One of the most picturesque places you can experience is the British Virgin Islands. Our favorite way to experience the British Virgin Island is by sailboat. Being on a self-guided, chartered sailboat is not the same as being on a cruise ship. A lot of these destinations are not accessible by any other means of travel and are too small for cruise ships to enjoy. Sailing around the British Virgin Islands truly allows you to enjoy the islands and their cultures as a local; you can pop into their small coffee shops that aren’t overrun with tourists, you could be the only family on a mile-long white sandy beach, and you can take the time to get to know the locals.
Even with this immersion into the local culture and choosing your daily destination and timing, you are still within close proximity to any help you may need from the charter agencies. The British Virgin Islands are an ideal location to sail with your family as each destination is just a short distance away. Most day’s sails can be kept to under two hours and you can usually see your next destination from your departure point. With this visual itinerary (except for sailing to the island of Anegada), being under sail is our favorite and the most relaxing portion of our vacation, whether at the helm or resting on the sundeck.
Since everything is so close, you also have the luxury to wake up and review the weather and make any itinerary changes necessary. Based on the weather, there are many options available for that day’s sail and substantial infrastructure on each island, should you need it. The British Virgin Islands are also relatively protected water, making it a safer option for families to sail.
The islands in the British Virgin Island are so remarkably unique and they offer you such extremes, it feels like every day you are somewhere new. While sailing in the British Virgin Islands it is not like you have one destination or type of activity to do each day. The British Virgin Islands are made up of 25 pristine islands, each with its unique resources and charm.
Every stop on your British Virgin Island vacation will be one filled with extremes: glistening aquamarine water, empty white sandy beaches, gourmet cuisine, strong cocktails, plentiful snorkeling, and luxurious yacht basins with competent staff. Your sailboat offers you a traveling hotel room to see a wide variety of destinations and enjoy an overnight at each island, without having to repack your bags. After many years of sailing around the British Virgin Islands please find our favorite seven islands below.
Island Hopping in the British Virgin Islands
The family-owned eco-resort, Cooper Island Beach Club, is one of five properties on Cooper Island. The resort offers 12 hotel rooms, a restaurant, rum bar, solar-powered brewery, coffee shop, and gift shop. Day visitors and yachts can use the 30 nearby mooring balls that can accommodate yachts up to 60 feet.
We love the long pristine beaches of Manchioneel Bay and that this picturesque small stop is a bit off the beaten path. With only 12 hotel rooms and few folks traveling by boat, you are not having to navigate around crowds. The service on the island is incredible and makes you feel pampered.
Scrub Island of the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean is a part of the Lesser Antilles, a group of islands that are young volcanic or coral islands. While there is not a beach per se on Scrub Island, there is still a lot to do. This is a fabulous overnight anchorage to do halfway through your trip to experience a bit of luxury and refreshment.
Let’s be honest, sometimes boating and yacht basin shower houses can feel a bit like camping. Not at Scrub Island Resort, Spa and Marina. The facilities offered with your overnight docking are incredible. The market is top-notch and the restaurants, pools, slides, and bathhouses are spectacular. We highly recommend the spa at Scrub Island Resort.
“Bitter End Yacht Club earned its name thanks to its remote, secluded—and therefore idyllic—location. As the final island outpost before the Caribbean Sea meets the open Atlantic, Bitter End covers 64 acres, overlooks the jewel-toned North Sound, and is accessible only by water,” states the BEYC website. Before Hurricane Irma, this destination was a family favorite while in the British Virgin Islands. This was not one of the shiny new marinas we have previously mentioned, but an old-school, classic yachting community. We are excited to see what BEYC 2.0 will look like as they work to reopen.
Another resort on Virgin Gorda that was also impacted by Hurricane Irma is Yacht Club Costa Smeralda. This resort has more of a European vibe, based on its Italian heritage, and reminds us of a lot of the posh resorts we visited while sailing in Majorca, with a slightly more laid-back Caribbean spin. The bathhouses are pristine, all marble. The food is excellent and the drinks are strong. The company you will keep and the yacht eye candy is out of this world. We sure hope to see Yacht Club Costa Smeralda return to the British Virgin Islands soon.
The Baths are probably the number one must-do, other than lay on a beautiful, white sand beach with a cocktail in hand. This unique geologic formation is the remaining pieces of a volcanic plug of granite, eroding into piles of boulders on the beach that form natural tunnels, arches, tidal pools, and scenic grottoes that are open to the sea. The walk/climb through these boulders is a fabulous way to spend a day; there is truly nothing like it in the world. You will want to find a mooring ball in Devil’s Bay.
While this beautiful island, The Prickly Pear in the British Virgin Islands, is uninhabited, it has everything we need: a beach bar and a water sports facility. When you saddle up to the bar, order the Painkiller – just trust us on this one. We also recommend taking a hike to see the island’s namesake. The island boasts a nice anchorage with ten mooring balls.
