Ever wonder what it would be like to roam the lands and seas traversed by the likes of Blackbeard and Captain Kidd? During adventures in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), you won’t have to. While the islands boast a laid-back, barefoot sophistication hard to find anywhere else, traces of Blackbeard’s adventure are still to be found in the perfectly mixed rum-infused painkiller, the salty spray of the ocean as you kayak through its crystal waters, and the rainbow-colored fish darting into coral caves as you snorkel beneath the BVI’s tepid seas. Dive in to adventure travel programs in the British Virgin Islands!
The British Virgin Islands are a cluster of over 50 islands dotting the Caribbean Sea, but only 15 are inhabited. With the general policy of “no shoes, no problem,” the islands are truly a relaxed haven to enjoy nature as it was intended: unspoiled and teeming with life. Most of the islands are remnants from hundreds of years of volcanic action (not everything here is virgin, if you catch my drift), which makes them hard to settle. Even in recent times there’s been a concentrated effort to keep resorts and chain hotels out, meaning nature is very much in.
The largest and most populated island, Tortola, is home to the capital, Road Town — the perfect jumping off point for adventures in BVI. Apart from being the central port of ferries to the surrounding islands, it is also the islands’ commercial and historic center. On the west of the island, you can visit the secluded Smuggler’s Cove, an area so pristine it was used in the 1990 Hollywood remake of The Old Man and the Sea.
If you want to get a bit more active while traveling in the British Virgin Islands, head over to Virgin Gorda, named by Christopher Columbus himself due to its likeness of… you guessed it…a fat woman. It has some of the best windsurfing and kiteboarding in the area, and is home to one of the most popular spectacles of the islands: a group of 40-foot granite boulders known as the Baths. Squeeze your way through this awesome geological display and explore its seemingly infinite tidal pools, tunnels, arches, and grottoes.
Adventures in the British Virgin Islands
While the British Virgin Islands are a water-lover’s paradise, there is no shortage of adventure above land, either. Above or below, there are countless ways to explore the diverse flora and fauna that flourish in the balmy Caribbean weather.
Adventures in BVI are renowned for their sailing due to the many sheltered bodies of water formed by the particular grouping of the islands. Land is always in sight and you could easily spend a week exploring different islands and anchorages, and still not see it all. If you want to power yourself, try sea kayaking and be even closer to the famed turquoise waters.
If you’re ready to dive in as a traveler in the BVI - do it! The islands rank among the top ten dive sites in the world, and there’s no question why. From the colorful diversity of healthy coral reefs to the decaying beauty of 100-year old shipwrecks, both novice and experienced divers alike will find something to enjoy.
For snorkeling, head north from Virgin Gorda to Anegada, an island whose name means Drowned Land in Spanish. A mere eight feet above sea level, visibility on the island is so low that ships used to find themselves in the reef before even noticing the land. This caused hundreds of shipwrecks throughout the BVI’s storied history. If you can brave the karma, you’ll be rewarded with colorful corals, nurse sharks, turtles, and tropical fish in one of the largest reefs in the world.
When you’re ready to dry out, check out the hiking at Gorda Peak National park. Tour the over 100 hectares of semi-rainforest and try to spot the native orchids among the bounty of rare plants. If you’re lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of the world’s smallest lizard, the Virgin Gorda gecko! You can also hit the trails at Sage Mountain National Park, which was a gift from the Rockefellers to the government.
Costs & Affordability
The BVI are on the higher end of tropical destinations, but that doesn’t mean that traveling here has to break the bank. While there are opportunities to spend thousands of dollars, you can just as easily bring your own snorkel gear, hike for free, and still have an unforgettable experience for just a fraction of the cost.
Day-to-day living is average compared to the surrounding Caribbean islands. A typical lunch might set you back $6-$13, while dinner can range from $15-$30. The sight of your friend diving into BVI’s national dish, however: priceless! Who knew fish, fungi, and mayonnaise could taste so good?
Most of the islands have ATMs, but if you’re visiting Jost Van Dyke, Anegada, or any of the smaller islands, you’ll need to bring cash with you. Be sure to factor in a departure tax of $20 when you leave the islands.
Organized adventure travel programs in the British Virgin Islands might come with what seems to be a high price tag, but it makes a lot more sense when you realize that accommodation, transportation, food, lifelong friends, and group selfies are included. Whether it’s bouldering or diving that floats your boat, adventure activities usually require specialized gear. Between equipment, daily expenses, and hassle-free logistics, activity costs start to appear much more reasonable.
Accommodations & Visas
The British Virgin Islands are known for giving thrill-seekers the best of both worlds: exciting opportunities to explore the natural world and tranquil accommodation to rest and rejuvenate. If you’re not Kenny Chesney and able to fork over enough for your own private island, there are many more affordable options to recharge your batteries at the end of the day.
One of the most basic digs can also be the most rewarding; there are several organized campsites where you can pitch a tent and have the ocean practically mist you awake. Another cheap option is dorm rooms, which are the most common type of accommodation offered by organized tours. Then, of course, there are the fancy all-inclusive resorts. While more expensive, this latter option does often include excursions, gear, and tours. One of the most ubiquitous pieces of advice is this: don’t limit yourself to just one! Book a stay in at least two to three places for the best overall experience.
The British Virgin Islands are a territory of the British rule. For most, a passport will suffice when entering by plane or ferry (some nationalities are allowed entrance with a combination of valid photo ID and birth certificate), and as long as a return ticket is provided, no visas are required for stays under 30 days. To see what applies to you, visit any British embassy and ask about visas for UK Overseas Territories.
Benefits & Challenges
Seclusion doesn’t come without a price, unfortunately. And in this case, the price is the chore of getting there. Chore, or adventure? That’s up to you. There are no direct flights from the USA, Canada, Europe, or South America, and even once there, you’ll need to plan around ferry schedules to get to the island of your choice. This may mean spending an extra night on Tortola before making your way to the smaller islands.
Once through this rigmarole, however, you’ll find yourself in unspoiled paradise that truly lives up to its name. The British Virgin Islands have some of the most stunning, clean beaches in the Caribbean and dive sites brimming with life. Of the relatively few people you’ll meet, you’ll immediately detect a relaxed, easy-going charm and no-stress attitude. While you may spend the day on a beach to yourself enjoying the calm, natural beauty, it’s easy to find fun bars to liven up the night with dancing, live music, and various rum-infused cocktails to get your feet tapping and hips moving!
While much has changed since the Arawaks first inhabited the islands over 2000 years ago, the spirit has stayed the same. Adventures in the BVI is truly one of Earth’s portals to a timeless realm, and in exploring its many treasures, it’s easy to feel connected to a world larger than yourself.