News Americas, TORONTO, Canada, Fri. April 15, 2011: The British Virgin Islands have a reputation among seasoned travelers as the creme de la creme of the Caribbean.
Tortola and most of the BVI are mountainous islands, and though luxuriant-green when seen from afar, the climate and vegetation are much drier than many Caribbean isles, which has a beneficial side effect. Because of the lack of runoff, the clarity of the sea is more dependably higher than many other places in the Caribbean.
For that reason, the BVI’s are a popular destination for divers and snorkelers. Because of the protective effect of the islands surrounding Tortola, seas tend to be calm here most of the time, making the region a welcoming destination for those prone to motion sickness and who want to participate in small boat-based excursions. The steady winds and calm seas also make Tortola and the BVI one of the world’s premier yachting regions, and any sailing excursions, whether ship-offered or independently booked, should be at the top of every visitor’s list.
The British Virgin Islands are comprised of over 50 islands, islets, and cays, sixteen of which are inhabited. The largest islands are Tortola, Virgin Gorda and Anegada. Most flights land at Beef Island, and passengers take ground transportation to their resorts on Tortola or are taken by ferry to resorts on other islands. Ferries are an excellent way to explore the islands and run regularly between Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Jost Van Dyke and Peter Island. However, private ferries to resorts on private islands are only for use of resort guests making the experience is an exclusive one.
Gigantic cruise ships routinely tie up in Road Town’s harbor disgorging thousands of passengers into the native habitat for a few hours. But, unlike other port cities, Road Town still feels like a real place rather than a way station structured around T-shirts, refrigerator magnets and duty free jewelry. It pulses with street life with bands playing, the fresh catch of the day being sold out of temporarily parked trucks, and lots of locals happy to pass the time of day with a tourist.
BVI is one of the best sailing destinations in the world because of financial stability, security, natural beauty makes it an ideal destination. Sailing is the main focus of the islands, with sailing enthusiasts coming in from all over the world to indulge their hobby, or to learn how. There are many programs geared towards learning how to sail, with a variety of levels to reach for.
The captain of our boat for the few days we were on it also teaches the highest level of sailing, the captains certification. We met many tourists arriving board a charter with friends or family to sail through the islands for a week or so. The area boasts the largest concentration of Bareboats (boats rented without crew to experienced sailors) in the world. Day Sail yachts which offer half and full day trips are an ideal way to explore the BVI’s out islands.
Dutch ship captain Jost van Dyke established the first European settlement on Tortola in the early 1600s, and the islands soon become a trading outpost and lair for pirates, privateers, smugglers, and slave-dealers. The Dutch established plantations but lost control of the islands to the British in 1672. Most of today’s residents are descendants of African slaves, but Dutch place names remain. The uninhabited Norman Island also has a history involving pirates and treasure and was the inspiration for the famous Caribbean epic book “Treasure Island” by Robert Louis Stevenson. Some locals claim that the spirit of the pirates live on in the islands, which perhaps which might would explain the energy, determination, character and strength of mind of the locals and expats that have settled in the islands.
I have traveled extensively, and was constantly astonished by the quality of the up-market, on trend gourmet food at most restaurants. Unusual combinations, fresh local fish, and incredible presentation impressed me time and time again. The upcoming article will include notes on where to eat and what to look for when it comes to eating your way through the BVI’s.
When I looked back over my trip, the prize for the most magic moment went unanimously to a day on a 46 foot Catamaran, perched at the top deck at the bow, camera slung over my deck, constantly clicking photos of the BVI Sailing Regatta in full swing. Sailboats stretched as far as the eye could see, all vying for a plum position in the race. The crystal clear sky, a fairytale blue, the sun shining as brightly as it possibly could, the luminous turquoise water, and steady wind held all the right ingredients for the race day. The energy and excitement of being positioned right at the start buoy was palpable, and I clicked hundreds of photos trying to capture that feeling.
