The British Virgin Islands are the picture-perfect postcard paradises you’d expect them to be: white sand beaches, excellent diving and snorkeling, crystal-clear turquoise water, scenic hiking, lots of boating opportunities, and heavily poured rum drinks.
However, life here is not just hammocks and piña coladas. From festivals and diving to strenuous hiking trails and hidden tide pools, this region of the world has plenty to keep you busy if endless lazy days on the beach aren’t your thing.
And though these islands are naturally beautiful, what I loved the most about them was the locals. Yes, the beaches are pretty, the rum is cheap, and the weather wonderful, but you can find that in many parts of the world. The local residents were really what made these islands special for me. Everyone was immensely helpful and friendly
This travel guide to the British Virgin Islands will help point the way by giving you tips on what to see, costs, suggested budgets, and ways to save money.
Table of Contents
British Virgin Islands
Top 5 Things to See and Do in the British Virgin Islands
1. Sail around the islands
2. Necker Island
3. The Baths
4. Explore Jost Van Dyke
5. Visit Anegada
Other Things to See and Do in the British Virgin Islands
1. Wander the empty Salt Island
This tiny, deserted, out-of-the-way island is filled with once-important salt ponds. The island was owned by a family that paid an annual rent to the Queen of England of a single one-pound bag of salt. Now, it’s deserted as the last of the family members died years ago, and the island is in legal limbo. There’s snorkeling on the outer reef, and you can take a dinghy to visit the deserted town near the salt pools. It’s like something out of a creepy horror movie. You’ll need to get here with your own boat; there are no ferries.
2. Dive and snorkel around the RMS Rhone
Considered one of the most impressive dive and snorkel sites in the world, the RMS Rhone was a mail ship that crashed in the nearby reef and is now its own artificial reef, home to thousands of different fish and coral. It’s now its own marine national park and a must for every diver. Most dive trips leave from Tortola. A two-tank dive will cost you about $130 USD.
3. Drink at Willy Thornton’s
Located off Norman Island, this old boat turned floating bar is where everyone goes wild in the British Virgin Islands. I’ve seen old ladies doing body shots here, while young guys chug beer and jump off the boat naked. It’s always a wild day on Willy T’s. But if the water is calm on weekends, the place gets jam-packed as locals take boats over for some Sunday Funday. There is no ferry service to this party barge. You’ll either need your own boat or pay to go with the Dolphin Water Taxi, which costs a whopping $160 USD return per person from Road Town, with a six-person minimum.
4. Hang out on Beef Island
This small island is connected to the main island of Tortola (and is home to the airport). Before Hurricane Irma, it housed an artist community, along with several restaurants and cheap guesthouses. Now, it’s just a gorgeous beach with white powdery sand and powerful surfing waves.
5. Hike in Sage Mountain National Park
Sage Mountain stands at 1,716 feet overlooking Tortola. It’s one of the best hiking opportunities in the country, with seven different developed trails leading to phenomenal views of the island chain. If you’re looking to do some hiking on the island, this is the area to do it in. The entrance fee is $3 USD.
6. Hike to Gorda Peak (Virgin Gorda)
Two well-marked trails lead to the summit of the tallest mountain on the island. It’s a 30-minute, half-mile walk from the road to the top. From the lookout point, you’ll see sweeping views of the entire island as well as most of the nearby islands.
For information about other Caribbean destinations, check out these guides:
British Virgin Islands Travel Costs
Camping prices – Unfortunately, there are no hostels on the British Virgin Islands. There are a handful of campgrounds, with bfasic tent sites start from $25 USD per night.
Other than camping, Couchsurfing (staying with a local host for free) is your best option.
Budget hotel prices – Nightly rates for a budget two or three-star hotel room with a private ensuite bathroom start at about $125 USD.
There are a handful of Airbnb properties here, with a private room costing from about $85 USD per night near the beach. A full apartment averages about $380 USD per night, but sometimes you can find them for as little as $155 USD per night.
Average cost of food – The cheapest meal I saw around the islands was a small sandwich that cost $8 USD. You will find a lot of roadside stalls serving fruits, veggies, grilled foods, and other meals for between $4-7 USD. You’ll commonly find tomatoes, eggplants, mangoes, and papayas, and a variety of hot sauce offerings!
