The British Virgin Islands are made up of over 50 islands, and for many years it’s been a playground for the rich and famous. Sir Richard Branson’s Necker Island is here and both Google co-founder Larry Page and actor Morgan Freeman love visiting the islands. But you don’t have to be independently wealthy, own your own boat or be a sailing expert to see the Caribbean paradise. A number of companies rent fully-stocked and crewed catamarans where you can eat, sleep and swim, living your best Below Deck life.
How to Arrange a Charter
First, you must assemble your group, which will help you determine how many cabins you require. Cabin arrangements vary by boat but can include bunk beds or full-sized beds. There are also options with private or shared bathrooms. Set a price that you’re comfortable spending, which varies based on sailing experience and amenities desired. Request a quote from companies like Navigare, or The Moorings. They’ll also be able to suggest the best type of boat and route for your party.
Be warned: getting a fully staffed charter will cost you a couple hundred dollars extra per day. That said, it’s well worth it if maximum relaxation is your end goal. The on-board chef can prepare meals and an experienced captain will bring you to the best locales in the islands. If you have extensive sailing expertise, you can also submit your credentials to skipper the boat yourself. The companies can arrange transportation to the dock — including water taxis or taxi cabs — from the airports in St. Thomas and Tortola.
While the prices vary greatly, expect to spend a few thousand on a weekend on the water. Even the most luxurious boats are fairly small on cabin space, so pack light in a bag that’s easily stored. A waterproof bag for your tender rides to shore is a good idea, too.
Where to Go in the British Virgin Islands
Traveling by boat in the BVI has certain privileges, as there are some places you have access that wouldn’t be possible, or at least easy, without it. The opportunities to swim right off the boat and wake up to unrivaled sunset views are just the icing on the cake. The most popular islands for visitors are Tortola, Anegada, Virgin Gordan and Jost Van Dyke.
Jost Van Dyke
Start your journey on Jost Van Dyke, named for a Dutch pirate and the westernmost of the main islands. It’s full of vacation rentals, dive shops and beachside bars, including the legendary Soggy Dollar Bar (said to be the originator of the Painkiller cocktail). It gets its name from the wet bills from the yacht crowd that swim to shore for a stiff drink. You’ll find food and chairs there, should you want to relax for the afternoon.
Foxy’s is an open-air bar under tamarind trees where travelers leave mementoes like college flags and t-shirts on the ceiling. The restaurant and bar has tasty rum punch cocktails and local conch fritters. The spot also hosts the island’s legendary full moon parties and New Year’s Eve celebrations.
Get outside at the Bubbly Pool, a swimming area with a natural rock formation that creates a jacuzzi-type effect when the tide comes in.
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The largest island is Tortola, where you’ll find Nanny Cay, a popular marina for charters, and plentiful grocery stores and amenities in Road Town to stock up before your journey. The Beef Island airport is also nearby.
Rum lovers won’t want to miss Pusser’s, the BVI’s original rum distillery. Tola Beverage Company creates craft beer that is found throughout the islands. You’ll want to pick up some locally roasted beans from Omar’s Coffee House to enjoy on your boat.
The first of the BVI’s national parks, Sage Mountain National Park is the highest point around and has twelve trails for hiking through the lush forests. Mount Healthy National Park is another must-see, set on the grounds of a former sugar plantation.
And if you’re ready to take the captain’s wheel on your next trip, the BVI also has sailing schools to literally show you the ropes. The Offshore Sailing School operates out of neighboring Scrub Island Resort.
This island is further east and is known for its rocky shorelines. Spanish Town is the main hub, with shops and restaurants like Island Pot, a family-run spot with a rooftop patio and favorites like jerk chicken and oxtails.
Spend the day swimming, paddleboarding, and drinking at the converted boat-turned-bar at Bitter End Yacht Club, a classic BVI outpost only accessible by boat. It has multiple restaurants and hammocks to relax in.
Visit The Baths National Park, the top attraction on the island. It gets its name from the granite boulders that surround a sheltered beach. Visitors can shop from the beachfront vendors or relax with a beer from the Poor Man’s Bar. But bring cash!
The most remote of the popular British Virgin Islands is Anegada, a coral island with stunning and remote beaches, shipwreck scuba diving, and a popular annual lobster festival. Iguanas run wild here and the landscape is different from the rest of the country. The reefs make sailing here tricky, so be sure to hire an experienced captain if you want to reach the island.
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