Main Island/Capital: Road Town, Tortola
Nationality: British Overseas Territory
Official Language: English
Offical Currency: U.S. Dollar
Comprised of 36 islands and islets in the Caribbean (17 of which are inhabited);
about 80 kilometers 960 miles) east of Puerto Rico, north of the Leeward
Islands, and adjacent to the U.S. Virgin Islands; principal islands are
Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada and Jost Van Dyke.
153 square kilometers (59 square miles); Tortola, 54 square kilometers (21
square miles); Anegada (not shown abovee), 39 square kilometers (15 square
miles); Virgin Gorda, 21 square kilometers (8 square miles).
Largely rolling hills and beaches; Tortola rises to 1,780 feet at Mount
Sage, the highest point in all the Virgin Islands; Anegada is very flat,
the entire islands being no more than a few feet above sea level.
Sub-tropical; summer, 26°C - 31°C (79°F - 89°F); Winter,
22°C - 28°C (72°F - 82°F); rainfall monthly average of 100
Total population (2002) estimate 21,644.
In 1666 British planters took over control of the island group from the
original Dutch settlers. The islands attained the status of British colony,
and remained part of the Leeward Islands from 1872 until 1956, when the
British Virgin Islands became a separatly administered entity. To preserve
its close economic ties with the U.S. Virgin Islands, the group did not
join the 1958-1962 West Indies Federation of British Virgin Islands. In
1967, a new constitution provided for a ministerial system of government
headed by a Chief Minister. The island group remains under British control
The Governor is the representative of Her Majesty the Queen and responsible
for defense and internal security, external affairs, terms and contitions
of service of public officers, and the administration of the courts; he
possesses reserved legislative powers in these areas. There is an Executive
Council, with the Governor as chairman, which includes the Attorney General,
(ex-officio) the Chief Minister (appointed by the Governor from those elected
to the Legislative Council) and three other ministers appointed by the Governor
on the advice of the Chief Minister.
The Legislative Council consists of the four ministers and five other
popularly elected representatives, and is presided over by a speaker elected
from outside the Council.
The judicial system is under the direction of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme
Court, which includes the High Court of Justice and the Court of Appeal.
Other bodies are the Magistrates' Court, a Juvenile Court, and a Court of
Nature's Little Secrets
A perennial delight to yachtsmen and landlubbers alike,
some 60 islands of the BVI have succeeded in safeguarding their special
charm from the inroads of mass tourism. However, the secret is out as an
increasing number of escapists discover this ancient archipelago's many
natural advantages, from sanctuaries for exotic fauna and flora to fabulous
fishing and dive sites.
Among the most frequently visited of the BVI's handful of inhabited islands
are Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Beef Island, Anegada, Jost Van Dyke, Peter, Mosquito,
and Guana Islands. All of these lilting place names reflect idyllic sites
for unwinding, wriggling your toes in the sand, and absorbing the tranquil
pleasures of sunshine and sapphire seas.
Non-glitzy but very comfortable lodgings range from beachside honeymoon
cottages to mountaintop villas with private pool and jacuzzi. Low-keyed
luxury accommodations are also available on several single resort islands.
Tortola, or "land of turtle doves' is the largest of the British
Virgin Islands overlooking Sir Francis Drake Channel and situated about
60 miles east of Puerto Rico. Its most popular point of entry for vacationers
is the East End Beef Island Airport linked to the capital city of Road Town
by the one-lane Queen Elizabeth Bridge.
Road Town's scenic setting and sheltered yacht-filled harbour provide
a helpful orientation to the laid-back BVI lifestyle evolved over the last
400 years by English, Dutch, French, and Spanish adventurers, followed by
plantation owners and 20th century settlers.
This friendly and diversified community tempts travelers with every sort
of regional and international cuisine found in a choice of cheerful pastel
painted restaurants, former forts, and sugar mills. Palate-pleasing menus
feature West Indian specialities of fresh lobster, conch, turtle, spicy
goat, and curries of every description. An authentic English pub serves
Pusser's Rum, traditional drink of the British Navy for 300 years, as well
as a popular fruit flavored local concoction known as the "Painkiller."
Savvy shoppers can usually find bargains in perfume, jewelry, wine, and
Wedgewood china in the homey-style stores dotting Road Town's Main Street
and Soper's Hole, West End. However, the shops are best known for their
unique local products. Look for one-of-a-kind antiques, silk-screened fabrics,
intricate ship models, and watercolors by Tortolan artists.
