Approaching the island of Virgin Gorda through calm, clear Caribbean waters provides a stark contrast to the devastation still lingering on the Caribbean islands visited by Hurricane Irma in 2017. Virgin Gorda is one of the four main islands that make up the British Virgin Islands, or BVIs, which are a British Overseas Territory.
Virgin Gorda, Tortola, Jost Van Dyke, and Anegada took the full brunt of Hurricane Irma’s first landfall, severely affecting its roughly 35,000 residents. Making your way onshore to Tortola via tender for passport control (anchoring rather than docking is much the norm throughout the BVIs), the island’s beauty remains untouched, despite the devastation. While most infrastructure has since been rebuilt, the new structures still maintain its rustic, open-air qualities.
The BVIs are most certainly a sailing haven, and depending how you arrive, the largest port of entry and capital is Road Town on Tortola. To get there, you can either fly into Tortola’s Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport, usually via a larger neighboring island (St. Thomas or Puerto Rico), or take the ferry from one of these islands. Sailing or boating is your best bet for transportation around the islands, especially if you’re looking for a remote experience. There are more than 50 smaller islands scattered around the four main larger islands and only 15 of these smaller islands are actually inhabited.
If you’re arriving boatless, there are many rental agencies around Road Town. Depending on your budget, you can hire crewed yacht charters. Though they’re expensive, the benefit is the captain’s local area knowledge — and minimal planning for you. Bestofbviboats.com has a great team that has worked locally. If you are comfortable with running your own yacht, check out what’s on offer down at Wickham’s Cay. Set up shop on one of the main islands, ideally Tortola, with a wide selection of villas, Airbnbs, and resorts to choose from. There’s a couple of great ferry services to use, Speedy’s ferries being the most comprehensive. It’s worth mentioning the island currency is USD.
If starting out in Tortola, first check out Omar’s Cafe at Soper’s Hole Marina, on the island’s western peninsula. A great little Indian restaurant that’s open for breakfast and dinner, it was one of the first restaurants to open after the hurricane. Afterwards, take a short walk north to one of the BVI’s most isolated but equally as pristine beaches: Smuggler’s Cove.
If you are going to be land-based for a few days, rent a car and check out the rest of the island. You can drive up to Sage Mountain National Park, and if you’re inclined, island hiking is as challenging as it is humbling, with tropical ocean vistas unlike anywhere you can experience on land. An equally rewarding hike is Gorda Peak National Park, located on Virgin Gorda.
Anchor out at a small islet called Sandy Spit, straight east of Jost Van Dyke, between Green Cay and Sandy Cay. You’ll know you’re there once you reach a tiny islet surrounded by panoramic views of the surrounding mountainous islands. Postcard-worthy is an understatement.
The south coast of Jost Van Dyke, named after a former Dutch pirate, offers some iconic venues, namely Soggy Dollar and Foxy’s Bar if you want to meet some of the truly interesting people the BVIs seem to attract. There’s a great anchorage nearby, too. If you’re into scuba diving, Jost Van Dyke Scuba right near the ferry terminal has an immense selection of great, local sites. Conditions and visibility are ideal in winter and spring for diving.
Head southeast to Norman Island for spectacular diving and snorkeling around Treasure Point, complete with semi-submerged caves and speculative unclaimed pirate booty.
Another iconic hotspot is the floating bar, Willy T. The original was destroyed by the hurricane; however, it’s recently been resurrected and is now sitting in the Bight Bay. If you don’t want to partake in the traditional naked rooftop dives, don’t stay too late!
The column originally ran in the April 2020 issue of Dockwalk.