When thinking of things to do in Tortola, make sure to leave time to do absolutely nothing. It is perhaps the greatest charm of the place.
But that said, there’s a rich, cultural, fun collection of things to do in Tortola as well.
I loved my time on Tortola, the largest of the British Virgin Islands, with its steep, steep hills and vegetation so lush and green it deserved to have poetry written about it.
Of course, one of the main draws here is to spend time on the soft sanded beaches, sipping nutmeg-laced painkiller cocktails and soaking up the sun.
But it’s not that small. It’s an island with an authentic community with centuries of traditions and culture. And it has attracted artists from all over the world to settle here and call it home.
So when you are ready to leave the beach and hit those roads, there are plenty of things to do.
Here’s a guide.
Bamboushay Pottery functions as both a showroom and a creative cauldron!
Classes take place in an open-air studio that has a kiln that heats up to over 2,200 degrees. The promise is that students, no matter their level of skill, can create a Caribbean style work of art by the end of a session.
Driving these roads is like riding an emerald-coated rollercoaster fringed with palms, papaya, coconut and sugar apple treats. A tangible, tasty Garden of Eden.
And the man behind the wheel, my driver for the week, did not like to go slow.
Except for in this one spot. The corner where the street artists swirl and curl their paintbrushes around, up and up, then down and down, slicing through cane and collecting crabs.
Children chase horses, women laugh and everyone joins hands to dance.
Like much of the rest of the world, the pace of life here in Tortola is changing. While much is for the better, these portraits touch on the nostalgia or knowledge that good things too are lost from the past.
The man who shows me these is young. Cornrows zig-zag across his scalp and yet already he has more than one daughter who waits for him at home.
He is young but old enough, it seems, to yearn for some of these scenes to return.
Not everything is gone, of course. Children still file into classrooms, deft hands still strum the banjo.
But he asks me to show you these scenes through my lens, to magnify the work of the artists and to prevent these former images from fading from the collective memory of mankind.
So here I am…
No, it’s not aspirin we’re talking about. It’s a rum based drink that’s surprisingly sweet and deceptively strong. Here’s how to make a BVI painkiller.
OK, so the Sunny Caribee Spice Shop & Art Gallery aims to please the tourist crowd. But locals do still shop here from time to time and they definitely use the spices, lined up here with colourful abandon into more than 300 different products. The gallery side of things sources paintings and wooden carvings from across the West Indies.
Aragorn is a Tortola-born artist whose work has sold and been seen all across the world.
From simple souvenirs to studio pottery, sushi sets and t-shirts, Aragorn’s Studios satisfies guests looking for a keepsake and art lovers searching for something different. It also presents a farmer’s market, selling fresh and organic food sourced from around the archipelago. And if you’re there during a full moon, Aragorn hosts a Full Moon party, during which he lights up his famous metalwork with fire.
Shark Bay National Park is snuggled on the northern shore of Tortola between Brewers Bay on the west and Rough Point on the east; and extends from the ridge of Anderson Point to the bay at the base of the Mount Healthy gut. The rocky beach at Shark Bay is molded by the pounding north Atlantic swells, buffered offshore by a limestone pavement and coral reef.
The unusual and strange part of Shark Bay is at the top of the ridge is a huge cavernous boulder locally known as The Bat Cave, as bats are reported to have nested there in the past. Views from the cave expose a steep drop to the sea and the vast Atlantic beyond. Orchids and palms cling perilously to the rocky slopes along the trail, whilst the trade winds blow steadily from offshore.
Smuggler’s Cove is secluded, sheltered and serene: probably because it’s hard to reach. This is where you’ll discover pristine white sands, amazing views and warm, clear waters perfect for swimming – and have them all to yourself. Adventurous snorkelling is also a plus, as there are many sea turtles in the area! Smugglers Cove is accessible only by an unpaved road, or by private yacht charter.
Road Town is home to the beautiful J.R. O’Neal Botanic Gardens, which features close to three acres of indigenous and exotic tropical plants, an orchid pavilion, and an aviary. Expect peaceful walks through pergolas and pathways covered with colourful vines, as well as a miniature rainforest and a fern house.
Also, it’s just a short hop across the water to these nearby spots. And the boat ride is pretty beautiful too…
Why do the British Virgin Islands have such enormous peaks? Old volcanoes, that’s why.
And that’s what’s responsible for the curious boulders seen at The Baths National Park. The slow cooling of magma formed granite boulders that line the beach in intriguing formations. You can travel easily by foot in some areas, other larger ones have settled over the water to create secluded baths, where swimmers can enjoy the water in the dappled sunlight.
When the Royal Mail ship, the HMS Rhone, left port in England in 1867, it was thought to be unsinkable.
I think we all know where this is going…
Weeks later, it ended up at the bottom of the ocean after sinking during a hurricane that killed over 100 of its passengers and crew.
The wreck became a popular spot for adventurous divers, such as Bert Kilbride, who opened a museum to showcase the treasures he found.
The Saba Rock Nautical museum is a great spot to see over 150-year-old artefacts from the wreck, many of which are personal belongings of those who didn’t survive.
Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more. Find out more.
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