Your Helpful Guide to the British Virgin Islands (BVIs)

Lovers of Islands of adventure, I have a perfect destination for you – the British Virgin Islands! Situated in the Caribbean just east of Puerto Rico, the BVIs are easily accessible from the United States. Let me break down all the details for you – where to stay, how to get there, what do, and what to eat. I’ll share some important information about sustainability on the islands too and how to protect this beautiful country.

British Virgin Islands 101

Geography

The BVIs are a British overseas territory made up of around 60 islands or islets. There are four main islands that are public where most of the residents live: Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Jost van Dyke, and Anegada. The rest of the islands are mostly uninhabited or privately owned by the like of Richard Branson and Larry Paige, the CEO of Google. 

  • Tortola is the largest island by population, size, and development – you’ll most likely fly or ferry in to Tortola before you move on. 
  • We spent a week on Virgin Gorda, which I would personally recommend if we were to visit again. It’s smaller in population than Tortola and has a quieter vibe but still offers a lot of variety. 
  • Jost van Dyke, named after a Dutch pirate, is a great day trip or place to base  if you want to dive into water sports. 
  • Anegada, furthest away from the other main islands, is renowned for great fishing and diving, and is like least populous of the main four.

Other popular islands include Moskito Island, Necker Island, Saba Rock Resort, and Eustatia off the north side of Virgin Gorda, the Dog Islands, the Sister Islands, and Scrub, Beef & Guana Islands off the northeast of Tortola.

A brief, brief history of the BVIs

The BVIs were first settled by the Dutch, and then by the British in the 17 and 1800s, where they introduced the slave trade. The islands are still part of the British monarchy, and their proximity to the United States makes it a popular vacation destination for US Americans. This historical background has led to a culture where Carribean, European, West African, and American influence can been seen in cuisine, dialect, religion, and beyond.

Two recent events have affected the BVIs in major ways – Hurricane Irma, and COVID-19.

Hurrican Irma swept directly over the islands in 2017 and caused enormous destruction which is still evident in many places. Locals told us that nearly every roof on the island was blown off. Nearly 6 months went by before public electricity was restored, and most of the buildings are renovated, new, or left in abandonment after the store.

 When we visited in February of 2022, COVID restrictions had seriously impacted the economy too. Like most island nations, the BVIs rely on tourism for nearly 40% of their economy and they were hit hard by restrictions that limited tourism, especially the pause in the cruise ship industry.

Where to stay on the British Virgin Islands

A rainbow at Leverick Bay, seen from the patio of our villa for the week. Moskito Island can be seen behind the rainbow.

I recommend staying on Virgin Gorda. As I mentioned before, it’s a bit quieter than Tortola, but large enough to offer plenty to do and explore. It’s proximity to the other islands makes it an easy place to explore from as well – you can find ferries pretty easily to the surrounding islands. The views driving throughout the island are breathtaking, and you can find pristine beaches, hikes with impressive views, local dining, and water sports and marina life all in one place.

We stayed in Leverick Bay at the Tamarind Villa because our group of six was looking for a luxurious stay that offered a place for us to cook some of our own meals. It was super convenient, with all the amenities we needed, and some luxurious touches we didn’t need but loved, like snorkeling gear and a pool that were fantastic. You can find their facebook page here.

If you are seeking a super quiet week full of fishing and diving, you might consider Anegada.

Tortola is a good choice if you plan to do a lot of day trips – it’s pretty central among all the islands, and as the largest of the main islands, they offer a few ferries to other islands that you can’t access from Anegada or Virgin Gorda.

Jost van Dyke is a fun island that offers a unique mix of water sports and marina life on one side, and quieter nature on the other – a result of the impacts of the hurricane and the redevelopment that has been very slow in the making.  From my experience, I’d recommend this more as a day trip than a base – there aren’t as many restaurants or stores to choose from so you might find yourself eating at the same spot every day or requiring a ferry to explore.

If you have a big budget and you want to ball out for a fancy vacation, consider renting out Necker Island for a nice $38,000 per night and sharing space with Richard Branson! Visiting the islands during Christmas, you’ll have a good chance of running into him or Mr. Jeff Bezos on their super yachts. 

How to get to the BVIs

One of the many ferries we took during our week in the BVIs.

Via the USVIs (Flight to St. John, Ferry to Tortola)

Tortola has an airport, but it’s quite likely that you’ll fly into St. John, part of the US Virgin Islands about an hour ferry ride away. As the USVI and BVI are different countries, you’ll have to go through customs when you land on St. John, and then again when you land on Tortola. 

