British Virgin Island Guide

Learn more about the major BVI islands that make up this incredible Caribbean destination

Charter 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.

Picture this.. Instead of staying in a hotel for a week you stay on board a yacht, sailboat or powercat; moving each day to a new, 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 all 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, here.

Anegada—The Coral Island

Northernmost of all the British Virgin Islands, Anagada is a 15 square miles island located approximately 14 miles north of Virgin Gorda.  This small piece of paradise was named Anagada by the Spanish which 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 all coral and limestone.  Years past, 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.  Anagada 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 along its 16 miles of beachfront.

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 reinhabit the Island.

“Mariners are surprised to find that Anegada sits a mere 28 feet above sea level at its the highest point”

Cooper Island

Cooper Island is a small island with few inhabitants, a short distance across the Sir Frances Drake Channel from Road Town on Tortola.  It is known for its magnificent sunset views and the Eco-Resort known as the Cooper Island Beach Club nestled in Manchioneel Bay on its northwest side. Cooper Island is regarded as a perfect overnight protected harborage for passing mariners after a long day of snorkeling the nearby islands or scuba diving The Wreck of the Rhone or Wreck Alley. Although considered a safe haven, charterers are also excited to discover a welcoming sandy white beach and a host of other amenities in this intimate resort.

Cooper Island Beach Club

Cooper Island Beach Club located in Manchioneel Bay is a family-owned eco-resort offering: 30 moorings, trash & ice services, 2 dinghy docks, a casual fine dining restaurant (reservations highly recommended), gourmet coffee shop, rum bar, brewery, boutique, beach bar, and dive shop.

Scuba & Snorkel

Cooper Island is the ideal launch point for several BVI renown scuba and snorkle spots on both Cooper and neighboring islands. Here, we’ve listed some of the most notable below:

  1. Cistern Point, Cooper Island

    Cistern Point makes for a great shallow dive/snorkel site full of wildlife and beautiful underwater foliage, while providing more privacy than the nearby Rhone and Wreck Alley dives.

The Dogs

This collection of 5 small uninhabited islands known as “The Dogs” are situated just west of the northern part of Virgin Gorda and east of Scrub Island. These 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 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.  And 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 into the beach for the day.

Some of the more popular dive and snorkel sites include: 

  1. 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.

  2. The Flintstones, West 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.

  3. Joe's Cave, West 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.

  4. Bronco Billy, George 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.

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.

Guana Island

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.  Please note that the mooring balls are private 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 on 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.

Norman Island

Located just east of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Norman Island is the southernmost of all of 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 days past. As for our recommendations, you certainly won’t want to miss the grottolike caves at Treasure Point, a perfect mooring spot to snorkeling.

Also considered a wonderful overnight anchorage, The Bight, just around the point from Caves, is a favorite stop for our charter guests to spend 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.

For more dive and snorkel sites, check out Rainbow Canyon on the lee tip of Pelican Island and The Indians just north of the Bight. Not only are these a favorite stop on any charter itinerary, but many of our guests also find themselves coming back a 2nd time before heading back to Nanny Cay at the end of their charter.

Salt Island

Salt Island is a small deserted island, roughly a mile long by a mile wide, located in between Peter and Cooper Island south of Tortola. The 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 though 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 also a few dive moorings at the Rhone although they do tend to fill up quickly.

Snorkel Site:  Western Bay

Activities:  Salt Ponds on the Island

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 +

Tortola

Tortola is the largest of the British Virgin Islands at over 20 square miles and is 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’ll find most of the administrative offices, financial centers and many of the thriving businesses located on the island.

The Island is also home to the Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport on Beef Island located on Tortola’s east end making travel arrangement to the BVI possible from all over the world.

Virgin Charter Yachts can be found in Nanny Cay Marina on Tortola’s south shore just west of Road Town.  This beautiful cay with its modern resort facilities welcomes our charterers with some of the finest restaurants and beach bars on the island…of course, specializing in killer Caribbean cocktails and cuisine!

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 beach of Cane Garden Bay with its many shops, restaurants, and bars are a perfect sheltered anchorage for any charter itinerary.

Virgin Gorda

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 its southernmost tip to the watersport 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 do” 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 itinerary.*

The balance of Virgin Gorda is filled with a collection of wonderful marinas, national parks, resorts and restaurants – Leverick Bay, Saba Rock, Oil Nut Bay, YCCS, CocoMaya – all to name a few.  For your 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 day trip! The views are spectacular!!