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The British Virgin Islands (BVI) are a British overseas territory located in the Caribbean, just east of Puerto Rico. The islands are a part of the Virgin Islands archipelago that also includes the US Virgin Islands and the remaining islands constitute the US Virgin Islands and the Spanish Virgin Islands, which consist of the islands of Culebra and Vieques that are part of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
The British government officially refers to the British Virgin Islands as the Virgin Islands and encourages the use of that name. Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, and Jost Van Dyke are the larger principal islands, with over fifty (50) additional smaller islands and cays. In total about 15 of the islands are inhabited.
The capital is Road Town; located on Tortola, the largest island, which is approximately 20 km (12 mi) long and 5 km (3 mi) wide. The islands have a total population of about 27,800, with approximately 23,000 living on Tortola.
Tortola, which is the main island, offers pristine white-sand beaches, lush green mountains, and sheltered yacht-filled harbours; Virgin Gorda, the next most popular destination got its name (the “Fat Virgin”) from Christopher Columbus because it reminded him of a reclining woman; Jost Van Dyke is home to fewer than 300 inhabitants, but is rich in folklore and renowned as one of the most friendly and welcoming islands; and Anegada is the furthest island in the British Virgin Islands, located 15 miles north of Virgin Gorda, it is the only coral island in the otherwise volcanic Virgin Island archipelago and known for its excellent fishing, snorkeling and diving. While these are the major islands, each island that makes up the British Virgin Islands has its own special beauty, character and legends.
The Islands enjoy a tropical climate that is tempered by trade winds. Temperatures vary little throughout the year. In the capital, Road Town, typical daily maxima are around 32 °C (89.6 °F) in the summer and 29 °C (84.2 °F) in the winter. Average temperatures are 24 °C (75.2 °F) in the summer and 21 °C (69.8 °F) in the winter. Rainfall averages about 1,150 mm (45.3 in) per year; with higher amounts in the hills and lower amounts along the coast. While rainfall can be highly variable, the wettest months typically are September to November; and the driest months February and March.
Citizens of the British Virgin Islands are classified as British Overseas Territories citizens and since 2002 have had full British citizenship. Although the territory is technically not part of the European Union (EU) and not directly subject to EU law, its citizens are considered citizens of the EU.
Although the British Virgin Islands (BVI) are under the British flag, it uses the U.S. dollar as its official currency due to its proximity to and frequent trade with the US Virgin Islands.
The British Virgin Islands are tax haven. And while records are difficult to confirm, KPMG claimed in 2000 that over 41 % of the world’s offshore companies were formed here. As an offshore financial center the British Virgin Islands has one of the more prosperous economies of the Caribbean region.
Politically, however, tourism is slightly more important as it employs a greater number of people and a larger proportion of the businesses. Tourism accounts for over 45% of the national income; and the islands are a popular travel destination, particularly for US citizens.
The Island region is considered and known as one of the world's greatest sailing destinations; and charter sailboats are readily available and a very popular way to visit the many islands that make up this island destination.
Tortola is a mountainous island 13.5 miles (19 km) long and 3 miles (5 km) wide, with an area of 21.5 square miles (55.7 square km). The Northern coast has the best beaches on the island, including Smuggler's Cove, Long Bay, Cane Garden Bay, Brewer's Bay, Josiah's Bay, and Lambert beach. In addition to beaches, there are sailing, surfing, scuba diving, kite boarding, windsurfing, historic sites, hiking, and much more. This is a great site for cruise boats.
Virgin Gorda is the third-largest (after Tortola and Anegada) and second most populous of the British Virgin Islands (BVI). Located to the east of Tortola, it covers an area of about 8 square miles (21 km2). Christopher Columbus is said to have named the island "The Fat Virgin", because the island's profile on the horizon looks like a fat woman lying on her side.
The main town is Spanish Town on the southwestern part of the island.
