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The British Virgin Islands offer unblemished beaches, unspoilt anchorages and a taste of the Caribbean's laid-back charm. Visitors will soon discover why they're nicknamed 'Nature's Little Secrets'.
Located just east of Puerto Rico, the islands are clustered around the Sir Francis Drake Channel, which is renowned for its sheltered, crystal-clear waters. Yachting enthusiasts prize the archipelago for its reliable trade winds, near-perfect weather and selection of secluded bays.
The largest island, Tortola, is the Caribbean's yachting capital, and the territory's main commercial centre. Visitors will find tropical fruits and flowers on its mountain slopes. Tortola is also an ideal base from which to explore some of the other inhabited islands. Jost Van Dyke is perfect for travellers who prefer remote, rustic retreats, where calypso music and freshly baked banana bread sail the air around them. Virgin Gorda is notable for its spectacular geological formations. Divers will enjoy the reefs surrounding Anegada's low-lying coral atoll. Several shipwrecks also feature among the destination's tremendous dive sites.
Tropical beauty graces the British Virgin Islands, where cares grow quiet, and time stands still. Hidden coves, turquoise bays and white-sand beaches await all who escape to their unblemished shores. Visitors will soon discover a delicious, mellow energy as they enjoy the destination's features.
Yachtsmen can ride calm currents and steady trade winds from one secluded beach to another. Full-moon parties follow glorious days on the sparkling, Caribbean water. Swimmers, sunbathers and water-sports lovers will also know the deepest satisfaction. Gorgeous reefs and captivating shipwrecks will hold endless appeal for divers, while walks through botanic gardens will the reveal the archipelago's waterfalls and exotic plants. Visitors can't leave without seeing how the finest rum is made at a distillery that hasn't changed much since the mid-1800s.
Tortola (Turtle Dove) is the largest island in the British Virgin Islands archipelago. Travellers can look forward to a charming land of rolling hills and sandy beaches, where time flows with the grace of waves lapping on shore. Mount Sage lies at its centre. As Tortola's highest elevation, the mountain offers wonderful views of the destination's lovely bays, uncrowded beaches, surrounding islands and tropical vegetation. Visitors will also see the scattered ruins of 18th century buildings, which are reminders of the plantation era, when rum and sugar drove the island's economy. Tortola's scenic capital, Road Town, sits around a deep, yacht-filled harbour. Hotels, quaint island-style shops and cheerfully painted restaurants add to the locale's appeal. Travellers will find local and international foods, among which specialities such as fresh lobster, turtle dishes and coconut curries are highly recommended. All in all, Tortola's charm comes from the warmth of its people, and its quality as a sailing destination. Indeed, its clear waters, reliable trade winds and close proximity to other islands make it one of the world's foremost yachting hubs.
Cane Garden Bay is Tortola's most popular beach and a favourite anchorage for sailors. It's also the preferred location for swimmers, sunbathers and water-sports enthusiasts. The area is the centre of the island's nightlife, featuring seaside bars, restaurants and Caribbean-style entertainment. Travellers will find a number of villas and guesthouses around the curved bay, as well as rentable water-sports equipment, and gift shops. Tourists who prefer quieter beaches should avoid peak season, as Cane Garden Bay is a favourite drop-off spot for cruise ships and can become very crowded.
Located in the centre of Road Town, Tortola, the splendid J.R. O'Neal Botanic Gardens are a must for fans of the Caribbean's tropical flora. Pathways wind beneath floral pergolas, through a mini rainforest and passed a variety of ponds, waterfalls and exotic, indigenous plants. The gardens are also home to tropical birds and red-legged tortoises. Travellers may see baby tortoises if they visit at the right time of year. The four-acre gardens are maintained and developed as part of the British Virgin Islands' National Parks system, and offer a great escape from the heat. Though perhaps not as big as some people are used to, the gardens can easily keep visitors occupied for an hour or so.
Smuggler's Cove is the perfect place for those who prefer serene and uncrowded beaches. Travellers can access the remote spot via a rutted dirt road, and enjoy the Caribbean beach's classic beauty at the end of it. Pristine white sand, turquoise water and towering coconut palms are all in the frame. Visitors will be hard pressed to find a better location for swimming, sunbathing and snorkelling. The cool ocean temperature can be refreshing, and the area's currents make snorkelling exciting.
The Callwood Distillery is a must-see attraction. Located in Cane Garden Bay, it manufactures delicious rum the old-fashioned way. The Callwood family have owned the distillery since the mid-1800s and it doesn't appear to have changed much since then. Indeed, the facility still uses traditional methods and antique equipment. Guests will encounter a delightfully laid-back, dilapidated space, and the rum produced there seems all the better for it. Current owner Michael Callwood is always proud to inform visitors that Arundel Cane Rum (the distillery's brand) is made from pure sugar cane juice, with no preservatives added. He calls this a 'pre-emptive strike against hangovers', and guests can actually view the ancient oak barrels in which the rum is aged. One part distillery tour, one part history tour, the Callwood Distillery is among the British Virgin Isles' most celebrated tourist attractions.
