Your charter yacht experience of the British Virgin Islands (BVI) will include the fabulous Virgin Gorda, famous for its baths, Jost van Dyke as well as the smaller islands in the BVI archipelago such as Norman Island and Cooper Island. This wondrous adventure you’re about to embark on is likely to start in beautiful Tortola (Spanish for Turtle Dove). With a population of just over 24,000 this lush mountainous island is the largest most populous of the British Virgin Islands and is a perfect starting point for your charter yacht adventure. But, before you set sail on your charter cruise vacation of a lifetime, why not take a day or two to explore the island itself? You will have plenty of time to take it in from the crystal-clear waters of the Caribbean from your charter yacht and have ample opportunity to anchor at its various ports for a little mooch around but the island itself has a lot to offer its visitors. Here are some travel tips and activities to consider should you be so inclined to stay on Tortola island awhile. There are plenty of things to do on Tortola Island either before or after your charter yacht vacation.
On/Off-Road Jeep Safari
Feel the traction of a Jeep Wrangler on the highways and byways of inland Tortola and experience its dense mountainous interior. Reach new heights and enjoy majestic views of nearby islands while climbing high above sea level on the spectacular Ridge Road, which follows the center spine of the island, a mountainous area sloping off to Tortola’s north shore known for its white sandy beaches and great surf beaches, such as Josiah’s Bay, Apple Bay and Cane Garden Bay. Or choose the coastal road which snakes along the outer perimeter of the southern shore connecting charming rural communities from the east and west ends of the island with bustling Road Town in the center. From these winding narrow (and sometimes bumpy!) roads, you will get to explore tropical flora and fauna and enjoy beautiful vistas of Tortola, Tortola beaches and the neighboring islands of Virgin Gorda, Jost van Dyke, Norman Island, and others. Enjoy the fabulous photo opportunities from numerous lookout points. Tortola’s many coves and cays, some inaccessible on your charter yacht, can be reached by road. Your Tortola Jeep Safari excursion will allow you to explore the best beaches in Tortola and out of the way restaurants that can only be accessed by narrow dirt tracks, a very enjoyable way to travel Tortola.
If exploring the island of Tortola by road doesn’t entice you but you would still kill for that ‘birds eye view’ from the top, a Zipline Canopy Tour might be just what you need. Situated at the highest point of Johnsons Ghut, above Road Town cruise ports, the Tortola island zip line is located in the most glorious of settings and is as exhilarating as it is sheer indulgent FUN! This is also a great opportunity to delight in all the flora and fauna that inhabits the thick, dense vegetation of inland Tortola.
Kayak through the mangroves
With so many options of watersport toys available for hire on your charter yacht, this might be one that is included, but in case a kayak hasn’t hit your list, a perfect place to experience it is to set off from is Nanny Cay, near Road Town. Take your time to explore the shallower waters from just above the surface, paddle alongside sea turtles and shoals of reef fish and enjoy the tiny bays and inlets along the way. Experience the salt-tolerant mangroves that grow in or near the water’s edge, which provide countless benefits to nature and humans. Mangroves provide habitat and nursery areas for fish, playing an important role in fishery and coral reef health. Additionally, they help maintain good water quality by providing a catchment area for runoff from higher ground. They also act as a buffer for storm surge – wind and waves – protecting coastlines.
Learn to Kitesurf
Kitesurfing is becoming increasingly popular around the world and The British Virgin Islands offer ideal conditions for learning to Kitesurf. There are many schools and hiring outlets providing this service, on and around Tortola.
There is plenty of shopping available on Tortola. From island made crafts to food and grocery markets for those looking for a bit of BVI authenticity, to supermarkets and clothing chains. Go shopping on Road town’s main street or explore the brightly painted, purple-roofed buildings of Tortola Pier Park where you will delight in souvenir shops, clothing, and jewelry boutiques, in amongst fabulous bars and restaurants. You are in for a real treat with the quaint little shopping stores of Soaper’s Hole Marina at Pusser’s landing and a shopping center can be found at neighboring Frenchman’s Cay, which is linked to Tortola by a small bridge. Interesting things on offer include handicrafts, beaded jewelry, gems, spices, unique island-made clothing, music, Caribbean-distilled rums as well as fabulous artworks. Try many more shopping sites in the other towns you visit on the island, there is plenty to choose from.
Visit the JR O’Neal Botanic gardens in Road Town
The Botanic Gardens in Road Town is a tranquil 3.5-acre national park and is the perfect place for refuge from the hustle and bustle of the busy port. The gardens boast an abundant array of indigenous and exotic tropical plants. You will discover a fern house, an orchid pavilion and an aviary of local bird specimens. Rest on a bench and enjoy the tranquility of the lily pond or learn about the ecology of the local rainforests. Explore the cactus grove and enjoy the herb garden, with its seasonal crop. It’s about two blocks north of the town’s central roundabout and is easy to get to on foot.
You are likely to come across a pod of dolphin or two whilst on your charter yacht as dolphins are thankfully in abundance in the Caribbean. The number of dolphins in a pod can is generally between 30 and 60, but many more can often be seen. In the Caribbean waters, there are pilot whales, sperm whales, false Orcas, and humpback whales. Dolphin varieties include bottlenose, Fraser, spotted and spinners. If you would prefer to get a little closer to these gorgeous mammals, you can experience them with a Dolphin Discovery excursion. Swimming with dolphins at the Dolphins is pretty exciting because you can interact and contemplate their behavior in their natural habitat. Should you wish to learn, meet and greet these charming creations, the Dolphin Centre is a fun-packed activity and is great for the entire family. The reserve also teaches you how to care for the marine environment and the dolphin’s nutritional program, an educational experience that can be enjoyed by all.