We flew Indiana to Miami, and Miami to St. John – both flights about 2.5 hours. After our flight to St. John, we hopped on a ferry to Road Town, Tortola on one of the 3 main international ferry providers: Speedy’s Ferry’s, Smith’s Ferry’s, and Native Sons. It was about an hour trip and cost $60 per person and $10 per bag, with some discounts for seniors and children. The prices are the same for each ferry company and usually split the schedule so who you choose will depend on what time you want to leave. 

When we were there, the international ferries left Road Town at 7:30am, 11:30am, and 2:30pm most days.

There are a few ferry terminals on Tortola, Road Town, West End, and Trellis Bay being the main ones. If your ferry doesn’t depart from Road Town, take a taxi to your ferry terminal. There are taxis standing in front of the Road Town ferry terminal so it’s easy to get a ride. Bring cash and expect to pay around $12 per ride on Tortola, and another $3 or so per bag, plus tip. 

Direct Flight to BVIs, Ferry to specific island

If you do fly directly into the BVIs, you’ll likely land at the Terrance B Lettsome Airport on Beef Island. If Tortola is your base, take a taxi to your hotel.

If you’re staying on another island, grab a ferry to your final destination. 

On the day we arrived, there were no ferries to Virgin Gorda from Road Town, Tortola. We took a taxi to the Trellis Bay Marina where we caught a ferry to Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda, about a 20 minute ride. On the day we left, there were ferries directly from Spanish Town to Road Town, so we didn’t need the taxi ride in between.

Anegada and Virgin Gorda also have airports (Captain August George Airport, and Virgin Gorda Airport respectively) though there aren’t quite as many flight options.

Travel On the islands

Spanish Town offers some taxis, but we chose to rent a car for the week. The rental car owner, named Puck, brought the car to us at Spanish Town, specifically the Virgin Gorda ferry dock, and we drove to our rental property from there. 

Getting to the smaller islands means you’ll probably take planes, ferries, and taxis to get to your final destination. Pack light, bring snacks, and enjoy the ride! 

What to do on the BVIs

Hiking to Gorda Peak.

There is no shortage of entertainment on the islands. Here are some of the best things to enjoy during your visit:

  • Snorkeling
    • If you have your own gear, you can do this just about anywhere there’s a beach. 
  • Scuba
    • There are a few shipwrecks throughout the island chains that make for exciting dive sites. The water wildlife offers some exciting dives too. 
  • Hiking
    • On Virgin Gorda there are two main hikes that bring you up the mountains to view points that overlook the surrounding islands. Look for Gorda Peak on your maps.
    • On Tortola, Mount Healthy National Park and Sage Mountain National Park offer hiking adventures for those who need a break from the beach
  • Devil’s Bay national Park (The Baths)
    • An iconic park on Virgin Gorda right along the beach with enormous granite boulders, carved and chiseled from cooled lava over thousands of years. This is a popular stop for cruise ships when they’re operating and the park can get super crowded, so plan a visit for the early morning or later afternoon when the crowds die down. You can swim and snorkel around here too – but mind the rocks! The waves can get kind of intense and it wouldn’t be difficult to knock your head while snorkeling or swimming. Exercise caution when climbing around the rocks too – there are lots of shells and crustaceans attached to the rocks and the water makes them slippery. Most of our group left with a few cuts or scratches, and we were glad to have brought a first aid kit.
    • There is a restaurant at the top of the park with amazing views – check it out even if you don’t stick around to eat.
  • Food 
    • Eat your way through the islands, but don’t miss some of the smaller local spots. That’s where you’ll find the most authentic, and least expensive meals. 
  • Beach walks at sunset
    • On Virgin Gorda, Savannah Bay is a fantastic choice with a mile-long stretch of pristine beach to enjoy
  • Island hopping
    • No matter where you stay, island-hopping is a great way to explore the other sides of the BVI’s and get to know this wonderful place. 
    • Jost Van Dyke boasts the famous Soggy Dollar Bar where the island drink, the PainKiller, was invented. Definitely a top suggestion.
    • Saba Rock Resort is an island that is entirely a resort and restaurant. You can reach it from the Bitter End Yacht Club on the northern side of Virgin Gorda.
  • Water Sports – sailing, waverunners, dingy rentals
    • In every marina, you’ll see a variety of sail boats – these islands are a sailor’s paradise and many of the island’s guests have arrived by their own boat. Boat watching is an enjoyable pastime in itself
    • Most of the marinas offer water sports for rent. We rented a Hobie Cat sail boat for two hours (about $150) at the Bitter End Yacht Club, and another day we rented a dinghy to boat ourselves from Leverick Bay to a quiet beach on Cow Bay. We didn’t get to rent a waverunner but it was definitely an option.

