Why visit the British Virgin Islands?
If you’re considering a BVI vacation, look no further than this British Virgin Islands travel guide. There’s no getaway that compares to the relaxation of the British Virgin Islands with its cluster of breathtaking islands joined by nothing other than crystal clear water and stunning sea life.
The BVI comprise of about 60 islands, just a few miles east of the US Virgin Islands, approximately 60 miles from Puerto Rico and situated between the North Atlantic and Caribbean Sea. Known for their tropical vibe, rum cocktails, perfect beaches, palm trees and relaxed nature, it’s no wonder the British Virgin Islands remain one of the world’s favourite luxury destinations.
To help you prepare for the trip of a lifetime, this BVI travel guide answers all your questions when it comes to the practical details of your BVI vacation. From having all the correct entry documents to travel and accommodation, let us help make planning a breeze, so you can enjoy focusing on making memories to last a lifetime.
While the BVI are fantastic for sailing all year round, passionate sailors especially enjoy the BVI Spring Regatta in March. The year-round climate of the BVI is hot and tropical with a slightly cooler dip between December and March. The daily average temperature between May and October is approximately 28°C (82°F) and 24/25°C (75/77°F) between December and March.
If you’re a keen swimmer, you’ll be pleased to know that the sea reaches temperatures of 29°C (84°F) – perfect if you fancy a dip!
The BVI remain warm throughout the year so be sure to stay hydrated and invest in a good reef-safe sunscreen, hat and beach cover-up. We recommend packing light layers as well as a sweater for evenings and a light raincoat. For more information on sailing conditions, visit our information page.
Language, Currency and Driving
The currency in the British Virgin Islands is the US dollar and the official language is English. If you’re coming from the USA, this makes your trip extra straightforward. While credit cards are accepted in major retail stores, many smaller restaurants and shops operate on a cash-only basis, so it is worth stocking up on dollars before your trip. It’s also worth noting that even though many left-hand drive cars are imported to the BVI from America, cars must drive on the left side of the road.
The standard voltage in the BVI is 110v and a 60 Hz frequency. Your appliances can be used in the BVI as long as the standard voltage in your country is between 110 and 127v. Plug sockets use type A and B so if you’re travelling from the UK, you’ll need an adaptor for your power plugs. These can generally be purchased in airports or supermarkets.
Food and Drink
Although you’ll find all manner of cuisines on your BVI vacation, we also recommend trying some local dishes! Some specialties include:
- Anegada lobster
- Fish chowder
- Mussel pie or conch stew
- Pattie – pastry stuffed with baked spiced meat, seafood and vegetables
- Fungi – mixture of cornmeal and okra
- Local fruits – sugar apple, passion fruit, tamarind, guava, pineapple, mango, papaya and soursop
The drinking age is 18 and regional drinks include rum punches, Pina Coladas, Painkillers, and other exotic cocktails. Tipping is generally 15-20%.
Coco Maya – Located on the beachfront of Virgin Gorda, this Latin Asian fusion restaurant has a fireside lounge where guests can enjoy original cocktails. Coco Maya is popular for its Happy Hour and dinner, as well as its live DJ and beach karaoke over the weekend.
Cooper Island Beach Club Restaurant – A laid-back and friendly beach bar and restaurant on Cooper Island. The coffee shop serves pastries, coffee and ice-cream during the day and an international menu is served at the restaurant for lunch and dinner. Guests can also enjoy Happy Hour which is particularly popular on the deck where beautiful sunsets can be viewed from the outdoor sofas. Additionally, there is a broad selection of rums and an onsite microbrewery that offers a variety of craft beers on tap.
Soggy Dollar Bar – Located on Jost Van Dyke, this famous beach bar is revered by rum-lovers. Known for its signature Painkiller rum cocktail, Soggy Dollar is a must-visit! Guests can also enjoy American Caribbean-style cuisine at the beach bar.
Hog Heaven – Based on Virgin Gorda, Hog Heaven provides spectacular views and excellent BBQ dishes, from ribs to fried chicken and fish, as well as summery cocktails.
No special vaccinations are needed prior to your trip to BVI but the islands do have a history of the Zika and Dengue viruses so this is important to be aware of. There are no vaccinations available but you can mitigate the risk of contracting these viruses by avoiding mosquito bites by covering skin at dusk and dawn and with repellents and nets.
For more help to plan your trip, visit our information page.
Why Sail on Your BVI Vacation?
Known as the sailing capital of the world, it’s no surprise that sailors flock to the BVI from all around the globe, seasoned and novices alike. But what is it about the British Virgin Islands that makes them a must-see from the helm?
- Breath-Taking Views
Imagine every time you tack, turning towards yet another view of a beach so perfect that it could be mistaken for a computer screensaver. With 360 degree views of crystal clear cobalt waters and powdery white shores, you’ll be pairing the exhilaration of smooth sailing with an awe inspiring panorama.
- Water Sport Heaven
When you (if you ever could) fancy a break from sailing, jump into the warm waters and snorkel over the reefs or try your hand at paddle boarding. The choices are endless and there’s a whole rainbow of wildlife to discover beneath the surface.
