22 Chapters
Medium 9781588436481

Tortola

Lynne Sullivan Hunter Publishing ePub

Tortola means turtle dove in Spanish, and the 21-square-mile island is the largest, most populated and liveliest of the British Virgin Islands. Don't expect highrise hotels, glitzy nightclubs and contrived tourist attractions. Nature is the star here, and visitors primarily focus on watersports and sailing.

Sedate little Road Town, on the rugged south coast, is the capital of Tortola, which is, in turn, the capital of the BVI. Most of the population lives in or near Road Town, but there are settlements at West End (home to popular restaurants and shops at Soper's Hole) and East End, which is connected by a bridge to Beef Island and the main airport for the BVI. The islands's highest point is 1,700-foot Sage Mountain, and the best beaches are along the north shore at Cane Garden Bay, Smugglers Cove and Brewer's Bay.

Air service is increasing, but there still are no scheduled direct flights from North America, Canada or Europe to Tortola. You can make easy connections through Puerto Rico, St. Thomas or St. Croix on several small carriers. Flight time from St. Thomas is about 15 minutes and from Puerto Rico it's about 30 minutes. Since the planes fly low, you often get awesome views of the islands as you pass over them.

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The Islands At A Glance

Lynne Sullivan Hunter Publishing ePub

St. Thomas, the most western of the Virgin Islands, is located about 1,000 miles south of Miami and 75 miles east of Puerto Rico. The other Virgins extend in an upward-swinging curve to the east, excluding St. Croix, which lies 40 miles to the south. Most of the islands are bounded by the Atlantic on the north and the Caribbean on the south, except for St. Croix, which is entirely in the Caribbean, and Anegada, which is entirely in the Atlantic.

The Virgins are divided into two groups, with the US islands to the west and the British islands to the east. St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix are the major US islands. Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada and Jost Van Dyke are the prominent British islands. All are connected by ferry, seaplane or small airplane service, and their close proximity makes for an ideal island-hopping itinerary.

Most of the Virgin Islands are separated by less than five miles (the exceptions are St. Croix, 40 miles south, and Anegada, 15 miles north). All but Anegada are hilly and volcanic in origin, and each is fringed with gorgeous beaches.

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Wildlife

Lynne Sullivan Hunter Publishing ePub

Don't expect to see a lot of critters roaming around the Virgin Islands. While there are plenty of insects, birds and fish to see, most of the land-dwelling wildlife is hidden under rocks or plants.

The white-tailed deer is the largest mammal found on the islands. This species was brought here late in the 18th century to provide game for hunters, but only a few can now be found. Pesky wild donkeys wander the hills on St. John rummaging through picnic sulies, ripping into trash bags and creating havoc for local gardeners. Don't mistake them for tame pets - they bite. Wild pigs also present a problem on St. John. While they rarely bother people, they eat the roots of plants and cause environmental damage.

Another annoying animal is the mongoose, which can be seen scurrying from place to place. Mongooses were imported from India in the 19th century to devour the burgeoning rat population. The rats had originally arrived as stowaways on European ships and were destroying the sugar cane fields. Since rats are nocturnal and the mongoose hunts for food during the day, the two rarely came into contact. Instead, this squirrel-like predator is responsible for eliminating many of the islands' reptiles and ground-nesting birds.

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Water Island

Lynne Sullivan Hunter Publishing ePub

Water Island can be seen from the harbor in Charlotte Amalie. It's less than half a mile from shore, and you get there by taking the Water Island Ferry (340-690-4159/4446 or 340-775-5770), which leaves from the pier outside Tickles Dockside Pub at Crown Bay Marina west of the city. One-way daytime tickets cost $5 for adults (round-trip fare is $9); nighttime rates are a bit more, and kids pay half the adult fare. Check the timetable posted outside the pub, or call to make arrangements with the captain for a private run at an unscheduled time.

Once you're on the island, take some time to explore its undeveloped 500 acres, which stretch 2 miles from tip to tip. You can walk among the ruins of long-abandoned plantations, dilapidated slave cabins, an old fort and empty ammunition bunkers, but the more interesting sites are the tranquil beaches and green rolling hills that top out at 300 feet. Except for the hour or so when passengers of the Kon Tiki party boat come loudly ashore at Honeymoon Beach each afternoon, the island is delightfully quiet. You'll understand why the 160 residents refer to it as "the last virgin."

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Jost Van Dyke

Lynne Sullivan Hunter Publishing ePub

Little four-mile-long Jost is a sparsely populated barefoot wonderland off the northwest tip of Tortola. New Horizon (284-495-9278; www.jostvandykeferry.com), takes passengers on the 20-minute ride between West End, Tortola and Great Harbor, Jost Van Dyke. One-way tickets are $10 for adults, $6 for children. Call for the schedule, which includes five round-trips each day.

Once you arrive in Great Harbor, the main settlement, grab a land or water taxi and head for the best beach at White Bay on the southwest end of the island. Three friendly locals - George, Bun and Gregory - are usually at the dock when the ferry arrives. George's Taxi (284-495-9253) and Bun's Taxi (284-495-9281) charge $5 to $7 per person for a car ride to White Bay. Gregory's Brat Water Taxi and Bun's Tequila Sea Taxi charge about the same for a ride over in a motor boat.

TIP: Dorsey Chinnery owns Jost Van Dyke Safari Services and gives island tours in a bright red open-air bus. 284-495-9267.

You can hike to White Bay in 20 or 30 minutes, but it's a long trek if you're carrying snorkeling equipment and beach gear. However, if you want to try hiking to White Bay, turn left onto the main road in front of the white Customs Building when you walk off the ferry dock.

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