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A Caribbean Vacation in Tortola

Tortola is located 50 miles east of Puerto Rico within the 60+ British Virgin Islands or BVI. Tortola features terrain that is mountainous with sweeping hillside views. Known for their spectacular views of nearby islands, Tortola villas and Tortola luxury charter yachts provide visitors with white sand beaches, quiet evenings in great restaurants, and unparalleled sailing and watersports.

Tortola Island History

Like many other Caribbean Islands, the Arawak and Carib Indians played a large role in Tortola Island history. Modern history of Tortola Island began in 1493, when Columbus discovered the British Virgin Islands on his second voyage to the New World. He named the area "Las Once Mil Virgines" after the 11,000 followers of St. Ursula. Aside from Tortola Island, Virgin Gorda was so named by Columbus because he felt the island resembled a reclining woman with a protruding belly when viewed from the sea.

The Spaniards officially laid claim to the territory, including Tortola Island, in 1555…For almost a full century; however, Tortola Island was considered too small and unimportant for Spanish settlement so they remained largely uninhabited during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Pirates terrorized the Caribbean shipping lanes surrounding Tortola Island with the blessing of one European country or another and the Spanish Armada was finally defeated. Many of the small croppings around Tortola Island were named after various pirates, such as Thatch Island, which is named after Edward Thatch (or Teach-also commonly known as Blackbeard).

Tortola Island was claimed by England in 1628 but the Dutch were the first true settlers arriving in Tortola Island in 1648. In 1666, British planters took over control of the islands from the original Dutch settlers and they attained the status of a British Colony and remained part of the Leeward Islands from 1872-1956 when the British Virgin Islands became a separately administered entity. In 1967, a new constitution provided for a ministerial system of government and Tortola Island remains under British control today. Tortola Island is a tropical paradise for all to enjoy!

Shopping

The British Virgin Islands are not known as a shopping mecca. Most of the shops on Tortola are located in or around Road Town's Main Street and at the Wickham's Cay shopping area, near the marina. Soper's Hole on the West End offers an ever-growing group of boutiques offering art and jewelry.

  • Caribbean Fine Arts Ltd: Located on Main Street in Road Town, a small shop that offers a wide range of Caribbean art, including original watercolors as well signed prints.
  • Courtyard Gallery: Located on Main Street in Road Town offers delicate crushed coral sculptures created on the premises depicting fish, birds and flowers.
  • Island Treasures: Located at Soper's Hole Marina, it offers watercolors, paintings, pottery, prints and books on the Caribbean.
  • Sunny Caribbee Art Gallery: On Main Street in Road Town, it offers one of the larges displays of paintings in the Caribbean as well as a selection of island spices and sauces.

Tortola Restaurants

Tortola is the most sizable of the British Virgin Islands and as such, offers a wide variety of Tortola restaurants to choose from. From upscale establishments with white linens to Tortola restaurants that resemble beach bars, every cuisine and taste is represented. Most Tortola restaurants are seafood oriented (as most Caribbean cuisine is). The local waters provide much table fodder for Tortola restaurants, though the more daring of chefs mixes and mingles with imported delicacies just as often. This blend of local and international flare create a truly unique cuisine to enjoy while dining at Tortola restaurants.

Tortola Restaurants

  • Brandywine Bay: Tortola restaurant overlooking the Sir Francis Drake Channel. The chef/owner has won international praise for his Tuscan style cooking. Reservations are recommended and open Monday-Saturday but closed August through October. Phone: 284.495.2301.
  • Callaloo at the Reef: An elegant waterfront Tortola restaurant at Prospect Reef specializes in Caribbean gourmet cuisine. Reservations are recommend and open daily. Phone: 284.494.3311.
  • Jolly Roger: Located near the West End, a breezy Tortola restaurant offering International and West Indian specialties as well as burgers, pizza etc. 284.495.4559.
  • Pussers Landing: A popular, casual Tortola restaurant located in Road Town as well at Sopers Hole on the West End. Pub style dining-good burgers, sandwiches etc. Open daily. Phone: 284.494.3897.
  • The Long Bay Beach Resort: A gourmet garden Tortola restaurant features an international menu as well as daily fresh fish. The resort's more casual Beach Café serves great breakfasts, lunches and more casual dinners. Phone: 284.495.4252
  • The Sugar Mill: Hillside and located on the ground of a 360 degree old former plantation in Apple Bay. Former Bon Appetit columnists Jefferson and Jinx Morgan own this Tortola restaurant. Reservations are required-dinner nightly. Phone: 284.495.4355.
  • Myett's This Tortola restaurant is amazingly hectic, mostly because of great Caribbean food. Reservations: 284.495.9649
  • Skyworld Modern Tortola restaurant serves classy cuisine from a mountain-top location. Reservations: 284.494.3567
  • Virgin Queen A laid back Tortola restaurant, a casual atmosphere located in Road Town. Closed Sundays: 284.494.2310

