British Virgin Island Guide
Learn more about the major BVI islands that make up this incredible Caribbean destination
Chartering the British Virgin Islands
Many people dream of chartering a yacht in the beautiful British Virgin Islands (BVI) — and why wouldn’t they? The BVI are a seemingly untouched piece of earthly paradise that films like The Blue Lagoon are based on. True wonders of the world. But being that they’re so remote and somewhat mysterious, how does one even begin to plan a charter vacation? It’s easy, let us walk you through it.
Instead of staying in a hotel for a week you stay aboard a yacht, be it powerboat or sail, moving each day to a new and beautiful island location. Looking out the windows of your charter yacht, you realize that you are surrounded by stunning turquoise blue waters, powdery white sand beaches and 82-degree temperatures year round. Sounds perfect, right!?! But once you actually arrive on Tortola and pick up your charter boat, what next?? Where do you go? How do you know what to see? What do you actually *do* each day? Is there a specific ‘route’ you *need* to follow? As they say in the islands, ‘no worries!’ Just relax, and go with the flow.
Start by familiarizing yourself with the British Virgin Islands. The BVI are a collection of 60 individual islands with varying degrees of habitation and development.
PRO TIP: Don’t show up cold; Captaining a yacht charter is a big responsibility and you should know the basics of navigating these islands prior to arrival. Review maps, navigational and hazard charts for the BVI. You can find them in the Charter Resources Guide. For first time guests we also recommend checking out our BVI itinerary page.
Anegada—The Coral Island
Northernmost of all the British Virgin Islands, Anegada is a 15 square mile island located approximately 14 miles north of Virgin Gorda. This small piece of remote paradise was named Anegada by the Spanish who first discovered it. The name literally translates into “drowned land” due to its low elevation. Unlike the rest of the BVI which is volcanic in origin, this large island is made up of coral and limestone. Years ago the island was off-limits to most charterers because of the dangerous 18 mile-long Horseshoe Reef surrounding the island which has claimed over 300 vessels.
More recently the small population of Anegada, which reside primarily in the village known as The Settlement, decided to offer mariners easier passage to the island by providing clear markers around two channels. Thanks to this, charterers now have the opportunity to include Anegada in their BVI itinerary.
So what’s so special about Anegada? LOBSTER certainly comes to mind! If sailing in November, Anegada’s Lobster Festival is a culinary event you won’t want to miss. There are many great restaurants on the island as well where visitors always see a lobster or two on every table….The Big Bamboo, Wonky Dog or Anegada Reef Hotel to name a few. Anegada is truly the Caribbean Capitol of Lobster!
If you are seeking beautiful white sandy beaches, Loblolly and Cow Wreck Beach are two of the popular beaches along Anegada’s shores. Tour Anegada by scooter to discover massive salt ponds with their mangroves, home to exotic wading birds such as the Blue Heron and Flamingos, or catch a glimpse of one of the large Anegada Iguanas which now re-inhabit the Island. “Mariners are surprised to find that Anegada sits a mere 28 feet above sea level at its the highest point.”
Cooper Island is a small island with few inhabitants, just a short distance across the Sir Frances Drake Channel from Road Town on Tortola. The island was once a plantation back in the 19th century. Look closely and you’ll find remnants including an old cistern used for watering the livestock on the plantation, and thick-walled relics of an old fort once used to protect the island’s residents from pirates.
Manchioneel Bay, the island’s main harborage, is regarded as the perfect overnight protected harbor for overnight charter guests. While moored here guests can enjoy the island’s magnificent sunset views and the popular eco-resort known as the Cooper Island Beach Club nestled on the bay’s northwest side. The resort is a stark contrast to the otherwise remote island. Charter guests who moor here are encouraged to explore the resort including a casual fine dining restaurant (where reservations are highly recommended), onsite brewery, newly expanded rum bar, and even a boutique for souvenir shopping. The Beach Club also has an excellent gourmet coffee shop which opens at 8:00 a.m. for that early morning espresso before you sail!
If you are fortunate enough to catch a mooring here for the day (which we recommend as they fill up quickly) you’ll have a plethora of things to do. We recommend jumping in your dinghy and heading south along the shore to Cistern Point and Little Carvel Rock for snorkeling. Don’t let the shallow depth of the water fool you; the point attracts an abundance of sea life including turtles and lobsters that like to hide under the rocks on the sloping wall. Weather conditions vary at this location so if you are not a strong swimmer, just make sure to keep your dinghy close by at one of the available dinghy moorings. If some of your guests aren’t interested in snorkeling, the nearby shoreline provides some fun exploring along rocks and boulders.
