Secluded. Serene. Amazing Views.
Sugar cane was brought to the islands by the British, and soon became the destination's cash crop and means of foreign trade. Slaves from Africa were brought to tend the crops and the plantations in the Caribbean, as a whole, flourished until the abolition of slavery in the mid-1800s. This, coupled with the onset of several devastating hurricanes to the region, had a terrible economic impact on these islands.
During World War I, the United States feared that the Germans might engage these islands as a submarine base, so they purchased St. Thomas, St. Coix and St. John from Denmark for $25 million, and renamed these three islands the United States Virgin Islands (USVIs).
The remaining islands were named the British Virgin Islands (BVIs). Britain retained control of them, and since the mid-1960s, have redirected their efforts from the long-established agriculture-based economy towards financial services and tourism - a wise move, indeed! As a modern offshore financial center (much like the Cayman Islands, also British controlled), the BVIs now enjoy one of the most prosperous economies in the Caribbean region.
The BVIs - while remaining under the control of Britain - has its own Governor appointed by the Queen of England.
The British Virgin Islands (BVIs), located slightly north and east of the
United States Virgin Islands (USVIs) and Puerto Rico, are part of a volcanic archipelago in the Caribbean - the tops of a mountain range from long ago. A British overseas territory comprising four (4) main islands - Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, and Jost Van Dyke - and more than 50 smaller ones (of which about 15 are inhabited), with its reef-lines beaches and crystal-clear water, the BVIs are a haven for all things on and under the sea. The area is a popular sailing and yachting destination, and the ideal Caribbean retreat for those seeking a laid-back, eye-candy beautiful, tropical getaway. So it comes as no surprise that these pristine islands - dotted with simple beach cottages to magnificent estates - are a popular villa destination.
A little history ...
To appreciate the islands' culture, it's helpful to know about the history of their development as you will see signs throughout the destination of the ancient ruins and artifacts left behind by the former inhabitants.
The BVIs were first settled by the peaceful Arawak (also known as Taíno) Indians from South America around 100 BC, and remained there until the 15th century when they were all but annihilated by the warlike Carib Indians, an aggressive tribe known for their cannibalism, that plundered many of the Caribbean islands.
It is rumored that on his second voyage to the Americas in 1493,
Christopher Columbus came upon these island jewels and named them, "Santa Ursula y las Once Mil Vírgenes" (Saint Ursula and her 11,000 Virgins). Later shortened to "Las Vírgenes" (The Virgins), the Spanish Empire claimed the islands in the early 16th century, but never actually settled them.
Much like the United States Virgin Islands (USVIs), the BVIs were seized and controlled, over time, by several European nations, including Denmark, Holland, Britain, France, and Spain. In 1648, the Dutch established a permanent settlement on the island of Tortola. Seeing an opportunity, the stronger English navy captured Tortola from the Dutch in 1672, and then annexed Anegada and Virgin Gorda in 1680. During this same period of time, while continually trying to expand its influence into the Caribbean, the Danish West Indian Company established
settlements on nearby St. Thomas and St. John (USVIs) in 1694. Denmark later purchased St. Croix from France in 1733.
Currently, there are no direct flights to Beef Island Airport on Tortola, the main international port of entry, so you must pass through another Caribbean island airport. Depending on where you are coming from, these include Antigua, St. Thomas, Puerto Rico, St. Kitts and St. Maarten. From there, visitors have a choice of utilizing a network of private charter flights (plus some helicopter flights) or water taxis (called ferries) to transfer to the islands. Flight times to Beef Island International Airport are as follows:
2 hours from Miami
3 hours from New York
8 hours from London
What To Expect
Overall, the BVIs are known for their magnificent, calm, azure sea which provides the perfect conditions for sailing and yachting. Steeped in the history of the British Navy, the islands are ringed by shipwrecks; the most famous of these - The RMS Rhone - is now a national marine park, and a favorite scuba diving point. Outside of the country's capital, Road Town, and save for a few upscale hotels on Virgin Gorda, the islands are quiet ... an early to bed, early to rise, play by day kind of destination ... with, perhaps, the rare exception of the Full Moon Party at the Bomba Shack on Tortola - not to be missed if you are staying in the area.
