British Virgin Islands Planning Tips and Fast Facts
Delight in the Many Wonders of Nature’s Best Kept Secret
Our Expert Opinion
This is the best sailing destination in the world for first time charterers and families. The seas are calm, the islands are close together, and there’s so much to see and do. Its natural beauty is stunning both above and below the sea. Predictable tradewinds make this one of the world’s most popular sailing destinations, and it is ideal for all types of charter yachts – catamarans, sailing yachts, motor yachts, and superyachts.
Don’t pre-plan too much – let your captain guide you to the best spots he knows.
Crystal clear waters, pristine beaches, calm and protected anchorages, island hopping, watersports, underwater adventures, laid back beach bars, barefoot in the sand nightlife, sunsplashed days, and lots of laughter
Location and Size
The British Virgin Islands, located in the northeastern Caribbean Sea, about 30 miles west of St. Thomas and 90 miles east of Puerto Rico. Nearly sixty islands and cays, the majority uninhabited, make up the BVI with the major islands being Tortola, Jost Van Dyke, and Virgin Gorda. They cover about 59 square miles.
The BVI was first settled by Arawak Indians from South America around 100BC and were displaced by the Carib tribe in the 15th century. Columbus first laid eyes on the Virgins on his second voyage to the Americas in 1493 and gave them their name Las Virgenes – the Virgins from the legend of Saint Ursula.
The English, Dutch, French, and Spanish all struggled for control of the islands in the 16th and 17th centuries with the English finally staking a claim in 1672 while the Danes gained control of what is know known as the nearby U.S. Virgin Islands. The British introduced the production of sugar cane and brought African slaves to the islands to work the fields. The islands prospered until the mid - 1800s when the abolition of slavery, hurricanes and the growth of sugar beet production in Europe sent the islands into economic decline. The islands were administered under varying forms of British rule until 1967 when they became autonomous although they are still considered a British Territory with the executive authority of the BVI is vested in the Queen of England.
Today’s economy is fueled by tourism and financial services, and the BVI are considered to be among the wealthiest of Caribbean nations.
By Air: There are no direct flights into the BVI. All flights are routed through other Caribbean Islands – typically San Juan, Puerto Rico when coming from the U.S. and Antigua, St. Kitts or St. Maarten from Europe.
By Sea: The BVI can also be accessed from St. Thomas by a public ferry or private water taxi. The travel time is from 30-45 minutes, and the ferries have multiple daily departures.
Best Time to Go
There is no such thing as the best time to visit the BVI. The BVIs are considered a year-round travel destination with sunny skies, warm weather and favorable winds throughout the year. The named hurricane season is June 1 – November 1. The active hurricane or tropical storm time is generally mid-August through late October, and we do not recommend chartering in the BVI at that time.
Local Customs to Observe
A “good morning” or “good afternoon” greeting is always appreciated when you pas someone on the street, enter a store or before you ask your questions. A smile goes a long way in getting people to help you. Residents appreciate and think it is courteous if you dress conservatively when shopping in the towns, meeting with Customs officials, and traveling in taxis or ferries. This means casual sport clothes – no swimsuits or cover-ups while walking the streets.
And remember, island time reigns supreme, and everything from getting a drink to shopping in the market happens at a very leisurely pace.
Helpful Fast Facts
Helpful Fast Facts
Currency: United States Dollar (USD)
Time Zone: Atlantic Standard Time (UTC-4)
Airport: Terrence B. Lettsome International Airport, Beef Island, Tortola (EIS)
Entry Requirements: A passport is required for travelers from North America and Europe. A Visa is required for residents of certain countries – check here.
Departure tax: $20 per person
Drinking Age: 18 years old
Smoking Regulations: Smoking in public places is not allowed. The law bans smoking in public places including bars, restaurants, nightclubs, airports, and offices as well as within 50 feet of any public space.
Staying in touch:The BVI has its own cellular providers and most international phones will roam here. A word of caution – the rates can be $2-3 per minute so check with your provider before leaving home.
Peebles Hospital on Tortola (public) with outpatient clinics on Tortola, Virgin Gorda and Jost Van Dyke
Virgin Islands Search and Rescue provides on-the-water emergency services
Medevac is readily available
Public Holidays:New Year’s Day; Lavity Stout Anniversary (March 7); Commonwealth Day (March 14); Good Friday; Easter; Easter Monday; Sovereign’s Birthday (April 21); Territory Day (July 1); Festival Monday through Wednesday (August 1-3); St. Ursula’s Day (October 21); Christmas Day (December 15); Boxing Day (December 26) Tourist Office: www.bvitourism.com
Shopping Information: Road Town on Tortola has an array of shops and galleries of arts, crafts, locally made products, souvenirs and jewelry as well as “Crafts Alive” an open air market on the waterfront. You will not find any chain stores or high end designer boutiques. Spanishtown in Virgin Gorda also has a few shops. Most resorts and bars have small gift and souvenir shops. Although it has no duty free shopping, goods are imported without duty so you can find some good prices.
Top Ten "Must Do's"
Sample a painkiller or two at the Soggy Dollar Bar, Jost Van Dyke
Watch the tarpon feeding at Saba Rock
Take a helicopter tour with Antilles Helicopter
Happy Hour with the swashbuckling Michael Beans in Limerick Bay
Enjoy fresh grilled lobster on Anegada
Make a spa date at Peter Island
Scuba dive the Wreck of the Rhone
Jump up at Foxy’s on Jost Van Dyke; better yet, meet Foxy
Explore The Baths on Virgin Gorda – arrive early morning before the crowds
Hike to the Bubbly Pool if the surf’s up
Major Local and Regional Events
Sweethearts of the Caribbean and Annual Classic Yacht Regatta – February
Loro Piana Caribbean Superyacht Regatta - March
Foxy’s St. Patrick’s Day Party – March 17
BVI Spring Regatta – March/April
BVI Emancipation Festival (Carnival) – July/August
Foxy’s Old New Year’s Night Celebration – December 31
Trellis Bay Full Moon Party – every full moon
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