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Getting to know The British Virgin Islands

Just a 30 minute ferry ride from St. Thomas in the USVI, or a 30 minute plane ride from San Juan, the stunning 50-plus islands and cays that comprise the British Virgin islands have two great assets – accessibility and virgin beauty. Known for years as a “sailor’s paradise,” yacht cruisers were among the first to realize this was indeed one of “Nature’s Little Secrets.”

Tortola is the largest island and seat of government of this mountainous archipelago of gemlike isles. Virgin Gorda, Ginger, Cooper, Salt, Peter and Norman lie to Tortola’s south, while Guana, Camanoe and Jost Van Dyke to its north. Dozens of smaller islands, some with resorts, some unpopulated, lie between; Anegada, the only coral atoll in this island chain, is to the northwest. The BVI is a picture of contrasts. There are protected anchorages in quiet palm-fringed coves with spiraling sheer rock faces that plunge to the ocean. From island to island the vegetation can be dramatically different due to rainfall, soil composition and sun exposure. Lush areas support palms and tropical fruit trees like banana, mango and key lime, along with flowering hibiscus and bougainvillea. A hike up a hill may reveal varieties of cactus, wild tamarind and fragrant frangipani.

The surrounding waters are deep shades of liquid blue, but on Anegada, the waters takes on an ethereal aquamarine shade. A varied and intriguing environment on land and on sea makes these islands appealing to divers, boaters, hikers and those desiring just to relax in a soft rope hammock overlooking a white sand beach.

Culture and history walk side by side on these islands. Amerindians populated them 1,000 years ago and their presence remains in some of our foods like cassava and sweet potatoes, and in our language – hurricane and canoe are among the words that are still in use today. Influences can also be felt today from the Dutch and British settlers who first came here in the mid-1600s. One can still view the stone remnants of forts, rum distilleries and churches dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries. Cultural influences can be felt through the islands’ music and food – whether it be indigenous fungi, reggae or steel pan, or the taste of local savoury chicken, fish, conch and lobster dishes enhanced with exotic spices.

British Virgin Islands Things to Know

    Places to see: The Baths, White Bay, Norman Island, Tortola.
    Main currency: $US Dollar
    Main language: English
    Tipping: Waitstaff, Bartenders, and Tour Guides 15% – 20%
    What to eat: Fungi, Callaloo, Sugar apple, Soursop, Pate
    How to get there: Airport, Ferry and Boat Charter

Things to Do in the British Virgin Islands

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