A Beginner's Guide to the British Virgin Islands
On arrival into Tortola, the capital and the largest island of the BVI’s you might be feeling a little jaded from the transatlantic journey from the UK, but every hour spent on the airplane is rewarded by this fantastic, beautiful and picture-postcard archipelago of islands. It is a strange irony that the most popular mocktail drink here, a mixture of pineapple juice, coconut, OJ and nutmeg is called 'the painkiller'. Visit the local beaches of Josiah’s Bay or Lambert Beach to chill out and relax whilst here, even if you’re just passing through on the way to another island.
If you are getting married in the British Virgin Islands, which is a popular thing to do, you will need to stay on Tortola for up to 3 days to get your marriage licence sorted out, and apart from just soaking up the sun on the beautiful beaches there is plenty to do. Lots of festivals and regattas take place through the course of the year, but particularly around February to March – don’t miss the legendary full moon party at Bomba’s Shack on Cappoon’s Bay. There is plenty of live music at the beach side bars and a really easy vibe at all the eateries. Throughout the BVI’s the dress code is casual, much like the laid back style of the Caribbean, but remember to cover up going into restaurants and shops, it’s respectably casual.
The British Virgin Islands are made up of four main islands and around 50 smaller ones, which explains why so many visitors and locals alike are keen sailors. Lots of hot-spots are beach side or near the jetty’s to make the most of the casual visitors, just popping by for lunch. On Jost van Dyke (one of the larger islands), beach side hammocks and dining are the order of the day; choose lobster freshly caught with a cooling beer. By the way, remember cash here, there are no ATM’s on this island and few places take credit cards. If you are on Jost van Dyke at New Year, get to Foxy’s on the beach for the best party. You could easily hire a boat and go and explore, taking your snorkelling kit to make the most of the many coral reefs. If you are a keen fisher, remember to take a local with you when you hire your boat, otherwise apply for a fishing permit. You can’t take anything out of the sea if you are a tourist.
Virgin Gorda is luxurious and yachty. There is a good Easter festival well-attended by celebrities and sailing regatta’s too through March and April. If you just fancy visiting, hop on a ferry and go and have lunch on the beach. Getting around the BVI’s is reasonably easy by local ferry or inter-island flights out of Beef Island (also helicopter transfers). Around the islands themselves, take a taxi or hire a car or jeep. You will need your driving licence and also $10 to buy a BVI licence. If you are on Beef Island around the first week in February, they also have their own full moon party and a variety of music and arts festivals.
The BVI’s have a rich history of pirates and sea captain coming ashore or being ship wrecked on the coral fringing the islands. Around Anegada there are said to be in excess of three hundred wrecks which makes it a top dive spot. In fact, the whole of the island’s seas offer good dive opportunities; the only months when you might have dodgy visibility being between September and November, traditionally the rainy or hurricane season.
Essentially the British Virgin Islands are all about kicking back in a much more relaxed way than its American neighbours (US Virgin Islands). It's about the beach-life and being comfortable - and if that floats your boat, then you should visit.