British Virgin Islands

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Introduction to British Virgin Islands

There are parts of the British Virgin Islands so beautiful, you'd happily marry the closest iguana just so you could stay there forever. Think green hills, blue skies, tripped-out sunsets and beaches where the loudest noise is the donk of a coconut dropping on sand as soft as a baby's bottom.

Once the hideaway of buccaneers and brigands, the islands now attract a more salubrious yachting crew drawn by steady trade winds, well-protected anchorages and a year-round balmy climate. Tourist development has been limited by enlightened environmental policy.

The islands have a thoroughly different character from their raucous neighbors. While the US Virgin Islands have pursued the tourist dollar, the British Virgin Islands have been keen to stay limey and out of the limelight.

Full country name: British Virgin Islands

Area: 59 sq km

Population: 19,615

Capital City: Roadtown

People: African descent (90%), North American, Asian

Language: English

Religion: Methodist (45%), Anglican (21%), Catholic, other

Government: dependent territory of the United Kingdom

Head of State: Governor Tom Macan (representing Queen Elizabeth II)

Head of Government: Chief Minister Orlando Smith

GDP: US$183 million

GDP per capita: US$10,000

Inflation: 6.5%

Major Industries: Tourism, light industry, construction, rum, concrete, offshore banking.

Major Trading Partners: US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, USA

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Traveler Facts

Visas: Citizens of the US and Canada do not require a visa or passport, but should carry a birth certificate or naturalization certificate with a picture ID to prove citizenship. British citizens need a passport but not a visa. Citizens of all other countries need a passport and, in some cases, a visa. Visitors are permitted to stay up to six months but must have an onward ticket.

Health risks: sunburn, dengue fever

Time Zone: GMT/UTC -4 (Atlantic Standard Time)

Dialling Code: 284

Electricity: 110V ,60Hz

Weights & measures: Imperial

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The BVI Summer Fest is a two week riot of noise and color: calypso, fungi and steel bands shake it up, pageants crown festival queens and people flood the streets. The festival is the British Virgin Islands' own version of Carnival and celebrates the emancipation of the islands' African slaves. Most activity takes place in Road Town on Tortola.

Yachties sail in for the Annual Spring Regatta held in Road Town in April, and windsurfers converge on the islands for the HIHO Races held late June or early July. The competition lasts seven days, and a gaggle of cruisers follows the racers in a weeklong portable party. Fourth of July isn't normally celebrated in British territory for obvious reasons, but there are enough Americans in the BVI to justify fireworks and a spate of barbecues.

Public Holidays

1 January - New Year's Day

Early March - Commonwealth Day

Late March or April - Easter

30 April - Queen's Birthday

Late May or early June - Whit Monday

June - Sovereign's Birthday

Early July - Territory Day

October 21 - St Ursula's Day

November 14 - Birthday of Heir to the Throne

25 December - Christmas Day

26 December - Boxing Day

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Best time to Visit

The peak tourist season is December to May, but this has more to do with the weather in North America and Europe than it does with the reliably balmy Virgin Islands weather. It's therefore best to visit outside this period, when you can expect room rates to be about two-thirds of those charged during the busier months. An additional draw is that the calmer weather between April and August tends to keep the waters clearer for diving.

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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: US Dollar


Budget: US$5-15

Mid-range: US$15-30

High: US$30-40

Deluxe: US$40+


Budget: US$50-100

Mid-range: US$100-250

High: US$250-400

Deluxe: US$400+

The British Virgin Islands are not a cheap getaway destination: food is pricey because most of it is imported, and accommodation is simply in short supply. The majority of visitors to the islands sleep on chartered yachts, and if that's the holiday you're looking for, expect to spend at least US$250 a day. Travellers willing to stay on land, yet enjoy fine dining and some nightlife, need about US$175 a day. Budget travellers can squeeze by on less than US$100 a day if they stay at cheaper guesthouses or camping grounds. Coming in the low season will reduce room prices and charter rental fees, sometimes by as much as half.

The local currency is the US dollar, since the British Virgin Islands decided it was easier to cuddle up with the same currency as its bustling US neighbor. Travellers cheques and major credit cards are widely accepted on Tortola and the other large islands, except on Anegada, where it's best to bring cash. Banking and exchange facilities are concentrated in Road Town on Tortola.

There's a 7% hotel accommodations tax plus a 10% service charge. Tipping is less institutionalised than in US destinations, but no one is going to look sideways at 10% for good service.

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Tortola is the hub of the British Virgin Islands. People come for its top notch beaches, banks, customs and the best range of hotels, restaurants and nightclubs. The capital, Road Town, really is more picturesque than its dull name suggests.

Main St is a pretty stretch of bright wooden and brick buildings to mosey along, as is the peaceful JR O'Neal Botanic Gardens. The curios in the small BVI Folk Museum are fun to check out too, but what really makes Tortola special is its sensational bays and beaches.

Virgin Gorda

This half-mountainous, half-flat 'Fat Virgin' with a scrawny neck lies a few miles northeast of Tortola. Home to just 2500 people, Virgin Gorda is proud home to The Baths - a surreal collection of gigantic granite boulders and one of the Caribbean's most amazing sights.

They're strewn across blindingly white palm-lined beaches at the southwestern end of the island. Tide and wave action turns caves into baths and back again, eroding a snorkeller's playground of crevices and pools. It's on the south side of Devil's Bay and is well worth scuba diving in calm waters.

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Disclaimer: We've tried to make the information on this web site as accurate as possible, but it is provided 'as is' and we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained by anyone resulting from this information. You should verify critical information like (visas, health and safety, customs, and transportation) with the relevant authorities before you travel.

Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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