Virgin Gorda is part of the British Virgin Islands.
Since being "discovered" as a tourist destination in the early 1960s, Virgin Gorda is still not over-commercialized. It is reminiscent of Saint John (Virgin Islands) before the designer shoe and handbag stores arrived. With only a few resorts and a sprinkling of villas, it has a pleasing intimacy. The passengers you meet on the nine-seat plane are likely to show up at the next table at dinner. The local people are well educated, friendly and caring, family oriented and remarkably aware of their place in the world. As elsewhere in the BVI, English is spoken, with a more or less strong accent. It is courteous to begin a conversation—even a brief question—with "Good Morning," or other salutation appropriate to the time of day.
Virgin Gorda is a small island, about eight square miles, only a few miles from Tortola and its airport on Beef Island. In 2001, the population was 3100. The southwestern part of the island is known as the Valley. In this area of low gentle hills will be found most of the population, businesses and services, mostly in and around Spanish Town, the capital. Below Spanish Town, the landscape and seascapes are strewn with granite boulders the size of houses; these provide dramatic settings for accommodations, restaurants and beaches. In the center of the island, a low mountain rises from the sea to about 410 m (1350 ft). This area is sparsely inhabited, except for small neighborhoods in the North Sound area on its northeastern edge. Extending northeast from there is a chain of wooded hills accessible only by boat. A convenient excursion to one of the nicest outer island areas in Virgin Gorda would require hopping on the local Resort Ferry (Bitter End etc.) in Gun Creek. This Ferry will take you on a short, but neat cruise into the heart of the North Sound area. Small islands in this area contribute to the very sheltered harbors in the sound.
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Hurricane season in the Caribbean runs from June 1 to November 30, sharply peaking from late August through September. Be prepared for some very hot days with high humidity in July, August and September.
High season in Virgin Gorda runs from mid December through April. Rates will be at their highest and the beaches will be the most crowded. The week immediately preceding Easter is popular due to the Easter Festival; hotels are known to increase their rates accordingly. Vacationing in the off-season will save money, but be prepared for hurricane season, very hot days with high humidity, and above-average precipitation. Many businesses, such as restaurants, shops, and some hotels/resorts close in the low season from mid-August to mid or end of October. For those concerned about hurricanes, an insurance agent can help identify trip insurance that covers plans interrupted by a hurricane.
There is one airport on the island:
- 2 Virgin Gorda Airport (VIJ IATA). The airport reopened in December 2010 after undergoing major construction to extend the runway and build a new terminal. The airport is currently restricted to small number of approved airlines, and only operates from sunrise to sunset. The Virgin Gorda experience begins with an exciting approach as the small plane drops over a ridge and descends along the side of the hill that obstructs the approach to the landing strip.
- Air Sunshine, toll-free: (U.S. & Canada). Flies from San Juan four times a day, and from Vieques twice a day; in winter the last flights may be diverted to Tortola, as the airport operates only during daylight. The reservation process is cumbersome, requiring faxes and a delay of up to 48 hours for confirmation, but Air Sunshine has a loyal following among regular visitors, many of whom are on a first-name basis with the pilots.
- Cape Air. Flies from San Juan three times a day; twice a day in summer. Cape Air code-shares with United, so that it may be possible to book your entire flight using popular search engines. If not connecting with a major airline, flights must be booked directly with Cape Air.
- Seaborne Airlines, ☎ , toll-free: . Entered into an interline agreement with American Airlines to allow seamless connections from San Juan to Virgin Gorda. Flights between the U.S. and Virgin Gorda on AA/Seaborne can be booked with American Airlines.
- Fly BVI – Caribbean Air Charter, ☎ , toll-free: (U.S. & Canada). Specializes in private charter flights to and from the BVI, as their name implies. Fly BVI operates a number of aircraft from the reliable Piper PA-23-250 "Aztec" with 6 seats, up to the King of the Ramp, the Cessna 404 "Titan", Cessna's Largest Piston Twin, configured for 9 Passengers. Prices will be comparable to commercial airline travel if you have at least four passengers.
