Top 20 Sights In The British Virgin Islands – A Female Sailor’s Point…
I admit it – I have a soft spot for the British Virgin Islands. I learned to sail here (ASA courses), living on a 41 foot Gypsea for one week with 4 strangers, I became engaged here (at “Willy-T’s) – a bit of a surprise frankly and, finally, my husband and I just spent 2 glorious months sailing the BVIs this year in our own sailboat (our dream when we started sailing and then last year’s lay-offs prompted us to actually do it). For all the salty sailors out there, I agree that the BVIs can be over-run with charter boats and cruise ships but it really presents a glorious place to sail and explore for a few weeks. All the items listed here have been based on my own first hand experiences – although I did find the following cruising guide handy while sailing the Virgin Islands: “The Cruising Guide to the Virgin Islands – 14th Edition” by Nancy & Simon Scott.
You can see lots more pictures and read of our sailing adventures at:
1) Willy-T’s (The “William Thorton”) – anchored off Pirate’s Bight, Norman Island. This bar/restaurant, only accessible by boat, has a real reputation, and for good reason. During high season, it is a loud, rowdy, drunken bar. But that is also what makes it fun! Would recommend going there for an early happy hour or after dinner (skip the overpriced menu) and when you are feeling like having a good party night out. Honestly, you will meet the most interesting people here, of all ages and nationalities. It is the kind of place to drop in for a night if you feel like drinking, dancing or both – and want to feel in your “20s” again. If this is your thing, body shots are encouraged.
2) Dive The Wreck of the Rhone – off Salt Island. This is a must-stop for divers or wanna-be divers. Depending upon your comfort zone, dive the stern at ~40 feet or also dive the bow at ~80 feet. Depending upon your budget and expertise, you could take one of the local dive shops (I used Blue Water Divers, and would recommend their services) as they will give you a guided tour, pointing out all the key attractions, such as the “magic porthole”. You can take your own sailboat there but you will need to keep off the commercial (brightly coloured) mooring balls.
3) Harbour Market in Spanish Town – I felt a little let down by Spanish Town when I first saw it, given the build up given to it in my cruising book. Saying this, however, there are some hidden gems here that make Spanish Town worth a visit. A highlight is Harbour Market, located right on the water beside Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour. After shopping in supermarkets with very limited supplies elsewhere in the BVIs, this one made shopping/provisioning a delight – with its good selection of baked goods (bread, rolls, cakes), spice rack and, the best part, its selection of fresh fish and seafood. Depending on the day’s catch you can wander in here and find fresh 3lb lobsters or jumbo shrimp for sale. Prices are still a little high but reasonable for the BVIs and certainly much cheaper than eating out. For lunch, wander over to Fischers Cove and grab a seat right off the beach – their fresh fish specials are succulent.
4) Saba Rock Restaurant (Saba Rock Island Resort) – John and I went on our sailing adventure on a budget, which limited our spending onland. Yet, we would usually splurge a couple of times a month to try new places. Originally we dinghied over to Saba Rock for happy hour, fearing the dinner prices, but we fell in love withthe place and decided to extend our stay to dinner. And, it was well worth the splurge – make sure you ask for a table right on the water, by the underwater lights, and you will be able to watch sea creatures swimming around while you enjoy the fine dining. The meals were expensive as per the rest of the BVIs but the quality was very good and the “all-you-can-eat” salad bar was a nice plus. After dinner, make sure you take a stroll to the north side of Saba Rock, to lie in the hammock and look at the stars. Mooring balls are available here, right off the restaurant/beach, but this area can get rolly in higher winds.
5) Friday Night Caribbean BBQ & The Jumbies at Leverick Bay – What originally enticed us to Leverick Bay was the full use of its resort facilities (swimming pool, laundry, book exchange etc.), even if your boat is on a mooring ball, rather than in a slip at their marina. This is one of the few resorts to offer this to mooring customers and a decent sized bag of ice is also thrown in for free. Then we discovered Leverick Bay’s “Friday Night Jumbies & All-You -Can-Eat Caribbean Buffet”. For $30 per person (not including drinks), you can reserve a table by the pool or on the beach and enjoy as much Caribbean food as you like + a reggae band + a show by the local Jumbies. Wine is relatively affordable, starting at $30 per bottle. This evening is so popular that reservations are essential. And, make sure not to miss the resort’s daily happy hour, which is one of the best deals in the BVIs – 1/2 priced drinks (anything you want) from 5-7PM.
