Food and Drink in Tortola
Dishes often include a variety of seafood, chicken, and goat. Saltfish is also popular. Common side dishes include rice and peas, sweet potatoes, fried plantains, beans and lentils. Fresh fruits abound, like passion fruit, mango and soursop. A favorite dish is fungi, which is similar to polenta and is made from cornmeal and okra. Also popular is roti, a flatbread that is deep fried or stuffed with other ingredients, like lentils, curry and vegetables.
And don't forget the rum. The Painkiller -- a concoction of dark rum, cream of coconut, pineapple and orange juices, topped with nutmeg -- is the signature drink of BVI. It originated at the Soggy Dollar Bar at White Bay on Jost Van Dyke.
Located steps from the port in Tortola Pier Park, you can enjoy lunch and drinks at Myett's Chill Zone (tacos, wings, pizza and the like), Mac's Restaurant (wraps, rotis and salads), Seven at the Pier (upscale spot with mainly Caribbean and Asian fare) or at a number of casual food stands located along the waterfront, offering everything from samosas to French fries.
Other popular spots to dine on the island include Pusser's Road Town Pub and Company Store, where visitors can enjoy casual dining in a fun atmosphere at this chain, which has outposts throughout the BVI. Sit on the outdoor porch and enjoy jerk pork and chicken, burgers and fish and chips. Make sure you order the Painkiller, the national drink of the BVI (284-494-2467; open from 9 a.m. daily).
Located at Cane Garden Bay, Quito's Gazebo serves excellent salads and grilled seafood, but the superstar on the menu is the roti (a West Indian wrap with a curried filling of chicken, conch or vegetables), considered by locals to be one of the best in the islands (Quito Luxury Inn; 284-495-4837; open from 11:30 a.m. Tuesday to Sunday).
Beaches in Tortola
Best for Families: Cane Garden Bay Beach is a beautiful stretch of white sand on Tortola's north shore, about a 25-minute taxi ride from the pier in Road Town. It's a popular spot for families because of its clear, calm water, restaurants and water sports. You can rent chairs, umbrellas, standup paddleboards, kayaks and Jet Skis on the beach. There are several spots to dine and drink, as well. It gets crowded around midday, so the earlier you arrive, the better.
Best for Snorkeling: Taxi drivers are familiar with snorkeling hot-spot Brewer's Bay. It is lovely and secluded; however, the bay can sometimes see dangerously high surf and rip currents during winter months. You'll also spot an old sugar mill and the ruins of a rum distillery there.
Best for Beach Bums: Smuggler's Cove is the perfect beach for quiet relaxation because it's located on the far western end of the island and a bit difficult to get to. Many visitors opt for a more convenient beach, so it might be just you and the locals.
Best for Surfing: For the dedicated surfer, try Apple Bay. Surfing conditions vary but are generally best in January and February. It's a small beach that gets crowded when the surf is good. Boards can be rented at HIHO (284-494-7694) in Road Town.
Don't Miss in Tortola
Jost Van Dyke: Named for a pirate (as legend has it), this pristine island lies to the northwest of Tortola. It has a lovely sand beach at White Bay and a popular beachside bar. Ferry service is offered from West End by New Horizon Ferry Service (284-499-0952). It takes about 45 minutes each way to Jost Van Dyke.
Once on the island, many people head to Foxy's Bar in Great Harbour, a renowned beachside hangout serving West Indian specialties. Try the Sly Fox and Dread Fox, specialty house drinks made with Foxy's own rum. A major draw is Foxy Callwood himself, a legend in the BVI. A prolific songwriter and storyteller, he holds court most afternoons - offering, in addition to his regular repertoire, calypso tunes improvised on the spot, featuring specifics about his individual audience members, maybe even you.
Due to damage from Hurricane Irma, Sandcastle, a hotel on White Bay remains closed, but its world-famous watering hole, the Soggy Dollar Bar, has reopened. The Soggy Dollar is the birthplace of the Painkiller. You can also grab flying fish sandwiches and rotis here for lunch.
Virgin Gorda: The main draws there are Virgin Gorda's yacht clubs, natural beauty and upscale resorts, including the famous Bitter End Yacht Club, which while still not open due to hurricane damage, is in the process of rebuilding. Virgin Gorda is also home to the famous rock formations called the Baths. A popular tourist destination, these large volcanic boulders sit on a stretch of beach on the southern end of the island. They form grottos, caves and pools where visitors can snorkel and explore.
Speedy's Ferry Service (284-495-5235) and Smith's Tortola Fast Ferry run frequent ferries between Road Town and Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda. Depending on the vessel and weather, allow between an hour and 90 minutes for passage.
Helicopter Tours: For a different perspective, see Tortola and the BVI by air. Antilles Helicopter Services is a BVI-based company that provides scenic helicopter tours starting at $90/person. (Beef Island Airport 284-441-7335)
Private Yachts: There is no shortage of sailing yachts available for full-day or half-day trips. These excursions usually include a sail across the Sir Francis Drake Channel to one of the islands to the south of Tortola and normally feature snorkeling, beach time and lunch either onboard or at a shoreside restaurant.
Prominent charter operators sail from Road Harbour or the nearby Village Cay Marina. Patouche Charters (Road Harbour; 284-443-9763) offers sailings on a 50-foot schooner, a 36-foot catamaran or a 28-foot Bertram power boat. Aristocat Charters (Soper's Hole, West End, or Village Cay, Road Town; 284-499-1249) offers day sails and snorkel trips to the surrounding islands on its two 45-foot catamarans.
Scuba Diving: Operators offer two-tank morning dives. Contact individual dive operators for the availability of "discover Scuba" programs for non-certified divers. The British Virgin Islands offer some of the best Scuba diving in the Caribbean. Of special interest is the wreck of the RMS Rhone, sunk in a hurricane in 1867 and considered by many to be among the top 10 wreck dives in the world.
Also worthy of exploration are the many reefs off the coast of Tortola and the neighboring islands. Dive operators serving the Road Harbour area include Blue Water Divers (Nanny Cay, West End; 284-494-2847 and Sail Caribbean Divers (Hodges Creek, East End; 284-541-3483).
Sage Mountain: Tortola's national park, Sage Mountain, is crisscrossed with well-marked hiking trails. Hook up with a ranger for a guided walking tour to explore great scenery and views of the sea.