Tortola Ferry = Tortola Golf

There is no golf course on Tortola, though that does not mean that golf enthusiasts should avoid the island. Quick island hopping on the Tortola ferry provides access to a great deal of golf. The 18 hole Mahogany Run Golf Course on St. Thomas is accessible from the Tortola ferry as well as the great course of Puerto Rico, providing 18-hole championship play with clubhouses, restaurant and pro shop.

Tortola ferry lines offer scheduled service around the US and British Virgin Islands. Restrictions on flight travel and lack of golf draw many to the Tortola ferry system as a way of reaching many of the activities of the Virgin Islands. The ability to connect to St. Thomas or many other islets make the Tortola ferry a can't miss experience. The BVI's flight restriction makes the Tortola ferry the easiest way to travel between, St John, Virgin Gorda, St. Thomas and Tortola.

Nubian Princess, Native Son, and North Sound Express are three of the companies operating Tortola Ferry services. Their routes encompass all the necessary travel to the other Virgin Islands, including ferries to Spanish Town and Leverick Bay, Virgin Gorda.

  • North Sound Express: Tortola ferry operates between Virgin Gorda and Tortola (Road Town) and, also, from Road Town and the West End to downtown St. Thomas. Phone: 284.495.2271
  • Smith's Tortola Ferry Service: Phone: 284.495.4495
  • Speedy's Fantasy/Speedy's Delight: The Tortola ferry operates between Virgin Gorda and Tortola (Road Town). Phone: 284.495.5240 or 5235
  • Private Water Taxi Service: Operates custom charters between or within the British and US Virgin Islands. Phone: 340.775.6501 Website: www.watertaxi-vi.com between Beef Island and the North Sound on Virgin Gorda. Personalized Concierge Service

Tortola Scuba Diving

The Caribbean Sea surrounding the British Virgin Islands is spectacular and Tortola is no exception. The clear blue water makes Tortola scuba diving a can't miss activity while staying on-island. A simple certification is all that is needed to begin Tortola scuba diving through sunken shipwrecks and coral reefs, all skill levels and comfort are represented by Tortola scuba dive operators. If you are lucky - you will be able to dive right from your luxury charter yacht.If not, most Tortola scuba trips can be organized with one of the local organizations, they can generally coordinate day trips, boats and equipment rental.

Many of the Tortola scuba trips will lead to many of the same spots, though there are a few that cannot be missed. Astounding coral formations and an abundance of tropical fish call the Blonde Rock and Painted Walls (Tortola scuba south of the Island) their home. All Tortola scuba enthusiasts must spend a bit of time at the wreck of the RMS Rhone. This British steamer sunk in 1867 and now lays at the bottom of the Caribbean Sea for all Tortola scuba divers to enjoy. It truly is one of the best scuba diving spots in the Caribbean!

Diving: Some of the best reef and famous wreck diving in the Caribbean is close at hand. Full scale PADI and NAUI certification lessons are available as well as resort courses at the entry level.

Snorkeling and Diving: Tortola offers exceptional close in snorkeling directly off it's spectacular white sand beaches where snorkelers will see plenty of brilliantly colored parrotfish as well as lots of other marine life.