An unusual geologic formation known as "The Baths" located on the southern end of the island makes Virgin Gorda one of the BVI's major tourist destinations. At The Baths, the beach shows evidence of the island's volcanic origins, as huge granite boulders lie in piles on the beach, forming scenic grottoes that are open to the sea. North of the Baths is the Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbor, formerly owned by Little Dix Bay. The most notable ruin on Virgin Gorda is the old Copper Mine. In the island's North Sound is the high-end Bitter End Yacht Club, now a five-star resort.
Anegada is the northernmost of the British Virgin Islands, a group of islands which form part of the archipelago of the Virgin Islands. It lies approximately 15 miles (24 km) north of Virgin Gorda. Anegada is the only inhabited British Virgin Island formed from coral and limestone, rather than of volcanic origin like the rest of the archipelago. While the other islands are mountainous, Anegada is flat and low. Its highest point is only about 28 feet (8.5 m) above sea level, earning it the name which translates as “the drowned land.”
At about 15 square miles (38 square kilometers), Anegada is the second largest of the British Virgin Islands, but it is also the most sparsely populated of the main islands (population roughly 200). Most of the population on Anegada live in the main town, The Settlement. The primary business on Anegada is tourism. On a typical day during the tourist season, the island will have an additional 200 or so visitors. Commercial fishing is also a substantial business on Anegada, with local fishermen providing the majority of the fresh fish and lobster catch for the rest of the British Virgin Islands.
Its miles of south shore flats has a large population of bonefish, making Anegada a popular destination for fly fishing. Anegada is known for miles of white sand beaches and the 18-mile (29 km)-long Horseshoe Reef, the largest barrier coral reef in the Caribbean, and the fourth largest on earth. The reef makes navigation to Anegada difficult. While charter boats freely sail among most of the other Virgin Islands, charter companies often forbid clients to sail to Anegada to avoid running aground on the reef.
The reef has claimed hundreds of shipwrecks and has been an important scuba diving destination, but in an effort to protect the reef, the BVI government has made anchoring on Horseshoe Reef illegal.
Yost Van Dyke
At roughly 8 square kilometers, and about 3 square miles Jost Van Dyke is the smallest of the four main islands of the British Virgin Islands, the northern portion of the archipelago of the Virgin Islands, located in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. Jost Van Dyke lies about 8 km to the northwest of Tortola and 8 km to the north of Saint John. Little Jost Van Dyke lies off its eastern end.
Like many of the neighboring islands, it is volcanic in origin and mountainous. The highest point on the island is Majohnny Hill at 321 meters (1054 ft). Jost Van Dyke receives numerous visitors. The island is accessible by private boats and ferry service from Tortola and Saint Thomas (via Saint John).
The most frequent destination is Great Harbor (or Great Harbour). The beach strip around the harbour is lined with small bars and restaurants. Since the late 1960s, Foxy's Bar in Great Harbor has been a popular stop for Caribbean boaters. Foxy's and the other bars in Great Harbor now host a modest crowd year-round and are filled with thousands of partiers on New Year's Eve (locally known as “Old Year’s Night”).
Great Harbour is one of the busiest ports in the BVI: in 2008, nearly 7,000 boats cleared through the island’s port. Today, tourism, and particularly yachting tourism is the mainstay of the economy.
Located in nearby White Bay is the Soggy Dollar Bar, another famous beach bar on the island. The Soggy Dollar is reputedly the birthplace of the popular drink known as the Painkiller. The Soggy Dollar bar is appropriately named because when built there was neither road nor dock. (There is now a road from Great Harbour, but still no dock). To reach the beach where the bar is located, it is a common practice for boaters to anchor off the beach, swim to shore, and pay for their drinks with wet money.
Peter Island is the largest private island in the BVI and the fifth largest of the 60 islands, quays, and exposed reefs that comprise the BVI. It was owned by the Amway Corporation from 1978 until 2001 when full ownership was transferred to the Van Andel family, co-owners of Amway. There is only one hotel on Peter Island, the 52-room Peter Island Resort, ranked in both Conde Nast Traveler’s “Gold List,” and the Travel and Leisure “T+L 500”. It is accessible by boat or helicopter.
