Many Caribbean islands feel like an unfortunate extension of the United States, complete with familiar chain restaurants, shopping centers, and all the comforts of home. But you don’t have to venture far to experience the unique culture of the Caribbean—you just have to pick the right spot. And if you’re planning a trip to the British Virgin Islands (BVI), you’ve already got a great head start.
A string of islands located east of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands are a perfect destination for lounging on the beach, getting down in the dirt, or taking off with the wind. With sparkling waters and beautiful bays, it’s no wonder so many celebrities and millionaires build their homes in the BVI.
Once you arrive, here are the most unforgettable things to do in the British Virgin Islands.
Charter a Boat
You don’t have to own your own boat to enjoy the boating scene in the British Virgin Islands. If you’re traveling in a large group or are happy making friends with your cabinmates on a shared vessel, chartering a boat is one of the best ways to experience the BVI. With a charter company like BVI Yacht Charters or Dream Yacht Charter, you can select which boat you’d like to travel on, and the rest is up to you.
Private charters give you the freedom to explore the stunning blue waters and anchor down wherever you like. Being on a boat will also let you participate in many boating events in the British Virgin Islands, like the annual Leverick Bay Poker Run, where you’ll witness more than 300 decked-out boats race around the islands to collect playing cards and compete for the prizewinning hand.
If you only have the budget for one day of the good life, many companies and tour operators offer fully customizable yachting day trips.
Explore the Baths on Virgin Gorda
No matter what else you decide to do on the British Virgin Islands, the Baths on Virgin Gorda is the one stop you should not miss. A geological wonder, the Baths appear from far away like a pile of rocks in a frozen state of tumbling. Made up of massive boulders, the Baths are a series of pools and caves that sit right on the beach, from which you enter through a tiny opening between the rocks.
As you wander barefoot through the soft sand and cool waters of the caves, stopping to bask in the ethereal light of “the Cathedral,” you’ll have rope guides and wooden ladders handy to assist your exploration. Don’t forget to walk through to the end of the caves, where you’ll find Devil’s Bay—a small and serene beach adjacent to the Baths.
Spend a Night in Anegada
As you approach the island of Anegada from the water, the island appears comically flat—a thin green line cheating the horizon. That’s because unlike many of the other islands in the Caribbean that were formed by volcanic eruptions, Anegada sits on a coral reef.
With an hour-long ferry ride separating the island and its small population from the main islands, Anegada feels spacious, wild, and distant. On a clear night, you’ll struggle to find a piece of sky not sparkling with stars.
The island offers beaches, flamingos, an iguana sanctuary that’s free to visit, and a population of wild cows that almost outnumber the people. From the shore, you might spot the pink mounds of conch shells in the water—they’re piles of excess shells stacked in the water by fishermen. Because Anegada is the most distant of all the British Virgin Islands, make sure to spend at least one full day and one night to enjoy all it has to offer.
To make a trip extra special, check out the waterfront glamping cabins at the Anegada Beach Club.
Try the Street Food in Tortola
Tortola is the busiest of all the British Virgin Islands and is full of experiences that shouldn’t be missed, whether or not you spend the night there. For an authentic Caribbean bite, take advantage of Tortola’s plentiful street food options. Throughout the island, you’ll find small food shacks serving up all kinds of Caribbean fare, from home-cooked chicken and rice to roti and salt fish.
On my trip to the British Virgin Islands, I stopped by De Burger Man to try what I had heard was the best burger to be found throughout the islands. The wait was long at this super-popular shack, but the burger was well worth it.
Try the Brews on Cooper Island
Think you can’t get craft beer in the Caribbean? Think again. At Cooper Island Beach Club, the drafts never stop flowing, thanks to the on-site microbrewery. Tucked behind the café, the small brewing operation provides all the beer—from pilsners to lagers and even IPAS—for the resort.
It might appear to be an excessively hip luxury, but the microbrewery actually helps the resort stay eco-friendly. By producing its own drafts, Cooper Island Beach Club cuts down on aluminum and glass waste, as well as the fuel needed to transport bottles and cans to the island. So you can enjoy the beach views and a cold beer without a trace of guilt.
Plus, if you’re longing for a brew of the coffee bean variety, the on-site café can make just about any drink to satisfy your caffeine craving.
Try the Conch
When it comes to beach décor, conch shells are king. You’ve seen them embroidered on towels and maybe even serving the role as an exotic paperweight, but in the British Virgin Islands, you can taste some of the freshest conch in the world. As evidenced by the giant mountains of empty conch shells you’ll find on Anegada, the British Virgin Islands has no shortage of the shellfish, and it’s one of the territory’s most iconic foods. You can try it fried, in a salad, or even in a ceviche.
If you’re already a huge conch-lover, seek out Kelly’s Sea and Land Tours on Anegada, where you can see the giant conch mountains for yourself and learn how to harvest your own conch.
Board the Willy T
This floating bar and restaurant is one of the most iconic spots in all of the British Virgin Islands. Famous for its water-ski shots, pirate décor, and boisterous parties, Willy T is a must-stop if you’re sailing around the islands looking for the young and rowdy crowd. Though the bar, which is located on a pirate ship, sustained damage during Hurricane Irma in 2017, the repaired boat has re-opened with an even bigger capacity in the harbor on Peter Island. Don’t miss the fish tacos—or the chance to jump off the top of the boat into the clear blue waters of the Caribbean.
Dive the Kodiak Queen
Whether you’re a diver or a snorkeler, don’t overlook the Caribbean’s newest underwater art-piece and dive site—the Kodiak Queen. In 2012, the Kodiak Queen was just another ship in a junkyard on Tortola, until one day an amateur naval historian on a sailing vacation in the British Virgin Islands uncovered its major historical significance. Formerly a U.S. Navy fuel barge, this ship was one of only five that survived the Pearl Harbor attacks in 1941. Officially retired and beyond repair after its second life as a fishing vessel, an employee of Richard Branson posed an idea to his billionaire boss—to sink the Kodiak Queen and turn it into an art piece with the addition of a giant kraken sculpture made out of rebar and mesh, which will serve as an artificial coral reef and dive site. To arrange a diving or snorkeling trip, check out Dive BVI for schedules and rates.
If you’ve ever been inspired to join the kitesurfers scenically zooming along the horizon, this is a great place to pick up the sport. As one of the world’s kitesurfing paradises due to its good trade winds, calm waters, and plenty of room for gliding around, the British Virgin Islands are a great place to learn the basics. You can sign up for an introductory course with Carib Kiteboarding, or head to Anegada to take a lesson with Tommy Gaunt Kitesurfing. Anegada is also the home of the Anegada Kite and Paddle festival, which attracts an annual crowd of water sports enthusiasts.
Plant a Tree
The British Virgin Islands were badly damaged by Hurricane Irma in 2017, and much of its famously lush vegetation was torn up and blown away. In response, the tourism board launched the Seeds of Love Campaign to help the islands regrow their natural vegetation. Thanks to a donation of 3,000 fruit trees from the neighboring islands of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, palm trees and other kinds of necessary vegetation are being planted all over the territory to help restore balance to the ecosystem.
If you’re interested in organizing a group to participate in the Seeds of Love program, your hotel or charter company can coordinate and arrange a tree-planting session.
More from SmarterTravel
- Top 25 Ways to Save on a Caribbean Vacation
- How to Pack Snorkel Gear in Your Luggage
- 10 Best Things to Do in Aruba
Jamie Ditaranto visited the British Virgin Islands as a guest of the BVI Tourist Board. Follow her on Twitter @jamieditaranto.
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