Destination Guide: British Virgin Islands

A tropical British Overseas Territory, the British Virgin Islands (BVI) is an alluring Caribbean archipelago of over 50 islands and outcrops of land, each offering their own unique history, character and mystic...

Sitting towards the top of the Caribbean island chain, and stretching for more than 30 miles from Jost Van Dyke in the west to Anegada in the northeast, the BVI is a favourite destination among those travelling the world aboard a superyacht.

Aerial view of the British Virgin Islands

With the yacht set generally looking to the warmer climes of the Caribbean when cooler temperatures reach the summer cruising grounds of the Mediterranean, SYOG worked closely with Island Shipping & Trading Co, full-service yacht agents in Tortola, to discover the laid-back delights of this region.

Cruising itinerary

Historic shipwrecks, coral reefs and rich fishing grounds provide a multitude of activities and secret gems to explore when visiting the BVI, which is a hive of opportunity for divers, watersports enthusiasts and walkers alike.

Clear waters and yachts at White Bay, British Virgin Islands

Day One: Virgin Gorda

After likely cruising to the BVI across the Atlantic, arrive at Virgin Gorda in the North Sound and relax aboard while the yacht is cleared at Gun Creek. As one of the most easterly points of the BVI, this port of entry provides a useful stop for yachts coming across from St Maarten and the Med, as it offers immediate access to the sheltered bays of the Gorda Sound and avoids clearing at the more crowded Spanish Town further south.

Once clearance has been taken care of, move the yacht to the infamous Yacht Club Costa Smerelda (YCCS) to dock, or, if more privacy is required, you could anchor on the landing stage south of the Colquhoun Reef at Mosquito Island – an undeveloped island owned by Sir Richard Branson. There is a second anchorage to the south west of Eustacia that can also be quiet, with a view of Sir Richard’s private Necker Island.

Protected bay on Virgin Gorda, BVI

Once settled, hike the trail behind Bitter End Yacht Club (BEYC) to the top of Gorda Peak to enjoy the breathtaking views of the North Sound - a trail map will be available at reception. Afterward, tender across to Saba Rock to feed the Tarpon, then across to Prickly Pear for some beach time. After an eventful day, you’ll be glad to take some time to relax on board and appreciate the tropical scenery. Enjoy dinner aboard or make reservations at the YCCS Marine Oil Nut Bay Beach Club restaurant to dine within its beautiful spa setting.

Day Two: Virgin Gorda

In the morning, cruise to The Baths at Virgin Gorda to explore the natural boulder formations and trails. Enjoy lunch at Coco Maya before taking to the waters to explore The Baths and adjacent Spring Bay, snorkeling the boulders. The cruise ship schedule and weather should offer the best times for your visit, but watch out for the flag system to check conditions for swimming and mooring if arriving aboard the yacht. Remember to take your National Trust Park permit for free entry.

Boulders at The Baths at Virgin Gorda, BVI

Dock at the Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour for the night; from here, you can take a short drive or taxi ride to the Little Dix Bay Resort for dinner at the Sugar Mill, which offers spectacular panoramic views, live local music and delicious dishes.

Day Three: Peter Island

On day three, cruise to Peter Island; a 1,800-acre private island resort. Head out for a two-tank drive or snorkel of the wreck of the RMS Rhone – the most famous shipwreck in the BVI. It’s best to get out in the morning here as the current usually picks up in the afternoon making diving a little more challenging.

Coral on the RMS Rhone shipwreck, Peter Island, BVI

Enjoy lunch on board before visiting the five-star Peter Island Resort and Spa for a massage and a day of relaxation on Deadman’s Beach. Alternatively, hire a cabana for the day at White Bay, as this is a fantastic spot to see turtles.

Day Four: Norman Island

Norman Island offers yet another great spot for snorkeling. Head down early to explore the Norman Island Indians and Caves before the crowds arrive, where you can expect to see a beautiful coral reef teeming with fish. You may also see squid, octopus and Angelfish. Afterwards, hike the trail to the top of Norman Island and Money Bay, starting behind Pirates Bar for great views looking down towards St John, Frenchman’s Cay and Little Thatch.

View of the Norman Island Indians, BVI

In the afternoon, enjoy food and drinks at the infamous historic floating bar, The Willy T where the atmosphere is often literally ‘jumping’, with guests diving into the water from the deck atop the bar. In the evening, the crew could make arrangements for a pirate-themed beach BBQ or bonfire at Privateer Bay to carry on the party.

Day Five: Tortola

Cruise to Sopers Hole for a morning start in Tortola. Take the island tour, heading over the hill to Cane Garden Bay to visit the local rum distillery.

Afterward, head up to Sage Mountain National Park, the highest point on Tortola, stopping off at the viewpoints. Hike back to Sopers Hole to meet the yacht along the coastal road then take the yacht over to Sandy Cay and Sandy Spot to explore these two tiny picturesque islands, which, uninhabited, provide the ideal paradise island experiences. Anchor on the mooring field on the leeward side of Sandy Cay and explore the green copper ore deposits, salt pond and deserted beaches ashore.

