Editor's note: Due to damage sustained from Hurricane Irma, the Port of Tortola is currently closed to cruise passengers.
Tortola and most of the British Virgin Islands are mountainous, and while they boast verdant-green hills, the climate and vegetation are much drier than many Caribbean isles. In Tortola, cactus and succulents are more common than ferns, and rushing streams and waterfalls are virtually nonexistent. The dry climate of the islands has a beneficial side effect: because of the lack of runoff, the water clarity is dependably higher than many other places in the Caribbean.
For that reason, Tortola and the BVI are a popular destination for divers and snorkelers. The protective effect of the islands surrounding Tortola causes the seas to be calm most of the time, making the region an attractive destination for those prone to motion sickness during small-boat excursions. The steady winds and calm seas also make Tortola and the BVI one of the world's premier yachting regions. Sailing excursions should be at the top of every interested visitor's list.
A visit to Tortola also offers a chance to experience other islands in the BVI chain. These include Norman Island, Jost Van Dyke, Peter Island, Marina Cay and Virgin Gorda. All are within reach for a day trip from Tortola, assuming you have a full day in port. This is not the case on all itineraries, so be sure to check ferry and ship schedules carefully before departing.
One of Tortola's greatest attributes is the genuinely friendly attitude of its residents. The island is safe and crime-free. It's not unusual to find yachts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars docked in marinas with keys visible in the ignitions.
Where You're Docked
Ships dock in Road Harbour, Tortola's only "town." A major expansion of Tortola's cruise dock was under way in 2015, with plans for the development of the land alongside the pier, which will completely transform this tiny port. The five-acre development plan has two phases. The first (completed in summer 2015) involved lengthening and widening the existing pier, while the second phase includes landside development, including the addition of several restaurants, a marketplace, retail stores, a pool, bar and trolley line, among other features.
You can cover most of Road Town on foot; most eateries and shopping venues are within easy walking distance. The major asset in Road Town, however, is the ferry docks. For those who want to see what the British Virgin Islands are really about, the ferries are your best friends.
Good to Know
You won't encounter dangerous animals or snakes, but a few plants (oleander and elephant ears, for example) are poisonous if consumed. The manchioneel, or poison apple tree, is a shrub or tree that grows near the beach. It's fruit, sap and leaves are caustic -- a severe irritant to skin and eyes -- and toxic if ingested.
Also, smoking is prohibited in all public indoor and outdoor spaces and within 50 feet of these spaces. This applies to all beaches.
Tortola isn't known as a shopping mecca. But if you like Caribbean island music, track down a CD by Tortola's main recording star, Quito Rymer. These CDs can be found at the gift shop at Rymer's restaurant/club, Quito's Gazebo, in Cane Garden Bay or from numerous other gift shops on the island.
Other great souvenirs include a bottle of Pusser's Rum (or a piece of Pusser's signature logo merchandise -- their duffels and outdoor-wear are high quality) or a sampling of spices from Sunny Caribbee.