Popular Virgin Gorda Shore Excursions
The Baths formation is a geological wonder, featuring giant boulders spewed from an ancient volcano and scattered on a white sand beach. You can view the boulders from the sands, but to really experience the place, you'll want to climb through the caves, some so narrow and short that occasionally you'll have to drop to all fours to get through, until you come out into a boulder harbor. Along the way, warm tidal pools form in grottos as light romantically filters through crevices in the rock -- a perfect place to take a dip. There are ropes to hold on to during the more treacherous parts of the established trail, though anyone moderately fit can make the trek. You can swim around the boulders, and snorkelers will find an abundance of sea life. Be aware the footpath to reach The Baths is rough and uneven. Part of the BVI National Parks Trust, the park entry fee is $3; kids 10 and younger are free. The site is about 1.2 miles from Spanish Town and easily accessible by taxi.
Scuba diving is popular, and divers will find plenty of enticements including 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. The many reefs in the Dog Islands off the coast of Virgin Gorda also are popular among divers and snorkelers. Dive operators offer two-tank morning dives. Contact individual operators for the availability of "discover scuba" programs for non-certified divers. Operators include Dive BVI, with an outlet at the Yacht Harbour and another at the North Sound (800-848-7078, 284-495-5513) and Kilbride's Sunchaser Scuba (800-932-4286).
Hikers will want to make a beeline for the 265-acre Gorda Peak National Park, donated by Laurance Rockefeller in 1974. At 1,370 feet, the peak is the highest in the BVI. A wooden observation tower at the summit affords panoramic views of the island, sea and neighboring islands; on a clear day, you can even spot Anegada. The park is rich with indigenous flora and fauna including the world's smallest lizard, the Virgin Gorda gecko. The main trail to the top takes 25 minutes but is steep at times. An easier second trail gets you to the top in about 40 minutes. Note: Getting to the trailhead in the park requires some very steep driving; a 4x4 vehicle is recommended.
For history buffs, the Copper Mine National Park on the island's rugged southwestern tip is home to ruins of a mine built by Cornish miners in 1837 and abandoned in 1862, because of declining market prices for the ore. You can still see ruins of an engine house, chimney and mineshafts and spot copper veins. Ocean-view trails around the ruins offer a nice hike.
Best for Exploring: See The Baths, above.
Best for Snorkeling: Devil's Bay Beach is a small beach with white sands, located right by The Baths. Follow the trail from The Baths ($3 park admission price applies). In the sea, you'll find colorful fish and coral.
Best for Families: Spring Bay Beach is adjacent to The Baths and attracts fewer people. The beach features tables for picnicking and boulders with crevices to explore. You can reach the beach through The Crawl, a cave trail from The Baths, or much more easily from Tower Road. You can snorkel here in quiet, sheltered pools around the rocks.
Best for Lounging: Savannah Bay Beach, just north of Spanish Town, is a long, curving stretch of sand that attracts relatively few visitors, partially because to site is a bit of a walk from the roadway. It's also a good snorkeling spot, but bring your own equipment (no rental outlets).
Best for Watersports: In the North Sound, most of the beaches are attached to upscale resorts and reachable by private ferry. Bitter End Yacht Club has a tiny beach, which is open to outsiders. It's a fun place to kick back. For watersports enthusiasts, the resort's water sports department rents catamarans, sea kayaks, windsurfers, outboard skiffs and sailboats. Sailing lessons are available.