6) Sandy Spit, Sandy Cay – If you wish to get away from the crowds, set you anchor just off the southwest side of the sandy beach beside this picturesque island. Mind that you leave enough swing room for the reef. Imagine it – the blinding white sand, turquoise sea and lapping waves. Take a picnic lunch via dinghy to the island, write your boat name in the sand and take a picture of it. If you are lucky, you will have the island as your own and you will feel as though you are on a deserted island!
7) Anegada – This island stop is a highly recommended stop as a perfect place to while away the weekend. If you are taking your boat there, first ensure you have done your navigation research regarding entering the anchoring/mooring field. You will need to follow the channel markers and many of the electronic maps are incorrect. Upon arrival, either drop anchor or pick up a mooring ball in front of Neptune’s Treasure (if the draft on your sailboat is 5.5 feet or less) or pick up a mooring ball in the main field (outside Potter’s By The Sea). Dinghy to shore and grab a drink at any one of the local bars that line the beach and watch the fabulous sunsets. If you want to splurge, you can find a 1/2 lobster platter at Potter’s By The Sea (which is one of the cheaper places to eat on the island). This was also one of my personal favourites – rent a scooter (at the pier next to Potter’s By The Sea) or, if this option is not available grab a local taxi, and ensure you take a visit to Cow Wreck Beach on the other side of the island. Don’t expect amazing snorkeling here BUT do expect a long, deserted white sandy beach and clear turquoise waters. Help yourself to a beer or rum punch at the bar and just record it in their bar book. I would, nevertheless, recommend bringing your own lunch. Not that their food is bad, it is very limited and expensive for what you get.
8.) Cane Garden Bay – You can have good and bad experiences at this Bay, depending upon the Northern Swell. Avoid it even in a moderate swell – wait for the swell to dissipate before anchoring/mooring here for the night. Otherwise, you will spend the night rolling rather violently and you will not be able to take and leave your dinghy at the main dinghy dock. When you do get there, take the dinghy into the dock and head to any one of the many bars that line the beach (make you you hit Myett’s bar, hidden in the trees and greenery on the beach). This is a great place to also pick up provisions and ice (Bobby’s Market) – just a 5 minute walk down the road from the dinghy dock.
9) Norman Island (Pirate’s Bight) – Although Norman Island has numerous attractions, one of my favourite things to do is to grab a mooring ball closest to the reef (near to the port side of the bay if you arriving), go snorkelling in the late morning/early afternoon and then sit on the boat and watch the pelicans diving in tandem for their late afternoon feeding. Moorings here ($25 per night) include a free rum punch at Pirate’s Bight.
10) Pusser’s – Marina Cay (Micheal Bean) – The Pusser’s at Soper’s Hole has the best “Happy Hour” (2 for 1 from 5-6pm) but I am most enamoured with the Pusser’s at Marina Cay given its beautiful surroundings and, in season (end December to May), to witness Micheal Bean’s one pirate band. You can’t but help feeling overwhelmingly happy listening to him perform with such enthusiasm. And the free rum shots don’t hurt either !
11) Bubbling Pool, Diamond Cay – Don’t make the same mistake we did. Ensure you are actually at the correct “Bubbling Pool”! This is a saltwater, natural jaccuzi which is a 10-15 minute hike from Foxy’s Taboo – it really is bliss ! Follow the directed path (ask directions at the bar), you will need good walking shoes and bug spray. It can be busy in high season so head there is the late afternoon for a dip.
12) Biras Creek, Virgin Gorda (North Sound) – Take a break at Biras Creek, where you can set your anchor or pick up one of the mooring balls in the very protected bay. Take the dinghy ashore and, instead of meandering around the expensive resorts in the area, save some money and take one of the set walks over the island of Virgin Gorda (Try “Guy’s Trail”). The views from the top are breathtaking……Just ensure you have good walking shoes for the climb as the path can get a little rough and bring sunscreen and a large bottle of water.
