"Tortola ~ "Land of Turtle Doves"" Top 5 Page for this destination Tortola by starship

Tortola Travel Guide: 106 reviews and 350 photos

Learning "The Nature of These Islands"

We arrived at Tortola by cruise ship on a beautiful, sunny, perfect day. As we approached Tortola and the Road Town Harbor, the highest deck on our ship gave us a perfect vantage point from which to view the sights of hundreds of moored sailboats bobbing on the aquamarine sea, and view green hills dotted with colorful houses. It was immediately obvious that Tortola, unlike some Caribbean Islands, is a very green island.

We could see immediately that there was no ship terminal, and also that a walk into downtown Road Town would be a long one. As it turns out, we never did see "downtown" Road Town as we had already booked a 4-hour island tour in an open-air, jitney bus, and the tour did not take us into downtown Road Town proper. Tortola is not the type of island that you can see a lot of if you do not rent a car, or take an excursion or tour.

Both the U.S. and British Virgin Islands lie to the east of Puerto Rico. The main British Virgin Islands are made up of Tortola, Jost Van Dyke, Virgin Gorda, Anegada but there are many, many smaller islands, cays, rocks, etc. Tortola itself is closely surrounded by the small islands of Beef Island, Great Camanoe, and Guana Island. Road Town looks almost directly at Peter Island to the south.

Tortola, like St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, has some of the most beautiful bays and beaches in the world and there are a LOT of them! You may have heard of Cane Garden Bay, Josiah's Bay, Frenchman's Cay, Brewer's Bay, etc.,. They are gorgeous! Not all of the island is as prosperous or beautiful as what you see on first sight coming into the harbor! But the positives far out weigh the negatives. People with time and money on their hands continue to build homes in some of the best locations on the island.

Heritage of the Sea

Road Town has the great advantage of being a naturally sheltered and deep water harbor so it comes as no great surprise that it's a great place for docking cruise ships. Two cruise ships can be accommodated at once. Tortola also seems to attract other pleasure sailboats, large & small, from around the world. The Royal BVI Yacht Club at the Reef Road Marina is a spectacular sight; sailing and competitive sailing are part of the cultural & social scene of this island.

Tortola had no airport which could accommodate large international jets at the time of our visit. Tortola remains reachable only by boat/ship, ferry or on a non-direct flight via small aircraft. Flights arrive on Beef Island at the "Terrence B. Lettsome International Airport" (EIS). The airport is connected by the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge to Tortola. International jets carrying passengers whose final destination is Tortola will most commonly arrive on St. Thomas, USVI, or San Juan, Puerto Rico.

A Brief History

The Virgin Islands were first discovered by the Amerindians, but it was Christopher Columbus who is given credit for "discovering" them on his second voyage to the New World in 1493. At different times the islands came under the domination of the Spanish, Dutch, French and Danes. Some sources say that the islands were originally named "Islas Virgines" when Columbus compared their beauty to St. Ursula, and the legendary 11,000 young virgins who followed her.

The infamous pirate "Blackbeard" aka Edward Teach, aka "Thatch" is also connected to Tortola, supposedly having used "Soper's Hole" as another of his havens around 1715 to 1718. Some believe that Great Thatch Island and Little Thatch Island may have been named for the scallywag.

Although there was some interest in mining on Virgin Gorda, the farming of sugar cane by the British, who had annexed the islands in 1672, became the chief interest in settlements there. Subsequently the exportation of sugar, molasses and rum became the major exports of the B.V.I. Today, tourism is the number 1 industry although small amounts of mangos, avocados, bananas, and sugar cane are still grown. As our tour guide/driver, Santa, would say, "That's the nature of these islands."

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Some of the most gorgeous beaches and bays in the world!
  • Cons:Not as much to do as on some of the other islands!
  • Last visit to Tortola: Apr 2004
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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Reviews (10)

Comments (20)

  • blueskyjohn's Profile Photo
    Dec 22, 2015 at 5:21 AM

    Nice page Sylvia. I should spend more time in the Caribbean.

    • starship's Profile Photo
      Dec 22, 2015 at 6:14 AM

      Thanks, John! I was a little burnt out on the Caribbean for a while, but thanks to our Oct. cruise, I am ready to go back. The scenery here is spectacular and I love to snorkel!!

  • toonsarah's Profile Photo
    Jul 2, 2013 at 12:22 AM

    Lovely page about a lovely island! I haven't seen much of the Caribbean but this epitomises the sort of scenery I would want to find there :-)

    • starship's Profile Photo
      Jul 2, 2013 at 6:55 AM

      Thanks for your visit. It's been so long since I visited there but the beautiful views surely made an impression on me. I'm sure updates & some refinements are needed on this page and my photos seem to have deteriorated here and on other pages too!

  • HORSCHECK's Profile Photo
    Nov 27, 2010 at 3:54 AM

    Sylvia, brilliant photos and great commentaries about this gem of the British Virgin Islands. Have a lovely weekend.

  • DennyP's Profile Photo
    Sep 28, 2010 at 6:28 PM

    Hi Sylvia..once again well written informative tips with good pics...and yes..you can usually tell what people are like by the way that they treat their animals the burro reminded me of so many I've seen when travelling..

  • jumpingnorman's Profile Photo
    Aug 25, 2009 at 12:14 PM

    Enjoyed reading the story about the poor burro - I hope he diod get fed...and this is another awesome place you've been too...Norman :)

  • deecat's Profile Photo
    Jul 2, 2009 at 6:27 AM

    Detailed, informative pages. This is a wonderful example of what's available via cruises. The open-air bus tour sounds excellent. Breathtaking beaches. Your tips are always topnotch and so star-worthy.

  • lynnehamman's Profile Photo
    Jun 17, 2009 at 4:48 AM

    An interesting & informative page , Sylvia. Anegada looks like a great diving spot. And the Bomba!! Wow-must be fun at party time.Pity about the unfriendly service.

  • May 29, 2008 at 5:45 AM

    Excellent page with a lot of information!

  • victorwkf's Profile Photo
    Mar 21, 2008 at 11:02 PM

    Great tips on Tortola, thanks for sharing and enjoy your travels!

  • JLBG's Profile Photo
    Nov 14, 2007 at 1:41 PM

    Tortola seems to be a nice place but too bad you met unfriendly peoples! Wow, tea spiked with hallucinogenic mushrooms !? In Montenegro, there are also plenty of caws wandering freely along (and across !) the roads


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