- Consistent Weather
Expect good breezes to keep you moving. A bonus of these winds is that they keep mosquitos at bay meaning you can enjoy sailing with no buzzing distractions. The generally consistent weather means you can sail comfortably without having to layer up and can lay out on deck and absorb some sunshine when someone else is on skipper duty.
- Island Hopping
The beauty of the BVI being so close together means you can sail in short stints or for longer periods as you wish. Whatever you choose, there is something new to discover on every island so each destination is an adventure in itself.
Explore the possibilities for bareboat or crewed charters. Before you plan your trip, we will also need the correct documents to process the application for your yacht charter vacation. These include a completed request form to help us match the right yacht and dates to meet your requirements. We also require a sailing resume which will outline your skippering and basic seamanship skills.
BVI Entry Requirements
While the BVI do have specific guidelines when it comes to entry, they are simple enough to understand and acquire when you allow yourself plenty of time to get them sorted.
If you are travelling to the BVI as a citizen of the USA or Canada, you must have a valid passport with you.
British nationals can visit the BVI with a passport and don’t require a visa. However, if you are travelling via the USA or St Thomas USVI (STT), you will need to secure an ESTA. Typically, on arrival, BVI immigration will grant one-month entry with a stamp and may extend this for an extra month. It is possible to stay in the BVI for up to 6 months if the Chief Immigration Officer agrees there is adequate evidence that you have evidence of independent financial means. It’s also worth noting that there are various departure taxes and environmental and tourism levies.
If you are a British or European citizen and plan to travel to the US Virgin Islands on a charter yacht, you must have a B1/B2 visa. This is a traditional, temporary, non-immigrant visa that is affixed to the visa page in your passport.You will need to attend an interview at a US embassy as part of the application process for this visa, so make sure to apply with plenty of time to spare before your trip. If you don’t possess a B1/B2 visa when travelling to the US Virgin Islands from the BVI you will face a heavy fine.
European citizens need a valid passport for their visit to the BVI but visitors from a select list of European countries, including Albania, Georgia and Slovakia, also need a visa to enter the BVI.
Citizens from other Caribbean islands may need a visa to enter the BVI so if you are coming from another island in the Caribbean, please familiarise yourself with customs.
Find out more about BVI entry requirements here.
There are a number of ways of travelling to BVI for your sailing trip, whether you are coming from Europe, North America or beyond. You can discover more about BVI ferries and airlines serving the BVI here as well as more detail about travelling to the BVI.
From the UK
Currently, it isn’t possible to fly directly from the UK to the BVI’s airport, Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport (EIS), but connecting flights are easy enough to find. Fly from the UK to one of the following destinations:
- Antigua (ANU)
- Barbados (BGI)
- St Maarten (SXM)
- Puerto Rico (SJU)
You can then take a connecting flight to St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands (STT) and take a ferry to the BVI or fly directly to the British Virgin Islands (EIS), just 90 miles east of Puerto Rico.
A recommended route is from Europe is via St Maarten (SXM) and then to take a connecting flight to Tortola.
The British Virgin Islands lie in easy reach of North America.
Fly into St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands (airport code STT) and take a taxi to one of the ferry terminals. Choose from Charlotte Amalie (10 minutes’ drive) or Red Hook (30 minutes’ drive) and then take the ferry to Tortola. This is usually more affordable than taking a direct flight to Tortola and the views from the ferry will stay with you forever.
Alternatively, fly to San Juan (SJU) and take a connecting flight to Tortola. This flight is approximately half an hour. It may also be possible to take an alternative route via Antigua or St Maarten.
If you are travelling from anywhere other than the USA, Canada or Europe, you will most likely require a visa for entry to the BVI.
Horizon’s Base in Nanny Cay
Your yacht charter vacation begins at Horizon’s base which is located in Nanny Cay, on the south side of Tortola, between Road Town and West End. The natural sheltered Nanny Cay Marina has space to accommodate 180 yachts and also houses a high-speed fuel dock, 120/220V electricity, luxury shower and WC facilities, water and ice from the Nanny Cay water purification plant, garbage disposal and site-wide backup power.
There are a number of ways to get there, depending on how you are travelling to the BVI.
If you are flying, send us your flight details and ETA so we can arrange for a taxi to meet you at Terrence B Lettsome International Airport. The journey takes approximately 40 minutes and the transfer comes at an additional charge.
If you are arriving by ferry from St Thomas to West End, you can take a taxi from the taxi rank for a 15 minutes journey to the Nanny Cay base.
Alternatively, you can take your own private water taxi directly from St Thomas to the Horzion base.
Horizon’s base in Nanny Cay benefits from a number of amenities available to guests. The Nanny Cay Hotel boasts 40 rooms and is set in a tropical garden, ideal for rest and respite. The rooms all have air-conditioning, direct-dial phones, cable TV, a daily maid service and private balconies with marina or garden views.