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This island is the further point (two hours under sail), but is worth the excursion, in our opinion. Anegada Island is the only major coral island, or atoll, within the British Virgin Islands and is known as the “drowned island,” as the highest elevation is only 28 feet above sea level. The island sports an immense barrier reef that protects its fabulous beaches and creates gorgeous salt ponds. Other than the beaches and salt ponds, the wildlife is another must-see and includes gorgeous flamingos and rock iguanas.
If you are fortunate enough to make it to Anegada, lobster is a must! Now, these lobsters are not the New England style lobsters you may be used to. These are sweet, Caribbean spiny-style lobsters.
Travel Tip: We cannot recommend The Lobster Trap enough, not only for their delicious lobsters straight from the traps but for their other foods including seafood pasta, sticky toffee pudding, creme brulée, and wonderful picnic-style ambiance on a pier. We recommend a day spent on Cow Wreck beach, followed by a lobster dinner.
Beef Island is a small island off of Tortolla, connected by the Queen Elizabeth Bridge. Now, some items are on a lifetime bucket list, and we feel fortunate enough to have crossed both of these items off. One: attend a full moon party in Trellis Bay on Beef Island. Two: be at Foxy’s to ring in a new year (more on this later). The full moon party is an incredible cultural experience from the music, performers on stilts, dancing, fabulous bbq, and drinks. This is sure to be a night to never forget.
Jost Van Dyke
Great Harbour is an excellent overnight anchorage and is home to the famous Foxy’s. Previously mentioned was the bucket list item of Foxy’s on New Year’s Eve. Now don’t get us wrong, Foxy’s is fabulous anytime, but the party in Great Harbour Bay – especially at Foxy’s on New Year’s Eve – is unforgettable.
We encourage you to take time to chat with Foxy. He will be sure to share some inappropriate jokes with you and make sure you are enjoying yourself. Foxy’s has a great happy hour or evening ambiance, fabulous cocktails, delicious food, comfy hammocks, and you might even see a familiar face on their “ID wall of shame.”
A short cruise from Great Harbour is White Bay, which offers a beautiful beach and wonderful snorkeling. Also home of the famous Soggy Dollar Bar. This bar is a bit more family-friendly than Foxy’s, offering a great lunch selection including a “Flying Fish” sandwich and family games. Named for what your money looks like when you swim ashore from your yacht, this is another must-see while in the British Virgin Islands.
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Norman Island is on the southern tip of the British Virgin Islands and is reputed to be the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, Treasure Island. After seeing all of the water level caves, it does seem like a great place for a pirate to hide a treasure. However, today these can offer a great snorkeling experience.
You will find a large harbor known as the Bight, and it offers some of the most protected anchorages in the British Virgin Islands. The Indians are another wonderful snorkeling or dive site. There are pillars that come off the seafloor and the colorful sea life is spectacular. Here you are sure to see queen triggerfish, sea turtles, eels, rays, and parrotfish. Norman Island is also a fabulous place to stargaze, with the lack of ambient light pollution, you can see satellites crossing the night sky.
We cannot talk about Norman Island without bringing up the Willy T, which is a floating bar anchored in the corner of the harbor. Here, you can partake in a peg-leg-themed “shoskis,” followed by jumping off the side of this vessel (clothing optional). With all of the caves, wrecks, and hidden bays Norman Island boasts, we believe if you are going to find treasure in the British Virgin Islands, it will be here!
Getting Around the British Virgin Islands
Charter Your Yacht
If you or a member of your party has bareboat certification and is an experienced sailor, it is awesome to bareboat in the British Virgin Islands. If not, you can hire a skipper to show you around the British Virgin Islands and even a cook. We love to charter catamarans with their two hulls that offer more stability and space for families.
Travel Tip: We have chartered from The Moorings, TMM, Sunsail, and Rob Swain in the British Virgin Islands and they have offered fabulous service. Melody Delgado with Virgin Island Sailing is a yacht broker who can pair your needs and experience with the correct charter group.
Getting to Your Charter in the British Virgin Islands
When traveling from the U.S., you will want to fly into Charlotte Amalie Airport (STT). This is a four-hour flight from the central U.S. (ATL). After you land in Saint Thomas, which is part of the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), you will want to take the Red Hook ferry to West End Tortola, British Virgin Islands.
Unfortunately, you will want to save your U.S. Virgin Islands bucket list for a separate trip. To navigate between the U.S. Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands, you must go through customs every time, and this can take up a great deal of your time. Tortola is the yacht basin of the British Virgin Islands. Here you will board your yacht, receive your provisions, complete your yacht orientation, chart briefing, and settle into your boat.
As if the tranquil seas and easily plotted courses were not enough to have you packing your bags for the British Virgin Islands, we have also come to love the amenities the British Virgin Islands offer for our vacations. The accommodations that the British Virgin Islands offer far exceed, compared to other places in the world we have sailed – the quality and cleanliness of the yachts, as well as the professionalism of the charter agencies.
We love the at-home comforts available for provisions, common currency, the beautiful yacht basins, and the safety of food. The shallow anchorages, plentiful mooring balls and dock spaces, annualized warm water, friendly locals, and such a welcoming community have us planning our next vacation to this little piece of paradise.
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