British Virgin Islands guide
British Virgin Islands at a glance
THE BVI are sixty small but stunningly beautiful islands in the north-eastern Caribbean, grouped mostly around the Sir Francis Drake Channel; not that easily accessible, but once you are there, they are some of the finest sailing grounds in the world. Tortola, the main island, is quite developed, some are extremely dozy, others contain nothing but a luxurious hotel. The BVI has superb beaches, on the main islands and on offshore cays (many to sail to), and a beach bar in virtually every cove. There is a small number of first-rate hotels, good depth with a few inns and some excellent villas.
Read about BVI history, population and politics in Island Essentials.
The Definitive British Virgin Island Guide gives you independent reviews, listings, and information from top travel journalists and Caribbean specialists.
- Best for:
- Day sails and yacht charters, scuba diving, breathtaking seascapes, great beach life, romantic hotels
- What for:
- Beach, Sailing & Regattas, Weddings & Romance, Yacht Charters
- Not for:
- All-inclusive, Cricket, Golf, Solo Travel, Naturist
- How to get there:
- via Antigua, Puerto Rico, St Maarten and St Thomas.
- Top tip:
- Try twinning with a few days stay in Puerto Rico or Antigua
British Virgin Islands in depth
About THE BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS (BVI)...
The British Virgin Islands are some of the finest sailing grounds in the world. They are a score of islands just a few miles from one another, with good anchorages and reliable, year-round Tradewinds of ten to twenty knots. And they are exceptionally beautiful too, even by Caribbean standards. Columbus was impressed enough to name them after St Ursula and her eleven, some say 11,000 virgins. At any rate, they are stunning as you sail among them. Some are volcanic monsters that soar as you approach and subside as you silently cruise away. Others are almost cartoon desert islands, spits of sand with just a few palms that might disappear in a high tide.
There are many variations on the sailing theme. You can set your own sails and cook for yourself in a bareboat, or you can hire a crewed yacht and be looked after, in anything from a relatively simple sailing yacht to a gin palace with helicopter landing pad and a small legion of staff. Either way, you cruise from bay to bay, stopping to snorkel or for a leisurely lunch, before moving on to another anchorage by nightfall, and to yet another bar. There is a bar in almost every bay in the BVI, some lively and others classic, dozy Caribbean shacks.
Some say that if you don’t spend some time on the water you’re missing the point of the BVI, but there is plenty more on offer than simply sailing. The beaches are superb, the watersports (including snorkelling and scuba) are good and there are plenty of good restaurants and of course a host of classic Caribbean bars. There are a few extremely luxurious hotels, now with spas, some even on their own private islands. Surprisingly there is not that much depth of reliable accommodation, but at the lower end of the price scale you will find some comfortable and affordable self-catering units where you can have a nice break looking after yourself.
Having spent most of its history as a group of poor outcrops whose main export was a few crops and its people, the BVI is currently more prosperous than it has ever been. In addition to its successful tourism industry, it now has a considerable offshore finance sector. And as the business has come in, so the population has rocketed, doubling since 1980 to 22,000. A few of the newcomers are returning BV Islanders, but 80% of the population is made up of foreign residents and they come from all over the world, including many West Indians from ‘down island’.
The BVI is a relatively sophisticated place and it is by no means cheap. With all the infrastructure of a cleverly created industry, most of the islands have lost the innocence that you will still find elsewhere around the Caribbean. And there is relatively little island culture left, in Tortola at least, though they are diligently restoring the few windmills and nice old Caribbean buildings that remain. Tortola is a busy, developed and overwhelmingly modern Caribbean island. Virgin Gorda is much less developed and still has a dozy, West Indian air to it, but if you want to experience traditional, simple BVI life you need to go to Jost van Dyke and Anegada, which are still barely touched.
Of course the BVI is well set up for travellers to have fun and it does this well. The entertainment is good, in bars used by resident sailors and offshore finance wizards, and there are some good restaurants too. The entertainment itself can be top-knotch jazz, a home-grown band in a beach bar, Caribbean calypso, or even a variety show with a comedy interlude. But best of all in the BVI is of course to be out on the water, as you sail from a lively stopover, a bay full of bars with music and entertainment, to a tiny island or a remote cove, where you will find a sense of utter peace and seclusion.
This Definitive Guide about the British Virgin Islands (BVI), with over seventy topics, is put together and maintained by top travel writers together with our own in-house team of Caribbean specialists. Our independent reviews give in-depth coverage about the BVI, its accommodation, things to do, places to see, getting around, how to get there and links for travel to the island.
Contributors to the guide include Jane Anderson, Deana Bellamy, Feona Gray, Sara Macefield, and Alex Wright (main original contributor). Our picture editor is Holly Cocker. Senior picture editor, Alexander Gray.
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British Virgin Islands weather
Looking for inspiration?
- Charter a yacht and sail by day, bar hop at night
- Marvel at the massive boulders at The Baths, Virgin Gorda
- Chill out at the Fireball Full Moon Party, Trellis Bay
- Enjoy a beach villa holiday with the family
- Scuba Dive Sir Francis Drake Channel