There are a number of private homes on the island, in addition to the hotel, but the Island is mostly undeveloped. There are many hiking and biking trails and a wide variety of tropical flora and fauna indigenous to Peter Island. The beaches on the island face the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, and the Sir Francis Drake Channel. Two of the beaches (Honeymoon and White bay) are for use only by hotel guests. The island's biggest beach is Deadman's Bay, a mile-long crescent beach shaded by palm trees with a section open to visitors. Deadman's Bay is said to be named for pirates that were marooned on neighboring Dead Chest island and subsequently drowned swimming to Peter Island, their bodies washed up on shore.
Necker Island is a 74-acre (300,000 m2) island in the in the eastern section of the British Virgin Islands, slightly to the north of Virgin Gorda. The island is owned by Sir Richard Branson, famous for his Virgin brand, and is part of the Virgin Limited Edition portfolio of luxury properties. The entire island operates like a resort and is available for weddings, relaxation breaks, sports vacations, and even complete rentals for any purpose. The villa accommodates approximately 28 guests for overnight stays and longer term rentals.
Norman Island is located at the southern tip of the British Virgin Islands archipelago. It is reputed to be the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson's pirate novel Treasure Island.
The island is uninhabited and privately owned by Dr Henry Jarecki. Its area is about 600 acres (2.4 km²), and it is about 2.5 miles (4 km) long. A large harbour known as "The Bight" offers one of the most protected anchorages in the area. It is considered to be one of the "Little Sisters," along with Pelican Island, Peter Island, Salt Island, Dead Chest Island, and Ginger Island. This group of islands is smaller, lower, and more arid than the rest of the British Virgin Islands to the north and west.
Norman Island is a well-known destination for cruisers and other tourists because of 3 water-level caves at the base of cliffs just outside the western edge of The Bight. The caves are ideal for snorkeling, and, if one goes deeply enough into the cliffs, darkness makes the experience like a night dive.
The island has no permanent inhabitants (other than wild goats), but there is a restaurant and bar named "Pirates" located in the Bight; and an old boat floating in Bight Harbor named the William Thornton (or "Willie T" to locals) which operates as a bar and restaurant.
For more information about events, promotions and things-to-do in the British Virgin Islands, go to the Tourist Office Page or visit the official website of the British Virgin Islands Tourist Board.
Note: Information provided on this page were derived from a combination of internal research and readily-available outside sources, such as destination tourism offices, official press releases and marketing media kits.
Capital: Road Town, Tortola
Language: English (official), Spanish
Population: 28,882 (2009 est. based on 2005 census)
Country Status: British Dependent Territory
Government: Elected Legislative Council, Governor appointed by the Queen
Time Zone: Atlantic Standard Time, GMT 4 hours
Average Temperature: Winter: 72 - 82 FHT, Summer: 79 - 90 FHT
Motto: “Vigilate” (Latin); "Be Vigilant"
Anthem: “God Save the Queen” (official)
Territorial Song: "Oh Beautiful Virgin Islands" (official)
Accommodation Tax: 7% Hotel Accommodation Tax payable by guests who stay for six months or less in hotels, apartments, houses, cottages, villas and similar accommodations.
Driving: Driving is on the left side of the road. Seat belts are required for front seat passengers. Persons staying in the territory under 30 days are not required to purchase a temporary driver’s license. However, if your stay is over 30 days a license is required. Car rental are subject to a 5% government tax.
Currency: US Dollar. Major credit cards are accepted in many, but not all, establishments.
Electricity: Voltage in the BVI is 110/220v. Visitors can use American appliances without an adaptor.
Calling Code: From the US: Dial 1 (284). From the UK: Dial 001 (284).
Medical Centres/Hospital: One Public Hospital - Peebles Hospital; various public and private health clinics and medical centres; Medivac (medical airlift) is readily available. An International Vaccination Certificate is not mandatory in The British Virgin Islands. Peebles Hospital has surgical, x-ray and laboratory facilities; there is a private plastic surgery clinic as well several private medical centres. A chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous meets regularly; call (284) 496-8422 for more information.
Fishing Permits: The removal of any marine organism from British Virgin Islands waters is illegal for non-BVIslanders without a recreational fishing permit. Contact The Ministry of Natural Resources & Labour, Tel: (284) 468-3701 ext. 2147 for information.
