Planning a Trip to Virgin Gorda

Virgin Gorda is a spectacularly beautiful island. The third largest of the British Virgins and the second most populated, Virgin Gorda is home to exquisite beaches, remarkable vistas, and quiet upscale resorts. The Baths National Park, a world-famous natural attraction where huge boulders and turquoise grottoes invite exploration, lies at the far southern tip. The entire southwestern peninsula of the island is a flat, dry landscape colored by vivid bougainvillea and cacti and lined by perfect white beaches: Devil’s Bay, Spring Bay, and Valley Trunk Bay are a few.

Spring Bay National Park. Photo © Todd VanSickle.
Spring Bay National Park. Photo © Todd VanSickle.

At mid-island the topography begins to change, flat and dry giving way to mountainous and lush. Roads wind steeply through wild forest, past Gorda Peak National Park and breathtaking viewpoints, and down to the quaint village of North Sound, which clings to the hillside overlooking the eponymous harbor. Sir Francis Drake used North Sound as a staging area for a 1595 attack on Puerto Rico, but today it is a playground for sailboats, motor yachts, kitesurfers, and anyone who feels at home on the water.

Virgin Gorda’s calling card is its natural beauty. The Baths National Park is a stunning white sand beach dotted with large, dramatic boulders; Savannah Bay is a near-perfect crescent beach with an excellent offshore reef for snorkeling; Gorda Peak is a peaceful wild forest home to rare birds, lizards, and plants; and all around Virgin Gorda the island is bestowed with brilliant blue waters, the sights and sounds of wildlife, and exceptional views in every direction. Add to this some of the BVI’s most polished resorts and fine cuisine and you will quickly understand why Virgin Gorda frequently finds itself listed as one of the best islands in the whole Caribbean to visit.

Just about 4,000 people call Virgin Gorda home, and they are a particularly welcoming bunch. At Spanish Town, the main settlement in the south, life revolves around the marina and the ferry dock. The side streets are lined with neat West Indian-style homes, many fronted by colorful gardens. Others are built imaginatively around the giant granite boulders of the area.

Virgin Gorda is classically Caribbean: the Caribbean the way it once was. There are no stoplights on the island and rush hour doesn’t exist at any time of the day. A simple yet captivating package of spectacular beauty, blissfully laid-back lifestyle, friendly people, and the comfort of fine accommodations keep many visitors returning year after year.

Planning Your Time

Your Virgin Gorda vacation should simply be as long as you need, or can afford, to unwind. Virgin Gorda is a beautiful and relaxing place, and a week or two is the perfect duration to recharge and refresh. The aim, after all, is not to be busy but to be relaxed.

Getting to Virgin Gorda is a bit of a haul: Most visitors have to take multiple planes plus a ferry to get here. All the more reasons to make your trip as long as possible; it’s not a viable weekend destination unless you are local or happen to own your own private plane.

Travel map of Vrigin Gorda, Virgin Islands
Virgin Gorda

Where to Stay

Accommodations in or around The Valley are close to The Baths, Spring Bay, and most of the island’s restaurants, shops, and ferries to Road Town and St. Thomas. If you stay in North Sound, you’ll be close to sailing and water sports and far away from the rest of the world. A clutch of good restaurants, shops, and services are here, too, and there are ferries to Beef Island, near Tortola’s airport.

Getting Around

Depending on how many amenities and activities are available to you at your hotel, you may want to rent a car for at least part of your stay, so you can easily reach sights like Coppermine Point and Gorda Peak which are a bit off the beaten track. Driving and navigating around the island is fairly easy and all of the roads are in good shape, but watch out for the numerous speed bumps. Around North Sound, it is boats—not cars—that allow you to get around.

Day Trips to Virgin Gorda

At less than nine square miles, Virgin Gorda is easy to explore in a single day. Ferries make several trips daily: The most popular route connects Road Town and Spanish Town, and carriers are Speedy’s (284/495-5240) and Smith’s Ferry Services (also called Tortola Fast Ferry, 284/494-4454). The journey is about 30 minutes and costs $30 round-trip. You’ll arrive at the St. Thomas Bay jetty in Spanish Town where open-air “safari” taxis meet every arriving ferry. It costs about $7 to make the 10-minute trip to The Baths, and your taxi driver will happily pick you up again at the end of the day, or add on an island tour if you would like to see more of the sights.

If you are staying on St. Thomas or St. John, look for one of the many day-sail operators offering trips to The Baths, or take the public ferry operated by Inter Island Boat Services (340/776-6597, $80 round-trip) on Thursdays and Sundays, or Speedy’s (284/495-5240, $70 round-trip) on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.

Picturesque and peaceful Savannah Bay in Virgin Gorda. Photo © Susanna Henighan Potter.
Picturesque and peaceful Savannah Bay in Virgin Gorda. Photo © Susanna Henighan Potter.

Ferry service is also available between Trellis Bay, Beef Island; Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda; and North Sound, Virgin Gorda. Though used primarily by people arriving at the airport, traveling from Beef Island is also a convenient choice if you are staying on the eastern end of Tortola. Companies operating ferries on this route are Speedy’s (284/495-5240) and North Sound Express (284/495-2138). Round-trip rates are $55.

Day Trips from Virgin Gorda

If you’re staying on Virgin Gorda, snorkeling day trips to the Dog Islands are available with one of the local sail or dive operators. Or travel to Tortola, St John, or St. Thomas aboard one of the ferries listed above for a change of scenery. You can also take a ferry to Anegada (60 minutes, $50 round-trip), which normally operates four days a week. It’s necessary to call ahead to confirm the Anegada ferry schedule. You can also get to Anegada aboard the Sea Wolf’s weekly Anegada day trip through Dive BVI (284/495-5513), departing Virgin Gorda every Friday.

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