Dive Into Tortola
This mini-metropolis is a major docking point for cruise ships and the BVI’s cultural epicenter, hosting many restaurants, hotels, nightlife and more. From there, you have easy access to the other islands and attractions of the BVI via charters and ferries. For the eco-interested, Sage Mountain National Park is home to the highest point in BVI as well as a vibrant tropical forest. Or enjoy the beaches of Tortola, which offer many fantastic and unique dive sites in the surrounding waters, including reefs, marine creatures and shipwrecks. Chalk this up as victory for Caribbean vacation.
Mapping Out Tortola
The largest and busiest of the islands, Tortola offers many eateries and shopping venues, but if you know where to go, you can find slices of paradises. Road Town, the BVI's capital city, hums with life, as cruise ships docking in the port and other tourists pulse into the local attractions. Away from the bustle of the city, Tortola’s beaches are calmer, and the north coast is serene. Cane Garden Bay, Smuggler's Cove and Long Bay are famously beautiful and home to delicious, beach restaurants and Caribbean-paced relaxation. If you want to discover your own island paradise, charter a yacht on Tortola to explore the more than 60 islands in the BVI. As the hub of the BVI, Tortola offers plenty of routes to relaxation.
Nightlife the Musical
The BVI takes music very seriously, and Tortola is the musical heart that pumps excellent tunes through the veins of the BVI. Much of Tortola’s nightlife revolves around music venues. For example, Jolly Roger in West End, Myett’s at Cane Garden Bay, and Pub in Road Town all feature live music. The island’s culture is deeply connected in music. At Bomba’s Surfside Shack at Apple Bay, bands play all night on nights of a full moon. The music doesn’t end with sunrise, though. In May, Tortola is host to the BVI Music Festival. For 3 days, gospel, reggae, blues and salsa musicians play their music for huge crowds of people who flock to the island. The island also has a local celebrity in Quito Rhymer, who owns Quito’s Gazebo Bar & Restaurant in Cane Garden Bay. Catch him playing his acoustic guitar solo on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Friday and Saturday he brings the whole band.
Down the Rabbit Hole
Diving adventures abound around Tortola. Before you suit up and dive in, let us show you a couple of dive sites you'll brag about well after you've dried off. Alice in Wonderland is a reef known for its distinctly mushroom-shaped coral. Painted Walls is a dive site where Technicolor-like coral has grown on the walls of gullies. Similarly, Indians dive site lets you get up close to coral growing on 50-foot tall spikes. The waters around Tortola are also home to several shipwrecks. Most intriguing is the RMS Rhone, a steamer from 1867. The ship, now home to many different species of coral and fish is remarkably well preserved, making for memorable dive. There are a lot more dive sites to explore around BVI, but these will get you started.
The Beaches – East and West End Edition
On Tortola, the beaches are numerous and beautiful, no matter which side of the island you're on. Out west, Smuggler’s Cove is a haven for swimmers, snorkelers and sunbathers. This palm tree lined stretch of white sand is everything you'd expect from a Caribbean beach. Popular with Long Bay Resort guests, the beach draws a crowd on the weekend, but check it out during the week for a more secluded experience. Back east, Long Bay Beach on Beef Island is on the opposite side of Tortola, and it’s a big beach. The calm waters suit swimmers and snorkelers wonderfully, and the picturesque pearly sands stretch on and on. There are no amenities at the beach, so come prepared with snacks, clothes and whatever else you'll need. The tranquil setting and the room to roam make for an unforgettable beach visit.
The Beaches – North Shore
Head northwest out of Road Town, and you'll find these two beaches. They're wonderful fusions of Tortola's culture and beauty. Cane Garden Bay offers snorkeling and swimming in clear water and great sunbathing on smooth, white sand. Located close to Road Town, the beach shows some of the city’s more urban influence. But that simply means more facilities and a nice cultural undertone to the pretty scenery. Apple Bay is home to Bomba’s Surfside Shack, one of the island’s famous establishments that serves up drinks, food and music from a building that's decorated with floatsam. The restaurant’s name and location are no accident. Surfers head to Apple Bay to catch killer waves. The beach is narrow and not ideal for swimming, so surfers can focus on what they do best.
Take a day trip
One of the BVI’s greatest strengths is the sheer number of potential destinations among the over 60 islands. As the largest of these, Tortola offers many opportunities for day-trips to remote and gorgeous beaches. Ferries leave from Road Town, and you can rent a yacht or charter. Visit the giant rocks at The Baths beach on Virgin Gorda, or stop by Anegada for excellent diving. Anchor near Jost Van Dyke and come ashore for food, drinks and music at one of the beachfront eateries. Transportation to these destinations will be readily accessible, so you can make the most of your time in the BVI. Of course, for the quintessential island experience, you can always hop on chartered boat and search for your own pristine spit of land to lounge in the sand and surf. Don’t worry. Tortola will still be there when you get back.
