Virgin Gorda’s Baths National Park (Tower Rd., 284/495-5051, 8:30am-4:30pm daily, adults $3, children 11-16 years $2, under 11 free) is one of the most famous sights in the British Virgin Islands. Formed tens of millions of years ago when volcanic lava cooled into huge chunks of granite, The Baths are a landscape of building-size boulders, clear saltwater grottoes, and powder-white beaches. There are endless pools for exploring, swimming, and snorkeling.
The Baths proper is a small cove beach, shaded by sea grape and coconut palm trees and littered with boulders. The largest are as tall as a three-story building; the smallest are the size of a person. Time has worked its magic on the rocks: Pockmarked by water flows, colored by mineral deposits, and strewn about by the shaking of earthquakes, the boulders are beautiful in their disorder. They create a landscape like a playground, where even grown-ups are tempted to climb over and around, looking for a quiet pool or hidden room.
To truly experience The Baths, take the quarter-mile trail south from the beach to Devil’s Bay, a slightly larger white sand beach with more space for beaching and swimming. The trail is an obstacle course that travels over, around, and through large rocks. It’s great fun. Steps and handrails are carefully maintained by the National Parks Trust, but the walk is still recommended only for the sure-footed. Hiking through the trail can be done barefoot or with sandals; at times there is knee-deep water that you must wade through.
On the trail to Devil’s Bay is The Cathedral, a pool formed by the intersection of two large rocks that allow in a small shaft of sunlight. The water here is about waist height, and if it looks familiar, it is because the spot has been the scene of numerous magazine and television shoots. It is a romantic place when it’s not crowded.
If you arrive at The Baths by land, you will also enjoy a pleasant quarter-mile hike from the entrance gate through not-so-rocky forest to the beach. Another less-traveled trail through dry scrubby forest connects Devil’s Bay with the parking area at the Top of the Baths, allowing visitors to make a complete loop.
Facilities at The Baths include a modest beach bar, lockers, and restrooms. Occasionally there are also a few vendors offering to braid hair or sell you a sarong.
The Baths can be crowded. Tour operators bring day sails here from visiting cruise ships and from Tortola and the U.S. Virgin Islands. A no-boat zone around the beach is there for safety and anyone planning to swim to shore from a boat should wear a swim vest or life preserver: It’s farther and more difficult that you think.
If you can, avoid visiting during peak hours which are 10am-3pm. It’s also important to know that the sea around The Baths can be rough during a swell, making it dangerous to swim or snorkel. The BVI employs a flag system on its beaches: If the flag on display is red, you shouldn’t swim. If it’s yellow, take caution. If it is purple, watch out for jellyfish.