Caribbean: British Virgin Islands - Tortola

Tortola is lush and green on its southern side and rimmed by beaches to the north. The pace is casual, the islanders friendly, and the vistas spellbinding.
by Lori Seto

Called the "land of the turtle doves," Tortola is the largest British Virgin Island (with 13,000 inhabitants) and the easiest to reach. Despite its size, Tortola retains its character: As on its sister islands, no building can rise higher than the surrounding palm trees.

In a Word: Painkiller

Whether we're talking about the so-called elixir -- a deceptive blend of fruit juices and rum that packs a wild wallop -- or the island itself, Tortola will cure all that ails you.

Why We'd Go: 5 Features You'll Never Forget

  • City strolls: Pick up some great souvenirs in laid-back and picturesque Road Town -- try homemade jams, spices, Pusser's Rum, and guava berry liqueur. Another worthy spot is the J.R. O'Neal Botanic Gardens.
  • Shipwrecks: Dive the RMS Rhone, a 310-foot royal mail steamer that sank in 1867. The ship's bow and stern rest at depths from 15 to 90 feet and are so well preserved that The Deep was filmed here.
  • Vistas: Explore the remains of a primeval rain forest in Sage Mountain National Park, at 1,718 feet the British Virgin Islands' highest point. Hike paths that afford panoramic views of neighboring islands Peter, Salt, Cooper, and Ginger.
  • Island eats: Dig in to the island's best barbecue at C & F Restaurant just outside Road Town, or try a Mango Bellini at the Capriccio di Mare outdoor cafe. For dinner, sample spicy callaloo pepper pot and Tia Maria tiramisu at Callaloo on the Reef or head out to Mrs. Scatliffe's for the best East Indian cooking in town (served on the upstairs terrace of her home!).
  • The beat: Visit local bars to hear calypso, steel-drum bands, reggae, and soca (a combination of calypso, soul, and reggae), plus indigenous music such as fungi -- scratch bands that produce musical sounds from objects such as washtubs, gourds, and bottles.

Pucker Up: Best Place to Smooch

Make like wild banshees at Bomba's on Apple Bay Beach, where the lethal Bomba Punch will have you dancing barefoot in the sand all night long.

When to Go: Tortola at its Best

  • Best weather: The British Virgin Islands receive little annual rainfall. The temperature ranges from 75 to 85 degrees, and a steady trade wind keeps humidity low and evenings cool in winter.
  • Best prices: Mid-April to mid-December; exact dates vary by hotel. Hurricane season swirls from June to November (September is trickiest).
  • Festival highlights: The BVI Summer Festival rages in the last week of July and the first week of August.

Photo: The British Virgin Islands Tourist Board

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