There is water taxi service from Road Town and Trellis Bay on Beef Island (right around the corner from the airport) to the other islands, making it convenient to visit several of the islands during your stay.
Tortola, the largest of the four main islands, is home to the low-key capital, Road Town (where you will find a wide variety of restaurants, shops and markets), Sage Mountain National Park, a verdant rainforest and the destination's only major airport: the international Beef Island Airport (EIS), which is on Tortola's adjoining Beef Island.
Main Street in Road Town features everything from local spices, jams, rums and soaps to handcrafted jewelry, silk-screened fabrics and local art. The destination's rich cultural mix (as outlined in the information above about the BVI's history) offers up some of the most interesting cuisine to be found in the Caribbean, including fresh lobster, conch, goat curries, Johnny Cakes and West Indian roti.
Apple Bay Beach is known for having some of the best surfing conditions in the Caribbean. Brewer's Bay Beach is home to some spectacular ruins, and has some of the best snorkeling on the island. Beautiful Elizabeth Beach (Lambert Bay) has soft white sand and sheltering palm groves. The western end of Long Bay offers peaceful solitude and ideal swimming. At the western-most end of Tortola, Smuggler's Cove - while hard to reach - is secluded, sheltered and serene. Accessible by an unpaved yet passable road, those "in the know" are drawn to its warm, clear water, adventurous snorkeling, and sea turtle sightings.
The history buff will be delighted with a full menu of cultural and historical attractions, including the 1780 Lower Estate Sugar Works Museum, Fort Burt, Mount Healthy WIndmill, Callwood's Rum Distillers, J.R. O'Neil Botanical Gardens, and Old Government House Museum.
Virgin Gorda attracts travelers with its protected harbor and anchorages, quiet coves, luxury resorts and villas. The Baths (a labyrinth of boulders on the water's edge) on Virgin Gorda - the third largest island in the BVI chain - is one of the most photographed places in the Caribbean. This eight and a half square mile island is home to a bevy of beautiful unspoiled beaches - such as Savannah Bay, Pond Bay, Devil's Bay, Maho Bay and Spring Bay - for swimming, snorkeling and enjoying spectacular sunsets.
Virgin Gorda's indigenous flora are well displayed on trails, in nature sanctuaries and Gorda Peak, a 260-acre national park donated by Lawrence Rockefellar in 1974. Other points of interest include Devil's Bay National Park; Spring Bay National Park (great for families - has a picnic area and swings); Little Fort National Park with its Spanish ruins; Valey Trunk Bay (for turtle watching); and The Baths, a collection of massive granite boulders as large as 40 feet in diameter, with white sand beaches and mysterious rock pools - not to be missed!
Also on Virgin Gorda is the Copper Mine, which has an intriguing history starting with the AmerIndians who used the metal to devise tools, and the Cornish laborers and their 1800s settlement.
Anegada's claim to fame is the lobster caught off the island's shores, said to be the best in the Caribbean. Named Anegada or the “Drowned Land” by the Spanish, Anegada is the only coral island in the Virgin Islands’s volcanic chain. Measuring 11 miles by three, its highest point is just 28 feet above sea level. Striking coral reefs surround the island, including the Eastern Caribbean’s third largest continuous reef, Horseshoe Reef. Secluded, white sandy beaches protected by the sheltering reef make for ideal swimming conditions and include: Cow Wreck Beach, Flash of Beauty, Bones Bight and Windlass Bight.
Snorkelers and scuba divers will delight in the reef’s mazes, tunnels and dropoffs, which are rich in needle fish, mojarra, stingrays, parrot fish and other marine life, while those with sea legs will enjoy watersports, sport fishing and bonefishing. You can also explore the wreckages of numerous Spanish galleons, American privateers and British warships.
Discover the island’s history through a maze of stone walls that surround the Main Town’s Settlement, or through the Arawak’s ancient conch burial mounds in the East End.
Anegada can be reached via the ferry or charter aircraft.
