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Tortola, British Virgin IslandsOctober 17, 2011 By: Susan Young Travel Agent
|Road Town in Tortola, BVI, is worth exploring and serves as a gateway to Virgin Gorda and Jost Van Dyke.|
If your clients have booked a cruise that calls at Tortola, British Virgin Islands, they’ll usually arrive at Road Town, the BVI’s laid-back capital. Even though it’s the BVI’s administrative and business center, Road Town is more sparsely populated than some capitals on other Caribbean islands. It is also a good jumping-off spot for ferry rides to Virgin Gorda or Jost Van Dyke.
First inhabited by the Arawak and Carib Indians, the BVI were spotted by explorer Christopher Columbus in 1493. Spanish and Dutch planters arrived soon after, and the British followed in the 17th century.
Pirates and buccaneers prized Tortola for its many secluded coves. In Spanish, Tortola translates to “land of the turtle dove” and the island’s eco-diversity encompasses mountains, harbors, beaches and reefs.
Shore Trip Sampler
Cruise line shore trips on Tortola typically range from an around-the-island sightseeing overview with mountaintop photo stops to a beach adventure or a water-based activity like snorkeling, sailing or kayaking. The most gorgeous beaches are either along Tortola’s northern coast or near the island’s West End. For scuba divers, the wreck of the 310-foot-long RMS Rhone awaits. This Royal Mail ship sank off the island during an 1867 hurricane.
Many cruise lines, big and small, call at Tortola. Here’s a sampling of just a few of the many shore excursion options. Caribbean Princess sails from San Juan, Puerto Rico, from November 20 through April 29, 2012. One of its itineraries includes a Road Town call. The ship’s half-day Panoramic Scenic Drive, Beach & Shopping excursion includes minibus transfers to Fort Hill for Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea views and a swimming stop at Cane Garden Bay. It’s priced from $59 per person.
Costa Cruises’ Costa Atlantica calls at Road Town on one repositioning cruise in December and another in April 2012. Clients may choose a four-hour Safari Bus Adventure excursion, priced at about $110. The tour includes a nature walk in Sage Mountain National Park and some time at one of the island’s best beaches.
This winter season, Royal Caribbean International will sail to Tortola from such embarkation ports as San Juan, Cape Liberty in Bayonne, NY, and Baltimore. For example, a seven-night Serenade of the Seas cruise from San Juan features many eco-adventures, plus a Tortola Historical Tour, priced at $42 for adults and $38 for children. The tour stops at the Sunday Morning Well, the historic spot on the island where slaves were emancipated; Kingston Church, built in 1802; an overlook at the Joshua Bay sugar mill ruins; the Callwood Rum Distillery; and the Old Government House Museum, Gardens and Graveyard.
For guests who truly want a bird’s-eye view, Silversea Cruises fields a two-hour Flightseeing Adventure shore excursion. Guests take a 30-minute ride on a twin-engine Piper airplane and enjoy stunning land and sea views below. Cost is $199 per person.
Exploring Road Town
On our recent visit to Road Town, we opted for an independent walking tour. Tip: Grab a map on the ship or from the tourist folks at the pier.
In addition, open-air minibuses continually operate from the main street area near the cruise pier. Vendors beckoned us to take the around-island sightseeing tour for $20, then $15 and finally $10, later in the day. Still, we waved them off to explore on our own.
That said, Road Town’s sidewalks leave much to be desired. We utilized a transport wheelchair for my mother, and fortunately she was able to stand up and get out at some points, so I could maneuver the chair up and over curbs and crumbling sidewalks. Many places lack wheelchair ramps, though, so advise clients accordingly.
|Cruise passengers can buy clothing, souvenirs and more at Crafts Alive shopping village.|
Because Road Town is the administrative center of the BVI, it’s not surprising that one of the first points of interest spotted while walking into the town center is the Government of the British Virgin Islands’ Central Administrative Complex, a large white seaside building with palm trees at its entry.
Keep walking to reach downtown. Bear left on Waterfront Drive to reach Crafts Alive, a picturesque shopping village. Its island-style buildings beckon shoppers in search of colorful island clothing, rustic dolls, hand-thrown pottery, local paintings, straw hats, food items, souvenirs and crafts.
Also along Waterfront Drive is Pusser’s Road Town Pub and Company Store, a local institution. It’s known for its gifts, including rum and rum cakes. With an outdoor verandah as well as an interior mahogany-trimmed bar, cruisers can pick the spot for some Caribbean-influenced pub grub like jerk pork and jerk chicken. But travelers may also chow down on a sirloin burger or pizza. Pusser’s signature drink is the Painkiller, an alcoholic fruit drink with coconut cream and coconut juice.
There’s no need to worry about money exchange in Tortola; the local currency is the U.S. dollar, because of the BVI’s proximity to the U.S. Virgin Islands.
If it’s time for a break in the walking tour, just grab a bench at Sir Oliva Georges Plaza. Once the spot for slave auctions and goods trading, it’s now graced with large trees. It’s named after the first BVI citizen to be knighted, Sir Oliva Georges.
Near the plaza is the small Virgin Islands Folk Museum at 98 Main Street. Housed in a home built in 1911 by shipwright Joseph Penn, the modest museum boasts Arawak and Carib pottery as well as artifacts from the sunken HMS Rhone.
Further down Waterfront Drive is the Old Government House Museum, built in the 1920s. It was the former governor’s mansion and has several rooms with period furniture, fine china, maritime artifacts and books signed by Queen Elizabeth II on her 1966 and 1977 visits.
If you climb Main Street or any other street up the hillside of Road Town, you’ll observe modern buildings interspersed with old West Indian-style wooden buildings, some sporting Victorian gingerbread trim and red corrugated tin roofs. Constructed in 1840, St. Phillips Anglican Church was the first church in the Americas for liberated Africans.
Walkers who don’t mind a lot of uphill walking may continue toward the Joseph Reynold O’Neal Botanic Gardens, an idyllic spot at the upper end of town; it’s a great place for sauntering among flora, birds, a lily pond, orchid pavilion, fern house and a miniature rain forest. The garden’s entrance opens on to a lovely walkway among royal palms, leading to a fountain.
Whether your clients opt for an independent exploration of Road Town, or take a more robust cruise line tour around Tortola, the island’s scenery is bound to impress them. For more information on the BVI, visit the website.