The British Virgin Islands are probably not the first destination that comes to mind when you think “Caribbean”. But these friendly islands should come to the top of your list if you’re looking for an incredible vacation which is ostentatious in beauty, but not in attitude.
Like most Caribbean islands, the BVIs are full of sun, sand and sea. But each island in the BVIs has something unique to offer. More important, the vibe here is gentler and more laid-back than most other Caribbean islands. Whether you choose a high-end holiday or something a little easier on the wallet, you can just relax and not worry about pretentiousness.
Jost Van Dyke is a tiny place, and a destination like no other. Join one of the fewer than 250 inhabitants and stroll down a road made of sand in the shade of rustling palm trees. Visit the Bubbly Pool, a rock pool that absorbs ocean waves to create a kind of natural Jacuzzi. Relax on one of the gorgeous beaches. Snorkel or SCUBA in the clear blue waters.
But save your energy for the evenings. If you’re in White Bay, sip Painkillers at the Soggy Dollar Bar, where these drinks originated and were perfected (stay at the affiliated Sandcastle Hotel if you’re worried about the walk to bed). At Great Harbour, you’ll want to listen to Foxy sing and tell jokes at his namesake Foxy’s, while eating something grilled in the Grillzebo and drinking a Sly Fox, then a Dread Fox, and then one of their four microbrews.
If you can bear to leave Jost Van Dyke, set sail for Virgin Gorda. This island is said to be named by Christopher Columbus, who thought the island looked like a fat (gorda) woman lying on her side.
One of the most impressive places on Virgin Gorda is The Baths. Giant granite boulders — some on land, some in the sea, and some on top of each other — have arranged themselves to make an explorer’s dream. You’ll feel like a little kid as you climb ladders and duck into grottoes, peer into tide pools and discover pathways, both wet and dry. Bring your snorkel!
Your relaxation needs on Virgin Gorda will be well-served at the Bitter End Yacht Club. At this North Sound luxury resort, you’ll receive top service but no one will expect you to put anything but sunscreen on your bare feet.
Go beyond these two magnificent isles and visit:
Tortola, the capital and largest island (essential if you need a bank machine, but also with museums, historical sites, water sports and more gorgeous beaches);
Anegada, a coral island amongst all the other volcanic ones in the BVIs;
or any of the other 60 islands with enticing names like Deadman’s Chest, the Dog Islands, or Prickly Pear.
Or perhaps you’ll be invited to Sir Richard Branson’s nearby private Necker or Mosquito Island!
Visiting the BVIs in your own boat is the best way to explore according to your own agenda. The islands are made for “yachties” (it is because of these thirsty swimmers, and the fact that the resort is only accessible by boat, that the Soggy Dollar Bar got its name!). You can also charter a bareboat, or one with crew or just captain, and be a yachtie for a week or two. There are a number of operators and a vast selection of catamarans, monohulls and motor yachts to choose from.
You can, of course, fly to the BVIs, and then island hop by air, water taxi or ferry. From outside the Caribbean, you’ll need to first fly into neighbouring Puerto Rico, Antigua, or St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands.
But if you’re pressed for time and don’t want to worry about the details, the best way to visit the BVIs is by cruise ship. Because the islands are so small, only a few ships sail here, and they are on the small side too. My favourite is Windstar Cruises. Like the BVIs themselves, they are unpretentious and laid-back, but you’ll be in for a treat. One of Windstar’s four- or five-masted tall ships will sail you to several BVI harbours and even bring you to an uninhabited virgin island for a beach barbeque. The Yachtman’s Caribbean cruises usually depart from and return to St. Maarten.
The BVIs are the place to relax in the Caribbean if you want something exclusive but without the exclusive attitudes. Book your trip soon before everyone discovers them!
Want more info on Windstar Cruises? Read my review HERE.