Bunny & DrRalph in
the British Virgin Islands
December 31-January 7, 2007
It's not unusual for veteran Abaco visitors to ask, "We love Abaco, is there somewhere else like Abaco that we might enjoy visiting? The answer is often, "Try BVI (British Virgin Islands.)" We love Abaco, and visit once or twice each year. But after completing our third trip to BVI we thought we might do a trip report to give those who might be looking for "something like Abaco" a little insight into a possilbe alternative.
The British Virgin Islands (BVI) lie about 1200 miles SE of Central Florida. There are several air routes to BVI; we usually fly American Airlines from Orlando International to San Juan, Puerto Rico, then transfer to a smaller American Eagle ATR (48 seats) for the half-hour hop to BVI.
We like to get a jump on our first day, so we spend the night at the airport in Orlando, catch the 7 AM flight to San Juan, and arrive in BVI around 1:30. We pick up a rental car, go to a grocery store, and can usually be in our resort by 4 PM or so.
BVI is a chain of islands. The principal island is Tortola, and it's major settlement is Road Town, located in its southern shore. The airport is located on a very small island just east of Tortola called Beef Island. The drive from the airport to the NW side of the island takes about an hour. We've always stayed on this side of Tortola, in Little Apple Bay or near Cane Garden Bay.
With the exception of the island of Anegada, BVI is mountainous; the highest elevation on Tortola is about 1700'. The moist easterly trade winds often collide with the peaks and cause short-lived rain showers that send everyone scampering for temporary cover. The sun usually reappears fifteen minutes later. The wind swirls through the mountains and can cause varying shifts and rips on nearby waters; it's also BVI's "natural air conditioner," and often (but not always) blows away mosquitos.
The issue of driving in Tortola bears some commentary. Because of the size of the island, it's almost a necessity to have a rental car. But, the roads are narrow, the pavement is often very irregular, road signs are often absent or erroneous, and driving in the mountains can be downright scary. The roads are steep, there are sharp switchback curves, and the locals drive 20 mph faster than you want to, often tailgating. And, you have to remember to drive on the left. We always rent a four-wheel-drive vehicle, it's essential on those wet mountain roads. In all honesty, after about 24 hours you get the hang of it, but it still can be nerve-wracking.
We started planning our trip in early fall. We Googled the phrases "BVI resorts" and "BVI cottages," then took a couple of weeks to wade through the search results. We eventually settled on the Heritage Inn, which is located on the NW side of Tortola, on Windy Hill, just a few miles SW of Cane Garden Bay. To reach the Inn, we drove west from Road Town along the coast, up and over Zion Hill Road, then NE through Carrott Bay to Windy Hill, then climbed 275' to the entrance to the Inn. The first shots show the Inn on the hillside, their signs, as well as the parking lot and the office.
The Restaurant/Bar at the Heritage Inn is called the Bananakeet Cafe; eating and drinking there was one of the highlights of our trip.
Our little unit was at the extreme west end of the building; it had a little porch and a small table and chairs. This area was to become one of our favorite sitting and resting points; the view was simply spectacular, we never tired of it. In addition, we had a small living room, a very functional kitchenette, a nice bathroom, and a bedroom with a very comfortable king-size bed and a window shaker which kept us cool 24/7. The rest of the unit was comfortable temperature-wise except for late afternoon, when the sun beat directly into our living room. We coped by either staying out until after 5 or resting in the bedroom. Once the sun droppped behind the mountains, it quickly cooled off.
The next shots show the Bananakeet Restaurant, which was just below us on the hillside, and the view from our porch.
After we unpacked, we walked down to the restaurant and made reservations for New Year's Eve dinner. We had a great meal, and the staff gave us a bag-full of holiday masks and noisemakers.
After dinner we drove over a perilous, wet, one-lane mountain road to Soper's Hole and caught the ferry over to Jost van Dyke. (See map) Soper's Hole is a large natural harbour on Tortola's western extreme, and is home to Soper's Hole Wharf and Marina, as well as the ferry terminal. The Marina hosts The Moorings BVI sailboat charter fleet, over 70 vessels. The Wharf has numerous shops, including a small but well-stocked grocery, and a Pusser's Restaurant and Store. Pusser's serves great food and beverages, and their store is a great source for clothes, luggage, and a host of other goods.
