The British Virgin Islands (BVI) have been part of the Western imagination since Christopher Columbus visited them on his second transatlantic voyage to the Americas and named them Santa Ursula y las Once Mil Virgenes (Saint Ursula and her 11,000 Virgins). Although the Spanish laid claim to the discovery of the islands, they never set foot there until 1508. Had they landed, they would have discovered a thriving Arak Amerindian community amongst the volcanic mountains, over 150 sandy beaches and silent caves on a set of islands that are about the same size as Washington D.C. While a year-round climate that rarely strays from between a balmy 21° C and a moderate high of 31° C is one reason to visit this Caribbean paradise, there are many others beyond.
The economy of the BVI is based largely on a well-developed tourist industry but it’s hard to imagine this when dropping anchor at one of the 50 islands’ unspoilt beaches, or carving out your own path to look down on the archipelago from above on one of its volcanic peaks. While the bigger islands of Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada and Jost Van Dyke have all the upmarket delights of the better known Greek islands, island hopping on the BVI has some unique features that are sure to entice and re-entice the amateur and explorer alike to charter a yacht and set sail.
1) To find seclusion: the small distance between the islands means you can have breakfast, lunch and dinner each on different islands without encountering many other tourists or travelling for long periods. Some of the tiny islands carry a distinct “x marks the spot” feel to them – it’s no wonder they’re nicknamed “nature’s little secrets”. One of the best things though is being able to find absolute seclusion, but then return for a night drink and a dance on the larger island Tortola before being rocked to sleep on the gentle waves in your favourite location.
2) Food: Agriculture and fishing are two other pillars of the economy in the BVI and good meals are in abundance anywhere that’s inhabited. Vegetables are highly based on the season and, being islands, fish is as fresh as it comes. This ensures food is of the highest quality and freshness year-round. Dumplings are a common accompaniment to many meals and tropical fruit abounds in juices and salads for refreshment from the heat. If you’re lucky enough to travel during religious holidays, you’ll find specific dishes on offer such as dukuna – a pudding made from spiced sweet potato and coconut steamed wrapped in plantain leaf. Foods like jerk chicken that are familiar to Western palates have made their way to the BVI and are sure to please.
3) The mix of cultures on the islands: A common feature of many islands is to have a large tree in the centre of the community where people meet to discuss local news and trade gossip, a truly relaxed, Caribbean feel that we should all learn to embrace and connect with. The cultural diversity of the islands reflects their distinct history of Amerindian, African and European influences alongside other Caribbean styles like calypso, soca and reggae. Visitors can seek out some local fungi bands – musical groups who use homemade instruments like washboards or shells – whose musical importance has survived and resurged in popularity lately.
The BVI have so much to offer to any visitor, who will be astounded by the relaxed, unspoilt feel to these unique islands. And if you want to go further too, there’s no need to change currency, because of the proximity to Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, the BVI use the dollar.