- Island Birds, ☎ , toll-free: . Also specializes in private charter flights within the Caribbean including directly from San Juan to Virgin Gorda. Island Birds operates a fleet of twin-engine Piper aircraft. Prices may be less than commercial travel when travelling with four or more people.
Several airlines serve Saint Thomas and Tortola. Ferry service from Tortola's Beef Island airport is convenient with several departures per day. From St. Thomas, the ferry terminal is a taxi ride away, and there are only few direct boats per week.
- Dohm's Water Taxi, ☎ . Charter service from Red Hook, St. Thomas to Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda, including (land) taxi service from the St. Thomas airport. Also offers custom trips and tours.
- North Sound Express, ☎ . Links Beef Island, site of Tortola's airport, to Spanish Town, Leverick Bay and Bitter End.
- Smith's Ferry Service, ☎ . Operates daily between Road Town, Tortola and The Valley, Virgin Gorda.
- Speedy's, ☎ . Operates daily between Road Town, Tortola and The Valley, Virgin Gorda. Service from Charlotte Amalier, St. Thomas to Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda on a limited schedule.
Virgin Gorda is a popular yachting destination, with marina services at Spanish Town and boat-oriented resorts on the North Sound.
For those staying at resorts, taxis are readily available for the occasional excursion. Taxi services include:
- African Pride Taxi Service, ☎ .
- Andy's Taxi and Jeep Rental, ☎ .
- Mahogany Rentals, ☎ . Also gives tours and rents late-model 4WD SUVs.
- Open-sided 22-passenger safari busses (shared taxis) run along the main road. Fares are about $3–5.
Most people staying in cottages or villas will want to rent a car for at least part of the stay. A temporary drivers license, available at the rental agency for $10 provided you have a valid drivers license from your home country, is required to operate a vehicle on the island. Driving is on the left. All major roads are paved. Some roads are narrow with steep drop-offs, dips and speed bumps. The roads to Leverick Bay and Gun Creek are alarmingly steep. Motorists must be alert for pedestrians (there are no sidewalks), livestock, cars parked on the roadway and vehicles passing on curves. That being said, traffic is light and drivers are courteous. Speeds are low but distances are short. Gasoline (premium only) is available at stations at each end of Spanish Town.
- 3P's Scooter Rental, ☎ . Rents scooters by the day. Delivery and pick up services available.
- L&S Jeep Rentals, ☎ . Offers a range of SUVs and other vehicles.
- Speedy's, ☎ . Also has rentals, tours and taxi service.
Some of the resorts in the North Sound area are accessible only by ferry service from Gun Creek.
Along the southwestern shore below Spanish Town, there is a string of beaches, with light surf, beautiful sand and blue water. Each beach is separated from the next by the huge granite boulders that make the scenery so memorable. All are public, but respect the privacy of the villas that face some of the beaches (OK, go ahead and peek through the fences—some are stunning).
Beginning at the southern end:
- 1 The Baths. Virgin Gorda's most famous beach, due to its hidden caves and pools nestled amongst the giant granite boulders. As a result, it can become very crowded when the small cruise ships come calling. The best times are 8AM–10AM, and 3PM–5PM. Changing rooms, lockers and refreshments are available on the beach. A trail leads from The Baths through the pools and caves of the boulder field to little Devil's Bay beach. Both beaches may be reached by paths down from the parking lot at the south end of Tower Road. There is a fee for the Baths path, which is shorter and easier; cheapskates can take the Devils Bay path and reach the Baths through the boulder trail. Snorkeling is a popular activity. Moorings are provided for the many yachts that visit the Baths and Devil's Bay. $3/person.
- 2 Spring Bay. Cannot be reached from The Baths, but has easy public access from Tower Road. In spite of scenery rivaling The Baths, it is almost never crowded. At the public access, there are picnic tables in a grove surrounded by more of the big boulders. The Crawl (more boulders!) has sheltered pools with almost no wave action, as well as rocks to climb and crevices to explore. Snorkeling is best around the rocks at The Crawl and at the south end of the beach. The pools of The Crawl are less exciting but a good place for beginners to practice.