There are several companies that run ferry boats in BVI; some depart from Soper's Hole, some from Road Town, and some from East End near the airport. The boats are larger, beefier, and faster that what we are used to in Abaco, probably due to heavier traffic, longer runs, as well as rougher sea conditions.
Jost van Dyke, named after a 17th century pirate, is an island that lies a few miles west of Tortola. The otherwise mountainous island is blessed with four natural harbours; there are small settlements, bars, and restaurants along each. Perhaps the best known is Foxy's in Great Harbour. Foxy's is notorious for throwing riotous New Year's Eve celebrations, and we wanted to have a look. We guessed there were 2-300 boats moored and anchored in the harbour, and probably 1500 party-goers clogged the tiny streets. We stayed for a couple of hours, but the chaos was a little overwhelming, and we were facing another ferry ride as well as a shaky trip over the mountain, so we left around 1 AM. I don't think we got back to the room until about 2:30 or so; but, at least we can say we experienced New Year's Eve at Foxy's.
The following morning, our first full day in BVI, we awoke to a beautiful rainbow off Long's Bay, AND, no New Year's hangover. By the time we had done a little breakfast it was about 1 PM, and we decided to spend the afternoon lounging on the beach at Smuggler's Cove. Situated a few miles to our SW, Smuggler's Cove is (in our opinion) Tortola's prettiest beach. It also has two nice snorkeling reefs, as well as two tiny beach bars that serve up great drinks and burgers, dogs, and chips.
The little bar was run by a very nice couple, you can barely see him at the right. He was having technical issues: a guy wanted a banana daiquiri, and the blender wouldn't fire up. It was plugged into an extension cord that ran 50' to an inverter that was connected to the battery in the owner's car. Turns out business had been so good he had run down the battery; he had to find someone to jump-start his car so he could charge the battery and thus fire up the blender. I love island ingenuity!
The next morning we were up early. After breakfast we drove into Road Town and caught Speedy's ferry over to Virgin Gorda (see map), another mountainous island a few miles east of Tortola. After arriving in Spanish Town, we rented a car and drove south to Mad Dog's, a quaint little open bar. The topography of this part of Virgin Gorda is peculiar and quite fascinating. The ground is hilly and uneven, dry, almost desert-like, and is punctuated by large, monolithic boulders. These formations extend further SW right down to the shoreline, and this area is called The Baths. Sports Illustrated has used this as a backdrop for a couple of their swimsuit issues, as have numerous other periodicals. Unfortunately, The Baths is a well-know tourist destination, and is often crowded by hundreds of cruise-ship passengers. We chose to forego The Baths on this trip, as there were two cruise ships in the area, and we knew it would be jammed.
Next we drove NE to Savannah Bay and its gorgeous beach. Unfortunately, there is a gap between two mountains that funnels the wind down onto the beach. While the area is quite beautiful, the wind makes you feel as if you are being sand-blasted, and the water was a little rough, so we left after about an hour.
Day Three was "shopping day;" we climbed Windy Hill, then turned onto the Ridge Road heading toward Road Town. There are several spots on the ridge where you can pull off and admire the view; we took these shots of Jost van Dyke, Little Jost, and Cane Garden Bay.
We parked near the Cruise ship terminal and waded into the shopping melee. We enjoyed lunch at Pusser's and drinks at the Captain's Table.
Once we had returned to the Inn, I made my afternoon run to the ice machine, which is located in a little "prep room" near the main kitchen. We had planned to drive into Little Apple Bay for the full moon party at Bomba's Shack, but I got sidetracked by some interesting critters in a cardboard box.
These brontosaurus-size lobsters had been delivered live from the island of Anegada (20 miles to the NE), and were still crawling around. The crew steams them, then cuts them lengthwise, leaving the diner with an immense half (or two if you want) of fresh lobster. Needless to say, we never made it to Bomba's.
Again, we can't say enough about how much we enjoyed eating at the Bananakeet Cafe, we hated to pass up a meal there.