Tortola is the largest of the British Virgin Islands and is home to 80% of their population. Split lengthwise by a row of hills, this island is home to many of the BVI's hotels, resorts and marinas. The capital is Road Town, sitting as it does on Road Harbour on the Sir Francis Drake Channel. In Road Town, Main Street runs through the old part of town, where you'll find the Virgin Islands Folk Museum, with its collection of Arawak and Carib pottery and tools, artifacts from shipwrecks and plantation items. The Administration Building, built from local stone in 1866, faces Sir Olva Georges Plaza. Also worth a look are the 19th century St. Georges Church and the Old Methodist Church. The oldest building here is the H. M. Prison, which dates to the 1840s. H.L. Stoutt Community College Maritime Museum explores the island's history. Road Town also features a number of galleries showcasing the world of local artists and craftspeople.
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Road Town was protected by several forts, including George (now a ruin, frequented by local livestock), Charlotte (built by British Royal Engineers in 1794, it's accessible via an often overgrown hiking path), Burt (now the site of a boutique hotel and restaurant where some original fort foundations, the magazine and a cannon remain), and Fort Recovery (built in the 1640s and the oldest historical landmark in Tortola). Fort Purcell, also known as The Dungeon, also dates to the 17th century and is a popular tourist site near Pockwood Pond. The site of the former Road Town Fort is now the location of plastic surgery clinic known as the Purple Palace because of its distinctive paintjob.
East of Road Town are the ruins of the St. Phillips Church, also known as the "Kingstown Church" or "African Church," which was built in 1833 for 600 African slaves who arrived here after the abolition of slavery. After completing apprenticeships on plantations, the slaves were freed and given plots of land on a subdivided reservation as part of what was called the Kingstown Experiment. St. Phillips may be the oldest free black church in the Americas.
Tortola offers much in the way of natural pursuits, including camping at Brewers Bay and beautiful beaches along the north shore, including the mile-long white sand beach at Long Bay and the snorkeling destination of Smuggler's Cove. The island is also home to Sage Mountain National Park and the J. R. O'Neal Botanic Gardens.
Beef Island is connected by bridge to Tortola and is home to the BVI's main airport.
Across the Channel sits Norman Isle, totally uninhabited and reportedly the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. Here is a series of caves, called The Caves, which are well known for their excellent snorkeling. Hikers can make the half-hour trek to enjoy the view from the top of Spyglass Hill. Offshore, The Indians (a grouping of four large rocks) are rich with marine life, and eagle rays, nurse sharks and barracuda can be seen at Santa Monica Rock, nearby.
The easternmost and second largest of the British Virgin Islands is Virgin Gorda. Virgin Gorda got its name, "fat virgin" because of the profile of its mountain ridge, which, to some, resembles a woman lying on her back. Its eight square miles are divided into two main areas that are connected by a narrower strip of land. The northern side's mountainous terrain is rich in lush vegetation, while the southern area is flat and features sandy beaches. The main attraction here is The Baths, a labyrinthine network of enormous boulders that form secluded coves and loom over grottos, bathing them in light and shadow. This area is extremely popular with hikers, snorkelers and swimmers.
Everything above the 1,000-foot elevation mark here is considered National Park land, and the highest point is the 1,370-foot Gorda Peak, part of the Gorda Peak National Park. A hiking trail to the top leads to the observation tower. Another national park, Copper Mine Point, is often visited by tourists and contains the ruins of a mine last used in the 1860s.
Jost Van Dyke
Named after one of the BVI's early Dutch settlers, Jost Van Dyke is a popular daytrip destination from Tortola. Water taxis bring passengers who disembark in the shallow water and wade ashore to one of the many beautiful, bright white sand beaches. White Bay and Green Cay are popular snorkeling points as is Sandy Spit, an offshore strip of sand. There are no paved roads, airports, or even large hotels here; the island offers very few amenities. With just 150 residents, Jost Van Dyke has a certain deserted-island feel, which is only enhanced by visits to its many secluded cays and islets. Still, there are several bars and restaurants, the most (in)famous of which is the beachfront Foxy's Tamarind Bar in Great Harbour, the site of numerous parties and festivals.
Anedaga is the northernmost and only coral island in the BVI, and is known for its deserted beaches and ample opportunities for snorkeling, bone fishing, deep-sea fishing and wreck diving. The 15-square-mile island boasts more than 20 miles of beach and the only freshwater springs in the BVI. It's surrounded by Horseshoe Reef, which is home to a rich variety of marine and plant life. Over the years, more than 300 ships wrecked against the reef, and today, 138 wrecks remain and are popular dive sites.