVI locals), who go out of their way to welcome newcomers to the islands. In general, the British Virgin Islands provide a laid-back paradise where the drinks are poured heavy, the fish is caught fresh, and shoes are almost always optional.
When to Go
The tropical climate means that temperatures don't vary much: 79–88 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer versus 72–82 in the winter. Thus, it’s best to plan your BVI visit with regard to the season-specific downsides that you want to avoid: hurricane season (May to October) or peak tourist season (November to April).
Traveling to the British Virgin Islands by plane requires a connection from another Caribbean island, as there are no direct flights to the BVI from the United States, Canada, Europe, or South America. Most travelers route through San Juan, Puerto Rico using Cape Air or Seaborne. Arriving by boat is a bit easier. 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). With more than 60 islands to explore, the best way to travel around the BVI is by boat. Ferries, charter boats, and water taxis run regularly between the larger islands: Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Jost Van Dyke, and Peter Island. You can rent a car on Tortola, and most of the larger islands have reliable, affordable, and comfortable taxi services. Finally, airlines such as Caribbean Wings and Air Sunshine make it easy to travel from island to island on a chartered plane. Plan your island-hopping excursions seamlessly with BVI Tourism’s online planning feature: http://www.bvitourism.com/island-hopping.
Food and Drink
The British Virgin Islands is home to many renowned restaurants, mostly 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 that is based on the classic Indian flatbread. Rum is the alcoholic drink of choice there are plenty of specialty rum cocktails to try—including the reliable rum punch and such potent delights as the Bushwacker and the Painkiller.
Despite being a British territory, the culture in the BVI is a mash-up of American, East Indian, Dutch, and African traditions. Basketball is more popular than cricket, and bush tea (an herbal tea made from native plants) is genearlly preferrable to black tea. Local fungi bands replete with guitars, ukuleles, washtub basses, scratch gourds, and triangles play every festival on the islands, and you’ll often see folk dance troupes dancing to the beat of their European and African melodies.
What the Locals Know
The British Virgin Islands operates on the U.S. dollar, and most businesses accept cash, credit cards, and traveler’s checks. 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. All visitors who arrived on their own boat must retain valid registration papers during their stay in the BVI. Ferries and charter flights operate less frequently after 4 p.m., so anyone arriving in Tortola’s Terrence B. Lettsome Airport (EIS) in the late afternoon should check with their hotel to ensure that transportation will be available.
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