Virgin Gorda's coastline is a magical world of caves, pools and coves. Its secluded beaches and safe anchorages make it popular among sun chasers and yachtsmen. The island's idyllic beaches are perfect for lounging and water sports. Handsome Bay, Big Trunk Bay and Savannah Bay are all widely loved spots. Devil's Bay National Park also has its own secluded beach. The Baths are Virgin Gorda's star attraction, though. Located on the island's southern shore, the jumble of half-submerged granite stones form a playground of pools, arches, grottoes and tunnels. Spanish Town is the destination's main centre, where visitors can shop for charming souvenirs, eat delicious local cuisine, or simply unwind in the town's laid-back atmosphere.
The British Virgin Islands have a sub-tropical climate with high humidity, although temperatures are moderated by trade winds. Temperatures vary little all year but there is a slight difference in average temperatures between the seasons. Summer temperatures average from 79°F to 88°F (26°C to 31°C), while winter temperatures average between 72°F and 82°F (22°C to 28°C). Rainfall is variable but there is a 'dry' season between January and July (the cooler, winter months) and a wet season between August and November.
The British Virgin Islands are a great year-round holiday destination but the best time to visit is between January and June, when it is slightly cooler and drier and there is no risk of hurricanes.
The official currency is the US Dollar (USD), which is divided into 100 cents. Most establishments on the larger islands accept credit cards, but on Anegada it is best to have cash. Banks and exchange facilities can be found in Road Town, Tortola. ATMs are available in Tortola and Virgin Gorda.
English is the main language spoken on the islands.
Electrical current is 110 volts, 60 Hz. The two plug types are the same as in the US. One has two-pin flat blades; the other is the same, though it has a third round grounding pin.
US nationals: United States passport holders must have a valid passport or a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver's license, as well as proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate. No visa is required for stays of up to six months.
UK nationals: UK passport holders need a passport, but no visa is necessary.
CA nationals: Canadian passport holders require a passport or a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver's license, as well as proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate. No visa is required for stays of up to six months.
AU nationals: Australian passport holders need a passport, but no visa is necessary for a stay of up to six months.
ZA nationals: South Africans need a passport, but no visa is necessary for stays of up to six months.
IR nationals: Irish nationals need a passport, but no visa is necessary for stays of up to six months.
NZ nationals: New Zealand nationals require a passport, but no visa is necessary for stays of up to six months.
Travellers need a return or onward ticket and all the documents required for their next destination, as well as sufficient funds. As part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), all travellers travelling between the United States and Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean region are required to present a passport or other valid travel document to enter or re-enter the United States. If departing from the USA, a valid passport will be required by immigration authorities. It's recommended that passports be valid for six months after the intended period of travel.
There is a small risk of dengue fever in the British Virgin Islands, so visitors should protect themselves with insect repellent. Recommended vaccinations are minimal but include hepatitis A, if not previously taken. Limited medical facilities can be found on all the main British Virgin Islands and there is a hospital located in Road Town, Tortola. Comprehensive medical and travel insurance is recommended.
For good service, a 10 to 15 percent tip is usual in the British Virgin Islands. Hotels often add a service charge to the bill, usually between 10 and 12 percent, so it is best to check before tipping. Bellhops and porters usually expect $1 per item of luggage.
The British Virgin Islands are generally considered very safe for travellers and they have a low crime rate. That said, sensible precautions should always be taken regarding valuables, especially on beaches. The islands are susceptible to hurricanes, particularly between June and November, but tropical storms can occur throughout the year. It is a good idea for visitors to check the forecast for storms during their stay, and to plan around the hurricane season.
In the British Virgin Islands, it is considered impolite to take photographs of the local people without asking their permission beforehand.
Business attire in the British Virgin Islands is fairly formal and conservative. A lightweight suit is appropriate for most meetings, unless in an informal outdoor setting where smart slacks and a shirt is more appropriate. Handshaking is customary for introductions between both men and women; women are considered equals in the business world and should be treated as such. Business cards are exchanged on introduction. Being late for meetings is considered offensive despite the laid-back impression of the island. Meetings are usually fairly unstructured, though. The language of business is English, and business hours generally run from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.
The international dialling code for the British Virgin Islands is +1 284. The outgoing code is 011 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 01127 for South Africa). Many hotels provide wifi.
Travellers to the Virgin Islands over 18 years do not have to pay duty on 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars or 250g of tobacco, and wine or spirits up to 1 litre.
BVI Tourist Board, Tortola: +1 284 494 3134 or www.bvitourism.com/
British Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 588 6500.
British High Commission, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 237 1530.
British High Commission, Canberra, Australia: +61 2 6270 6666.
British High Commission, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 421 7500.
British Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 1 205 3700.
British High Commission, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 4 924 2888.
United States Embassy, Bridgetown, Barbados (also responsible for the BVI): +1 246-227-4000.
Canadian High Commission, Bridgetown, Barbados (also responsible for the BVI): +1 246-629-3550.
Australian High Commission, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago (also responsible for BVI): +1 868 822 5450.
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