Why You Should Visit the BVIs Now
The British Virgin Islands are back, with new restaurants, superior diving, and the return of Rosewood Little Dix Bay. Here are five reasons to put the Caribbean paradise on your 2020 itinerary.
The 60-island archipelago known as the BVIs is beloved for white sand beaches, breezy beach bars, and picturesque coves bobbing with yachts. But when Hurricanes Irma and Maria barreled through in September 2017, those idyllic scenes were replaced by ruined buildings and thrashed marinas. Devastated but determined to return quickly, local business owners and hoteliers immediately started rebuilding, many taking the opportunity to renovate and improve. Now, two years later, the BVIs are back, revitalized by a recent flurry of new openings and long-awaited returns. Among the most anticipated relaunches: Rosewood Little Dix Bay. The legendary Virgin Gorda resort welcomes guests back to its slice of renewed beachfront paradise in January 2020.
Here are five reasons to head back to the British Virgin Islands this year.
The diving is some of the best in the world.
With shipwrecks, coral gardens, and underwater mountains, the British Virgin Islands are treasured by underwater explorers. The islands’ best-known dive site—the wreck of the 310-foot RMS Rhone, an English Royal Mail steamer that sank off of Salt Island in 1867—survived the storms intact, her iron hull still swimming with moray eels, turtles, and octopus. Closer to Virgin Gorda are the Coral Gardens site (with its sunken planes turned into mechanical “sharks”) and the Chimney, which attracts many colorful schools of fish. The storm actually helped create a new dive site. The Willy-T, a raucous, pirate-themed floating bar off Norman Island that was destroyed by Hurricane Irma, has been sunk near Peter Island, its wreck festooned with tongue-in-cheek pirate skeletons. Dive BVI offers excursions to the wreck and the other top sites on custom-designed boats featuring shaded seating and showers. (Shot-ski enthusiasts, never fear: A new Willy T is floating once again in the Bight at Norman Island.)
The seafood is the freshest you’ll ever taste…
….and there are plenty of new and resurrected places to sample it. Restaurants dishing up everything from sushi to traditional Creole fare have popped up post-storm, including the Nail Bay Sports Club’s Sugarcane Restaurant, on Virgin Gorda. Destroyed by Irma, it reopened in May 2019 in a palapa-topped, open-sided pavilion that affords views all the way to Tortola. The cheddar-stuffed burger on homemade bread with a side of truffle fries is a local favorite. In Spanish Town, the beachfront CocoMaya was also completely rebuilt; locals and visitors are flocking once again to the open-air restaurant for Japanese-influenced small plates like tempura shrimp lettuce wraps and snapper nigiri. Local standby Top of the Baths Bar and Restaurant is a solid choice both at breakfast, when the amaretto French toast comes with a side of panoramic views, or in the evening, when Caribbean specialties like grilled local lobster and conch in butter sauce appear for dinner.
The natural splendor is unspoiled—and easy to access.
Just down the hill from Top of the Baths lies one of the most photogenic beaches in the world: The Baths, whose granite rock formations, caves, and brilliant blue tide pools have graced many a travel magazine cover. Follow the trail from the restaurant to Devil’s Bay for a beach adventure that includes scrambling over boulders and wading through natural grottos. Just north of Rosewood Little Dix Bay, Savannah Bay is a gently curving stretch of soft white sand that’s ideal for a sunset walk. For one of the most stunning views of the archipelago, including, on a clear day, the distant island of Anegada, visit Gorda Peak National Park. Two well-marked trails lead to Virgin Gorda’s highest point, including a moderate 40-minute hike and a shorter trail that takes just 20 minutes. As you ascend to the 1,370-foot summit, keep your eyes peeled for the Virgin Gorda gecko—the world’s smallest lizard is a park resident.
Island-hopping is a thing here.
The islands are small and the boats are plentiful, which means day-tripping in the BVIs is a popular—and easy—pastime. Jost Van Dyke, known for the beautiful, beach bar–lined White Bay, makes a lively excursion from Virgin Gorda. The only way to get to JVD is by boat; Rosewood Little Dix Bay can arrange a private charter. In any case, after a couple of Painkillers at the legendary Soggy Dollar Bar, you’ll want someone else to take the helm. The iconic and aptly named cocktail is made with high-proof rum, cream of coconut, and pineapple and orange juices, topped with freshly grated nutmeg.
Easily accessible by ferry, Tortola has many highlights, including the 400-year-old Callwood Rum Distillery. Hurricane Irma took the roof, but the facility has reopened for tours and tastings of its spirits, made from sugarcane grown on its own plantation. Nearby Cane Garden Bay, a protected cove backed by a lush forest, is a popular anchorage for boaters. Smuggler’s Cove, accessible only by dirt roads, is one of the best hidden beaches in the BVIs, with a bank of coral just offshore providing excellent snorkeling. Before heading back to Virgin Gorda, have dinner at Brandywine Estate Restaurant, where the French-born chef whips up filet mignon and bouillabaisse in a breezy hillside space with stunning views of the Sir Francis Drake Channel.
Rosewood Little Dix Bay has returned!
This iconic resort, founded in 1964 by conservationist Laurance Rockefeller, was in the midst of a major renovation when Hurricane Irma struck. The reimagined property will finally be revealed in January 2020, with 80 sophisticated rooms and suites, including elevated Tree House Suites inspired by the original resort’s stilt houses. All guest rooms on the beachfront property feature furnished patios, rain showers, and unobstructed bay views. New restaurants and bars include the West Indian–inspired Pavilion and the Rum Room, where guests can sample rare aged rums from around the world.
Dive BVI: +1 284-541-9818
Sugarcane Restaurant: Nail Bay, Virgin Gorda; +1 284-541-6677
CocoMaya Restaurant: Fort Point, Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda; +1 284-495-6344
Top of the Baths: Saint John, Virgin Gorda; +1 284-495-5497
Gorda Peak National Park: North Sound Rd., Virgin Gorda; +1 284-346-2779
The Soggy Dollar: White Bay, Jost Van Dyke; +1 284-495-9888
Callwood Rum Distillery: Cane Garden Bay, Tortola; +1 284-495-9383
Brandywine Estate Restaurant: Brandywine Bay, Tortola; +1 284-495-2301