Difference between revisions of "British Virgin Islands"
Revision as of 03:39, 12 January 2013
The BVIs, as they are called, are a popular travel destination for sailors, fishermen, sun worshippers, and other independent travellers, albeit not for the cost conscious. Boating among the dozens of tiny, mostly uninhabited, islands is a great stop on any tour of the Caribbean islands.
The British Virgin Islands comprise 60+ islands and keys, with more than 43 of them being uninhabited islands. The islands fall into two types: the majority are steep volcanic islands (including the main islands, Tortola and Virgin Gorda), and a small number of relatively flat coral islands (such as Anegada and Sandy Spit). In fact, Anegada is referred to as "the drowned island" because its elevation is so low. Many people miss it altogether until they sail close to it. The highest point is Sage Mountain on Tortola.
With a tropical climate tempered by easterly trade winds, relatively low humidity, and little seasonal temperature variation, the weather in the BVI is rather enjoyable. In the low season, there are some hurricanes, although in recent years they have had little consequent damage beyond some flooding.
The islands were first settled by the Dutch in 1648 before being annexed in 1672 by the British.
The economy is one of the most stable and prosperous in the Caribbean. The US dollar is the legal currency within the British Virgin Islands. The islands of the BVI are highly dependent on tourism, generating an estimated 45% of the national income, together with the offshore financial industry.
The British Virgin Islands maintain a separate border control with United Kingdom. Nationals of Canada, EU, New Zealand, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Switzerland, United States of America etc. do not require a visa to enter and visit the British Virgin Islands. Other nationals require a visa. For more detailed information, refer to the following website for more details .
Passport and visa regulations are enforced at harbors, especially for boats moving back and forth between the US and British territories. US customs may tell you a certified birth certificate is acceptable, but as of June 2009, ferry operators can only take passport carrying US citizens or face a CBP.GOV $3,000 fine.  US CBP.GOV offices in St. Thomas. 
Most international flights from North America into the BVIs involve changing planes in either San Juan, Puerto Rico since the Beef Island airport is not set up for large planes. Other flights from Europe usually involve changing planes in either Antigua (for the UK) or Saint Martin (for the Netherlands and France), although flights from Spain also connect through San Juan. Alternatively, international flights go directly into the neighbouring U.S. Virgin Islands and travellers can then use a fast boat transfer or, more usually, a 45 minute ferry boat ride.
The only major carrier with flights directly into the British Virgin Islands is American Airlines (through its American Eagle operating subsidiary). Connections on other airlines usually involve switching to a smaller local carrier, such as Cape Air (which code shares with Continental Airlines), LIAT, Air Sunshine or the recently formed BVI Airways.
By cruise ship
The main cruise ship pier in the BVI is located on Tortola via Road Harbour. The port holds two large cruise ships, but some cruise passengers may find themselves being shuttled into the dock by a smaller boat because their ship is either too large for the pier or the pier already has two ships docked.
Tortola is an ideal hub from which cruise travellers can experience day-trips to incredible attractions and excursion opportunities to one of the numerous nearby islands. From snorkel trips to shopping to the Baths, or just sipping the famous BVI Painkiller at Pusser's or another beach bar, it's easy to hop from island to island in the BVI.
Ferries move between Tortola and St. Thomas. There are several different ferry companies that provide service between the two islands. These ferries are what connects the people of the British Virgin Islands with the people of the U.S. Virgin Islands. The ferries link the city of Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas with either Road Town or the West End of Tortola.
The ferry is one of the more popular ways to reach Tortola from the U.S. This is due to the fact that Americans can reach Tortola via only one direct flight and then a short ferry ride. This will no doubt save the traveler several hundred dollars, since a second flight would not be necessary.
You can catch one of the ferries, almost any time of day. After 5PM most of the services are shut down for the evening. The ride lasts about 50 minutes depending on the weather. The scenery is well worth the price of the ride.
Vary greatly between companies. Some of the companies even alternate their schedules between themselves and another company. For a current list take a look at this page's ferry schedule .
Many travelers find it easier to just buy two one-way tickets from different companies instead of one round-trip ticket with the same company. Since ferries from different companies are coming and going constantly, you should be able to catch a ferry at any time during the day. Often times one company will be convenient upon arrival, but not upon departure. Just check the schedule to find out if this will be the case for you, if not then by all means, buy the round-trip ticket and save a few bucks.
A great way to see the islands is by boat. Sailboats and motorboats can be rented or chartered with a crew from any major harbor. The conditions for sailing and motoring depend on the time of year and anchoring off islands can be tricky, so either be sure you know what you are doing or hire a crew.
If you are an experienced sailor, it doesn't get any better than the BVI. Line of sight sailing in moderate trade winds, no currents to speak of, barely any tides, and few underwater obstructions other than the shore itself make sailing around the islands very relaxing.
Road Town, on Tortola, is one of the principal centres for bareboating (self-hire yacht chartering) in the Caribbean. It is the headquarters of Sunsail Sailing Vacations  and Tortola Marine, located in the Road Reef Marina; Conch Charters , BVI Boat , and The Moorings  which are four of the main charter boat companies operating out of Road Town/Road Harbor. Ten minutes from Road Harbour is Nanny Cay Marina where you can find Horizon Yacht Charters  and The Catamaran Company .
Cars can be rented on the larger islands such as Virgin Gorda and Tortola, but are obviously unnecessary on many smaller islands where goat paths and foot trails are the main mode of transportation. There is one scooter for rent on Jost Van Dyke. By law (to protect the taxi driver industry) it is not possible to rent cars at the airport, nor is it possible for car rental companies to pick people up at the airport.