Cooper Island is also in close proximity to some excellent dive sites including the famous Rhone wreck and Wreck Alley. Some others that you might not have heard about but are quite beautiful are Vanishing Rocks, Devil’s Kitchen and Cistern Point—all of which are suitable for new to intermediate divers. For more information or to schedule a rendezvous dive around Cooper Island, check out DiveBVI.
These five small uninhabited islands known as “The Dogs” are situated just west of the northern most part of Virgin Gorda and east of Scrub Island. The Dog Islands were named for the barking sounds that were once heard by passing mariners coming from the seal population of days past. The five islands are aptly named ‘Great Dog’, ‘George Dog’, ‘East Seal Dog’, ‘Little Seal Dog’, and ‘West Dog’.
Considered an incredible day stop when traveling to or from the North Sound, the Dogs offer several mooring fields where you’ll find excellent diving and snorkeling sites. For those that just want to relax on the beach or hike the islands collecting sea glass, there are plenty of locations suitable to dingy ashore. The one we’d recommend is on the southwest side of Kitchen Point on George Dog; the perfect spot for a picnic!
If you are able to catch a day-use mooring buoy at George Dog, the best snorkeling is around the mooring field. Great Dog is another nice area for snorkelers—on the south side of the island is a large coral reef, unlike most of the other rocky underwater terrain in the Dogs.
For our charter guests that are certified divers, you won’t want to miss the opportunity to dive the Dogs! A kaleidoscope of colors awaits you at depths surrounding this collection of islands. Discover tunnels, chimney, canyons, arches, boulders and caves worth exploring for a truly magical day of diving. Some of the more popular sites include:
The Chimney, Great Dog
Located on the northwest tip of George Dog, this dive destination is believed to be Jacques Cousteau’s favorite dive spot. And for good reason! It’s filled to the brim with almost every species known to exist in that area of the Caribbean. The unusual underwater rock structures come together to form a gap that resembles a ‘chimney’. This is a rather shallow dive at only 45 feet at its deepest, making it a great dive for all experience levels.
The Flintstones, West Dog
The Flintstones, just west of West Dog, is named for its resemblance to “Bedrock”, home of Barney and Fred Flintstone. The boulders and underwater ledges here form nooks making the ideal hiding spot for lobsters and exotic fish. This is more of an intermediate dive at 30 to 70 feet.
Joe's Cave, West Dog
Joe’s Cave is located just west of West Dog and just south of the Flintstones. Consisting of large boulders, some as high as 45-feet that sit on the sandy bottom forming caves covered with corals and sponges. The topography here is amazing, so don’t forget your underwater camera! Another easy dive at 25-45 feet.
Bronco Billy, George Dog
Bronco Billy, located at the northwest tip of George Dog, is believed to be another favorite of Jacques Cousteau’s. Full of Canyons, archways and interesting rock formations, this is an easy dive for beginners but full of breathtaking underwater architecture around depths of 20-45 feet.
PRO TIP: The swells can be a bit of a challenge around the Dogs so we do recommend that you check the weather before planning a day on the water around these islands. Also, the Dogs aren't ideal for overnight harborage so plan to leave in time to catch a dock, anchor or mooring spot nearby.
Guana is a 850 acre private island just west of Great Camanoe. Although primarily a preserve with a small upscale resort, the island does offer beautiful anchorage as well as some incredible snorkeling off White’s Bay on its leeward side.
It’s important to note that the mooring balls are privately owned and only guests of the resort are allowed onshore.
Jost Van Dyke
Chart a course to the north of Tortola—destination? A small piece of paradise known as Jost Van Dyke.
This favorite party spot for many of our charter guests is the place to go for food, fun and festivities! Your trip won’t be complete without making that swim into shore on White Bay to experience that perfect “painkiller” at the Soggy Dollar Bar. Or, wander up the beach for some down-home BBQ on Thursday nights at Ivan’s Stress Free Bar. Or maybe you’ll be lucky enough to catch the man himself at Foxy’s Tamarind Bar holding court on the beach at Great Harbour, playing his guitar and reciting one of his famous poems. Meet people from all over the world who come here to just chill and experience what the BVI is all about. We promise you’ll leave with some great memories!
For the snorkelers on board, our recommendation is to snorkel right off the beach of White Bay towards the western tip of the island. The coral formations there draw an abundance of marine life including tarpon, stingrays, and turtles.