13) Jost Van Dyke – This island is definately worth a visit, including dropping in on the infamous Soggy Dollar Bar or the original Foxy’s Taboo. A limited selection of mooring balls are available here if you wish to sail here. Just keep an eye on the Northern Swell – this can penetrate the mooring/anchoring field and make for rather rolly conditions.
14) Snorkeling at Cooper Island – Cooper Island is known for The Cooper Island Beach Club but I personally found it a little over-rated and pricey for its offerings. The best part of this stop is taking the dinghy over to Cistern Point for a snorkel or dive in the late afternoon. This is some of the best snorkeling I had experienced in the BVIs, assuming a swell isn’t running. There is a dinghy line where you can park yourselves while in the water. And, if you are really lucky, you may catch a glimpse of humpback whales that sometimes wander into the waters north of the island mooring field. (We did !)
15) The Caves at Treasure Point – A snorkeling paradise located on the west side of Norman Island. We dinghied over here from our mooring ball in The Bight at Norman Island (there is a dinghy mooring line), although you and our boat can pick up a National Trust Parks mooring ball (permit required). The snorkeling is best amongst the four caves and you will literally be swimming in schools of fish. Try and avoid going when the local tours are there.
16) The Baths – This is a “must see” but given how busy it is during high season, try and avoid the cruise crowds. You can explore Devil’s Bay, a 15-20 minute walk from the beach entrance for snorkeling, including poking in the caves or you can drape yourself on the white, sandy beaches. There are vendors here for lockers, food and drinks. If you take your boat here, you can pick up a National Parks Trust mooring (permit required) although you will need to adhere to the beach’s flag system (red = closed due to rough conditions). Another alternative – which we found nice and easy and also meant we didnt need to worry about mooring ball availability – pick up a mooring ball outside Spanish Town and grab a local cab after you tie your dinghy up the marina’s dinghy dock. It will cost $3-4 per person for the taxi ride. Entrance to The Baths = $3 per person (adult).
17) Visit to the Bitter End Yacht Club – Spa. This is a “spoil yourself” kind of place – peruse the resort grounds, enjoy the secluded swimming area and platform at the far end of the resort, grab at drink at either the restaurant or the pub, try their watersports, or relax in the spa. Make sure to check out their washrooms next to the marina office – they are built over the surf….
18) The Indians. This is a daytime outing – pick up one of the National Parks Trust mooring balls (permit required) and snorkel or go diving to your heart’s content. You will see an abundance of sea life here. Keep an eye out for the black tipped shark that likes to hang out here !
19) Trellis Bay – Save this trip for one of the Trellis Bay Village Full Moon Parties. The beach fireballs, band and Jumbies dancing are all worth it! Try the fresh banana daiquiris at “Da Loose Mongoose” while you are in the area. Also, Bellamy Cay (“The Last Resort”) is definitely worth a stop for a drink. I prefer to pick up a mooring ball across the bay, at Marina Cay, and then dinghy across to Trellis Bay, which takes 10-15 minutes. (Trellis Bay itself is a busy anchoring/mooring field, and there is the need – if your boat is greater than 30 feet – to report in to the BVI Airport Authority to report your vessel’s name, mast height and intended course).
20) Fat Hog’s Bay, Tortola (Penn’s Landing) – Ok, you will arrive here and ask yourself why this sleepy bay may have been recommended. It is not the most aesthetically attractive place you will visit but this Bay has its own charm and its own uses, especially for sailors. Firstly, I love that you could catch the local bus for $3 right into Roadtown (taking a boat into Roadtown can be rather arduous, given the traffic and sand bars). Secondly, there is great provisioning and local amenities for boaters in Fat Hog’s- try the supermarket down the road from the mooring field or try the fresh fish stand on the way to Roadtown. Thirdly, it enables you to get some peace and quiet during the high season while on Tortola as boat traffic is a little lighter here.