I Vacationed Like Richard Branson For A Week
Yachting in BVI? Yes, please.
Up until recently, I have to admit my knowledge of the British Virgin Islands (BVI) was limited to say the least. My visions of the British territory off the coast of Puerto Rico mainly consisted of clear blue Caribbean waters, sprinkled with old money yachts and sail boats — one of which likely had Richard Branson on board. Aside from that, the cluster of islands and cays (about 60 total) remained a mystery, a beautiful mirage far off in the horizon that I could just picture but likely never touch. The travel gods had other plans it seems, as I was given the opportunity to explore the picturesque region by catamaran for six days. With so many islands to discover, this timeframe would offer more of a highlight reel, but I was game all the same.
As I would soon discover, the area is much more than just a playground for the wealthy maritime crowd. Its rich culture, history, establishments, and stunning landmarks make for an idyllic getaway for just about anyone with an adventurous spirit — who doesn’t get easily seasick, as boats are the main source of transportation around the region. For those who don’t have a mega yacht at their disposal, full-service charter companies like Navigare Yachting offer a variety of luxury catamaran fleets, complete with captain and crew and upscale amenities for comfortable and seamless island hopping.
The options of activities and experiences are truly endless, something I encountered firsthand in the short week I was able to sail around the paradise that is BVI. (Never much of a sea-dweller, I quickly found myself learning to steer a beach catamaran.) The beauty of this elusive region is that it truly feels far removed and untouched from the rest of the world. For those who crave a bit of seclusion, this is the destination to hit in 2023.
Ahead, I round up some highlights from my trip — which encompassed the islands of Jost Van Dyke, Virgin Gorda, and Scrub Island — for those who want to skip the crowds and set sail for an adventure-filled destination unknown.
Luxury Island Accommodations
Because of its status as a world-class destination for yachties and sailors, boats are a top housing option for those exploring the BVI expanse. Yacht charters can certainly provide luxe accommodations, which I can attest to from my week with Navigare. My particular catamaran was large enough to fit six people comfortably in their own rooms with private bathroom facilities. I will warn those prone to motion sickness to stock up on seasickness medication and solutions, as the sometimes-rough waters might trigger your issues (as they did mine).
If you opt for a few days on dry land or want to stick to one island region for the entirety of your BVI trip, the area is chock full of luxury boutique hotels, resorts, and bed and breakfast establishments. In my experience, top billing goes to Rosewood Little Dix Bay in Virgin Gorda. The stunning property is set against a half-mile shoreline for the most pristine view of the Caribbean sea. Guests may find themselves spending all their time within the resort thanks to its extensive amenities that include tennis courts, fitness center, spa, pools, and in-house farm where the resort’s produce and ingredients are grown and cultivated. Other luxury resorts in Virgin Gorda include Cornucopia, Mango Bay, and Fischer’s Cove.
For a more romantic, nature-instilled stay, The Hideout on Jost Van Dyke offers less crowds — it’s a seven-villa resort — without scrimping on the luxury. Each villa houses a kitchen or kitchenette, living room, and private plunge pool and guests have full access to the resort’s restaurant, Hendo’s Hideout, as well as nearby bars and restaurants.
Also for the seclusion-seekers is Guana Island, located off the coast of Tortola and dubbed the “most unspoiled jewel of the British Virgin Islands.” Encompassing some 850 acres of natural beauty, the resort essentially places you in the middle of paradise and houses no more than a few dozen guests at a time for maximum exclusivity.
Indulge In Local Fare & Spirits
You’ll be happy to know that each island in BVI, no matter the size, has its own unique charm and allure. There’s party destination Jost Van Dyke, which draws waves of visitors year-round, particularly around New Years Eve, as the island’s festivities are said to be the stuff of legends. For a taste of the region’s signature cocktail, the Painkiller, head to Soggy Dollar Bar, said to be the birthplace of the tropical drink which consists of rum, pineapple juice, cream of coconut, orange juice, and a sprinkle of nutmeg. Grab a quick lunch of fresh fish tacos and sushi at the aforementioned Hendo’s to keep you nourished while day drinking beachside. For a generous taste of the island’s nightlife, pay a visit to Foxy’s, a local institution since 1968, for conch fritters, rum punch, and dancing to live music until the wee hours of the morning.
Just off of the island of Virgin Gorda lies a one-acre strip of land that is home to the Saba Rock resort. While a solid option for a quiet stay with all the luxury bells and whistles at your fingertips, the little piece of paradise is a must for an opulent dinner. Sunset drinks at Saba Rock’s main bar (ask for the BBC cocktail, an indulgent blend of banana, Bailey’s, and cream of coconut) followed by a fine dining experience at the resort’s restaurant will make for a truly picturesque and memorable night. If you’re seeking a more local experience, Island Pot is a great option for authentic Caribbean dishes as well as the charming Hog Heaven, widely known for its BBQ and idyllic views, both of which I can attest to — the tamarind-infused marinade is like nothing I’ve ever tasted in the states. (Also, fun fact: You can see Richard Branson’s palatial BVI property from the restaurant’s deck.)
And then there’s Scrub Island, which is known for its spa and marina, but don’t sleep on the dining options, including the casual Cardamom & Co. and comfort food-laden Donovan’s Reef.
Enjoy The Best Of BVI Life
If, like me, you’re exploring the islands by way of catamaran or sailing yacht, that alone offers a wealth of options for a memorable vacation, particularly for those with a taste of adventure. These vessels often come equipped with staff, including a chef, and sport equipment like snorkel gear and paddle boats, so you could find yourself spending an entire day on the boat, enjoying sunset meals on the water and long days splashing around and exploring the reefs.
If and when you want to take your adventures to dry land, the options run the gamut. For sailing and water sports enthusiasts, Virgin Gorda’s Bitter End Yacht Club (BEYC) is a must. The outpost, a touchpoint for sailors for half a century, spent years in a reconstruction and transformation phase after being leveled by Hurricane Irma in 2017. However, I’m happy to report the nautical village is up and running and has all manner of activities for everyone you may be traveling with. Water sports are prioritized here, with everything from wind surfing and kayaking to diving and sailing available for all, no matter the skill level. The land activities are also worth trying, as the BEYC includes games like beach volleyball, hermit crab races, giant Jenga, cornhole, and hammocks for lazy lounging. There are also multiple dining options, a market stocked with local goods like spirits, prepared dishes, fresh-caught seafood, fresh breads, and produce, and a boutique with chic apparel, accessories, and gift items.
If quiet, picturesque beach time is more your speed, a day spent at the Virgin Gorda’s famous Baths can’t be missed. If you go early enough in the day (before 11 a.m. is ideal) you’ll find yourself with a little private shoreline adjacent to the National Park’s majestic granite boulders for a few peaceful hours. Amongst said rock formations, walk the man-made trail along Devil’s Bay and explore the cavernous rock pools for a truly magical and Instagrammable moment.
And don’t worry spa lovers, there’s plenty of pampering to be enjoyed in the BVI. Scrub Island’s luxe resort (part of Mariott’s Autograph Collection) houses the Ixora Spa, a hillside retreat overlooking the ocean and offering a range of treatments from facials and body scrubs to mud baths and massages.