by James Henderson, The Telegraph, December 14, 2018
With its curvaceous yellow and green slopes rising from an electric blue sea, Columbus’s ‘fat’ virgin is the British Virgin Islands' second island, a gentle, laid back islet of just a few hundred people. Virgin Gorda has luxury hotels, excellent sailing, waterborne action and some of the Caribbean’s finest beaches.
Cruise port location
There is no port or even dock in Virgin Gorda, so ships generally stand off in the main bay at Spanish Town in the south of the island. Once a representative from the ship has cleared passengers at Immigration, tenders will run you ashore or to your chosen activity. Windstar anchors in the North Sound.
Can I walk to any places of interest?
You can stroll through somnolent Spanish Town, currently rebuilding after Hurricane Irma, but in any case not much more than a few streets on rising ground that culminate in ‘Millionaire’s Road’ at the top. Along the shorefront there is a small mall, and then a handful of hotels and bars.
There is no public transport on Virgin Gorda, so you will depend on taxis, whose drivers linger at the dock (+1284 495 5994), which is the centre of all activity anyway, or on an organised tour, which themselves often take place in the same minibus taxis. A network of boats and ferries runs around the North/Gorda Sound from Gun Creek in the north, but again, off Spanish Town you are likely to depend on sailing and activities.
What to see and do
The island is not large, so a standard island tour takes a couple of hours, but don’t forget that the best of Virgin Gorda and its nearby islands are explored by boat. You might have nothing more demanding in mind than a visit to the beach; Virgin Gorda excels in this.
What can I do in four hours or less?
The regular island tour, offered by most companies will give you the measure of Virgin Gorda. It follows the only road from the southern point up to Gun Creek, stopping along the way for the spectacular views, over the beaches and the North Sound and – one of the finest views in the Caribbean – down the islands dotted along Sir Francis Drake Passage. Gorda Peak National Park surrounds the island’s highest point, where there is a lookout an easy walk from the road. At the southern tip of the island you will see the remains of the copper mine among the extraordinary jumbled rocks that are the signature of this part of the BVI and have their finest expression in the beaches of the Baths.
If it is the beach that you are intent on, then organised tours can take you, though equally you can hire a taxi driver to drop and pick you up again. Savannah Bay is magnificent, a mile or more of excellent sand and beautiful, shallow and calm water. There are no facilities, so remember to pick up water and a picnic. Or you can get a boat ride from Gun Creek to Prickly Pear Cay, a tiny island with nothing more than a bar on a superb strip of sand.
Most visitors however are drawn to the beaches at the Baths – Spring Bay, Little Trunk and Devil’s Bay – sandy inlets tucked in among Virgin Gorda’s extraordinary jumble of volcanic boulders. The rocks stand stacked and strewn on one another, and you can swim, sunbathe and clamber among them. On Spring Bay vendors will sell you a cold drink and a chicken leg, or you can walk inland to the two bars.
What can I do in eight hours or less?
Not to spend some time on the water is really to miss the point of the British Virgin Islands (BVI), and it is definitely worth getting out for some watersports trip or a day sailing trip. Silversea offers a good tour by sailboat, in which you head across the spectacular waters of Francis Drake Channel before hauling to and jumping in to snorkel among the corals, sponges and colourful reef fish. Some companies offer both the land and sea elements of the tours combined. P&O’s Virgin Gorda by Land & Sea takes you out by land and drops you of at the Baths.
See it Clear, a glass-bottom boat, offers a lively tour to see the islands’ reefs and fish, and in Leverick Bay in the North Sound, Blue Rush Watersports can offer small sailboat rental, SUP, flyboard and jet ski rental (they do a jet ski tour as well).
It is possible to snorkel the shallower end of the RMS Rhone, which sank in a storm off Salt island in 1867, but it is best scuba dived, which can be arranged too, both through your ship and privately. Dive BVI has a base in Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour and take trips to the Dogs with a stop for lunch on Cooper Island.
Eat and drink
You will come across hearty West Indian food in Spanish Town and lighter, more international fare in more touristy places along the shoreline of Virgin Gorda, but everywhere there is fish and lobster. There are several good bakeries offering a pattie and a rock cake.
Don’t leave the island without…
Not much is made in Virgin Gorda but you will find beach clothes and Caribbean products such as soaps and hot pepper sauces in the few shops and in the mall.
Need to know
Reaching Virgin Gorda usually entails at least two changes of plane, usually via Antigua (eight hours), then Tortola, the BVI’s main island (90 minutes, longer with hopper stops) and a third leg (usually on the ferry). It is a long day’s travelling to get there.
The security risk in Virgin Gorda is infinitesimal. Obviously don’t leave cash or your camera lying around unattended but, even so, they would be unlikely to go missing. It is an extremely safe island in a very safe country.
Best time to go
The weather is at its finest between early December and the middle of the year. From July onward it can be very hot, though this may be mitigated by a sea breeze. The hurricane season is in September into October. November can be rainy.
Life revolves around the moment when the ships come in, so almost everything there will be open when you are around.