Popular Tortola Shore Excursions
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 (284-495-9278). It takes about 45 minutes each way to Jost Van Dyke.
Foxy's Bar in Great Harbour is 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.
Sandcastle, a hotel on White Bay, is a short walk from the ferry dock. In addition to its excellent beach, Sandcastle serves breakfast, lunch and dinner daily at the Soggy Dollar Bar, birthplace of the Painkiller. Entrees include flying fish sandwiches and rotis.
Peter Island: By and large, the island features one asset: the elegant, exclusive resort that often appears in the top five lists of Caribbean resorts by major travel magazines. Only 300 of the island's 1,800 acres have been developed. Peter Island Resort (800-346-4451) operates its own fleet of ferries making roundtrips (about 40 minutes each way) from the resort's marina to Baughers Bay, which is located a long walk or short taxi ride from the cruise pier.
Peter Island Resort offers day visitors access to its private beach, the utterly beautiful Deadman's Bay. Powder-soft white sand curves along a crystal-clear Caribbean bay, with shallow snorkeling reefs at either end. To get to the beach, walk up the hill parallel to the marina and follow the signs down the other side to Deadman's Bay. Beach equipment (windsurfers, sailing equipment, sea kayaks, etc.) can be rented, if available, but resort guests have priority. The resort's swimming pools, beach furniture, hammocks and cabanas are off-limits for visitors, so, if you want to use the beach, bring your own beach towel to plunk yourself down on.
Deadman's Beach Bar & Grill has a dress code, and conservative coverups are absolutely required. Deadman's prices are not cheap, but the food -- pizza, sandwiches and burgers -- and setting are excellent. On select Sunday afternoons, a terrific steel band plays.
Marina Cay: Off the eastern tip of Tortola, Marina Cay and its eight acres offer a tiny beach, Pusser's restaurant and company store, small resort, marina, a handful of shops and an Internet cafe. A complimentary daily ferry service is operated by Pusser's Marina Cay Resort (284-494-2174) between Beef Island, Tortola and Marina Cay. The trip takes less than 10 minutes.
Pusser's operates a resort, shop and restaurant. The restaurant opens daily at 11 a.m. and specializes in seafood and Caribbean cuisine. The resort's marina also has small outboard motorboats, Hobie Cats and beach toys for rent. Try renting one of the Boston Whaler skiffs for a five-minute scoot across the bay to tie up at the mooring over the lush snorkeling reef, or contact Dive BVI (284-495-5513) to book Scuba or snorkeling trips.
Virgin Gorda: The main draws there are Virgin Gorda's yacht clubs, natural beauty and upscale resorts, including the famous Bitter End Yacht Club. 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 include. Patouche Charters (Road Harbour; 284-494-6300) offers sailings on a 50-foot schooner, a 48-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 48-foot catamarans. White Squall II (Village Cay; 284-541-2222) offers sailings on an 80-foot schooner to the Caves at Norman Island and the Baths at Virgin Gorda, both with excellent snorkeling.
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 AquaVentures (Road Town; 284-494-4320) and Sail Caribbean Divers (Hodges Creek, East End; 284-495-1675).
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.
Shopping: Perhaps you're in the mood for a little shopping. Crafts Alive Marketplace is a collection of colorful tents on the waterfront in Road Town. You'll find some of the same batiks and tourist trinkets of marketplaces on other Caribbean islands alongside handmade crafts. Or check out the BVI Community Craft Shop, featuring handmade items ranging from Christmas ornaments to rag rugs and fish-scale ornaments.
Mi Amor Jewelers (284-494-7477), a conventional cruise port merchandise outlet, can be found at Wickham's Cay 1, near the cruise pier.
Sunny Caribbee Spice Shop and Art Gallery (119 Main Street, Road Town; 284-494-2178) offers gift-packaged spices, hot sauces, soaps, lotions, herbs, teas, coffees, etc. One of the more exotic offerings is the Arawak Love Potion and West Indian Hangover Cure gift set. The shop also sells Caribbean crafts.
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 watersports. You can rent standup paddleboards, kayaks and jet skis on the beach. 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 (284-494-0337) in Road Town.