View of white sands of Sandy Cay, BVI

A visit to the BVI isn’t complete without a call into the Soggy Dollar Bar at White Bay, Jost Van Dyke. Anchor the yacht in the bay before taking the famous swim over. Once you’ve worked up a thirst, be sure to order the famous Painkiller cocktail with your now soggy dollars – a smooth and typically Caribbean rum cocktail.

Day Six: Guana Island

In the morning, cruise to White Bay at the neighbouring Guana Island and take the tender across to Marina Cay to explore this small, unspoilt island. There’s opportunity for more snorkeling here, or shopping for nautical souvenirs at Pusser’s Outpost. Enjoy lunch on the yacht before departing the BVI.

Aerial view of yachts near Marina Cay, BVI

Onwards…

If there’s no rush to leave the Caribbean, the US Virgin Islands are ideally placed for onward cruising from the BVI. Departing from Road Town, Tortola, a cruise of about 19nm will find you in the capital of Charlotte Amalie. More developed than the BVI, in the US Virgin Islands superyacht guests will enjoy many natural and cultural allures, laced with a flavour of West Indies ethnicity.

Superyacht berthing

The British Virgin Islands offers multiple anchorages for yachts to hide away in, with the privacy and seclusion that many superyacht guests are looking for. For those seeking easy-access to marine amenities, the BVI also offers a range of exclusive marinas that are capable of catering to large superyachts and their guests.

Sailing yachts anchored in Tortola, BVI

Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour – Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda

The Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour is a 120-slip marine facility right in the heart of The Valley, offering a wealth of amenities within the complex and easy access to the surrounding sights. Flexible berthing is available for superyachts up to 50m LOA on an hourly, daily, weekly, monthly and seasonal basis.

Yacht Club Costa Smeralda – North Sound, Virgin Gorda

Part of the infamous Yacht Club Costa Smerelda, YYCS Virgin Gorda is well-known for hosting the annual Swan Rolex and the Loro Piano Caribbean Superyacht Regatta and Rendezvous. YYCS offers one of the Caribbean’s safest natural harbours, catering to superyachts up to 91m LOA.

Leverick Bay Marina – Virgin Gorda

Leverick Bay Marina is a full-service dock with 28 moorings for superyachts up to 90m LOA. Reserve your slip and then take a dip in the facilities swimming pool, and enjoy the fine food and drinks served at the on-site restaurant.

View across Road Town, Tortola, BVI

Peter Island Resort & Yacht Harbour – Peter Island

The Peter Island Resort & Yacht Harbour is an exclusive resort playground, accommodating superyachts up to 52m long alongside and giving access to a wealth of private facilities.

Village Cay Resort Marina – Road Town, Tortola

Village Cay Marina accommodates superyachts up to 58m in length securely with great in-slip amenities (308 volt three-phase power, water, cable TV and free Wi-Fi) and on-site facilities (hotel and restaurant).

Scrub Island Marina – Scrub Island

The Scrub Island Resort is the newest marina in the BVI, purpose-built to accommodate superyachts with 55 deep-water slips for vessels up to 49m LOA. Located centrally, it’s in easy walking-distance from the local sights and sounds and is the nearest marina to the North Drop, the hotspot for world-record Blue Marlin.

Climate and cruising conditions

The BVI is commonly known as a sailing hotspot, and for good reason: Typically subtropical, and tempered by steady trade winds and calm currents, there is little variation between the seasons and across the islands here. Rainfall levels remain low throughout the year and nighttime temperatures remain at a comfortable level, making evening entertaining on deck enjoyable.

With a reliable climate and calm cruising conditions, there is no limit to the time that can be spent in the BVI aboard a superyacht. September to November is, however, typically known to the be the ‘best’ time to visit on land and at sea, as the Atlantic hurricane season draws to a close and the crowds thin out. Here the average temperature often reaches 31°C (80°F).

Birds eye view BVI sandbar and vegetation

Many aboard superyachts choose to visit the BVI between December and April after the close of the industry’s boat shows at the end of the Med season. At this time, temperature highs reach 28°C (83°F) with the average sea temperature also being extremely comfortable at 26°C (78°F). During the winter months (November to January), the trade winds come from the northeast at 15 to 20 knots, while the ‘Christmas Winds’ can produce winds of 25 to 30 knots for several days at a time.

Cruising regulations and clearances

Superyachts arriving in the BVI have two options for inbound clearance into the territory: via a clearance house, or with the help of an agent.

Those using a clearance house should anchor in front at one of five ports of entry: Road Harbour/Tortola, West End/Tortola, Great Harbour/Jost Van Dyke, Spanish Town/Virgin Gorda or Gun Creek/Virgin Gorda. Alternatively, for those that prefer the convenience of ‘remote’ clearance, during or after office hours, the services of a yacht agent must be enlisted.

Only the captain is required to handle the clearance procedures. He/she will require a clearance document from a previous port, the yacht’s papers and valid passports for all yacht crew and guests. Guests and crew of some nationalities may require visas before entering the BVI, regardless of Seamen’s Books - see the full list here, or view the official entry requirement standards here.

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