Smoking Policy: Smoking in public places has been banned in the BVI as a result of a law passed by the Legislative Council. The law bans smoking in public places including bars, restaurants, nightclubs, airports, offices, and sports facilities. It also bans smoking within 50 feet of any public space.
Pets: Pets are allowed entry into the Territory only after an import permit is issued by the Department of Agriculture. For regulations governing animal importation, contact the Department of Agriculture, Paraquita Bay, Tortola, British Virgin Islands. Tel: (284) 495-2532 or Fax: (284) 495-1269.
Arriving By Air
There are no direct flights from the USA, Canada, Europe, or South America into the British Virgin Islands' main airport, the Terrence B. Lettsome Airport (EIS), but there are several connecting airports surrounding the BVI, making arrivals and departures easy.
All flights must connect through one of the Caribbean airports on the islands of Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, Antigua, St. Kitts, or St. Maarten/St. Martin.
If you are traveling to Virgin Gorda, Anegada, Peter Island, or Jost van Dyke, you will need to check with your hotel, resort, or villa to find out what charter flights, ferry service or other transportation is available, especially if you arrive after 4pm. Inter-Island boat transportation can be arranged via St. Thomas, Road Town or Beef Island.
Auguste George Airport on Anegada operates as a Domestic Airport. Flights going to Anegada must clear Customs and Immigration at Beef Island or Virgin Gorda before proceeding to Anegada.
The most direct way to get to the BVI is through the San Juan, Puerto Rico airport (SJU). Frequent connecting service is offered by American Eagle, Air Sunshine, Seaborne and Cape Air, with occasional service by other airlines and charter flights.
If you arrive through St. Thomas (STT), connecting flights are available with Air Sunshine to Tortola, Virgin Gorda, or Anegada; but most travelers take one of the frequent ferries that travel between downtown Charlotte Amalie or Red Hook, St. Thomas and Tortola. Taking a ferry is easy to do, just take a taxi from the St. Thomas Airport to the ferry. The ferry will arrive at the immigration station at West End, Tortola. Ferries from St. Thomas to Tortola only operate during daylight hours, so the last ferry is usually around 5pm. Make sure that your flight arrives in time for you to transfer to the ferry. Allow at least 1 ½ hours or make arrangements to stay overnight in St. Thomas and catch the ferry the following morning. Ferry service starts at approximately 7:30am.
Private charter airline service can be arranged from almost anywhere in the Caribbean.
Flights via Antigua - Airport Code [ANU]
Travelers from the UK (from London, Gatwick) and Canada may find it easiest to travel directly to Antigua by way of the Lester Bird International Airport and then take a connecting flight to Tortola on LIAT, or private charter flights. Limited service is also available from St. Maarten/St. Martin (SXM) and St. Kitts (SKB) on LIAT and BVI Airways.
From other Caribbean Islands
Scheduled service is also available from St. Maarten/St. Martin, St. Kitts, as are connecting flights from Barbados and St. Croix.
Arriving by Sea
Arriving by private yacht or sailboat is a popular way to travel to and within the BVI. Ports of Entry for private yachts and sailboats are: Tortola—Road Town and West End, Jost Van Dyke—Great Harbour and Virgin Gorda—St. Thomas Bay and Gun Creak. All entering vessels must clear in with BVI Customs and Immigration immediately upon arrival into the territory, and retain a valid passport and boat registration papers.
Customs and Immigration offices are located on Tortola in Road Town and the West End, on Virgin Gorda in the Virgin Gorda Airport, St. Thomas Bay Terminal, and the Owen Harrigan Visitors Centre at Gun Creek and on Jost Van Dyke in Great Harbour.
U.S. citizens travelling by air to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda must present a passport or other WHTI-compliant documentation to enter or depart from the United States. Visitors from some countries may also require a visa for entry. If in doubt about the necessity of a visa, contact the nearest BVI Tourist Board Office, the nearest British Embassy, or contact the Chief Immigration Officer, Immigration Department, BVI Government at: Tel: 284-494-3471 or 284-494-3701 Ext. 4700.
