10 Best Things To Do In Tortola

In the fall of 2003, my wife, Bobbi, and I took our first trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands, vacationing on St. Thomas for a week. Midway through our trip, we noticed a tear-off flyer posted in our hotel lobby touting a “Day Trip to the BVI.” 

Being a young couple from rural Kentucky, we had never heard of the BVI and had to ask around before discovering the existence of the British Virgin Islands and Tortola. We signed up and the following morning’s sail with champagne and fruit led us to White Bay and Great Harbour on Jost Van Dyke, spawning a love with the islands and its people that has only grown over the course of the past two decades. 

Over the years, we have sailed nearly all of the Winward Islands and the Leeward Islands in hopes of eventually connecting the Lesser Antilles from Anguilla to Grenada.

We keep following our hearts, however, back to our favorite island paradise — the British Virgin Islands. Below are some of our favorite spots and activities here on Tortola.

1. Visit Smuggler’s Cove

Smugglers Beach

Driving past Long Bay and turning onto rugged Palm Road leads you to our favorite Tortola beach and beach bar. Palm Road extends across the lower Belmont area and is privately maintained. It is deliberately kept rough in an effort to confine it to local traffic (During his first ride across Palm Road my uncle Clint quipped, “When do we get on the donkeys?”). ‘

The ultimate destination is well worth the bumps and curves as Nigel introduces you to the pristine Smuggler’s Cove Beach and offers you the drink of your choice. Although Nigel’s version of the BVI staple, the Painkiller (floater included), is always popular (and a must for first time visitors), Nigel offers an exotic selection of drinks (Dark-n Stormy and UPNNYA to name a couple) and several ice cold beer options.

Fowler Family

Grilled lunch options include amazing jerk chicken, fish, shrimp, burgers and “bun size” hotdogs. Perhaps the best part of the Nigel’s Boom Boom Beach Bar experience is Nigel’s storytelling, reflecting his mantra “YOLOKISSN” (You Only Live Once Keep It Simple Says Nigel)! 

With a quenched thirst, sit back and enjoy the secluded and unspoiled Smuggler’s Cove Beach, complete with wild roosters, hens and chicks! We’re told that Smuggler’s Cove is today what White Bay Beach (on Jost Van Dyke) was forty years ago.

Nigels Beach Bar

The absence of mooring balls and a single, small channel keep boat traffic to a minimum and the view of Jost Van Dyke to the north unobstructed. Winter swells can sometimes make the swimming and snorkeling above the fire coral quite adventuresome, but still worth the visit.

2. Find The Hidden Beach

Hidden Beach

To the east of Smuggler’s Cove and just before the restaurants and villas of Long Bay lies a hidden gem. The beach at Long Bay West is a secluded stretch of seemingly untouched white sand often accessible only by wading through the rocky coastline around a small hill.

We like to pack a cooler for the afternoon along with beach chairs and a radio. The remnants of Nature Boy Beach Bar overlook another amazing view of Jost Van Dyke while the soothing sounds of the intense surf provide the perfect beach nap opportunity.

3. Go Surfing

Surfing BVI

Continuing east past Long Bay and entering Little Apple Bay, you can often spot surfers tackling the waves generated by the Caribbean winter swells from October through April. Although we sometimes see surfers on the eastern coastline of Smuggler’s Cove, the waves at Little Apple Bay are stronger and more consistent. 

We have at times watched more than a dozen surfers riding the Little Apple Bay waves while enjoying breakfast at nearby Sebastian’s on the Beach. Incidentally, Sebastian’s regularly entertains its guests with bingo, karaoke and salsa dance lessons!

If you’re a surfer, be sure to pack your board to Tortola and try out the Little Apple Bay waves yourself. Otherwise, sit back, sip your morning Bloody Mary, Screw Driver or Mimosa, and enjoy the show!

4. Try Delicious BBQ

Sellys BBQ

East of Little Apple Bay, and before reaching the first set of switchbacks, lies our favorite local weekend dinner spot. Selly’s BBQ Pitt is locally owned and operated by our friends, Selly Dawson and Rosie James-Dawson. Selly’s offers a cafeteria-style plate, and my favorite meal is BBQ Chicken, Garlic Shrimp and Fried Fish with Macaroni Pie, Funji and Johnny Cakes. 

Selly keeps a wide selection of ice-cold beer to wash down your meal and to keep the conversations flowing. We enjoy the authentic interactions with local friends, but beware – if you attempt to leave too early Selly will ask, “Where do you think you’re going?” as he serves another round of Carib, our favorite brew.  

5. Explore Sage Mountain National Park

Sage Mountain National Park

Mount Sage’s peak is the highest point in the BVI, extending over 1,700 feet above sea level. It lies in the protected Sage Mountain National Park, and offers a number of trails for hiking enthusiasts. The trails present a jungle-like hike with some interpretive signs and a couple of look outs near the top. Be sure to wear hiking shoes though as there are rocky and slippery areas throughout, particularly during rainy seasons. 

Sage National Park viewpoint

Much more frequently than exerting ourselves through mountain hiking, we like to visit our friend, Jim Cullimore, owner-operator of Jim’s Mountainview Restaurant, Bar & Gift Shop. Jim’s Mountainview lies at the base of the Sage Mountain hiking trails and offers spectacular panoramic views of both the north and south sides of Tortola.

A one-of-a-kind dining experience; let Jim be your host, bartender, server, chef, and storyteller. Because of the level of personal attention Jim devotes to his guests, he generally seats no more than two parties per evening. 