The islands are amazingly safe. I was substantially rattled the first night I stayed in what I felt was a fairly secluded beachfront cottage, with no security roaming the premises, until I discovered how safe and virtually crime free all the islands are. It’s not unusual to find yachts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars docked in marinas with the key clearly visible in the ignition.
Depending on what type of experience and price point you want on holiday, there are many resorts to choose from: Tortola has the biggest variety and best bargains. Virgin Gorda is known for exclusive resorts like Little Dix Bay and Biras Creek; the Bitter End Yacht Club is a classic Caribbean seaport village. Private island resorts range from the affordable , Cooper Island Resort to the luxurious Peter Island and Guana Island to the outrageous Necker Island , owned by Richard Branson which rents for up to $40,000 a night.
Cooper Island Beach Club is relaxed, unpretentious and one of the greenest and most affordable resorts in the BVI’s. Only twenty three people live on the island including the staff and the resort managers. The beach front rooms are bright, spacious, and very inviting. Plenty of watersports are available at the resort, they have received awards for best snorkel, scuba and wreck diving Andy, general manager is originally from Oxford, England and has lived in the Caribbean for 8 years, 3 of which have been spent managing the resort with partner, Samantha. Andy worked in Aerospace before emigrating from the UK, and his engineering background is obvious once he starts to passionately explain the green practices he has installed at the resort. 90 solar panels with a three phase system creates 75 percent of their energy, and there are plans for 30 more solar panels.
They actually create more energy than they use, so the rest is used to charge batteries for use overnight, which last 15 years. They are currently looking into installing a wind turbine to help attain their goal to be BVI’s first carbon neutral resort within two years. (www.cooperislandbeachclub.com)
The secluded Biras Creek Resort on less populated Virgin Gorda island is situated to take advantage of views of the beach, and the stunning rock formations along the coast and is in many ways the perfect choice in the BVI’s. I spent a couple of nights in a luxuriously appointed private cottage directly on the beach. My room like all rooms at Biras had a small sitting room and adjacent bedroom, an open air shower, and a veranda overlooking the bay. I enjoyed a wonderful sense of privacy, and loved falling asleep with my windows open, listening to the surf lapping at the window. Bicycles are parked outside your cottage to take to the beach, the pool, the spa or the restaurant. The secluded resort has thirty duplex cottages, and a restaurant with a fabulous menu offering unusual combinations featuring local food. No surprise that there is a Michelin 3 star rating. Luxurious feel with prices to match, www.biras.com.
Guana Island resort: On one of the few remaining privately owned islands in its part of the world, Guana has 850 acres of untouched natural beauty. In the 18th century Guana was occupied by two Quaker families, the Lakes and the Parkes who raised sugarcane and cotton. The island’s main house, Dominica was built on the ruins of the Parke estate and there are still Quaker walls, sugar mills, canons and other ruins in evidence around the Island. When the Quakers departed, the land reverted to local ownership. The amenities are vast including seven smooth pristine white powder sand beaches and miles of tropical forest, mountains, hills and valleys.
This setting where the Caribbean meets the vast Atlantic is the backdrop for hillside cottages dotted over a scenic ridge, all with spectacular views. The resort has a secluded feeling that guests want to embrace and stay part of. The cottages are simple, yet luxuriously appointed. Their focus on fresh, local food with an impressive daily menu at every meal keeps the guests very well fed, looking forward to their next meal. Only accommodating 32 guests, this is exclusive holidaying at its best with corresponding prices. www.guana.com.
The views in the British Virgin Islands delight at every turn with stunning turquoise waters, uninhabited islands, and a leisurely, relaxed pace found only in the Caribbean.
Melody Wren is a freelance writer because she believes that work and fun should not be mutually exclusive. She writes about travel, food and green living. When not writing she’s either on the road, in the air, or savoring something tasty and can be reached via www.melodywren.com. Her trip was sponsored by the British Virgin Islands Board of Tourism, www. bvitourism.com.