Jost Van Dyke is named for an early Dutch settler and former pirate. Rugged scenery and colorful folklore make up Jost Van Dyke. With fewer than 300 inhabitants, it measures just four miles by three, with the highest point at 1,054 feet and has been home to Arawak Indians, Caribs, Dutch, Africans and the British. Notable inhabitants have included William Thornton, architect of the U.S. Capitol Building, and John Lettsome, founder of the London Medical Society.
As a point of interest, William Thornton was born on
May 20, 1759 on Jost Van Dyke and died on March 28, 1828 in Washington, D.C.. He was educated in Scotland as a physician, but rarely practiced his profession. As an architect, Thornton was self-taught. He also was a painter, and an inventor. William Thornton's plantation on Tortola was located in the Pleasant Valley area near Nanny Cay. A few entrepreneurs named a party ship - the William Thornton or Willy-T - after him and, if you enjoy the scene, a visit to the Willy-T (off Norman Island) is a heck of a lot of fun.
Enjoy protected anchorages and unspoiled beaches shaded with coconut palms and seagrape trees at Great Harbour, Little Harbour and White Bay. Indulge in Jost Van Dyke’s favored cuisine, such as barbecues, West Indian rotis, flying fish sandwiches, grilled fresh fish and lobster. Club Paradise is famous for its conch stew and barbecued ribs, while the Caribbean’s most famous cocktail, “The Painkiller,” was invented at The Soggy Dollar Bar. Great Harbour is world-famous for its yacht-filled parties on Halloween and New Year’s Eve.
What You Won't Find
There are no high-rise hotels, fast food restaurants, pushy beach peddlers, aggressive shopkeepers, timeshares or gambling.
What To Do
Take full advantage of the water taxis (ferries) that run among the islands, or charter a captained boat (we can help you) and do a private tour. Have lunch at a different place each day, or pack a picnic lunch (cheese, bread, fruit and champagne or wine) and explore any of the beautiful beaches (as mentioned above) that the destination boasts. Whether swimming from shore or a boat, the snorkeling is amazing in some of the clearest water in the Caribbean.
Why People Come Here
The beauty of the BVIs draws a wide sweep of visitors. Honeymooners desiring privacy and seclusion. Families wanting to explore the culture and history of the island to augment their beach time. Snorkelers and scuba divers attracted by the abundant reefs and numerous wrecks. Over-stressed friends bent on having a fun-filled, active vacation that includes hitting some of the most interesting bars in the Caribbean. Because these islands benefit from a healthy economy, you won't find the same amount of poverty that you might in other Caribbean destinations.
Other BVIs Norman Island is one of several islands in the BVI that reputedly inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Treasure Island. Norman Island has so many caves, hidden bays and wrecks that explorers still hope to find treasure. Cooper Island lies adjacent to ‘wreck alley’ where vessels have been deliberately sunk to create dive sites. This is a popular spot for divers who can also rent tanks and equipment from a local store. Peter Island, Necker Island and Guana Island are among the few remaining privately-owned islands. Guana Island boasts powder-soft, sandy white beaches, acres of tropical forest, hills and valleys and reputedly more flora and fauna than any island of its size in the Caribbean and possibly the world.
VHR, WORLDWIDE has been offering a selection of the finest private homes, villa resorts and private islands in the BVIs for more than three decades. We know the destination well because we have worked for hotels and private islands there - and we travel to the island regularly. We are personally acquainted with a sizable selection of lovely vacation homes and villa resorts throughout the islands, some of which may be found on this site.
VHR, WORLDWIDE's properties are generally staffed with a housekeeper. While a few villas have a cook, most do not but with ample advance notice we may be able to arrange the services of a chef or cook for you. Arrangements for services not provided can be made upon request, at extra cost, including a car rental which is a must on Tortola and Virgin Gorda to take in all that these islands have to offer.
"Our honeymoon could not have been nicer or more romantic. The villa was perfect! Thank you for
making our special trip a memorable experience. We will book with you again, and have already
recommended you to friends who are planning their family reunion in the Caribbean!"
- Cathy and Steve