- 3 Little Trunk Bay. Easily reached by a very short trail from Spring Bay, is the next beach north, just as nice and often deserted. At its north end, another trail, with a handy rope for a short steep part, leads to the even more beautiful and more likely deserted beach of Big Trunk Bay.
- 4 Little Dix Bay. Sheltered in a cove and protected by reefs, Little Dix often has the calmest water of any of the beaches. This long sandy crescent is accessed through Rosewood Little Dix Bay Resort. Don't be bashful--all beaches are public and the resort really does cordially welcome visitors. At the gate house, a friendly security officer will remind you not to use the facilities and direct you to the parking lot.
- 5 Savannah Bay (north of Spanish Town). Reached by a short dirt road. This long sweep of beach, and adjacent Pond Bay, may have a few people or none at all. There is said to be excellent snorkeling—for able swimmers only—along the outer edge of the reef. Others can find things to see around the rocks at each end of the beach. A fabulous Caribbean beach
- 6 Mahoe Bay. Quiet, remote beach north of Savannah Bay. Vivid blue waters, gentle sandy curves and ideal for snorkeling with no currents, no jellyfish and rich marine fauna.
- 7 Long Bay. Secluded but beautiful and nearly deserted. Great for snorkeling or swimming. Accessible by boat or by road. Continue north past the Nail Bay Resort until the road heads back down toward the water. An unmarked and unimproved road on the left drops sharply and continues to a small parking area (it may be prudent to park beside the main road and walk in if you don't have high clearance and four-wheel drive). From here, a short path leads to the beach. Further north on the beach is a secluded cove with soft sand where no civilization can be seen in any direction.
- 8 South Sound. Secluded and guarded by a long reef. Excellent coral and lots of fish. There is an opening in the reef which allows access to South Sound, which is 8-12 ft deep with a sand bottom. The outside of the reef features huge ferns and corals. South Sound has a small number of villas providing seclusion and quiet.
Tired of the beaches?
- 9 The Copper Mine (at the southeastern end of the island). Here, ruins tell the story of the Cornish engineers who built the steam engine for the mine's pumps and lifts, and the Cornish miners who toiled in tunnels extending under the sea. There is also a view of the rugged coast.
- 10 Nail Bay Sugar Mill Ruins (From the south, take North Sound Road; turn left for Nail Bay after Savannah Bay. Watch for sign in Nail Bay Resort area, opposite Sugar Cane Restaurant.). The ruins are nicely maintained, with picnic tables and plantings, but no interpretive information. Worth a few minutes en route to Long Bay or Hog Heaven.
- 11 Little Fort National Park. The site of a former Spanish fortress. Some masonry walls still exist on the hillside, including the ruins of the Powder House (a munitions store). The 36-acre area is also a wildlife sanctuary. Easy access into the park from seashore, but a difficult hiking trail leads to the munitions store.
- Observation decks along North Sound Road offer wonderful views.
- 12 Gorda Peak (by trails from North Sound Road). An observation tower offers views of the whole island with its beaches, coves, reefs, offshore islands and blue water. The peak is over 410 m (1350 ft) but most of the climb is made by road. The first trailhead (coming from the south) leads to a longer route (55 minutes) with more vertical climb. The next one is shorter but steeper. Either climb can be made by anyone in average condition with ordinary shoes. Bring water.
All the usual tropic island activities are available—sailing, fishing, snorkeling and scuba.
- 1 Dive BVI (at Yacht Harbour), ☎ , toll-free: . 8AM–5PM daily. Scuba diving, snorkeling, eco-tours, day trips, etc.
- 2 Double "D" (at Yacht Harbour), ☎ . Has a variety of full- and half-day cruises by catamaran or motor yacht to islands around Virgin Gorda. Round trip to Anegada: $95/person (min 6).
- 3 Learn to Sail (at Bitter End Yacht Club). The Sailing School is open to visitors as well as guests.
