This British Virgin Island is one of those civilized places where families can do as much or as little as they please and still have fun.
If you swim and snorkel in its radiant bays, dive in its mysterious caves, frolic on its white sand crescent beaches, hike its ribbons of lush hillsides and mountaintops, and laugh in its sunshine, you’ll have found the true essence of Tortola. Rising from the Technicolor tides, it’s no wonder that Christopher Columbus, on his second voyage to the new world in 1493, encountered this very special corner of the Caribbean and claimed it for Spain.
Spanish for the turtledove’s purring call, Tortola is the largest island in the BVI and known as “Nature’s Little Secret.” Noted for her natural beauty, Tortola has more than 30 bays sheltered by the impressive slopes and lush green peaks that dominate the land.
Whether it’s the sheer bliss of a perfect day, or a day full of adventure and fun, Tortola provides the right blend of experiences for the whole family. Everyone can set their own pace doing as much – or as little – as they please.
A Marine Heaven
The waters in and around the island are remarkably clear, drawing many certified scuba divers and snorkelers. Found in abundance in this marine heaven are extraordinary coral gardens, magnificent undersea walls, caves, sunken wrecks and exotic marine life. Beginners will love Painted Walls, a shallow dive off the southern point of Dead Chest, where divers can thrill to the kaleidoscope of colors created by encrusting corals and sponges on the walls of long gullies.
Adults and teens will revel in the awesome snorkeling and scuba diving spots at Blonde Rock, a pinnacle between Dead Chest and Salt Island. Here, to the delight of all, rock ledges, tunnels, caves and overhangs are home to crabs, lobster, beautiful fan coral and hordes of reef fish.
Dolphin Discovery at Prospect Reef provides a structured way to take advantage of the environment. Taking part in this fantastic interactive dolphin program is an experience that will always be treasured. Swimming up close to these intelligent and amazing creatures at Prospect Reef is sheer bliss. For detailed information regarding minimum ages, reservations, and rates, visit their website.
Tortola is also a major center for crewed charterboats and bareboats with stunning anchorages, each offering different attractions for family members to enjoy. As the backbone of the Sir Frances Drake Channel, it creates the best sailing in the world, as the smaller southern islands of Norman, Peter, Cooper, Salt and Ginger form the outer edge for safe passages of sailors
Miles of palm-studded pristine beaches for strolling, splashing and treasure hunting cast a golden hue along Smugglers Cove, Cane Garden Bay, Brewers Bay, Long Bay, Josiah’s Bay, Apple Bay and Elizabeth Beach.
Many well-equipped boat charters and other facilities for fishing are also available.
Paradise On Land
It’s easy to blend a fun family activity with a learning experience, trekking up the mountainous peaks that dominate the land. Escape to the cool slopes of the highest point, Sage Mountain National Park, sheltering a primeval rainforest hidden deep inside.
For the more fit and adventurous family members, the long climb up Ridge Road is spotted with rugged heights and maginificent vistas. You’ll be rewarded with views of sweeping Cane Garden Bay, whose pure white sand beach is decorated only by coconut palms, seagrapes and a lone tire swing. For a trip into the clouds, everyone will love Skyworld offering a commanding 360-degree panoramic view of other Virgin Islands.
For a change of pace, the J.R. O’Neal Botanic Gardens offers peaceful walks through pathways covered with colorful vines, a miniature rain forest and a fern house.
Historic Sites & Cultural Landmarks
Generations and cultures are well represented in Road Town, the seat of the BVI government that has burgeoned into a bustling municipality. Main Street, in addition to being the shopping district, is home to several historical landmarks, including the post office and the Anglican Church constructed in 1840. Be sure and take a peek inside the restored Government House, for a brief introduction to the island’s history.
Linger a little longer at the Virgin Island Folk Museum where young and old can marvel at the exhibit of Arawak stone tools. Also on view are intriguing artifacts from two historic shipwrecks: The 14-gun sloop HMS Nymph that succumbed to fire in the harbor of Roadtown in 1783; and the 310-foot-long, iron hulled steam-sailer built in England in 1865, that sank two years later on the lee side of Salt Island.
For a taste of local color, stop at Bamba Shack on Carpoon’s Bay. Enjoy cold drinks and snacks, and marvel at this decked out combination wreck and garage sale shack that has become a “landmark,” for visitors. For some English pub fare, tropical drinks and local shopping, visit Pusser’s on Main Street.
Wander through centuries old Mount Healthy Windmill National Park, where slaves cultivated, harvested and processed raw cane into sugar. The property includes the boiling house, distillery, and remnants of the animal mill round.
To suit a variety of guests and their varied needs, accommodations range from campgrounds to luxury resorts and private villas. In general, however, these islands are expensive.
An ideal home base for the family is Long Bay Beach Resort and Villas set in a secluded 52-acre hillside. After a day of adventure and fun, enjoy your luxurious accommodations, or just lay back and relax in your hammock alongside your spacious villa, and watch pelicans dive for fish. Current rates, summer specials and general information are available on the website.
The best way to enjoy the freedom of exploring the island ‘s beaches, and nooks and crannies at your own pace, is by renting your own car, jeep, 4 wheel drive SUV or ATV. Driving is on the left side of the street, town roads are easily accessed and traffic is usually light.
Hertz offers free pick-up and drop-offs to and from all their locations, and a small fee for all vehicle drop offs at the airport. Vehicles can be reserved online.
Getting to Tortola is easy, but you’ll have to change planes somewhere along the way. The main airport serving the BVI is located on Beef Island. Best bet is via American Airlines to San Juan and then on to Tortola
Photos by Mel Greenberg
For further information, brochures and a complete list of accommodations, visit the BVI Tourism site.
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.