Paradise on the British Virgin Islands

The British Virgin IslandsEnjoy the pure Caribbean at its best.

By Jack Macaleavy

The oceans of the world cover mountain ranges the size of the Rockies, the Alps and the Andes . . . and far down in the Caribbean Sea, several such mountaintops peak above the surface to create a cluster called the Virgin Islands. First settled in 600 B.C. by Amerindians/Pre-Columbians traveling from South America, the islands later were “discovered” by Christopher Columbus during his second voyage to the New World. Great Britain laid claim to the more than 60-island group that is known today as the British Virgin Islands.

Entry from Northwest Florida is through San Juan, Puerto Rico, and then a short 40-minute hop to Tortola, the hub of the island group. Tortola also can be reached from the island of St. Thomas, part of the U.S. Virgin Islands, and is no more than a 45-minute shuttle ferry ride away. The ferries are within walking distance of the airport terminal, giving weary travelers easy access to the many resorts that beckon them.

Unlike most of the Caribbean islands, the British Virgin Islands for the most part have not been commercialized by the corporate chains, which means there are no fast-food outlets on the islands. The resorts are family-owned and designed around water activities. The most valuable resources of the British Virgin Islands are guarded and protected by the British Virgin Islands National Parks Trust, established in 1961 to protect the natural beauty and historic features of the territory. The government and, most of all, the people remind visitors about not littering on the land or in the sea.

Headwinds keep the temperatures very comfortable – even during the summer months – and those five- to 10-minute rain showers that pop up most anytime, day or night, further serve to cool things. Having been to many of the northern Caribbean islands, I must say that the British Virgin Islands probably are the most natural and spectacular of them all. The waters are a turquoise blue, alive with reefs of coral in a rainbow of colors and filled with all of the fish you would see in boutique fish tanks. There are no golf courses in the British Virgin Islands, so water sports, tennis, relaxation, touring around and enjoying the cultural delicacies are the leisure options of choice.

Tortola, the main and largest island, is circled with a good road system that brings visitors from the coast up more than 1,000 feet into the hills. Numerous pullovers allow tourists to take in the vistas, which overlook the chain of surrounding islands with many grand sailboats, power yachts and fishing boats moving from one island to the other. Even though it’s a British colony, the economy of the British Virgin Islands is based on U.S. currency, with the pricing of food, hotels and other amenities about the same as you would find in any American metropolitan city. However, a strong dose of nature, serenity and beauty create value that cannot be measured in dollars.

One of the more unique leisure destinations of Tortola is the Bamba Shack, a rickety oceanfront music bar constructed from driftwood and wood scraps left over from storms. Holding court nightly is Bamba himself, a colorful island native known for his philosophical comments. Each month he hosts a full-moon party often attended by more than 1,000 revelers who spill out onto the road and beach. Dance on the sandy floor to the sound of live reggae bands. Catch a glimpse of celebrities: The rich and the famous, including actress Kirstie Alley, have been sighted having a one-on-one with Bamba. The Sugar Mill is within walking distance, and has a sugar converter refining room and suites. It is one of the finest restaurants on the island, with seating on the half-hour so the chef can personalize each dish.

If an exclusive, romantic getaway (no children allowed) is more what you are looking for, the Peter Island Resort has served discriminating tastes for more than 15 years on a privately owned island. It’s all yours to enjoy, priced between $560 to $1,000 per night for a luxurious oceanfront room or $6,000 to $10,000 a night for one of the two four-bedroom villas. The villas include from three to five full-time staff,
including a chef to cater to your every culinary wish. These rates include all meals and fine dining; your only expense is beverages. The famous libation of the islands is The Painkiller, a blend of rum, juice and secret spices that will aid you in your pursuit of island-time relaxation.

If a family-friendly destination is required, put the Bitter End Yacht Club at the top of your list. It’s another all-inclusive resort that offers most all water sports in its daily packages. Sailing, snorkeling and kayaking with instructors are available, or charter a Viking yacht – the top-of-the-line choice for billfishing – and in 15 minutes hook a blue marlin for the experience of a lifetime. Generations of families from around the world have made the Bitter End a yearly sojourn because its staff makes you feel at home. In addition, the tastefully appointed room will melt your stress away.
The British Virgin Islands serve as the crown jewel of the Caribbean experience. The native ambience and island charm will have you returning again and again.