British Virgin Islands holidays

Experience British Virgin Islands

Best Places to Visit

One interesting place to spend a day at is North Shore Shell Museum at Carrot Bay on Tortola, which offers slightly more than its name suggests. While many of its exhibits are shells—which number into their thousands at the museum—it is also a venue for a variety of crafts, and has a number of boats on display too, as well as serving up delicious food. Add an amenable host, happy to share local folklore in plenty of detail, and it's an excellent all-round excursion during your stay on Tortola.

Fort Burt in Road Town, also on Tortola, is worth a visit too. Rebuilt in 1776 by the English, it is as old as the USA and took its name from the governor of the former Leeward Islands, William Burt. At a height of 20 feet above sea level, it would have been an imposing structure at the time, and was a key defensive position on the way to Road Harbour. Today, this elevation offers spectacular views of the surrounding area, including the harbour itself and the other nearby islands beyond it. You can also grab something to eat, with lunch and dinner services at the restaurant on the site.

More fortifications can be found at Little Fort National Park on Virgin Gorda, this time Spanish in origin, although you will have to hike from the shore along a fairly difficult trail to reach the ruined munitions store. Once there you can see the remnants of a magazine room, where the thick original stone walls have allowed it to weather the centuries without collapsing completely. Instead, it has been overgrown by vegetation, and this provides a good chance to see a number of epiphytes - plants that grow on one another, but without being parasitic. Back at the coast, look into the ocean at Valey Trunk Bay for a chance to see nesting turtles.

Finally, back on Tortola, consider a trip to Josiah's Bay Plantation, found at East End and originally a sugar factory. In the early 1900s the factory was converted into a rum distillery, with diesel and steam-powered engines to run the machinery. These remain on the site, an unusually industrial addition to an itinerary on the islands, and the historic building itself also remains standing. You can now eat in its restaurant, shop in its store or take a look at the exhibits in its art gallery.

Top Landmarks

Old Government House in Road Town, Tortola, is the former governor's residence, originally built in 1880 before being reconstructed in 1926. It has not been used as a private residence since 1996, but instead now serves as a museum that can easily be accessed on foot from anywhere in Road Town, or by walking west along Waterfront Drive from the cruise ship dock.

The Copper Mine on Virgin Gorda offers a surprising link with Cornwall in the UK. While copper was mined on the island in the early 1700s by the Spanish, this particular landmark was built by Cornish settlers in the 1800s, who had relocated after Cornwall's own mineral deposits began to be exhausted. Over 100 Cornish miners lived on Virgin Gorda, and the ruins of the Copper Mine, which closed in 1862, are a lasting symbol of their presence.

Head to Mount Healthy National Park for a unique landmark on Tortola - the island's only windmill. This was once part of a rich sugar plantation, spanning 250 acres of the island. Within its thick stone walls the sugarcane was ground and processed to form granulated sugar, which was shipped back to the UK for market. Mount Healthy is the last remaining windmill in the BVI, and actually remained in use after the abolition of the slave trade. Only a string of particularly bad hurricanes in the 1830s, followed by drought in the 1850s, severely impacted the local sugar trade and saw the windmill fall into disuse and disrepair.

Entertainment

British Virgin Islands holidays generally revolve around the stunning landscape, and this is a main source of entertainment for tourists, particularly along the coastline where watersports are one of the major pursuits. Snorkelling and diving allow you to get below the waves, surfing (including kite-surfing) and kayaking let you ride them, and bone fishing and deep-sea fishing give you the chance to pit your wits against the ocean's inhabitants.

On dry land there are plenty of options too, and many visitors are content simply to walk around and enjoy the sights, from a relaxing stroll across the sandy beaches to hiking into the hills. When walking through the towns and villages, the relatively small scale of the islands helps to keep everything within a comfortable distance - and should help to prevent you from getting lost, too.

Look out for a fungi band, sometimes known simply as a scratch band, for a flavour of the islands' own musical heritage. These specialise in the musical tradition of quelbe, played on improvised instruments including washboards and gourds. You may hear the strains of a cariso, the name given to a local folk song on the islands, or you might also hear the bamboula borrowed from nearby St Thomas.

There's often a dance to accompany a song, and on the BVI the traditional folk dance is called the quadrille, although this is rarely performed except on St Croix. Carisos, performed as late as the 1990s, are now also rarely heard except on holidays and as part of educational performances.

Dining Out

Experiencing the local cuisine on a British Virgin Islands holiday is something of a challenge - as a cultural melting pot over the ages, there are many different influences on the ingredients used, the recipes created and the dishes served throughout the islands.

Many meals come with noticeable North American influences, but with the addition of tropical flavours like fresh fruit. This meshes well with the Caribbean influences too, such as roti, a curry of meat and vegetables which is served wrapped in thin dough.

Papaya and mango are among the main fruits grown locally, along with gooseberries, tamarind and sugar apple. You may find these served as a snack in the form of a sweet stew, or incorporated into main dish recipes as described above.

Fungi—not mushrooms, but thick boiled cornmeal with okra—is a staple food, often served with boiled or salted fish, while a thick soup-stew containing meat, okra and bush leaves (sometimes replaced with spinach) is known as Callaloo.