- 4 Power Boat Rentals BVI (leaves from Yacht Harbour), ☎ . Powerboat rentals and charters. Charters: $750 full day, $500 half day; rentals: from $300/day plus gas.
- 5 Spirit of Anegada Day Sails (at Yacht Harbour), ☎ . The Spirit of Anegada offers day sails to destinations such as Anegada or Cooper Island, half-day snorkeling/sail adventures and sunset sails around Virgin Gorda. Climb aboard this classic gaff rigged schooner (red sails) to enjoy quality snorkeling and sailing among the beautiful BVIs. From $85/person (min 4, max 10).
- 6 Sunchaser Scuba (at Bitter End Yacht Club), ☎ , toll-free: . Scuba diving and related courses, rendezvous, wreck diving (including the Wreck of Chikuzen).
- 7 Sviva Spa (at Leverick Bay), ☎ . Will pamper you in many ways, either at their location or on your yacht (or your villa or hotel room).
- Virgin Gorda Easter Festival. Annually on Easter Weekend. Weekend filled with activities including: the calypso monarch competition parade, queen show and nightly village entertainment.
Prices are high at Virgin Gorda restaurants. Food must be imported from the U.S. and farther afield, and reshipped from deepwater harbors on small boats. Service charge, usually 15%, is almost always included in the bill. It may not be obvious; if in doubt, ask. Don't be alarmed if you're the only customer: Virgin Gorda gets relatively few visitors, so even the best restaurants may only serve a few meals per day.
In addition to the listed restaurants, many of the resorts welcome day visitors. Lunch and a stroll offers a great way to check out possibilities for your next trip (or look around places you can't afford to stay at). At Little Dix Bay, the excellent lunch buffet is about $35. Bitter End Yacht Club's buffet is about $25, including grilled-to-order entree. The free ferry runs from Gun Creek on the half hour. Lunch is served a couple of hundred feet to the left as you leave the dock. At Leverick Bay Resort, the Cove Bar and Grill has lunch items in the $10 to $20 range.
- 1 Chez Bamboo (in Spanish Town), ☎ . Dinner. Fine dining, indoors or outside, in a casual atmosphere. ~$30.
- 2 CocoMaya (Beachfront – Valley Trunk Road; from Spanishtown, turn right at the 'Well' roundabout.), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Happy hour & cocktails from 3PM, dinner from 6PM; closed Sunday. Open air restaurant and seaside bar. Serves Latin/Asian fusion cuisine, with an emphasis on sharing small plates of sushi and tapas. Expect to pay around $50 per person for dinner, not including drinks.
- 3 Hog Heaven (On the road above Leverick Bay. From the south on North Sound Road, watch for a small paved road to the left. From Nail Bay or Long Bay, continue as road climbs.), ☎ . The best BBQ in Virgin Gorda by a country mile. Owned by Blondie, a daytime ship captain and weekend pig farmer (really). No meal over $13 as of February 2012. Offering things like ribs, BBQ chicken, BBQ pork, etc. Perched on a hill with a phenomenal view over the water. Beer and cocktails too. Under $13.
- Island Pot (near the LSL Bakery), ☎ . This unassuming and inexpensive cafe has tasty inexpensive barbecue.. Ask around, or look for the sign on your way to The Baths, to find out what nights.
- LSL Bakery and Restaurant (On the way to The Baths on Tower Road), ☎ . A neighborhood lunch place by day, and a nice little restaurant by night. And do take home some pastries from the bakery. Dinner schedule and offerings vary year-by-year; stop by and ask..
- Poor Man's Bar (on the beach at the Baths), ☎ . Offers cold drinks and snacks including burgers, hot dogs and a variety of sandwiches. Also sells T-shirts, underwater cameras and snorkelling gear. Below $10.
- 4 The Rock Cafe (within walking distance of the Yacht Harbor and Guavaberry (bring a flashlight), just off the roundabout at the beginning of Tower Road), ☎ . Dinner only. Named for the boulders (same formation as those at The Baths) among which intimate dining decks are nestled. There is also an outdoor deck overlooking the boulders as well as an indoor dining room, bar and lounge. The ambience is more refined than at most other restaurants on the island. After 8PM, Sam's Piano Bar provides live entertainment including rock, oldies, jazz, reggage and R&B. $25–35.
