Tortola

Tortola, the main island, is where 81% of the total population live. Mount Sage, the highest point in the archipelago, rises to 1,780 ft, and traces of a primeval rainforest can still be found on its slopes. Walking trails have been marked through Mount Sage National Park. The south part of the island is mountainous and rocky, covered with scrub, frangipani and ginger thomas. The north has groves of bananas, mangoes and palm trees, and long sandy beaches.

Road Town

On the south shore, is the capital and business centre of the territory, dominated by marinas and financial companies which line the harbour. There are many gift shops, hotels and restaurants catering for the tourist market. Main Street, the most picturesque street, houses some of the oldest buildings and churches and the colonial prison (replaced by a modern prison in 1997 for 120 inmates). Until the 1960s, Main Street was the waterfront road, but land infill has allowed a dual carriageway, Waterfront Drive and Wickhams Cay, to be built between it and the sea. Wickhams Cay has very grand and imposing government offices on the waterfront overlooking the harbour entrance. Also in this area are banks, offices, Cable & Wireless, a small craft village and the tourist office. Small cruise ships call frequently.
Old
 Government House
, above Waterfront Drive overlooking the harbour has been restored and is now a public museum. There is a fine display of flamboyant trees. The 4-acre
Joseph Reynold O'Neal Botanic Gardens
, www.bvinationalparks trust.org/toparks_2.html,
 near the police station in Road Town has a good selection of tropical and subtropical plants such as palm trees, succulents, ferns and orchids. There is a good booklet which gives a suggested route round the garden, pond, orchid house, fern house and medicinal herb garden. It is peaceful, luxuriant, with magnificent pergolas, recommended. The small
BVI Folk Museum
, in a lovely old wooden building, contains some Amerindian pottery and salvaged artefacts from the
Rhone
.

Around Tortola

There are also communities at East End and West End.
West End
has more facilities for visitors.
Soper's Hole
is a busy port of entry (ferries to St Thomas, St John and Jost Van Dyke leave from here) and popular meeting place for people on yachts, with bars, restaurants, boutiques and a dive shop. All the buildings are painted in bright pinks and blues. It is relaxing to sip cocktails on the dock and watch the yachts come and go. The
Jolly Roger
, on the opposite side of the bay, is a popular yachtie hangout. The area is famous for being the former home of Edward Teach (Blackbeard the pirate).

The best beaches are along the northwest and north coasts.
Smugglers Cove
,
Long Bay
and
Apple Bay
, West End, have fine sandy beaches. If you have no transport, Smugglers Cove is an hour's walk on a dirt road over a steep hill from West End. The beach is usually deserted, although there are plans to build a villa hotel here. Apple Bay is popular with surfers from November for a few months, as is the east end of Cane Garden Bay and Josiah's Bay.
Carrot Bay
is stony, there is no sand, but there are lots of pelicans and the village is pleasant, having a very Caribbean feel with several bars, palm trees and banana plants.
Cane Garden Bay
is the best beach and yachts can anchor there. There are two reefs with a marked gap in between. The
Callwood Rum Distillery
at Cane Garden Bay still produces rum with copper boiling vats and an old still and cane crusher in much the same way as it did in the 18th century.
Brewers Bay
is long and curving with plenty of shade and a small campsite in the trees by the beach.
Shark Bay
is a mixture of sand and rock, while on the hillside, in the Gaby Nitkin Nature Reserve, there are large volcanic boulders forming a 'Bat Cave' where wild orchids grow. Park on the main road and hike along the private road.
Elizabeth Bay
and
Long Bay
, East End, are also nice beaches.

Tortola is superb, but the full flavour of the BVI can only be discovered by cruising round the other islands. You can also take day trips on the regular ferry to Virgin Gorda, with lunch and a visit to The Baths included if you wish.

Beef Island

The main airport for the BVI is here. For many years the island was linked to Tortola by the
Queen Elizabeth bridge
, opened in 1966, but in 2003 it was dismantled and a new bridge was built.
Long Bay beach
is on the north shore, as is
Trellis Bay
which has an excellent harbour and bars.

Marina Cay

This tiny private island of 6 acres just north of Beef Island was where Robb White wrote his book
Our Virgin Isle
, later made into a film starring Sidney Poitier and John Cassavetes. A reef encircles the island, offering some of the best snorkelling in the BVI. If sailing, enter from the north.

Scrub Island

A 5-minute ferry ride from Beef Island, Scrub Island is one of those places no one ever writes about, a private island amounting to 230 acres of wilderness. Now, however, all that is changing, with the construction on 55 acres of a new resort and marina at the west end of the island facing Great Camanoe. Mainsail Hotels sold suites and villas before they were built, with the lure of a 65-slip full-service marina (Mainsail Scrub Marina) with an emphasis on sport fishing, luxury spa and health club, three beaches, eight pools, tennis courts, watersports, restaurants, shops, bars, observatory, amphitheatre and not one, but two helipads, with accompanying roads and infrastructure, www.mainsailbvi.com.

Guana Island

North of Tortola, Guana Island is an 850-acre private island and wildlife sanctuary as well as having a very expensive hotel. The owners discourage visitors apart from hotel guests, in order to keep the island a sanctuary for wildlife. A few flamingos have been introduced to the island. They live in a small pond where the salinity fluctuates widely so their diets are supplemented with food and water if they need it. The birds used to live in a zoo, so they are fairly tame.

The Dogs

Northeast of Tortola are The Dogs, a group of small, uninhabited islands.
West Dog
is a national park. On
Great Dog
you can see frigate birds nesting. The islands are often used as a stopping-off point when sailing from North Sound to Jost Van Dyke, and are popular with divers coming from North Sound for the interesting rock formations, with canyons and bridges underwater. The best anchorages are on
George Dog
to the west of Kitchen Point and on the south side of Great Dog.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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