VIRGIN GORDA, SO NAMED BY CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS IN 1493 FOR ITS PERCEIVED RESEMBLANCE OF A PORTLY WOMAN LYING ON HER BACK IN THE WATER, is the third largest of the British Virgin Islands and creates the island chain's easternmost border. At just eight-and-a-half square miles, Virgin Gorda draws visitors from around the world—whether couples on their honeymoon, singles or families—for its luxury resorts, yacht clubs, tranquil coves and pristine beaches.
Snorkeling, scuba diving, hiking, sunbathing, bird watching, dining, shopping, picnicking and just plain relaxing dominate most visitors' stays here.
A Great Itinerary
One "must" to add to your Virgin Gorda itinerary is a stop (or, if you're as enamored of the scenery as I was, an entire day) at The Baths on the southern most point of the island. A highlight of my Virgin Gorda sojourn, The Baths is a national park comprised of shallow pools and grottoes that snake along the ground under the shady canopy of giant granite boulders.
The Baths separate Devil's Bay Beach from Spring Bay National Park and its beach. Beginning at the more tranquil Devil's Bay, I made my way to Spring Bay through the labyrinth of boulders (a.k.a. "The Crawl") on foot, and completed the loop back to my starting point via a refreshing swim on the outer side of the rocks (fishing is prohibited here, so this is also a prime snorkeling spot).
The Baths, Spring Bay and Devil's Bay are frequented by large groups of cruise passengers in port, and the resulting crowd can detract from the experience, but we found that crowds dispersed as the day wore on. For a little more exploring, take a marked path from Spring Bay to Trunk Bay, one of a series of white sand beaches that's bordered by a private estate and a palm grove and lines the island's western shore.
If snorkeling is your top priority, head to Savannah Bay, where I spotted a variety of vibrant corals and fish and even came within feet of a shy piranha. Wonderfully secluded and quiet, not to mention breathtakingly beautiful, Savannah Bay's beach is the ultimate place for a picnic at the end of an active day.
In addition to these beaches, the remote and peaceful Mahoe Bay Beach, just north of Savannah Bay at the end of a lushly landscaped drive, is conveniently located near restaurants, beach resorts and villas.
If you're a history buff, you won't want to miss out on a visit to The Copper Mines on Virgin Gorda's desolate southwest tip. Cornish miners mined the area between 1838 and 1867 (some say Spaniards may have mined the area even earlier), and today visitors can still see the remains of the chimney, boiler house, cistern and mine shafts. Another historical point of interest, Little Fort National Park, just south of the Yacht Harbor, is the site of a former Spanish fortress. Here, some masonry walls still exist on the hillside, including the ruins of a structure known as the Powder House. The 36-acre park is also a wildlife sanctuary, so be sure to bring your camera.
Most visitors to Virgin Gorda opt to stay within the island's resorts when it comes to dining or a drink at the bar, but for an exemplary experience of local dining and nightlife, head to the Rock Café. Open for dinner seven days a week, the Italian-Caribbean Rock Café has a view of a waterfall cascading over the famous boulder of Virgin Gorda.
Stick around after dinner—I wiled away the night in the cafe's piano bar, where then-resident piano man Simon Kirk impressed me (and a quickly growing crowd) with his self-honed musical talent and a seemingly infinite cache of songs.
Shopping is Another Pastime
For a variety of souvenirs, musical recordings by well-known local artists and Caribbean art and handicrafts like jewelry and ceramics, stop by The Palm Tree Gallery at Leverick Bay Resort and Marina. Additional shops—Nauti Virgin Beachtique at Fischer's Cove Beach Hotel and Pusser's Company Store on Marina Kay—carry such items as swimsuits, jewelry and accessories, and locally made rum, spices and other kitchen essentials that are cultivated right there on the island.