Tortola also offers and ideal jumping off point to the other main island
of Virgin Gorda with its famous Baths, magical Anegada, and rustic Jost
Van Dyke. Visitors can avail themselves of an efficient ferry service to
any of these nearby destinations.
- J.R. O'Neal Botanic Gardens
- A cool and peaceful refuge located in the center of Road Town. The
beautiful four-acre garden includes a lush array of indigenous and exotic
- The V.I. Folk Museum
- Located on Main Street in Road Town, the museum is housed in a traditional
West Indian building, and has many artifacts on display from the islands'
Tiano, plantation, and slavery eras. There are also pieces from the wreck
of the RMS Rhone.
- Queen Elizabeth Park
- A small community park bordering the western side of Road Harbour in
- Soper's Hole
- This popular anchorage is located on the West End of Tortola. The main
ferry terminal is here, as are several restaurants and the Caribbean-style
Soper's Hole Marina and shopping wharf.
Virgin Gorda, or "Fat Virgin", refers to a protruding mountain
noted by Columbus on this second largest of the British Virgin Isles. Only
ten miles long and two miles wide, the island is known for its yacht clubs,
quiet coves, and safe anchorages for bareboats.
Its most celebrated beach - The Baths - is an intriguing grouping of
huge granite rocks framing grottos filled with with sea water. While geologists
ponder the origins of these mysterious boulders, swimmers and snorkelers
refresh themselves in the cool waters of hidden pools and secret passages.
Nature lovers can enjoy a short stroll from The Baths to the Devil's
Bay National Park, one of several parks given by the Rockefellers to the
British Virgin Islands' government in the 1960s.
- Little Fort National Park
- Located south of the Yacht Harbour, it was the site of a Spanish fort
whose stone walls are still partially intact. This 36-acre area also functions
as a wildlife sanctuary.
- The Coppermine
- On the southwest tip of the island, it was mined by Cornish miners
between 1838 and 1867, and perhaps even earlier by the Spanish. Today,
the remains of the chimney, boiler house, cistern, and mine shafts can
- Gorda Peak National Park
- This park contains a wide variety of indigenous and exotic plants and
has been reforested with mahogany trees. At 1,500 feet, it is the island's
- The Baths
- Giant boulders form a series of spectacular pools and grottoes flooded
with sea water.
Anegada is an easily missed speck on the map lying 20 miles north of
Virgin Gorda. It covers 15 square miles and rises 28 feet above sea level.
Over the years, more than 300 ships have been wrecked on the hazardous
coral reefs encircling the islet, a tragedy which, in turn, has made Anegada
a paradise for divers. The wrecks and reefs themselves have been enhanced
with colorful formations of exotic undersea plan and animal life.
With a population of about 250, Anegada's tourist facilities are limited
to a campground, several guest cottages, and one 18-room hotel. Government
efforts to keep the island as close to nature as possible have resulted
in the recent introduction of a sanctuary for flamingos, ospreys, and terns
supervised by the National Parks Trust.
Jost Van Dyke
Jost Van Dyke, a four-square mile island to the north of Tortola's West
End, once the reputed hideaway for a Dutch pirate of the same name, still
welcomes travelers looking for a remote, rustic retreat and first-rate hiking
trails. The best beaches are found at Great Harbour and White Bay, while
Main Street is a sandy strip of beach holding the BVI customs house and
several, small beach cafes famed for their freshly baked banana bread and
In a decidedly offbeat but friendly community of about 200 inhabitants,
hotel accommodations are modest and cater mostly to the yachting aficionados.
At one of the town's most popular dining spots, the island's poet laureate-restauranteur
greets each guest with a personalized guitar-accompanied serenade.
Other Islands and Points of Interest
- Peter Island
- This privately owned island resort is accessible by water only. It
is a great place to stay with its excellent sporting facilities. Tennis,
sailing, and diving are all available, and five miles of secluded beaches
are there for those who only want to live in the sun.
- Salt Island
- This sparsely inhabited island has three salt ponds, once a source
of seasoning for islanders and passing ships. Residents still harvest the
salt for sale.
- The RMS Rhone
- The Rhone was a 310-foot Royal Mail Ship that was dashed against
the rocks off Salt Island's southwest cost during a hurricane in 1867.
Its remains are extensive and have become a fascinating underwater habitat
for marine life. It is part of the national park system and is a popular