Jims Restaurant

After placing your order, and while enjoying your cocktails, be sure to check out the Gift Shop. We have accumulated quite the eclectic collection of items from the Gift Shop over the years, including a number of shirts, dresses, local artwork and wood carvings, and vintage maps, books and knickknacks. 

6. Relax at Cane Garden Bay

Cane Garden Bay

Venturing back to the northern shoreline below Sage Mountain you encounter the most well-known Tortola beach, Cane Garden Bay, which bustles with a number of beachfront bars and restaurants. 

Chairs and umbrellas line the beach awaiting the thousands of tourists who visit from the cruise ships docked in Road Town each year. On the other side of the road from the hustle and bustle of the beach and tourist activities is Banana’s, an intimate bar and grill owned and operated by our friend, Al Henley. 

Cane Garden Drinks

Al is a fifth generation Tortolan who has operated Banana’s at its current location for over six years following the devastation of Irma and Maria in September 2017. Banana’s offers a full bar experience, with its version of the Bushwhacker being our favorite. A number of exquisite items line the menu, from, in our opinion, the island’s best pizza to delicately prepared lobster. Don’t forget the conch fritters to start and the key lime pie to conclude this outstanding dining experience. 

7. Visit Frenchman’s Cay

Returning to West End, just across a short bridge connecting it to the main island lies Frenchman’s Cay, which offers a number of amenities to enhance your stay on Tortola. Restock your provisioning and cooler with a visit to Harbour Market and check out the number of shopping opportunities nearby. 

Frenchman Omar

Omar’s Coffee House provides fuel to start your day with its “Roast Van Dyke” while inviting you to enjoy the outdoor seating overlooking Soper’s Hole Marina. Nearby Pusser’s Landing presents an opportunity to kick back and enjoy local libations throughout the day while watching boaters flow in and out of the Marina.

Heading back towards the bridge, The Admiral Pub offers a full menu and bar and occasional live entertainment. If you want a car to explore the island on your own, Soper’s Hole Car Rental, owned and operated by our friends, Shawn and Arlena Smith, is very accommodating and affordable. 

Frenchman Cay Fishing

You can also arrange inshore and offshore fishing charters at Soper’s Hole and test your skills against Barracuda, Jacks, Kingfish and Snapper (inshore) or Mahi, Wahoo, Marlin and Tuna (offshore). We’ve had success with Mahi and Mackeral trolling between Jost Van Dyke and Anegada with Presidenti Charters, based out of West End. 

8. Take A Day Trip to Jost Van Dyke

Day Trip To Jost Van Dyke

The West End Ferry Terminal offers service to and from neighboring Jost Van Dyke throughout each day. The five-mile ferry ride takes about twenty minutes to travel from West End to Great Harbour.

Upon arrival, a number of land taxi options can accommodate your visit to White Bay Beach, the shops and restaurants of Great Harbour and Little Harbour, and Diamond Cay on the northeast end of the island, where you can enjoy food and drinks and a hike to the Bubbly Pool.

Day Trip to Jost

For an exhilarating experience, convince a driver to take you across the top of Jost and check out the far reaching view of the open Atlantic to the north and the spectacular views of Tortola, Great Thatch, and St. John to the south.

If day-tripping to Jost by private boat, in addition to exploring Sandy Cay and Sandy Spit, be sure to check out the rustic BLine Beach Bar on neighboring Little Jost Van Dyke and order up a round of Passion Confusions to cap off your trip! 

9. Tortola “Staycation”

Smugglers Beachside Room

While Tortola, and the BVI in general, offer countless attractions, activities and new experiences, we’ve found that every once in a while getting there and “staying-put” can be just as satisfying.

Of course, we’re partial to Smuggler’s Beachside overlooking Smuggler’s Cove, but there are hundreds of villas throughout Tortola than can accommodate a week-long (or longer) “staycation.” 

Area groceries keep you stocked with your favorite foods and beverages and for grilling enthusiasts, be sure to select a property with an outdoor grill. Many BVI villas include a pool and you’ll want to confirm that it is heated, particularly if visiting November to April and the villa is on the northwest end of the island. 

Tortola Chef meal

For more lavish experiences, a number of chefs are available for private dinners at your villa and most spas offer massage therapists who will travel to your villa. Our guests recently enjoyed a private birthday dinner prepared by Chef Brentfield Lettsome and private massages from Gail and her team at Tranquility Beauty Mobile Spa.

10. Attend The Emancipation Festival

Emancipation Festival

Each summer, the BVI celebrates the anniversary of the Emancipation Act, which freed the islands’ enslaved population in August 1834. The nearly month-long Festival includes events and activities to suit all ages and interests. This year’s Festival touts itself as, “our Platinum Emancipation Celebration – seventy years of freedom, culture and good vibes.” 

Favorite events are the “Rise and Shine Tramp” and the “August Monday Parade,” when thousands of revelers take to the Road Town streets to celebrate with collections of live music, colorful body paint and powder, and elaborate floats.

If all night partying and music are your thing, the Festival offers party-goers multiple opportunities as it draws to a close. For visits to Tortola during late July and early August, witnessing and enjoying the Festival is a must. 

Over the years, friends and family have often asked us, “Why do you keep going back to the same place? Why don’t you try out other destinations more than you do?” Our response is simple. The BVI captured our hearts over two decades ago and there is no other place we would rather be. 

Written by: Jerry Fowler


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