The British Virgin Islands or BVI consist of 60 tropical islands with only 15 being inhabited. The main Islands are Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, and Jost Van Dyke with a total island population of 28,000. The islands origin is volcanic which makes for a rugged hilly terrain with the exception of the island of Anegada which is flat and is made up of coral and limestone. A British overseas territory The British Virgin Islanders are entitled to full British citizenship. The BVI is not considered part of the European Union although its people are deemed to be EU citizens’.
Where are the British Virgin Islands?
The BVI are located east of Puerto Rico in the Caribbean Sea with the Atlantic Ocean just a few miles north of the islands. The island nation is part of the greater Virgin Island Archipelago that includes the US and Spanish Virgin islands to the west.
Christopher Columbus first caught sight of the BVI in 1493 on his second trip to the Americas. After a short stay he named the Islands Las Virgenes after Saint Ursula and the legend of her 11,000 Virgins. In the 16th century Spain claimed ownership of the islands but never built settlements. Threw the century the English, French, Dutch, and Danish battled for possession over the islands that where notorious as a refuge for pirates. Finally the Dutch established a permanent settlement in 1648 but that was not to last when the British captured Tortola in 1672. The English settlers planted sugar cane and it soon became the main source of foreign trade. Slavery was introduced by the plantation owners and the decadents of those African slaves make up 83% of the population today.
The United States purchased the nearby islands of St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John from Denmark in 1917 for $25 million the island group was renamed The United States Virgin Islands.
In 1967 the islands became autonomous and began to diversify away from its agricultural based economy and focus on tourism. Sense then tourism has thrived making British virgin Islands resorts a favorite holiday destination for American and British tourist.
The Main Islands of the BVI
Tortola, British Virgin Islands
At just 19 miles long and 5 miles wide Tortola is the largest Island in the BVI chain and home to the capital city of Road Town. The Island is the commercial and governmental center as well as the air and ferry hub. Approximately 80% of the entire BVI population lives on Tortola in support of the many professional jobs. Tortola is lush and mountainous with its highest peak being Mt Sage at 1,716 Ft.
Most of the beaches frequented by tourist are on the west coast such as Smuggler’s Cove, Brewers Bay, Cane Garden bay, Lambert beach and Josiah’s Bay. For water sports enthusiast you can find excursions, lessons and rentals for Scuba, snorkeling, sailing, windsurfing and Kite surfing just to name a few. Hikers and history buffs can enjoy the many parks, trails, historic landmarks and ruins that cover island. For boat lovers spend the day at one of the many marinas checking out the large cruise ships and mega yachts.
Named by Christopher Columbus Virgin Gorda translated The Fat Virgin because of the shape of the islands profile on the horizon that looks like a hefty woman lying on her side. The second most populated Island in the BVI with most of its residents live in Spanish town. Virgin Gorda is known for its peaceful coves, safe anchorage, yacht clubs, luxury villas and resorts. On the far north sound is the exclusive Bitter End Yacht Club, only accessible by water this resort offers the feeling of total seclusion with old Caribbean charm.
By far the one of the most popular destinations in the BVI is The Baths located in the BVI National Park about 1.5 miles south of Spanish Town. This geological wonder is made up of gigantic granite boulders the shelter tiny sea pools from the sea. Follow the hand rails and steps threw caves and secrete grottos that end at the beautiful Devils Bay its white sand and calm water are ideal for snorkelling.
Different from the rest of the British Virgin Islands Anegada is flat and made of coral and limestone rather than volcanic and mountainous. The second largest island of the BVI it is also the least populated with only 285 inhabitants as of the 2010 census with most living in the only village named The Settlement. Tourists enjoy Anegada for its miles of beautiful uncrowded beaches and calm water due to the reefs that surround the island. Two of the best beaches to enjoy would be Cow Wreck and Lobolly beach.
Horseshoe reef is the Caribbean’s largest coral reef at 18 miles long and is the fourth largest reef on earth. Trip adviser lists Horseshoe reef as a top 10 things to do on Anegada for snorkeling and catching lobster and conch. If you are a scuba diving enthusiast you will want to dive Wreck alley. Purposely sunk in 90 feet of water a diver can find 4 wrecks including a cargo ship and tug boat. Wreck alley is a sheltered site so visibility is excellent and currents are mild. Stingrays and turtles are abundant as well as Lobsters and moray eels that call the wrecks home.
Jost Van Dyke
At only 3 square mile and a population of 280 Jost Van Dyke is the smallest of the 4 main Islands in the BVI. Beautifully rugged with its highest peak at 1054 Ft, the island offers great views of Tortola and the surrounding islands as well as beautiful beaches and world class snorkeling. Known as the” Party British Virgin Island” due to its large numbers of bars and night life. The Small Island hosts many tourist from the other islands who stop by daily to party hearty. There are three legendary bars that one must knock one back at, Foxy’s, The Soggy Dollar, and The One Love Bar and Grill.
Sandy Spit and White Sand Beach
Looking for the ultimate deserted island then take a day trip just of shore to Sandy Spit. Known as the Corona Island because the beer company used it as back drop for its beer commercials it is one of the most photographed islands on earth. Surrounded by a pristine sloping reef it’s a wonderful place for an easy day of snorkeling. As if Jost Van Dyke did not have enough going for it, it also has one of the most beautiful beaches in the BVI the White Sand Beach. Enjoy this full half mile secluded oasis and its swimming pool calm waters and if you get thirsty it’s a short walk the to the Soggy dollar bar.
I often recommend the British Virgin Islands to people looking for a great mix of activities, relaxation and night life. From world class beaches, secluded coves, national parks, wreck diving, and classis beach bars there is always something to do or not. US residents have easy access to the islands flying into St. Thomas US Virgin Islands and almost all cruise lines make stops in the BVI. My advice is to visit many times to enjoy what each of the island has to offer, who know you may someday call British Virgin Islands home.