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Tortola, British Virgin Islands

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Personality Types that Like it Best

Did You Know…?

  • An international banking center, Tortola counts around 500,000 registered financial businesses.
  • More than 80% of BVIslanders live on Tortola.
  • Laurance Rockefeller purchased and donated the land for B.V.I.’s Sage Mountain National Park (1964).
  • Road, as in Road Town, is the nautical name for a protected and safe place to drop anchor.
  • Sage Mountain’s peak is the highest point (1,716 feet) in all the Virgin Islands.


Hoist the sails

Tortola is the largest and busiest island in the British Virgin Islands. That is not to say it is very large (21 square miles) or that it is overly busy. But it is the one among some 60 islands in the B.V.I. that offers the most variety for tourists in the way of outdoor activities, restaurant and housing choices and anything that passes for nightlife.

In addition to providing ready access to the Caribbean and Atlantic waters for recreation, Tortola has a varied landscape that extends from white-sand crescent beaches to rain forest and a mountainous interior. Its one named town is called Road Town, and it is the B.V.I. capital.

Visitors often look to the water for diving, fishing, sailing and, of course, swimming. Other water-y choices for the active include kayaking, kiteboarding, snorkeling, surfing and windsurfing. Add swimming with dolphins to that list.

When not playing in, on or near the water, the active visitor may choose camping, cycling, tennis and hiking — and the hiking can turn into climbing.

For a different kind of vacation, diversions include open-air restaurants and bars, markets and shops, and enough attractions to fill a sightseer’s dance card for a little while.

On the latter point, museums quite naturally reflect Tortola’s geography and history, starting with the Virgin Islands Maritime Museum and even a shell museum. Others include a folk museum and the Lower Estate Sugar Works Museum.

Beyond the prepared exhibits, a visit to the still-active Callwood Rum Distillery provides another window onto a time when sugar production, reliant on slaves, dominated the economy. (Today, the economy is led by offshore banking and tourism.)

Historic buildings include churches, a couple of forts and the Old Government House, once the governor’s residence. However, the really impressive sight is the scenery, especially grand if viewed from a vantage point in the hills, or maybe even from a helicopter.

And, when it comes to activities, it’s the sailing that stands out. The B.V.I. claims the best sailing in the world. Tortola’s visitors have access to sailing vessels of all types — simple to luxurious — in great abundance.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Join the fun, sometimes raucous, on Friday nights at Bomba’s Surfside Shack’s beach party. Or, if the timing is right, head to the beach bars for one of the island’s full-moon parties.
  • The B.V.I. claims it offers the best sailing in the world. Test the claim. Captain your own vessel, taking care about the rules for moorings, meant to protect coral reefs.
  • For some part of your holiday, make one of the island’s scenic campgrounds your home.
  • Surf at Apple Bay Beach on the island’s northern coast.
  • Hike one, or even more, of the trails in Sage Mountain National Park. Climb to the highest point in the Virgin Islands, meaning the eponymous Sage Mountain.
  • If a certified diver, suit up and take a dive. The most famous area site is the wreck of the RMS Rhone, off Salt Island. It is covered with coral and attracts fish galore.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Grab some peace and quiet at Smuggler’s Cove, a hidden crescent-shaped beach.
  • Join a day sail on a catamaran that includes a time and place for snorkeling.
  • Sample all things rum, and eat fresh seafood. Also, you can find English pub grub.
  • Pay a local cabbie to take you on a driving tour of the island.
  • Arrange with one of the local charter companies for a deep-sea fishing outing for marlin, tuna and wahoo.
  • Rent a bicycle suitable for your preferred landscape. Tortola offers all sorts of terrain from flat to steep hills.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Relish the open-air restaurants and bars to be found on the island.
  • Shop at Crafts Alive Market, an open-air market selling rustic dolls, straw hats and hand-thrown pottery.
  • Mosey through a museum or two, such as the Lower Estate Sugar Works Museum, a former sugar refinery, or the Virgin Islands Folk Museum.
  • Swim with the dolphins at Dolphin Discovery.
  • Visit the still-operating Callwood Rum Distillery. More than 400 years old, it makes small amounts of rum using traditional methods. Visit between March and August to see Arundel Rum being distilled from freshly harvested cane.
  • Take in spectacular views of the harbor and offshore islands from Fort Burt.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the British Virgin Islands Tourist Board at