The British Virgins embody all that is best about the Caribbean. Trade winds carry sailors across blue waters to secluded coves and colorful anchorages ringed by lively beach bars. Resorts perched on private islands provide comforts without crowds, snorkelers dive in waters to discover Technicolor reefs, and those seeking to shed all semblance of ambition can recline in a beachside hammock as they are lulled by the sound of lapping water.
1 Sail Away
Now more than ever, chartering a sailboat in the British Virgin Islands is an achievable reality. Options range from casual bareboat charters where you do all the sailing and cook the meals to full-crewed voyages where you sit back and relax while the crew takes care of everything. Tortola is headquarters for the fleet, and your only challenge will be choosing from the dozens of quiet coves and lively harbors scattered through the island chain.
2 Private Island Resorts
For the ultimate getaway, the British Virgins offer a range of resorts set on private islands. Quiet Cooper Island has just a handful of rooms tucked into a beachside coconut grove. At the other end of the scale, there’s 1,300-acre Peter Island, with rolling hills crisscrossed by nature trails, five beaches, four restaurants, a marina, recreation center and all the amenities of a world-class resort. At Necker Island, flamingos outnumber humans, and there are two staff members for each guest, Guana Island offers luxurious living in secluded natural surroundings.
3 Underwater World
Divers and snorkelers can explore an underwater landscape that includes colorful coral reefs, historic shipwrecks and underwater rock spires swarming with fish. Among the favorites are the coral gardens near Ginger Island, the treasure caves at Norman’s Island and the wreck of the RMS Rhone, made famous by the movie The Deep. A fleet of comfortable charter boats gives access to more than 80 sites, with something for everyone from first-time snorkelers to seasoned divers.
4 Gilligan’s Island
The more than 60 islands that make up the British Virgins include a number of small, uninhabited specks of land that are perfect for playing castaway for a day. Some are covered in palm groves fringing white sand beaches; others wrap lagoons in sheltering walls of rock. A number of excursion companies can arrange for day trips aboard speedboats or sailboats.
5 Gorgeous Beaches
Tucked between the rocky headlands of these volcanic islands are a number of excellent white sand beaches. Tortola favorites include Smugglers Cove Beach, Apple Bay Beach and Cane Garden Bay Beach. On Virgin Gorda, house-sized boulders are piled atop the sands, and low-lying Anegada offers miles of deserted beaches and the longest barrier reef in the eastern Caribbean.
6 Away From the Crowds
The British Virgins are not a land of mega resorts and big crowds. Resorts are smaller and separated by distance to create a more intimate and private atmosphere. Tortola’s Road Town does see its share of cruise ships and shore leave visitors, but nothing like the crowds that swarm nearby St. Thomas on a daily basis. Hop to one of the smaller islands and you might find a beach that is yours alone.
7 Bar Hop by Boat
The British Virgins are home to some of the most iconic waterfront bars in the Caribbean. Music and good times roll at dockside taverns from Bitter End to Soper’s Hole. At Norman’s Bight, the Willie T is a ship turned bar that sits at permanent anchor. Boaters can wade ashore on Jost van Dyke to savor a painkiller punch at the Soggy Dollar Bar or create their own libations at Ivan’s.
8 Spa Lovers
It’s easy to relax and get pampered, because several of the Caribbean’s top spas are located in the British Virgins. The spa at Peter Island nurtures both body and soul with Ayurveda treatments administered against the backdrop of a pristine beach. Scrub Island’s Ixora Spa offers an aloe and milk bath wrap and after-sun treatments. Amara’s harbormaster setting at the Moorings caters to sailors and landlubbers alike. When it reopens in 2017, the Sense Spa at Rosewood Little Dix will once more provide signature treatments based on nature’s healing power.
9 Move Right In
The British Virgins are home to an amazing collection of beachside cottages and hilltop villas, any of which could be yours for the week or the season. Choices range from modest one-bedroom town homes on Tortola to a sprawling 15-bedroom beachfront on Virgin Gorda. If budget permits, you could even invite 33 of your friends and rent the entire Necker Island resort, and have the whole island to yourselves.
10 Catch of the Day
While winter is the favorite sailing season, spring and summer are prime times to hook up. Fishing is big around the islands. Inshore catches include snapper and grouper while out in the ocean, an area known as the North Drop is the best place in the eastern Caribbean to do battle with big game species such as marlin, tuna and swordfish.