Port of Virgin Gorda
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One of the most popular and fascinating natural attractions in the Caribbean is also located here -- a beach strewn with giant boulders known as The Baths. Brought to the ocean's edge by volcanic activity, the boulders form caves, grottoes and tidal pools, well worth exploring.
Christopher Columbus spotted the island in 1493, on his second trip to the New World, and gave Virgin Gorda its name. Looking at the island's mountain ridge -- and no doubt tired of being at sea with a bunch of sailors -- he thought what is now called Gorda Peak looked liked the belly of a reclining chubby woman. Hence, he called it Virgin Gorda, or "fat virgin" in Spanish.
A no man's land for a time, Virgin Gorda and other British Virgin Islands were used by pirates as a base for raids on Spanish galleons (large sailing ships). Capt. William Kidd was among the more notorious.
The British established a sugar trade on the island in the 1700's, but that ended when Britain abolished slavery in 1838. A copper mine was opened around the same time and operated for about 24 years before it was abandoned. The ruins are now part of a national park.
Fishing and farming were the way of life for a century. Then Laurance Rockefeller, the New York financier and conservationist, came in the 1960's and opened an exclusive eco-resort called Little Dix Bay. By the 1970's, Virgin Gorda was "discovered" as a tourist destination, and tourism remains the mainstay of the economy.
Only 12 miles from Tortola, the 8.5-square-mile island, with a population of 3,500, remains remarkably quiet. Most visitors hang out at swanky private resorts or arrive by private yacht to enjoy some of the best powder sand beaches in the Caribbean.
Given the rather small geographical scope of the island and the large number of taxis available, it's a pretty easy place to explore on your own. Visitors typically are drawn to two main areas of interest -- attractions near Spanish Town at the south end of the island and North Sound at the other extreme. Offshore, popular attractions include The Dogs, the marine area protected by the BVI National Parks Trust and considered to be one of the best snorkeling and diving sites in the Caribbean -- the waters are teeming with marine life and colorful coral formations.
Top Virgin Gorda Itineraries
Star Pride7 Night Caribbean CruiseSan Juan, St. Barts, St. Maarten, Jost Van Dyke, Virgin Gorda, San JuanNow
Crystal Esprit7 Nights British Virgin Islands Yachting EscapeSt. Barts, Jost Van Dyke, Jost Van Dyke, Virgin GordaNow
Le Ponant10 Night Caribbean CruiseSt. Martin, Virgin Gorda, Jost Van Dyke, Santa Barbara, Samana and Cayo Levantado, Havana, HavanaNow
Star Flyer14 Nights Panama to St. MaartenCartagena , Aruba, Curacao, Jost Van Dyke, Virgin Gorda, St. Barts, St. MaartenNow
Pacific Princess14 Night Caribbean Connoisseur cruiseFort Lauderdale , St. Barts, Antigua, Iles des Saintes, Martinique, Barbados, Bequia, Dominica, Virgin Gorda, Fort LauderdaleNow
Where You're Docked
If you are anchored off Spanish Town, you will be tendering into the Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour, which is home to plenty of shops and restaurants. It might look like a tourist complex, but it's actually the island's main commercial center.
If you are in the North Sound (a favorite place for small cruise ships to anchor), you may tender to the main dock at the Bitter End Yacht Club, a full-service resort.
Good to Know
If you decide to explore on foot, you'll often have to walk in the street. There aren't many sidewalks.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The currency is the U.S. Dollar. ATM's are commonplace, and there's even a FirstCaribbean International Bank branch in the Yacht Harbour complex.
English is the official language in this island, though Caribbean patois is common.
The national drink is the "Painkiller," made of rum, pineapple juice, orange juice and coconut milk.