Tortola’s Old Government House Museum
A visit to the Old Government House Museum will suit those that enjoy history and culture, This museum has been voted the best in the British Virgin Islands and is located in the heart of Road Town, the capital of Tortola, at the extreme south end of Main Street. This impressive whitewashed walled manor house is a classic example of British colonial architecture. It was once home to England’s appointed Governor to the British Virgin Islands. Today it is a small museum featuring some of the island’s British colonial history. It contains an abundance of pictures, documents, signs and even artifacts of the royal family and other important British personnel that have graced the island before. This beautiful, peaceful house with two floors of History and culture within its walls is a wonderful place to visit to get a sense of the history of the British Virgin Islands as well as to enjoy the period furniture and interesting artifacts.
Hike Up Mount Sage
If the idea of stretching your land legs before finding your sea legs on your charter yacht experience appeals to you, why not pick one of 12 hiking trails and explore Tortola’s beautiful Sage Mountain National Park. At 1716 ft, Mount Sage is the highest mountain in all of the British Virgin Islands. The mountain has several trails that form into a loop that leads to the very top where you can experience breathtaking views of the Caribbean and get a true sense of the British Virgin Islands archipelago. It’s a great place to spend the day exploring the lush vegetation, flora, and fauna of Tortola. Along the way, you will come across a mahogany plantation where planted trees are mixed with some natural species. Keep an eye out for some of the island birds such as the mottled brown Thrushie or Pearl-eyed Thrasher which may be feeding on fruits and berries of the vegetation around you. And if you’re looking up you may catch a glimpse of the black and white Caribbean Martin and the Killi-killi or American Kestrel hovering overhead. Back on the ground, you may notice the giant leaves of the Elephant-Ear Vine (Philodendron giganteum) among the trees. This plant trails over the ground until it reaches a tree trunk which it then begins to climb. Eventually, as the vine twists its way upwards, the lower part of the stem dies away and the connection with the ground is lost. If you find yourself on the northern Henry Adams Trail, you will come across the giant Bulletwood (Manilkara balata), reaching 100 feet with a crown of horizontal branches. The straight trunk with thick brown fissured bark reaches 4 feet in diameter; the leaves are long and elliptical. This tree, which has been severely logged in the past, is hoped to recover in the park. Other large forest trees include the Figs (Ficus laevigata f.trigonata) which produce large aerial roots often extending from the branches to the ground and support a veritable garden on their branches overflowing with ferns, vines, and bromeliads.
Explore the hidden away beaches
Not all of Tortola’s glorious beaches are accessible via your charter yacht. Anchorages for charter yachts are often not available and mariner buoys are limited or sometimes unavailable altogether. Stunning coastline coral reefs also put natural restrictions on your charter yacht access and anchorage is understandably strictly forbidden to ensure they are not damaged. Some of Tortola’s beaches are also popular surf spots, which means big waves can hinder access to their beaches from your charter yacht. But… difficult access can also mean a real reward for your onland efforts to get to them, such is the case with Josiah’s Bay. With its long stretch of fine white sand, Josiah’s Bay is a very popular surf spot during the peak winter surf months. Get there via land during the summer months, however, and there’s a good chance you’ll have this stunning place all to yourselves. Explore the exquisite underwater coral gardens, sunbathe, swim and just take it all in. With very little development here, this beach is as wild as it is beautiful and is definitely one to investigate and spend a bit of time on. If you’re lucky, from your beachside vantage point, you can enjoy the spectacle of the pelican’s dive-bombing into the sea to feed on the shoals of fish below. If you’re hungry, head to Naomi’s Grapetree Beach Bar (otherwise known as ‘Naomi’s Little Secret’) where everything is cooked fresh by Naomi herself. This friendly lady is something of an institution in these parts and she’ll serve you up a delicious array of Carribean classics like conch fritters, shrimp roti, and honey-stung chicken.
Another one of Tortola’s out of the way hidden beach gems is Brewers Bay. Only accessible via land (and you may need your Jeep here), this exquisite bay is a classic Caribbean beach of clean, powdery sand amidst a backdrop of coconut palms and Banyan trees and is definitely one of Tortola’s best beaches. If you do have some time whilst on your Charter Yacht adventure to explore Tortola, this is a beach you should definitely find your way to. And don’t forget to take along your snorkel gear, as the snorkeling is incredible here.
Cane Garden Bay is a more popular family-friendly beach that gets very crowded when the cruise liners are in town. It is also a popular spot for Charter Yachts to drop anchor, a good tip is to get there early by sea, and to check the Cruise Liner schedules, or how busy the cruise ports are before you plan your visit. This fabulous Tortola beach is also a little more built up as you would imagine, and geared for the tourists with restaurants and bars. It even has its own rum distillery!
Apple Bay is another one of Tortola’s beaches that is worth checking out. Bomba Shack is a popular beachside bar constructed of scrap materials. Leave your mark whilst trying out your graffiti art skills, or just enjoy a fabulous rum-based cocktail or local craft beer.
Long Bay ‘s beautiful one-mile beach is home to the Long Bay Beach Club on the east side, however a lovely walk across to the west side and you’ll find a peaceful, untouched narrow strip of sand with great swimming and snorkeling.
Smuggler’s Cove is a favorite anchorage for charter yachts and can be accessed on land via a four-wheel-drive dirt track. This sublime setting is as tranquil as it is beautiful, with its soft, fine white-sand Caribbean beach gently submerging into incredible turquoise crystal clear waters. It is picture-postcard glorious and features just one bar and eatery, Nigel’s Boom Boom Bar & Grill.