In terms of ingredients, the local market provides its own challenges, as the main grocery stores only supply foreign imports to cater for the international tastes of local residents. For a true taste of local BVI produce, the open-air farmers' markets are the place to go for fruits, vegetables and animal produce alike.

Need to know

Language

English is the official language of the BVI, so you should have no problem being understood, and understanding anyone you meet there. Spanish is also widely spoken, so don't be surprised if you hear it during your stay. Also remember, the islands are a popular tourist destination for many countries, and with everyone in the same few resorts, there's a good chance you'll hear all kinds of worldwide languages being spoken on any given day.

Currency

The BVI are a British overseas territory, but they do not use sterling as their currency - you'll need US dollars. Cash, credit cards and travellers' cheques are accepted widely at businesses, but remember you may pay transaction fees and international exchange fees if using a UK credit card. ATMs are widely available, and the BVI Tourist Board maintains an updated list of their locations throughout the islands.

Visas

UK citizens generally do not need a visa to enter the BVI. You will need a valid passport that is more than six months from expiring - even if you are a British citizen. You'll also need to have already booked your return flight, and be able to prove that you have accommodation for the duration of your visit and the means to pay for yourself while you are there. By default you can stay for up to a month, but it's usually easy to get this extended to up to six months if necessary. Be aware that visitors are expected to pay a $20 'departure tax' when leaving the islands by either sea or air.

Climate

The British Virgin Islands have a sub-tropical climate, and that means for visitors from the UK, it will be warmer than most people are used to - in general, imagine the hottest of British summer days, and that is about average for the BVI. Temperatures are usually around 28C, with little variation even throughout the year. Winter lows are around 25C, while even the hottest days of summer rarely pass 32C, creating a warm but temperate climate.

Most tourists book package holidays to the British Virgin Islands in December to May, but this is more to do with the climate they are leaving behind in the cold winters of Europe and North America than it is with the temperatures in the islands. If you visit outside of this peak season, your experience will be largely the same, but you may be able to benefit from lower prices on accommodation, while diving enthusiasts will find an added bonus as the calmer weather from April to August creates favourable clear waters around the coast.

Main Airports

Arrival to the British Virgin Islands is via Beef Island. This area may well take its name from the meat, as Trellis Bay was the last stopping point, and stocking point, for many 18th century vessels which set sail carrying a smoked beef known as Boucan.

Now the island is the location of the former Beef Airport, now named the Terrance B Lettsome International Airport (EIS) and directly connected by bridge to Tortola. Routes into Beef Island originate from San Juan, Puerto Rico, or from St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands.

Flight Options

If you are travelling from the UK, the BVI Government's London office suggests first flying to Antigua, and from there finding an airline to fly you into the British Virgin Islands. Again, an alternative is to fly to St Thomas instead and make the transfer from US territory to British.

Travel Advice

The easiest way to get to the British Virgin Islands is via the island of Antigua. Many airlines offer direct flights from the UK, along with chartered flights to the Caribbean Islands. Other airports such as Virgin Gorda Airport and Anegada Auguste George Airport can be used to explore the islands or ferries in the area.

Other Transport Options

Finally, it might not be necessary to arrive into the BVI by plane at all - landing instead at St Thomas, as suggested above, can be an easier route, with the option of a ferry transfer to cover the distance by sea, rather than looking for a connecting flight to Beef Island.

Getting Around

The British Virgin Islands are quite easy to get around by land, sea or air, with good local transport links using all of the usual methods you might expect. A bit of careful planning should help to make sure your itinerary runs smoothly, but unplanned excursions shouldn't cause too many problems either.

Car

By road, you can take a taxi and will often have the option to pay by the hour or by the day. Some taxi drivers double as tour guides, and if it suits your budget, a day spent in the company of an experienced driver might be a good option. Cars can also be privately hired to drive yourself, but you must be over 25, and some mountain routes are steep and quite narrow.

Air

By air, there are charter flights between the different islands, although it is often better simply to catch a ferry. Ferry services run on a regular schedule between Tortola and the other islands. You can even charter a yacht.

MAP

BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS`S WEATHER TODAY

Mostly cloudy °C

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MONTHS

AVERAGE RAINFALL (mm)

  • 164

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  • 115

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  • 82

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MONTHS

FACTS

  1. As a British overseas territory, the British Virgin Islands' official flag is the Union Jack and the national anthem is God Save the Queen.
  2. On November 15th 1960, the territory adopted a flag of its own - blue with the Union Jack in the top-left corner and the Virgin Islands Coat of Arms to the right of middle.
  3. As recently as July 24th 2013, an official 'territorial song', effectively a local anthem, was adopted - Oh, Beautiful Virgin Islands, with words by Ayana Hull and music by Hull and her brother Kareem.

FACTS

  1. As a British overseas territory, the British Virgin Islands' official flag is the Union Jack and the national anthem is God Save the Queen.
  2. On November 15th 1960, the territory adopted a flag of its own - blue with the Union Jack in the top-left corner and the Virgin Islands Coat of Arms to the right of middle.
  3. As recently as July 24th 2013, an official 'territorial song', effectively a local anthem, was adopted - Oh, Beautiful Virgin Islands, with words by Ayana Hull and music by Hull and her brother Kareem.

Where to go in British Virgin Islands

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