In general, $12 USD will get you a fish or chicken plate or a burger. A meal of conch fritters will cost from $11 USD, while rice and beans (a Caribbean staple) or a fast food meal is at least $9 USD.
For main courses, steak, fish, or seafood, you’re looking at $20 USD or more. At an upscale restaurant (like at a resort), you’ll sometimes pay up to $50 for a fish or steak main course, and a glass of wine to wash it down is about $10 USD.
While groceries tend to be fairly expensive because they have to be imported, there are some cheap options. Five days’ worth of food cost me $56 USD and included pasta, chicken, some fruits and veggies, eggs, and bread.
Backpacking the British Virgin Islands Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking the British Virgin Islands, my suggested budget is around $70 USD per day. This budget will cover a basic campsite, some ferry trips throughout your visit, cooking most of your meals, and visiting only free attractions. You’ll still have plenty to do if you stick to free attractions!
A mid-range budget of about $205 USD will cover staying in a private Airbnb room, eating at inexpensive restaurants and cooking some of your meals, taking the bus, and some activities like a sailing trip.
For a luxury budget of about $555 or more per day, you will stay in a four-star hotel, take taxis and ferries, eat out for all your meals, enjoy some drinks, and do lots of activities like diving or visiting Willy T’s.
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in USD.
British Virgin Islands Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
The British Virgin Islands are definitely expensive, but with a little foresight, you can really save some money. Here are some ways that I save money in the British Virgin Islands:
- Couchsurf – There are a handful of hosts in the BVIs. Given that most hosts tend to work on boats, their schedules are erratic and you’re going to have a low response rate. Make sure to inquire well in advance. The flip side of that is that when they do respond, they almost always say yes.
- Rent a car – If you’re going to be hitting a lot of spots on the bigger islands like Tortola, you’re going to find it hard to get taxis in some of the more secluded places (they tend to stick around more crowded locations). It’s better to rent a car on these islands, even at $60-80 USD a day. It will give you more flexibility and, if you’re splitting costs with friends, will be cheaper than taxis. My friend and I figured out the math towards the end of our trip and kicked ourselves for not thinking about it sooner.
- Get dropped off – Taking a day sail but plan on heading to the next island after? Most tour companies will drop you off at no extra charge if the island is nearby.
- Hitchhike on boats – Want to go from island to island? Hitchhike on the boats and save thousands of dollars. It’s actually easy to do. Here is how to do it.
- Enjoy happy hour – $8 USD drinks add up, even if the pours are super heavy (tax-free rum!). Happy hour specials cost half that, with many places offering dollar drinks. If you want to get sauced, do it early. Since rum isn’t taxed in the BVI, it can sometimes be cheaper than milk! Don’t forget to ask for an extra heavy pour!
- Buy your own snorkel gear – Snorkel rentals cost around $10 USD per day. Bring your own equipment to save money (buying gear on the islands will set you back $50 USD!).
- Look for discounts and package deals – The BVI Tourism website (bvitourism.com) has a section for pacakge deals and discount offers, sometimes with huge savings. During the off-season, sometimes you can get discount cards and coupons even in the small grocers and retail stores, and they can may offer an additional 5% discount at the register.
Where To Stay in the British Virgin Islands
There are very few hostels in the British Virgin Islands, but there are fairly priced options for budget hotels and guest houses. My suggested places to stay in the British Virgin Islands (all located in Nassau) are the following:
How to Get Around the British Virgin Islands
Ferry – Ferries are a primary transportation option, not only to get around the different islands but also to get to hard-to-reach beaches! A round-trip ride between Tortola and Jost Van Dyke will cost about $25 USD round-trip, while a return trip between Tortola and Virgin Gorda is $30 USD.
The main ferry operators include Inter Island Ferry, Speedy’s, and New Horizon Ferry.
Bus – Open-air safari buses are the cheapest way to get to well-known tourist spots, like The Baths on Virgin Gorda. They’ll cost between $2-5 USD one way from the ferry dock. You won’t have any trouble locating one. The locals also use van buses to get around on Tortola, but they’re not practical for seeing the highlights.