If you plan to exit and then re-enter the British Virgin Islands during your yacht/sailing vacation, please be certain to follow the proper procedures for clearing your yacht and crew with both BVI Customs and Immigration.
Hours of operation:
> West End, Tortola: Monday - Saturday from 8:30am - 6pm. Sunday & Public Holidays from 8am - 7pm.
> Road Town, Tortola: Monday - Sunday & public Holidays from 8:30am - 7:30pm.
> Great Harbour, Jost Van Dyke - Monday - Sunday & Public Holidays from 8:30am - 4:30pm.
> Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda - Monday - Sunday 8:30am - 4:30pm. Open late on Tuesday, Thursday & Saturday to accommodate Speedy's Ferry from St. Thomas. Yacht Clearance from daily 8:30am-3:30pm.
> Gun Creek, North Sound, Virgin Gorda: Monday - Friday from 8:30am-4:3pm. Saturday & Sunday from 9am-2pm.
**After-hours clearing may be arranged in advance. Additional fees will apply. Call Customs at 284-494-3475 and Immigration at 284-494-3701 ext. 4700 to make after-hours arrangements.
Your captain may clear all crew so long as he or she has all of the required documentation, including ship documentation. Prior to leaving your charter base, be sure this item is aboard if you plan to leave BVI waters. Valid passports are required for each crew member. (In the absence of a passport, Canadian & US citizens need an original or notarized copy of their birth certificate and at least one piece of photo ID such as a driver's license if traveling between the British Virgin Islands and the US Virgin Islands.) Be sure you clear into the territory you plan to visit. Don't forget to stop off again at any of the above listed BVI ports of entry on return to the British Virgin Islands. If visiting the USVI, you may clear in at Cruz Bay, St. John or Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas.
If you are neither a US nor a Canadian citizen, and are entering the USVI waters on anything other than a commercial carrier (ferry, airline, etc.), you must obtain a visitor's visa. Visitors from the UK and all other countries should consult their local US Embassy prior to arrival in the British Virgin Islands to determine what is required to obtain the proper visas for crew wishing to exit the BVI by yacht.
As of January 31, 2008, U.S. Citizens travelling by sea may be required to present a valid passport or other documents as determined to enter or re-enter the United States. Visitors from other countries may also require a visa for entry. (See information below.)
All non-British Virgin Islanders entering the Territory may be granted entry for up to one month provided that they have return travel tickets, evidence of adequate means of support, and pre-arranged accommodations for their stay. Visitors wishing to stay longer will need to apply for an extension.
U.S. citizens traveling by air to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda must present a passport or other WHTI-compliant documentation to enter or depart from the United States.
Canadian Citizens should have a passport. But may also use an original birth certificate accompanied by a valid photo ID such as a driver's license.
European citizens need a valid passport to enter the British Virgin Islands. Visitors that are residents of certain countries may need a visa to enter the BVI. If in doubt about the necessity of a visa; contact the nearest BVI Tourist Board Office, the nearest British Embassy, or contact the Chief Immigration Department, BVI Government at Tel: (284) 494-3471 or 468-3701 ext. 4700.
Caribbean citizens from some islands may need a visa to visit the British Virgin Islands. If in doubt about the necessity of a visa, contact the nearest BVI Tourist Board Office, the nearest British Embassy, or contact the Chief Immigration Department, BVI Government at Tel: (284) 494-3471 or 468-3701 ext. 4700.
For more information on whether you require a visa and how to obtain one, please check the UK Border Agency or the Deputy Governor's Office of the British Virgin Islands.
$20.00 per person leaving by air, $15.00 (visitors) leaving by sea.
All imports are subject to varying rates of duty. Imports entering The British Virgin Islands on a temporary basis will not be subject to duty. For more information, visit the Customs Department website.
Click here for an Overview of the British Virgin Islands. Go to the British Virgin Islands Tourism page for information on Events and Activities in the British Virgin Islands. For more information about this Caribbean destination, visit the official British Virgin Islands Tourist Board website.
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