Ready to travel? Get in touch

I’m a travel agent who helps busy, eco-conscious people plan once-in-a-lifetime adventures in breathtaking locations like Norway, Scotland, the British Virgin Islands, and Uganda. I handle everything from daydreaming to departure and only work with tour companies who respect the planet and locals, so you can enjoy your getaway knowing you’re having a positive impact.

Schedule a complimentary vacation planning session and let’s talk about your next trip.


What to eat on the BVIS

Food in the BVIS is heavily influenced by West African cuisine as a result of the slave trade that reached it’s peak on the islands under British control in the 17 and 1800s. Contact with other Carribbean nations, as well as the United States, is easy to trace through the popular foods on the island. As an island nation, you’ll find seafood everywhere.

The national dish is fish & fungi (foon-gee), which I didn’t actually see in the restaurants we visited on Virgin Gorda and Tortola, but it’s a polenta-like dumpling made from cornmeal, servied with fish. This stems back to Daniish rule when salt herring and cornmeal were common base ingredients for a host of meals.

Conch fritters, sea snails that are battered & fried into deliciouis little balls, are served as appetizers all over the island and are definitely worth a try.

On Virgin Gorda, the Anegada Lobster draws crowds for the lobster festivals, worth it if you can splurge for a fancy meal.

You’ll see lots of pasta dishes with shrimp or fish, fish sandwiches, and plenty of imported fish with carribean twists, like salmon salads with mango or tuna salads with johnny cakes.

Johnny Cakes are a baked good you’ll find all over the islands, with Indo-Tridinidadian origins. These fried pancakes evolved from the name “journey cakes” long ago, when men and women who worked on plantations ate their early morning meal on their journey to the fields, and was often stuffed with a filling meat or fish. 

Rotis are another dish you’ll see all over Virgin Gorda and the islands with Indo-Trinidadian origins. The word “roti” itself typically refers to a flat, tortilla like bread. Here, you’ll find a roti to mean the roti bread stuffed with curried potatoes, veggies, and your choice of fish or chicken. It’s filling, delicious, and better from a locally-owned restaurant or stand than the touristy restaurants.

To top it all off, you can’t miss the PainKiller, a drink made with Pussers Dark Rum, cream of cocount, pineapple & orange juice, and nutmeg. It was invented at the Soggy Dollar bar on Jost Van Dyke, but you’ll find them at every restaurant or bar throughout the islands. They’re easy enough to make yourself too when you’re tired of blowing your budget on drinks.

BEST VIRGIN GORDA RESTAURANTS:

For local food try these wonderful spots:

  • Rada’s – serving West Indian rotis, curries, and seafood dishes. Rada, the owner, even let us behind the bar to pour our own drinks both times we visited!
  • Pablos Place – serving wonderful seafood meals (this is where we indulged on Anegada lobster and grilled Mahi-Mahi)
  • Hog’s Heaven – come for the ribs and potato salad, stay for the incredible views
  • Bath & Turtle – a great choice for breakfast or a brunch piña colada
The menu at Radas Restaurant and Bar
The menu at Radas Restaurant and Bar. Ask Rada or her son and daughter, Paul and Oma, what specials they have that day off-menu!

For a fancier meal:

  • The Restaurant at Leverick Bay – watch the boats come in and out on the marina. There is an upstairs restaurant that’s more upscale, and a restaurant downstairs with sandwiches, quesadillas, salads, and the like
  • SugarCane – a popular choice by tourists where you can dig your toes in the sand while dining on seafood pastas and great wine
  • Bitter End Yacht Club – don’t miss the coconut crusted fish sandwich! They have yummy pizzas and a nice bar just feet from the beach
  • Top of the Baths – a convenient choice after a day spent at Devil’s Bay National Park
  • Cocomaya – highly rated asian fusion with delicious seafood
  • Rosewood Little Dix Bay – this 5 star hotel offers three different restaurants, but you may need reservations to visit if you’re not a hotel guest

Read this next: Eleuthera Travel Guide: 8 Must Know Tips for a Perfect Trip

Money on the islands

The currency on the BVIs is the US Dollar. Credit cards are accepted most restaurants and shops, but there will definitely be times that you’ll need cash – especially for tips for taxi/ferry drivers, porters, and other service employees throughout the islands.