The diving is well known among scuba divers for the areas colorful coral formations, abundant marine life and wreck diving. Indeed, the nearly translucent waters make for wonderful visibility and the rock formations provide plenty of nooks and crannies to explore.

The most popular dive site is the RMS Rhone, a 310-foot royal mail steamer that sank in 1867. Featured in the movie, "The Deep", the ship's four parts rest at depths from 15-75 feet. Another favorite dive site are the four caves located at Norman Island, the setting for Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island.

Deep-Sea Fishing: Vast arrays of big game fish live in the oceans surrounding Tortola. Several different companies on the island offer guided Tortola fishing excursions with a focus on big game fish like bluefish, shark and wahoo.

Tortola Nightlife

When it comes to Tortola nightlife, many visitors will find that a good bottle of Island rum and their loved ones are all that matters on this sleepy British Virgin Island. Though there are places to get a drink or meet with a few friends or locals, Tortola is not a hot nightlife destination. Most guests find that after a day in the warm Caribbean sun or under the clear Caribbean Sea, the best thing to do is slip between cool cotton sheets and await the sun's next turn. Come try your hand at the maddeningly slow pass of Tortola!

Dress: Due to the islands conservative British heritage, there is a dress code of conservative clothing. Light cotton dresses and light jackets and ties for formal wear and typical tropical wear during the day.

Tortola Weddings

Tortola weddings offer the quiet relaxation of the British Virgin Islands with simple access to a variety of other accommodations (St. Thomas, Virgin Gorda, St. John) for all guests involved. The Long Bay area offers a series of villas for rent that can coordinate a larger wedding though there are lovely small homes as well that will provide the perfect setting for any Tortola wedding.

Marriage and Weddings

Getting married on Tortola involves being in the British Virgin Islands for three days before applying for a marriage license, which must be done in Road Town on Tortola.

For the requirements, please check with the Register's Office at 284.494.3701 ext. 5001 or 284.494.3492.

We are, also, happy to provide our clients with the names and phone numbers of personal wedding consultants and planners.

Tortola BVI Activities

When visiting Tortola BVI, most villa guests find that the lack of activity is just what they came for. Natural scenery and gorgeous crystal clear waters are the best that Tortola BVI has to offer. Long white sand beaches can seem deserted as Tortola BVI guests looking for crowds may head to Cane Garden Bay. Most of those guests who have been to Tortola BVI before know what they are on-island to do, absolutely nothing! Come enjoy the simplicity of life on Tortola BVI.

  • Beaches: Tortola BVI is known for its spectacular beaches. The island is rimmed with soft powdery beaches surrounding the translucent turquoise sea.
  • North Shore: The island's famous North Shore beaches include Smuggler's Cove, Long Bay, Apple Bay, Cane Garden Bay, Brewers Bay, Josiah's Bay and Elizabeth beaches.
  • Hiking: A variety of hiking opportunities exist on Tortola BVI to include exploring a primeval rain forest in the Sage Mountain National Park, which contains the British Virgin Islands highest point at 1,780 feet. The park is located just west of Road Town and has three trails.
  • Horseback Riding: Shadow Stables: Located on the Ridge Road, offers horseback riding tours of Tortola. Phone: 284.494.2262.

Tortola BVI Sights

  • J.R. O'Neal Botanic Gardens: A beautiful four-acre garden offering a lush array of tropical plants.
  • Government House: Once the Governor's residence, this stately 20th century building houses a small museum.
  • Fort Recovery: The British Virgin Island's oldest intact structure. Built by the Dutch in the 1660's, it features a turreted gun emplacement.
  • Josiah's Bay Plantation: A former rum distillery, it is now an art gallery.
  • Mount Healthy National Park: Features the remains of an old stone windmill that once part of an 18th century sugar plantations.
  • North Shore Shell Museum: Offers shells, shell crafts and other examples of local crafts/culture for display and sale.
  • Sage Mountain National Park: At 1,780 feet Sage Mountain is the British Virgin Island's highest point. The park is laid out with graveled paths.
  • Sports: Hiking, Horseback Riding, Sports Fishing, Diving, Parasailing, Sailing, Surfing, Tennis, Kayaking and Windsurfing are all available on the island.

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