There are a few supermarkets on the island to provision a yacht or small villa kitchen:
- 5 Buck's Food Market (at Yacht Harbour). Groceries, fresh & frozen produce, deli, dairy wines, spirits & beers, household items, pharmaceuticals, delivery to villa or yacht.
- 6 Bucks Wholesale Market (on Tower Road between Spanish Town and The Baths), e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. 8AM -7PM (closes at 1:00 on Sunday). Open to the public, the store sells case-lots and large sizes. It may be a worthwhile stop for provisioning boats or for large groups on long stays.
- Rosy's Supermarket (on Rhymer Road). Groceries, fresh produce, meats, dairy, wines, spirits & beers, baby supplies, cleaning supplies, pharmaceuticals, pre-order provisioning.
- 7 Supa Valu (opposite Police Station). Wholesale cash & carry, frozen, chilled & dry foods, delivery service.
The British Virgin Islands is famous for the Painkiller a drink made from rum, pineapple juice, coconut and orange juice. Check out the Limin Times to find out what's happenin' every night.
- 1 The Bath and Turtle (at Yacht Harbour), ☎ . The Yacht Harbor complex in Spanish Town has a local yachtie bar with local entertainment most nights.
- Last Stop Bar (across from the Gun Creek dock). Tiny bar serving drinks all day. Great for when you are waiting for a ferry or taxi.
- 2 Mad Dog Cafe (at The Baths), ☎ . 10AM–7PM. The tiny Mad Dog Cafe is known for its piña coladas. There is a limited offering of cold sandwiches, of which the BLT is the most popular.
- Mermaid's Dockside Bar and Grill (1/2 mi south of the Ferry Docks on the edge of Spanish Town), ☎ . 9AM–11PM. If you enjoy a sunset cocktail, this is the place for you. Known for their Thursday night buffet, including Anegada Lobster. $15.
- 3 Mine Shaft Cafe (right by the Mine Shaft Ruins), ☎ . Lunch and dinner. A fun place, a good choice for lunch too. If you go there in the evening, check out the chickens that are up in the tree in front of the outdoor deck. You won't believe it! $7–34.
- Sand Box (at Vixen Point on Prickly Pear Island), ☎ . Lunch and dinner; closed Aug–mid Oct and when a small cruise ship is in. Bearfoot beach bar serving burgers and salads for lunch, and steak, fish and chicken for dinner. In season, local bands on Mondays and Wednesdays.
- 4 Top of the Baths (also at The Baths), ☎ . 8AM–7PM. Offers great sunsets and excellent local rum drinks. Lunch is served, but no dinner.
While there are a number of well-known luxury resorts, condo complexes and cottages on the island, private villa rentals are also a popular option.
- Crosswinds Villa. Two houses back from Spring Bay with panoramic views of Drake's Channel. Three bedrooms for up to six guests. It has a chef's kitchen, daily maid service and outdoor living spaces.
- Fischer's Cove Beach Hotel (near St. Thomas Bay), ☎ . Self-contained oceanfront cottages overlook the ocean. Studio rooms available, some with ocean view private patios. Double suites from $90 and cottages from $190 in high season.
- 1 Guavaberry Spring Bay (on Tower Road south of Spanish Town, 5–10 minute walk from Spring Bay Beach), ☎ . Has one- two- and three-bedroom cottages, each with a kitchen/living/dining room and deck. The houses are tucked among more of the giant granite boulders. The honor-system self-serve commissary is small but has all the necessities for snacking, drinking and dining. No restaurants on premises, but several within a mile or so. It also manages several villas in the area, ranging from really nice to the spectacular Casa Rocalta. Guests of the villas have access to the Guavaberry commissary and office staff. A two-bedroom cottage is about $300 in high season. No credit cards accepted.