If your group enjoys checking out more secluded spots, spend some time around Little Jost Van Dyke, Sandy Spit and Green Cay to the northeast. There you’ll find some wonderful little beaches to explore by dinghy. This is also an excellent area to haul out those paddleboards and SUP explore.
Located just east of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Norman Island is the southernmost of all the British Virgin Islands.
Thought to be the setting for Robert Louis Stevenson’s book, Treasure Island, charterers love to fantasize about the possibility of discovering buried treasures hidden in and around the island by pirates of day’s past.
Some popular dive and snorkel sites around Norman include Rainbow Canyon on the lee tip of Pelican Island and The Indians just north of the Bight. As for our recommendations, you certainly won’t want to miss snorkeling the grotto-like caves at Treasure Point.
Just around the point from the caves guests will find The Bight, a popular mooring spot for our charter guests on their first night at sea. Take your guests ashore for an intimate dinner at the Pirates Bight Bar and Restaurant and be sure to order up a ‘Bushwacker’ world famous cocktail for you and your crew.
Many of our charter guests find themselves coming back to Norman Island a second time before heading back to Nanny Cay at the end of their charter trip. It’s that good!
Salt Island is a small deserted island—roughly a mile long by a mile wide—located in between Peter and Cooper islands just south of Tortola.
Salt Island is named for the two salt ponds located on the island which dried out to produce much-needed salt used to help cure foods in the days prior to refrigerators. If you’ve never explored a deserted island, this one is a fun one to explore. It is advisable to wear shoes however as the island is covered with sea glass.
Not only is there excellent snorkeling around Salt Island but there are also day moorings available at Lee Bay for charterers who prefer to dinghy over to the Wreck of the Rhone. Although considered a popular dive site, it is possible to snorkel this infamous sunken ship as the shallowest part is only about 20 feet below the waterline. Keep in mind that the seas are often extremely choppy in this area. For snorkelers, we’d recommend you approach this site in the afternoon so there is ample sunlight to see more of the ship. See if you can find the massive propeller visible from the surface. There are a few dive moorings at the Rhone although they do tend to fill up quickly.
Salt is famous for its location just east of the Wreck of the RMS Rhone; a famous Royal Mailing Ship that capsized during a hurricane on 29 October 1867. 123 souls perished that night, many of whom are buried in a mass grave on the island memorialized a short distance away. LEARN MORE +
At over 20 square miles, Tortola is the largest of the British Virgin Islands located approximately 1100 miles south of Miami, Florida. The majority of the population lives in and around the capital city of Road Town, where you can find most of the administrative offices, financial centers and thriving BVI-based businesses located in the islands.
Tortola is also home to the Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport located on Beef Island on Tortola’s east end.
You can find us, Virgin Charter Yachts, in Nanny Cay Marina on Tortola’s southern shore just west of Road Town. This beautiful cay with its modern resort facilities welcomes our charterers with multiple restaurants, beach bars, stores, shops and services. Many within walking distance and even more just a short taxi ride away.
Although many of our charters leave the island without plans to return until the end of their trip, there are many areas of this tropical island worth exploring by boat and by foot. Smugglers Cove and Brewers Bay are great for snorkeling and the white sandy beaches of Cane Garden Bay with its many shops, restaurants, and bars are a perfect sheltered anchorage for any charter itinerary.
Furthest east in the BVI lies an 8 square mile island named Virgin Gorda—certainly a must do on any charter itinerary.
From the Baths on the island’s southernmost tip to the watersports playground of the North Sound, there are activities in and around Virgin Gorda to fill up an entire itinerary. The hardest part is picking which ones to include!
The island itself is somewhat hilly on the north end and rather flat and rocky to the south. Those rocks and boulders to the south have created a unique natural wonder known as ‘The Baths‘. Follow the trails through the warm pools that form between the rocks, guided by rope handrails, ladders and steps to discover the enchanting cove of Devil’s Bay. This destination is a “must see” for any new charter group, but be certain to avoid the cruise ships that also make this a regular stop. *For more details and suggestions about how to best explore the Baths, be sure and check out day 3 of our suggested BVI itinerary.*
The balance of Virgin Gorda is filled with a collection of wonderful marinas, national parks, resorts and restaurants some of our favorites being Leverick Bay, Oil Nut Bay, and CocoMaya just to name a few.
For guests that might want some time ashore, this is also a great island to grab a jeep for the day and go exploring! Make sure to include “lunch at Hog Heaven” on your itinerary because the views are spectacular!