British Virgin Islands – A Paradise Waiting to be Discovered
On a cool summer’s evening while sitting in comfort on the veranda of my home, my son and his wife told of their recent scenic and enjoyable vacation on the British Virgin Islands. ‘It was idyllic for our family, said my son, “it was partly for the fun of traveling there and partly for the settings on the scenic coast seen from our comfortable villa with the cool sea breezes wafting from the Caribbean Sea through the rooms. And these islands, cays and bays, have some of the best diving and snorkeling in the world – well, it is according to my opinion.” And his young children, a freckled faced boy of ten and a pretty girl of seven voiced their agreement in unison.
His wife interjected in her words a thought and said, “It was great for all of us, especially for our young children as the islands are known for its beautiful white sand beaches, and the islands are the location of many natural wonders. We all enjoyed excursions by sea and air to an astounding variety of places from semi rainforest at the Sage National Mountain Park, from the tropical botanical gardens of little Marina Cay to the pristine coral island of nine-mile-long Anegada. But the best of our three week holiday for all of us was relaxing on the beach strolling on the quiet palm-fringed shore, and taking frequent dips in the cool sea.
Now for a bit of history and geography – “The British Virgin Islands, also called the Virgin Islands is a British colonial possession, located in the Carribean Sea to the east of the Island of Puerto Rico. The islands make up part of the Virgin Islands Archipelago, the remaining islands constituting the US Virgin Islands. Technically the official name of the Territory is simply the “Virgin Islands”, but in practice since 1917 they have been almost universally referred to as the “British Virgin Islands” to distinguish the islands under the American flag. The British Virgin Islands consist of the main islands of Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, and Jost Vand Dyke, along with over fifty other smaller islands and cays. Approximately fifteen of the islands are inhabited. The capital, Road Town, is situated on Tortola, the largest island which is approximately 20 km (12 mi) long and 5 km (3 mi) wide. The islands have a total population of about 22,000, of whom approximately 18,000 live on Tortola.
The Spanish Empire claimed the islands by discovery in the early sixteenth century, but never settled them, and subsequent years saw the English, Dutch, French, Spanish and Danish all jostling for control of the region, which became a notorious haunt for pirates. The U.S. government purchased St. John, St. Thomas and St. Croix from Denmark, renaming them the United States Virgin Islands. The British Virgin Islands were administered by the British Government until separate colony status was gained for the Islands in 1960 and the Islands became autonomous in 1967.
Note: The name Virgin Islands was derived by Christopher Columbus in 1493 on his second voyage to the Americas. Columbus gave them the fanciful name Santa Ursula y las Once Mil Vírgenes (Saint Ursula and her 11,000 Virgins), shortened to Las Vírgenes (The Virgins), after the legend of Saint Ursula.
There are no high rise hotels, but comfortable lodgings from a quiet hideaway villa to a small, friendly property or a 5 star luxury hotel with spa. There are no casinos or nightclubs which cater to a host of gamble minded persons which leave the islands a paradise suited for couples, families, and singles for a quiet holiday. Sailing, diving, fishing and soaking up the sun on soaking up the sun on the inviting seaside is what it’s all about on the idyllic British Virgin Islands.
There are plenty of varied and interesting places to eat (inevitably, seafood is the dish of choice for most people. Lobster and various fish are available from the small restaurants). Yet the diversity of the local people offers their culinary delights.
Diving and sailing is reported to be the best anywhere; and windsurfing, fishing and simply strolling on quiet white sand, palm-fringed shore are enjoyed. There are also plenty of excursions by sea and air and activities such as visiting national parks, the Botanical Gardens, horseback riding, hiking, shopping, kite boarding and numerous water sports. Island hopping is made easy with regular ferries from Tortola to Virgin Gorda, Jost van Dyke, Anegada and Peter Island.
One can explore the national parks, from sunken shipwrecks at Rhone Marine Park to the awe-inspiring boulders of The Baths an unusual geologic formation located on the southern end of the island of Virgin Gorda. In all, there are twenty-eight national parks, which encompass a stunning array of land and marine areas including historic sites, tropical forests, and bird sanctuaries.
Note: Countless reefs, towering coral pinnacles, underwater caves, lava tunnels, canyons, massive boulders and grottoes are strewn across this vast submerged shelf, creating a choice of dive sites that range from shallows for the novice snorkeller to dramatic sea caverns and extraordinary shipwrecks for the experienced scuba diver.
Now how to get to the British Virgin Islands – When traveling to the British Virgin Islands you must take note that there are no direct flights from the USA, Canada, Europe, or South America. All flights must connect through another Caribbean airport on islands such as Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, Antigua, St. Kitts, or St. Maarten/St. Martin to the islands’ airport. Your travel agent or international airline will be able to assist with booking. Flights from the England, Europe and mainland US often go to the US Virgin Islands and then require a fast boat transfer or, more usually, a 45 minute ferry boat ride since the Islands’ main airport can not accommodate larger aircraft. You can catch one of the ferries, almost any time of day till Five PM when the services are shut down for the evening. The ride lasts about 50 minutes depending on the weather. The scenery is well worth the price of the ride.
The islands, was supposedly the location that Robert Louis Stevenson based Treasure Island Today’s visitors might not stumble across swashbuckling pirates or half-concealed treasure troves, but they will find highly prized booty of soft sand and gentle, teal colored waters to refresh you in a swim in the calm sea and for an early evening stroll along palm lined sea shore – and there is the breathtaking chance of spotting dolphins and whales criss-crossing the surface of the sea.