The location of Tortola
Tortola is the biggest island of the British Virgin Islands. It is located app. 100 kilometres from Puerto Rico. The archipelago is part of the Lesser Antilles. This is the border between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Tortola was formed by volcanic activities. It consists of a mountain range, crossed by a diagonal valley. Its highest point is Crowning Tortola with 543 metres. The capital is Road Town, which is also the area’s sailing centre. One of the area’s largest ports of entry can be found here as well. At the Island’s eastern end lies Beef Island, which is home to the island chain’s main international airport. The two islands are connected by the Queen Elizabeth Bridge. Thanks to its location and climate, Tortola is a great sailing area; we can easily get to the American Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico or the Leeward Islands from here.
The history of Tortola
The first inhabitants of Tortola were Indians from the Venezuelan Ciboney tribe who settled down here around 300 B.C. The first European who set foot on Tortola was Columbus in 1493. According to tradition, he was the one who named the Island (turtle dove); however, he originally called it Santa Ana. Dutch colonizers started calling it “Ter Tholen” at the time, a name similar to “Tortola”. The latter only became official in the 16th century, under English rule. The British made the island a plantation colony, so the Island’s history in the following 200 years was characterized by the sugarcane industry and slavery. After abolishing slavery, the economy declined; most landowners left the area.
Mostly political connections have been preserved between Tortola and the British. Today, the economy of the island is based on tourism.
The climate of Tortola
Tortola has a tropical climate. It is hot during the entire year, but the dominant trade winds somewhat cool the air down. The period between December and March is usually milder, with an average temperature of 24–25° Celsius. It is very hot between May and October: the daily average temperature is around 28° Celsius. The dry period lasts from January to April; the driest months are February and March. You can expect heavy rainfalls from May to December. The hurricane season is from July to October – it brings strong winds and heavy rains. The sea is warm during the whole year, with an average temperature of 27° Celsius.
The sailing season is between December and April. During this time, the weather is not so hot and the amount of precipitation is also smaller; there is also a lower risk of tropical storms and hurricanes. The wind is north-easterly during the winter months, then blows towards the east in February and changes its course to the southeast by June. It usually has a velocity of 28–38 km/h, with the exception of the Christmas winds with 50 km/h. The seas are fairly calm.
Main sights to see in Tortola
Tortola is most importantly characterized by its wonderful sandy beaches, beautiful green forests and ports full of ships. The Western-Indian past and modern present merge, with the several centuries-old ruins and luxury resorts. Dozens of amazing beaches and scuba-diving spots can be found in almost every bay, and there are also many watersport and fishing opportunities as well. The Island has a fair amount of hiking spots, such as Sage Mountain or Bat Caves, but it is also worth visiting the surrounding Islands. The Indians, Salt Island and Great Camanoe are popular destinations amongst the tourists of Tortola.
If you would like to explore the land, you can admire endangered and exotic plants in O’Neal Botanic Garden. You can also visit the Lower Estate Sugar Museum, Fort Burt, the Mount Healthy Windmill, the Callwood Rum Distillery or the British Virgin Islands Folk Museum. The capital greets visitors with several colourful shops, restaurants, enchanting cafés and many architectural and historical sights.
The gastronomy of Tortola
If you would like to explore Tortola’s unique cuisine, you should visit the Island’s traditional places. In these restaurants, they use centuries-old Indian recipes. You can try many authentic meals. One of these specialties is roti, which is flatbread filled with meat. This is the local street food. One of the island’s most famous vegetables is okra, and the restaurants have many fruit desserts to offer. They have lots of fish dishes. One of these is “Old Wife” which is delicious fish fillets made with fruits and vegetables. You can also have fish pancakes, shark, perch, wahoo, mahi-mahi or tuna baked, cooked or in a soup.
As for drinks, black and bush tea are the most popular ones – the latter can barely be found anywhere except for the Island. As for alcoholic beverages, rums are produced locally; Pusser’s and Cruzan are the most famous brands. You can also try many types of cocktails, which are usually made of the juices of local fruits.
Beaches in Tortola
Smuggler’s Cove is located at the eastern end of Tortola. It is considered one of the island’s most beautiful beaches. It is secluded, so the easiest way to approach it is on foot or on a boat. The beach is almost never crowded – it is calm and picturesque.
Long Bay, as its name shows, is a 1.5-kilometres-long beach on the eastern side of Tortola. It consists of two parts: Long Bay East (from the direction of Beef Island) and Long Bay West (from the direction of Tortola). On the eastern part, the landscape is beautiful and the sea is calm; it is the locals’ favourite beach. The western part if also beautiful: there is a sandy boardwalk leading through the area which is perfect for a romantic walk.
Josiah’s Bay is located in the northern part of the Island. The bay belongs to a farm – that is why we can usually see sunbathing cows in the area. It is the favourite spot of local surfers since it is less known and is never crowded.
Apple Bay is located on the western shore of Tortola. It is the favourite spot of surfers – there are some really good waves here. One of the best full moon parties in the area is also organized here. On Friday nights, locals cook fish and guests are entertained by live music in the bars and restaurants.
Brewer’s Bay is located in the northern part of Tortola; it can easily be approached on a boat. There used to be sugarcane plantations and distilleries here, so besides the amazing beach, you can explore exciting ruins, too. Due to its spectacular reefs, it is a popular scuba-diving spot.
Yacht charter in Tortola
There are amazing bays all over Tortola – sailors can choose from exceptional full-service ports. You don’t necessarily have to use these though, as you can find dozens of buoys around the island where you can tie up your boat. Some of these belong to the British Virgin Islands; in such case, they are marked with different colours, showing what types of ships can use them. We must be very careful while anchoring at these sites not to harm the fragile corals. If we cannot find a mooring ball, we can also anchor at the sandy parts. Let’s see the best ports in Tortola and its surroundings.