Taxi – The government standardizes taxi prices but vary by island and by location and, obviously, distance. Most rides will cost you between $5 USD and $30 USD, with an average of $15 USD. Since hailing a cab isn’t always an option, be sure to get the taxi company’s contact information.
Scooter and Bicycle Rentals – You can rent a scooter from S&K Amazing Rentals on Anegada for $45 USD for the full day, or $35 USD for a half-day.
You can also rent a bicycle from Last Stop Sports on Tortola for $30 USD per day.
Hitchhike – Hitchhiking is common for locals and tourists alike. Since taxis and cars are expensive, many locals share cars or hitchhike. Do the same. It’s safe, and drivers will take groups.
When to Go to the British Virgin Islands
From October/November to May/June, prices on hotels, activities, and boat rentals are upwards of 50% less than they are during the high season. You get low prices and avoid crowds. It often rains during this time, but often in short spurts, and temperatures average 87°F (30°C) each day.
December to March is by far the busiest and most expensive time to visit the BVI. It’s continuously sunny with little rain, and people come to escape the cold northern winters (especially around Christmas and New Year’s). The average daily temperature is about 83°F (28°C). Winter and spring are the best times for diving, thanks to excellent visibility.
Keep in mind that June to November is hurricane season, so keep an eye on the weather.
How to Stay Safe in the British Virgin Islands
Crime is almost non-existent in the British Virgin Islands. However, don’t leave valuable items unattended, such as on the beach while you swim, because they might get swiped. You should also keep a good eye on your food and drink in a bar, because they may get spiked, leaving you vulnerable to sexual assault or theft.
As mentioned in the last section, if you’re visiting the BVI between June to November, keep an eye on the weather. This is hurricane season, and tropical storms are common.
If you’re worried about getting scammed, you can read about the 14 travel scams to avoid right here.
Always trust your gut instinct. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID. If you feel uncomfortable in a hotel, leave!
If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it in the British Virgin Islands! Follow that rule, and you’ll be fine.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past.
British Virgin Islands Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to the British Virgin Islands. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the ones I use the most and are always the starting points in my search for travel deals.
- Momondo – This is my favorite booking site. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engine which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around the Caribbean, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- Rome 2 Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
British Virgin Islands Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
British Virgin Islands Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
Under a Blue Flag, by Daniel Putkowski
Fifteen years ago Luz Revilla, a young prostitute, sent her son Hernán off to be raised by Nathan Beck, a tugboat captain who brings him up to “become a man.” Now she learns he is coming back to San Nicolas, Aruba, and Revilla’s life becomes ruled by the anticipation of reuniting with her son as he learns about her life in the red light district. This is the darker side to Aruba but it’s an easy beach read.
Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys
This book was released a few years after the Jamaican independence of 1962, and it explores some of the postcolonial issues from that time. It’s set in the 1830s and brings to life the fictional “madwoman in the attic” from the novel Jane Eyre. Antoinette Cosway is a sensual woman sold to Mr. Rochester, and this book is about the woman’s backstory as it explores inequality of race, culture, and gender. It’s heavy reading, but it’s a beautiful one.
An Embarrassment of Mangoes: A Caribbean Interlude, by Ann Vanderhoof
In the mid-1990s, the author and her husband decided to take a break from their soul-sucking jobs in publishing and sail from Toronto down to the Caribbean and back again. During the trip, they traveled more than 7,000 nautical miles, dropped anchor in 16 countries, and adapted to ‘island time’. What I loved about this book was the change in the author: how she and her husband went from workaholics with rigid schedules to just going with the flow people who realize they don’t need a lot of stuff and loved the freedom of their journey. This book is well written, smart, inquisitive, and paints a vivid picture of the Caribbean. Highly recommended!
Out From Nassau, by Fia B. Scheyer
Out From Nassau takes you back to the Bahamas in the 1920s, when Prohibition was on in the United States and much of its illegal booze was being smuggled in from here. The book focuses on the lives of people in Nassau and the Out Islands, including the McKenzie family, as they become entangled in this dangerous trade. It’s a real page-turner, and although it’s fiction, much of the story is rooted in reality.
British Virgin Islands Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling the Caribbean and continue planning your trip:
Photo credits: 5 – bvi4092