- 2 Rosewood Little Dix Bay, ☎ , toll-free: . A boutique resort including luxury suites and villas. Currently closed for renovation. Rooms from $725, cottages, suites and villas $975 to $6000 a night in high season.
- 3 Virgin Gorda Village (near Little Dix Bay, but about a mile and a half from the nearest beach), ☎ . One-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments; two-bedroom town houses. All condos have at least partial ocean views, but the top floors have the best views. Condominium units starting at $250 for studios.
Nail Bay Area
A road leads to two secluded resort complexes as it winds around the west side of Virgin Gorda Mountain.
- Katitche Point Greathouse (north of Savannah Bay), ☎ . Shaped like a pyramid, rising three floors. Four large main floor suites and a master suite on the second floor. A steel ladder leads to the "Crow's Nest" on the third floor at the top of the pyramid. Shared living area, professional kitchen and infinity pool. Villa can be rented as a complete villa or by individual suites. 3 nights: $5,100 double, $7,500 quad.
- 4 Mango Bay Resort (closer to North Sound Road than Nail Bay), ☎ . Offering suites and villas with a wide price range. Private villas, up to five bedrooms, available by the week. Efficiencies for $132 a night in high season and a two-bedroom beach-front villa for $700.
- 5 Nail Bay Resort, ☎ , toll-free: (U.S.), (Canada). With its remote location, Nail Bay is perhaps the most private of the resorts. Apartments and villas are scattered over 148 acres. Winter rates range from $200 for a studio or one-bedroom guest room to $940 for a five-bedroom villa.
- 6 South Sound Villa, South Sound Road, Virgin Gorda, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Waterfront Luxury 6-bedroom villa that comes with 3 kayaks and a dinghy/outboard. Rates start at $400/day for 2 persons off season.
- 7 Biras Creek Resort, ☎ , toll-free: . A secluded luxury resort with beaches on both the north and south sides of the island, includes complimentary boston whalers, hobie cats, windsurfing, sun lasers, kayaks, and folk boats for visitors interested in water sports. Rates include breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Only reachable by helicopter or boat (runs from Gun Creek hourly). Currently closed. Suites start around $900 in the high season.
- 8 Bitter End Yacht Club and Resort, ☎ , toll-free: . This resort has both public slips, rooms for the night, and many nice hammocks scattered beneath palm trees from which to see the view. Accessible only by sea, it has its own ferry from Gun Creek. For landlubbers, villas are around $6000 a week, double occupancy during high season.
- 9 Leverick Bay Resort, ☎ , toll-free: (U.S.), (Canada). The only North Sound resort reached by road. The Water Sports Centre offers snorkel equipment and boat rentals, charters and water sport activities. Rooms around $150 double, suites from about $1800/week in high season.
- 10 Saba Rock Resort, ☎ . A resort sitting on its own little island near Bitter End Yacht Club. Rooms from $175, suites from $285 in season.
Many resorts provide internet access for a fee. Mad Dog Cafe provides free Wi-Fi for its guests. Internet access is also available at:
- 3 The Chandlery (at Yacht Harbour). $5 for the first 10 minutes, 50¢/min thereafter, or a flat fee of $20/hr.
- 4 Trintek (at Yacht Harbour), ☎ .
The biggest danger by far is the ocean. Several tourists have died in recent years, snorkeling or swimming. Know your limits and heed warning signs. Drugs are prevalent throughout all of the Caribbean islands but not quite a problem on Virgin Gorda. What crime rate exists is usually among tourists. Even so, it is quite safe to walk around at any hour of the night. Tap water is said to be safe to drink at all tourist-oriented restaurants and accommodations. There are medical clinics and pharmacies on the island. Pedestrians must take care because of the lack of sidewalks.
In case of emergency, call 999 or 911.
- Road Town in Tortola is a ferry ride away.
- If you weary of the peace and quiet of Virgin Gorda, the many stores of Saint Thomas can be visited as a rather long day trip, by ferry or plane.
- Or if you need even more peace and quiet, take the Double 'D' cruise or a private trip with Smith's Ferry to the sparsely populated island of Anegada.