Nanny Cay is located on the southern coast of Tortola. It is located a little over 3 kilometres from Burt Point. At this port, we have the opportunity to pull our boat from the water, among other services. Nanny Cay Marina offers 320 berths; 120 in the outer parts and 200 in the inside. They provide access to fuel and electricity in both areas. We need to pass through a narrow route for entry.
Road Town is the capital of Tortola and the sailing centre of the British Virgin Islands. We can enter the port through the Sir Francis Drake Channel. Road Harbour has several yacht marinas providing full-service and accommodation. We can find Road Reef Marina, Fort Burt and Wickham’s Cay I and II here; Road Reef Marina and Fort Burt are on the western side, while Wickham’s Cay is on the north. There are over 120 berths and downtown Road Town can be found nearby. Many sailors start their trip here when visiting the British Virgin Islands.
Cane Garden Bay
Cane Garden Bay is an excellent docking place with a beautiful beach on the northern coast of Tortola. It is easy to enter, there is a large area for docking. There are many mooring buoys, and they are all secure. If you would like to anchor for the night, you should arrive early, since the place gets full very soon. If you have a shallow-draft boat, you can find spots in the southern and southwestern parts as well. The depth of the water is between 4 and 6 metres. The bay is surrounded by marvellous mountains, and some of the local restaurants entertain their guests with live music. Many sailors consider this the best port.
Fat Hog’s Bay
Fat Hog’s Bay is located on the eastern shore of Tortola, at Parham Town. Both bays offer great anchorages that are suitable for night anchoring. We can access them through the Sir Francis Drake Channel as well; the entrance is marked by two buoys. In the port behind the corals, there is great protection and the boats can be secured firmly. The water is fairly shallow, with a depth of 3 to 4 metres. The harbour has three marinas: James Young, Penny’s Landing and Harbour View. We can get fuel as well as water and ice at James Young and Harbour View.
Soper’s Hole is located at the western end of Tortola. The port has the typical characteristics of the British Virgin Islands. We can enter quite easily, as the entrance is spacious; the confluence is ideal and the port is also well-protected. Soper’s Hole Wharf and Marina is a complex offering all services in one place. They have fuel, water, ice and is a great supermarket here as well, where we can buy anything we need. There is also a marina for dinghies on the western side of Frenchman’s Cay. It is a beautiful place with a colourful design.
One of Norman Island’s most popular ports is Bight. It is a very well-protected bay located in an idyllic natural environment. It is located on the southern coast of the island. There is another amazing anchorage not far from here, Kelly’s Cove. It has similarly good qualities but is more peaceful. Treasure Point and Privateer Bay are to the west from Bight, but you can only anchor there during the day. Bensures Bay and Soldier Bay are anchorages located on the northern side of the Island. All of them are smaller and quieter places with good security.
The only problem might be the Northern winds; considering this, Soldier Bay is somewhat more secure. Monkey Bay is the southern anchorage of Norman Island where the environment is a little rougher. It is excellent for anchoring during the day, and given proper conditions, for the night as well. Around the island, you should always look out and be careful with reefs, and also avoid using the boat’s engine when near beachgoers.
The main anchorage on Cooper Island is Manchioneel Bay. It is on the northwestern side of the Island, facing Road Harbour. It might seem to be open compared to the other ports, but it is surprisingly well- secured, and the sea is calm here too. The water right next to the shore is really shallow, app. 2 metres. It is a very popular spot, so it gets filled with boats quickly. Hallovers Bay is another great anchorage, located a bit to the south from the resort of the island. It is a quieter bay with a large sandy area.
If you sail around Tortola, you should definitely visit as many places as you can, since every part of the Island is wonderful. The beaches are amazing, the ports are excellent, and the hospitality of the locals is overwhelming. If you are planning a round-trip, whether shorter or longer, Tortola is the perfect starting point. Find BVI sailing routes or choose another British Virgin Islands yacht charter
Rent a boat in Tortola, and cruise around Tortola
Day 1. Nanny Cay, Tortola – The Bight, Norman Island 9.70 km (6.02 mi), Day 2. The Bight – Hallovers Bay, Cooper Island 16.35 km (10.16 mi), Day 3. Hallovers Bay – Trellis Bay, Beef Island 10.90 km (6.77 mi), Day 4. Trellis Bay – Scrub Island 2.20 km (1.37 mi), Day 5. Scrub Island – Cane Garden Bay 18.90 km (11.74 mi), Day 6. Cane Garden Bay – Jost van Dyke, Great Harbour 10.40 km (6.46 mi), Day 7. Jost van Dyke – Soper’s Hole – Nanny Cay 18.90 km (11.74 mi).
Day 1. Nanny Cay – Peter Island, Little Harbor 6.35 km (3.94 mi), Day 2. Peter Island – Manchioneel Bay, Cooper Island 10.70 km (6.65 mi), Day 3. Manchioneel Bay – Marina Cay 9.05 km (5.62 mi), Day 4. Marina Cay – Leverick Bay, Virgin Gorda 17.00 km (10.56 mi), Day 5. Leverick Bay – Anegada, The Settlement 24.65 km (15.32 mi), Day 6. Anegada – Guana Island – Jost van Dyke, Little Harbor 51.35 km (31.91 mi), Day 7. Jost van Dyke – West End Tortola – Nanny Cay 16.00 km (9.94 mi)
Read more about Tortola sailing tours, or BVI sailing