Be aware that the roads are very hilly, the standard of the roads is low, the standard of the driving is very low, and there are no specific laws against driving whilst under the influence. People driving in the BVI for the first time are advised to think as if everyone else on the road is trying to cause an accident and make it look like their fault - although that is not actually true, it will give you the right frame of mind to have when get behind the wheel.
Taxis in the British Virgin Islands can be expensive. Do not bother to try and haggle - taxi prices are fixed by law. Taxi rides can be colourful - sometimes taxis are shared with other passengers or the driver may stop en route to run an errand. Either way, it's a good chance to really get to know the island!
Nature is the main attraction in the islands, with coral reefs, white sandy beaches, and scenic seaside villages the main draw.
Other attractions include historic villages, churches, and, if the sun is too much for you, a museum in Road Town, the shady Botanic Gardens or the rain forest on Sage Mountain in Tortola.
The quality of beaches in the British Virgin Islands, even by Caribbean standards, is very high. Because of the large number of beaches, particularly on the north side of Tortola and the west side of Virgin Gorda, the beaches are generally not crowded (with the exception of Cane Garden Bay on Tortola, which is next to a densely populated area). It is not uncommon, even during tourist season, to be able to have a more remote beach largely or entirely to yourself for an afternoon. With the possible exception of Cane Garden Bay, beaches in the BVI do not tend to have the vendors pestering tourists which are characteristic of some other Caribbean islands. Conversely, many of them do not have any amenities, so remember to bring your own lunch and water!
The Virgin Islands is the most popular area for a sailing vacation in the Caribbean. This is a first-timers paradise, since the islands are close together and well protected from the Atlantic. You wake up to sunshine and a blue sky, choose the cruising target of the day by pointing on a nearby island and set sail in a comfortable trade wind. There are many yacht charter companies and marinas in the British Virgin Islands. Apart from cruise ship passengers, the majority of visitors to the British Virgin Islands stay on liveaboard boats or charter sailing vessels.
The BVIs are home to the wreck of the RMS Rhone which served as the site for the underwater scenes in the 1977 Nick Nolte/Jackie Bisset/Robert Shaw flick The Deep. The Rhone is the best-known and most often visited dive site in the islands. Lying just west of Salt Island, the Rhone is a former Royal Mail Steamer that sank in a hurricane on October 29, 1867 with the loss of nearly all lives. A spectacularly large 310 ft (94 metres) steamer in her previous life, she's now a three-site dive, with each chunk resting at varying depths, from 20 to 80 ft (6 to 24 metres).
Apart from the Rhone, the BVI boasts several other shipwrecks, the most notable of which are the Chikuzen, a collection of four purposely sunk wrecks in 'Wreck Alley' off Cooper Island, the Inganess Bay, the Fearless, the rarely dived Parmatta, and an aircraft off Great Dog Island. In addition to wreck diving, the BVI has the usual plethora of coral reefs that one would expect in a Caribbean diving destination.
A list of dive operators in the BVI can be found here. When diving on a guided tour, expect to pay around US$80-100 for a two tank dive and about US$50-60 for a one tank dive, although cheaper deals can be had as part of a package. Most dive operators do not charge extra to use their equipment if you decide to leave yours at home, and most are happy to pick up guests who are staying on boats en route to dive sites ('rendez-vous diving' in local slang). Almost all dive sites in the BVI have permanent marker bouys on them attached by the National Parks trust. If you are on a boat, confident in your diving skills, and are a semi competent navigator, it is easy to locate these bouys and dive most of the sites without a guide.
It is illegal for non-British Virgin Islanders to remove any marine organism from BVI waters without a recreational permit. A permit is available for charterers who intend to fish while in the BVI. The cost is $35 ($10 application fee; $25 for the permit). This temporary fishing permit can be obtained from the Department of Conservation and Fisheries: Department of Conservation and Fisheries, The Quastisky Building PO Box 3323 Road Town, Tortola. Tel: (284) 494-5681/3429 or (284) 468-3701 ex. 5555/1 Fax: (284) 494-2670 E-Mail: email@example.com The government office closes early on Friday afternoons and doesn’t reopen until Monday morning. For charterers arriving on the weekend, it may be a couple of days before you can get a permit. When you arrive for your charter, check with the local staff for advice on obtaining a permit. There have been instances of extremely zealous enforcement of penalties for fishing without licences (including 5 figure fines), so visitors should be mindful of that.
Spearfishing (of any kind) is strictly prohibited in the BVI, as is any kind of marine harvesting on scuba equipment. With appropriate licences, visitors can hunt whilst free diving (ie. with no snorkel or tank) for lobster and conch during the relevant hunting seasons.
Several beaches offer surf-oriented breaks, including Josiah's and Apple Bay.
The annual "HiHo" windsurfing race-cum-travel-tour is held on or around the 4th of July weekend. For a week, internationally renowned competitors participate in formal course racing. Recognized as "One of the 100 top BVI adventures" by the BVI Tourist Board, the HiHo fleet is easily recognized by the distinctive event and sponsor flags flown by the charter fleet. The event generally stops for a day or two at Virgin Gorda, a night on Anegada, one or two nights around Tortola and finishes with a day of racing around the area of Sandy Cay, west of Jost van Dyke. Participants join in a 15-mile ocean dash from the waters around Necker or Gorda directly to Anegada. This event is unusual in that Anegada, a low-lying island, only becomes visible to someone at ocean-level during the last five miles of the race.