Tortola Quick Facts
110 volts–American appliances work fine.
All U.S. citizens must have a valid passport when traveling to and from Tortola.
Tap water comes mostly from desalination plants, but some places use cisterns. Drink bottled water if you're unsure of the tap water's cleanliness.
Eastern Standard Time (UTC/GMT -4 hours)
late-December – early-April
Tips & Transportation
Best French Fusion: The Clubhouse at Frenchman’s
An attentive staff serves impeccably prepared French/Fusion cuisine at this West End restaurant that features gorgeous views of the beach. Chef Paul Mason passionately pursues his craft, creating meals that earn ardent praise from The Clubhouse patrons. The menu changes according to the day's market, but you can be sure that whatever the markets bring, Chef Paul will do something delicious with it. The brunch is especially well liked, and the sample menu includes tasty-sounding items such as Frenchman's Toast, an omelette with salmon and a dessert called Mango Crisp. The sample dinner menu is just as alluring, featuring Pina Colada Drunken Duckling, lobster and pork shu mai. Whatever the meal, The Clubhouse at Frenchman's guarantees views almost as impressive as the cuisine.
Best Surfing: Josiah’s Bay
Josiah's Bay is a picturesque setting that offers a laid back sand-n-surf experience. It's also one of the best surf destinations on Tortola. This beach offers exceptional surfing from October to April. This means the riptides can be strong, making the water non-friendly to swimmers. So non-surfers hang out on the sandy beach to sunbathe and watch the surfers catch big waves. The beach backs up to a farm, so the occasional livestock might wander across the beach, which only makes the area feel more secluded and provincial.
Best Boombox and Beer: Stephen’s Beach Bar at Smuggler’s Cove
Near Smuggler’s Cove, on an unmarked road, the bar's eponymous owner keeps loud music going out of a boombox and serves cold beers and mixed drinks. The weekends get more crowded, as people come to see the view of Jost Van Dyke in the distance and relax on the beach at Smuggler's Cove. Once you're done hanging out on the palm tree-fringed beach, head back up to Stephen's for another drink. This blend of classic beach bar and beautiful beach is what the Caribbean is all about.
Most Awesome-est Sandwich: Trellis Kitchen
Located on the waterfront at Trellis Bay, the Trellis Kitchen and Cyber Cafe serves up tasty food and high speed Wi-Fi. The food spans breakfast, lunch and dinner. The Full Monty Breakfast is the whole shebang, and their “Famous Awesome Sandwich” speaks for itself. The restaurant is also the site of the Trellis Bay Full Moon parties. Local bands play well into the night to celebrate this phase of the lunar cycle in an exciting party with distinctly local flair. Head out here for dinner one evening, or stop by for lunch during a day at the beach. Start your day with a Trellis breakfast, or greet the full moon in party style. Trellis Kitchen is always a fun spot to be.
Best Day Sail: Voyage Escapes - Mystique Sailing
You've heard about the strong sailing and charter culture in the BVI. Now it's time for us to tell you about one of these charters, so you can enjoy the adventure and excitement of exploring the waters and islands around Tortola. Mystique Sailing runs charters out of Soper’s Hole, Tortola. They operate a beautiful sailing catamaran that travels to Jost Van Dyke, Norman Islands and the Baths at Virgin Gorda. Your sailing charter wouldn't be complete without some exploration. The operators provide snorkeling gear (ages 8+), life vests and 2-man kayaks, so you can get in the water and see for yourself what makes Tortola and the BVI an amazing place.
Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport (EIS) - the BVI's main airport - is located on Beef Island, which is connected to Tortola by a bridge. The airport was renovated and expanded in 2004 to accommodate larger planes, but there are no direct flights available from the US to Tortola. Passengers are most commonly routed through San Juan, Puerto Rico and St. Thomas in the USVI. If you fly into St. Thomas, you can also take a ferry to Tortola.
Immigration & Customs
If you fly into Tortola, you'll receive the immigration and customs forms on the plane or after arrival. You’ll need a passport, on-going or return tickets or pre-arranged accommodations during your stay. You may also need to prove you have the funds to pay for your stay. If you fly into St. Thomas airport, you won’t need a passport there, but you will need to present your passport upon arrival from the ferry. You’ll get immigration forms either during the ferry ride over or when you arrive at the dock.
Getting To Your Hotel
There are taxis lined up outside the arrivals door at the airport, and car rentals are available. Some hotels provide shuttles to and from the airport.
Getting Around Tortola
Taxis are a good way to go in Tortola. Only use taxis with official license plates and negotiate prices before getting in. Renting a car is also a good option if you want extra freedom to explore the island. There is no public transportation available on Tortola.