Many of the locals in the service industry will also have Zelle, Venmo, Paypal, Cashapp, or another similar payment app, so ask about that if you’re short on cash. We were able to pay for a few taxi rides via Venmo, which was super convenient.

There are very few ATMs throughout the islands, usually only in main towns near the ferry terminals/airports. If you see one and you need cash, don’t pass up the opportunity! It’s best to bring hundred dollars or so in 10s for ease.

COVID Requirements

You can rent dinghy’s like this to scoot around the British Virgin Islands.

At the time we visited in February 2022, vaccination was not required, but a negative test was required for both Vaccinated and Unvaccinated travelers. We also had to show proof of travel insurance for our trip, which was the first time I’d seen that. Because we were coming through the USVI, we also had to meet the requirements to get on to St. John, which involved completing their online portal form.

Here were the steps we had to take to get in to the BVIS:

1. Purchase insurance policy (at least a minimum coverage insurance policy)
2. Take a negative COVID test within 48 hours of arrival to the BVIs (we went to CVS for our RT-PCR test)
3. Upon arrival to St. John, USVI, present the green QR code emailed to us after we submit the USVI Portal – this portal will require you to upload your proof of vaccination and your negative COVID test, so take pictures of both before you start the portal.

*the USVI portal requires wifi, which can be slow at the airport/ferry terminals on the island. You may also have to show the QR code before boarding your flight. It’s best to complete this form as soon as you get your negative COVID test whenever you have wifi (at your hotel or airport before you leave)
4. Upon arrival to the BVIs, present our passport, vaccination card, negative COVID test, and proof of insurance.

If you are unvaccinated, or partially vaccinated, you will have to complete the online portal similar to the USVI here: https://bvigateway.bviaa.com/

Check the BVI’s government website for the most up to date information. If you don’t get your negative test within the time required by the BVI’s, you will be required to get tested upon arrival.

Everyone is required to get tested again before leaving, which cost $50 per person. We were able to get our test the day before we left at the Iris O’Neal Clinic on Virgin Gorda. They were open 9-4pm when we visited, and appointments were not required. Bring a phone so you can complete the COVID online form at the clinic. A wifi code is provided.

Sustainability in the BVIs

The BVIs face many of the same sustainability concerns as other island nations. The marine ecology on which the islands are highly dependent are very fragile. Waste management is also a challenge due to limited space, and we saw trash being burned at one facility every day.

The islands certainly understand the importance of protecting the environment though, and there are lots of things you can do to support them!

  1. Protect the environment! If you are snorkeling or scuba diving (or doing any other water sport) be very careful of the coral reefs. Pick up any waste you see, and do not leave any of your own.
  2. Most of the restaurants we visited provided paper straws, but it’s always a good idea to have your own straws on hand and it’s not a bad idea to bring a container for takeout if you have leftovers.
  3. Support local businesses. If you can rent your car or airbnb from locals, visit local restaurants, and tip those who work in the service industry fairly, you can do a lot to support the local economy.
  4. It’s hard to get to and explore the island without flights & ferries. Consider carbon offsetting your travel. One website that I trust for this is atmosfair.

Richard Branson’s owns Necker Island, where he has invested a lot into sustainable tourism and animal conservation. Necker Island is prioritizing mangrove restoration too, after Hurricane Irma destroyed almost 90% of the red mangroves on the island. A stay on Necker Island is out of budget for all but the most affluent – a night at his resort start in the thousands with a 7-night minimum. You can book a day tour on the island through Gumption Tours, limited to 12 guests a day in an effort to minimize the impact on the island! A much more affordable option.

Branson also recently bought Moskito Island too and has plans to create what he calls “the world’s most eco-friendly resort” through the use of wind turbines and solar panels to capture renewable energy, amongst other eco-plans. He hopes to introduce beach buggies that run on biofuels, and stock the resort restaurant with locally grown produce.


Ready to travel? Get in touch

I’m a travel agent who helps busy, eco-conscious people plan once-in-a-lifetime adventures in breathtaking locations like Norway, Scotland, the British Virgin Islands, and Uganda. I handle everything from daydreaming to departure and only work with tour companies who respect the planet and locals, so you can enjoy your getaway knowing you’re having a positive impact.

Schedule a complimentary vacation planning session and let’s talk about your next trip.


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Your Helpful Guide to the British Virgin Islands (BVIs)