If you’re visiting as a family, you might also wish to secure a room with kitchenettes and roll away beds. These are available for a small supplement, while infant cots come at no extra cost and children under 12 stay for free. Freeman’s Laundromat is available for guests to use as self-service or for full service six days a week.
Relax at the base swimming pool and sun lounger area to catch a gentle breeze and views over to Norman and Peter island. You can also get lost in some reading material from the exchange book libraries in the Hotel and Marina Reception and Genaker Café.
The Genaker Café is open air and serves breakfast until 11:30am seven days a week in the heart of Nanny Cay. You can also enjoy drinks and lunch at the Beach Bar which is open from 10am, seven days a week. Island Roots is another popular spot for coffee and baked goods. If you’ve forgotten beachwear or want to buy a gift, Arawak is an excellent gift and clothing shop located in Nanny Cay Marina.
When you’re not enjoying yourself above water, why not take a dive below the surface? Whether you fancy snorkelling or scuba diving, Blue Water Divers give you access to a range of dive sites from Nanny Cay, such as the Wreck of the Rhone and the stunning reefs.
Discover more about the Horizon’s Base in Nanny Cay here.
Every aspect of your BVI stay should feel luxurious. That’s why we recommend only the best hotels and villas on Tortola for you to stay in before or after your BVI yacht charter adventure.
If you’re looking for a hotel, we recommend the Nanny Cay Hotel on the Horizon base near the marina, which we described above.
Also in Nanny Cay are the Nanny Cay Townhouses located in Nanny Cay Village which includes 32 luxury waterfront homes located on a private waterway and just a short walk from the beach. These properties are within close proximity of the marina and are set over 2-3 levels, accommodating 4-6 guests with a private deck and air conditioning.
Another hotel option is the Sugar Mill Hotel based on the northern shore in Little Apple Bay with every room just a minute’s stroll away from the beach. Enjoy the freshwater swimming pool before relaxing in your air conditioned room.
For something a little more private on the shore, large groups will love The Golden Pavilion Villa which sleeps 12. This air conditioned villa has every luxury you could want including 180 degree ocean views from the home, heated infinity pool and hot tub, fire pit, fully equipped gym, and more.
Villa Maya is based in the Belmont Estate area of Tortola just walking distance from the crystal clear snorkelling hotspot of Smuggler’s Cove Beach. The villa houses four bedrooms – a master and bathroom suites, two guest rooms with their own ensuite bathrooms and terraces, and one four-sleeper bunk room. Villa Maya boasts beautiful sea views and a pool overlooking the bay.
Not far from Villa Maya is Coconuts – a two bedroom and two bathroom house nestled into the hillside of Belmont Estates. This holiday home is only a short drive from Smuggler’s Cove, Long Bay and Soper’s Hole, where you can find places to eat and shop. Nature lovers will be drawn to the tropical gardens around the house and the courtyard separating the bedroom suites.
Also near to Smuggler’s Cove is Villa Ariana, a true luxury hideaway! With its four bedrooms and four and a half bathrooms, the villa is perfect for up to 10 adults and four children. The infinity pool, biweekly maid service, balconies and serene ocean views offer the restful experience that springs to mind when you imagine a holiday in the British Virgin Islands.
Hidden in the hills, you’ll find Summer Heights, a luxury villa overlooking gorgeous panoramic views of the neighboroughing islands and sparkling ocean. This custom-designed holiday villa sleeps 12 and offers ocean views from all rooms. You’ll find all you need and more at Summer Heights, from a maid service and air-conditioning to a swimming pool and BBQ.
We recommend the Insure My Trip Insurance package which covers overseas medical expenses, evacuation, baggage and several sports and activities. One of the great things about Insure my Trip is their flexibility which allows you to take out travel insurance while you’re already away and offers cover in over 140 counties. Find out a rough quote for your Caribbean travel insurance here.
Travel insurance is always important, but even more so when taking part in an adventurous vacation such as a sailing charter. Here are just some key reasons to invest in travel insurance:
- Medical costs
Since the BVI is a small group of islands, any serious medical matters are typically referred to Miami or Puerto Rico as the hospital on Tortola is a relatively small general hospital. American hospital expenses can reach $100,000 per day and emergency expatriation can exceed this cost. Investing in medical insurance costs considerably less and we recommend avoiding the risk by purchasing travel insurance.
- Cancellation fees
It can happen to anyone – an unforeseen reason can creep up on you and sadly force you to cancel your trip. The last thing you need is the additional stress of the financial penalty of cancelling a prepaid trip. Taking out travel insurance with cancellation cover can buy you peace of mind in the run-up to your BVI vacation.
- Baggage cover
When you are flying long-distance with transfers, the risk of baggage loss increases. You also may feel at higher risk of theft when you are travelling. If anything did happen, having baggage or personal items cover gives you the flexibility to replace lost items or tide you over until your baggage is recovered, so that you aren’t starting your vacation on the wrong foot!
Now you have some more information about the British Virgin Islands, how to get there and where to visit, you can start planning your BVI vacation!
We hope this BVI travel guide has provided you with what you need but if you have any further questions contact us.