Landlubber or Seafarer, Get to the British Virgin Islands ASAP. Here's Why.
The British Virgin Islands are back—and packed with reasons to visit this year, from dreamy new digs to the expansion of an already legendary sailing scene (first-timers: this is an ideal place to get your feet wet). And with increased air service between San Juan and Tortola, traveling here has gotten easier than ever.
So whether you’re all about the #saltlife, or an avowed landlubber—or you fall somewhere between the two on the Caribbean fun spectrum—the surf and turf adventures in these 60 islands, cays and islets are calling. Loud. Read on to see what we mean, then start planning your trip.
Land whoa! There's been a serious hotel renaissance.
Even if you’ve been to the BVI before, there are new reasons to give the islands’ iconic resorts a fresh look. On Anegada, for example—the only inhabited coral island in the BVI—the Anegada Beach Club recently debuted brand-new glamping accommodations called palapas: breezy, thatched-roof bungalows that rise from the dunes on stilts. Request one with incredible sea vistas... most therapeutically viewed from the hammock on your patio. Though the onsite restaurant always offers lobster, among other local delicacies, the hotel can just as easily arrange a complimentary shuttle to Anegada’s iconic Lobster Trap restaurant, where the toes-in-the-sand dining is an Anegada rite of passage.
Private island more your speed? Head to Scrub Island Resort, Spa & Marina, where you'll find ten lavish new guest villas with—among other amenities—walk-in rain showers, soaking tubs, plunge or infinity pools, gourmet kitchens (think Wolf ranges, Sub-Zero fridges and if you'd like, a private chef). The hotel’s existing guest rooms and suites also got a refresh, as did the house restaurant, Donovan’s Reef Marina Bar & Grill—now one of the best places to taste the island (try the coconut shrimp or yellowfin tuna with jerk butter sauce).
Another legendary BVI address with suite new upgrades: Oil Nut Bay on Virgin Gorda’s eastern tip, where the new Bay Suites—complete with luxe soaking tubs, outdoor showers and Caribbean views for days—are tucked into a hillside next to a freshwater pond.
If you lean green, head to Guana Island. Surrounded by seven white sand beaches on its own island, the 850-acre eco-resort is famed for its organic orchard, among other things. The greenhouses are newly expanded and make for a great tour—you'll love seeing where the tropical bounty you've been feasting on comes from.
Of course, you can’t dish about the BVI without mentioning Sir Richard Branson and his swank Necker Island. The property’s Bali Hai complex has been rebuilt with an extended pool and outdoor lounge—and private plunge pools have been added to each of the island's individual houses. The Great House—Necker Island’s social nexus, with its wraparound terrace and hammocks—has two brand-new rooms. And though the resort is usually available for buy-outs only (that is, you and your crew have the run of the place), several “Celebration Weeks” throughout the year open individual rooms to booking for seven-night stays. And even if you don’t have the island to yourself, you will have 74 lush acres at your doorstep, where there are plenty of quiet sunbathing spots to seek out when you're not gawking at the lemurs and flamingos at the onsite Wildlife Preserve or hiking the extensive nature trails.
Though any resort you choose will have plenty to keep you busy, don't leave without exploring the off-campus offerings, too: Zipline over Road Town Harbor and take in views of St. Croix on the Original Virgin Canopy Tour, horseback ride along the remote beaches of Anegada with Francis Family Farms—or check out Tortola's locally-grown island goodness (think passion fruit or rare red bananas) at Good Moon Farm.
Just add water
All BVI itineraries eventually lead to The Baths National Park—a stunning collection of immense granite boulders at the water's edge on Virgin Gorda. It’s pure tropical island fantasy to follow the series of boardwalks and ropes through the rocks, where you'll duck into narrow pools for a swim and, of course, the perfect Insta moment. Your best bet for the latter: the Cathedral—a shallow pool between the boulders where daylight streams down in magical rays.
Or try an alternative experience: Sealingo Watersports' glass-bottom kayak tours, which take you along two miles of gorgeous coastline until you arrive at The Baths. Getting the full picture of the place at once—that is, looking at the marine life through the kayak floor and the granite stones at eye level—is otherworldly.
If you have your scuba diving certification, you’ll want to strap on the tanks to dive one of the most famous wrecks in the Caribbean: the RMS Rhone, a former royal mail ship, which sank in a hurricane in 1867 and rests in about 90 feet of water off Salt Island. The wreckage is covered in thick corals and fish life and is part of the first and only Marine National Park in the BVI. Off Norman Island, Santa Monica Rock is a huge underwater pinnacle known for its reliably clear waters and frequent appearances by sea turtles, reef sharks and perhaps even eagle rays. And for a dive site that combines art, ocean conservation and history, don’t miss the new BVI Art Reef off Virgin Gorda, where a large-scale sculpture of Kraken is attached to the Kodiak Queen, a World War II ship-turned-artificial reef that was purpose-sunk here.
If snorkeling is more your speed, head to the Indians off Norman Island, where pinnacles that rise from the ocean floor attract clouds of damsel fish, wrasse and bar jacks. The Caves is another easy access site where you can swim through shoreline caves so thick with iridescent minnows, you’ll swear you’re inside a glitter bomb.
With a rep as one of the best sailing destinations thanks to the islands’ lily pad-proximity to each other, the BVI also offers easy line-of-sight sailing (read: you can see your next port of call without needing to use navigation maps) so you don’t have to be a super-experienced sailor to have a proper adventure in these parts. But if you don't want to go bareboat (meaning, you're the crew), you have plenty of reasonable options, too.
Dream Yacht Charters, with new and improved offerings on Scrub Island, has some of the most affordable options: Seven-night charters (with someone else captaining for you) start at around $1,300 per person. The Moorings' expanded fleet ranges from sailboats and power catamarans to all-inclusive crewed yachts. And if a day trip sounds more your wind speed, Aristocat Charters can give you a taste of the sailing life on shared and private cruises from several locations. You'll stop for snorkeling and paddle-boarding—and considering the free-flowing Dark and Stormy cocktails and rum punch—rest assured your captain will be the one to steer you safely back to port.