British Virgin Islands: The basics

Updated 2009-10-22 07:44

The British Virgin Islands are a small archipelago of islands at the north-easternmost sector of the Caribbean.  The captial is Road Town, on the island of Tortola.  English is the official language, but the currency is the US Dollar.

Anyone planning on traveling to the BVI should know that it is imperative to have an ongoing airline ticket. Failure not to produce one at the point of entry will ensure that either you are sent out on the next possible flight/ferry, or that your passport is retained by the Immigration authorities until you rectify the situation. Visas are required for nationals of a variety of different countries, but nationals of the "old" European countries and North America aren't required to have one. Please see this link for a full list of countries for which visas are required:

With a contraction of airline schedules, it is now not easy to get to the BVI from either North America or Europe in one day, but it is possible. However, this is something that the Government of the BVI is working hard to remedy. You will find the cost of airfares from other Caribbean Islands into/out of the BVI almost as expensive as your long-haul flight.

The climate is tropical, with winter day-time highs in the vicinity of 80F (26C) and night-time lows of 70F (21C). summer temperatures are not that much higher - 95F (35C) - 80F (26C). However, the combined effects of very high humidity (80% by 5AM in the summer/fall) and lighter winds means that it often feels as hot as 105F (40C).

The BVI, like the rest of the Caribbbean, is prone to hurricanes. Hurricane season is officially 1st June - 30th November, with the peak of the season being mid-August to end-September. As a result, life in the islands tends to be lot slower at this time. Many hotels and restaurants close. A very high percentage of the charter yachts that are a mainstay of the islands' tourism industry relocate to areas outside of the "hurricane belt" or are hauled out of the water and dry-stored for insurance purposes. Even cruise ship visits dwindle to perhaps a couple of ships in the Territory per month, from a peak of up to 7 ships per day in high season.

Food prices tend to be higher than you will find elsewhere, as 99.9% of foodstuffs are imported. However, the cost of alcohol and cigarettes is significantly lower than you will find at home. A 1.5 litre bottle of any name-brand carbonated drink will cost you more than a bottle of cheap rum! Visitors from Europe will find petrol prices cheap, while those from the Americas will find them high.

There is no cheap accommodation! Car rentals are reasonable and, without a public transportation system, they are normally considered to be an essential for residents and visitors alike. Cycling is popular here, but it isn't for the faint-hearted - the islands have, with the exception of Anegada, very steep roads. Tortola, the main island, is 11 miles long (17.5KM), 1.5 miles wide (2.5KM) and 1800 feet high (550M).

Unless you are an avid watersports enthusiast or a beach-lover you won't find a great deal to do in the BVI. There are a couple of small museums and historical spots. Shoppers beware: This is no shopping mecca! There are a few shops that sell local art and spices, and a few duty-free jewelery outlets, but that's about it.

There is a wide range of restaurants catering for every taste, but none of them cheap. I tend to find that a good indication of how expensive an area is (on this side of the Atlantic, at least) is the cost of a basic hamburger. You won't find one here for less than $10. On average a beer will set you back $4. There are NO fast food chains here. At all.

If your looking for dramatic scenery, good watersports and a slower pace of life, then the BVI might be for you.

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