Caribbean: British Virgin Islands - Virgin Gorda

If water sports are your thing, you'll never want to leave this picturesque place.

Virgin Gorda -- it means "Fat Virgin," and no, you don't have to be one to visit -- was named by Christopher Columbus in 1493 when he saw the silhouette of a portly or pregnant woman lying on her back in the topography. At less than 10 miles long and 2 miles wide, it's the third largest British Virgin Island and the second most populous.

In a Word: Water

Swimming, snorkeling, sailing -- no matter how you choose to get wet, the beautiful sea surrounding Virgin Gorda is stunning.

Why We'd Go: 3 Features You'll Never Forget

  • The Baths: This popular strip of beach features caves, grottoes, and pools formed by huge boulders -- some as big as small houses! For privacy, follow the shoreline north to quieter Spring, Crawl, Little Trunk, and Valley Trunk bays, or head south to Devil's Bay.
  • National parks: Hike Little Fort National Park, the site of a wildlife sanctuary and the stone-wall skeleton of an old Spanish fort; Devil's Bay National Park, one of several pristine parks given by the Rockefellers to the BVI government in the 1960s; and Gorda Peak National Park, the island's highest point. The newest park is Copper Mine, on the site of a mine that was opened in the 1860s, which has beautiful views of Tortola, the Dogs, and other islands.
  • The view: Charter a sailboat for an uninterrupted eyeful of island shoreline dotted with grottoes and lush tropical terrain. Make a pit stop at nearby island Fallen Jerusalem or the Dog Islands for beach bumming and snorkeling.

Pucker Up: Best Place to Smooch

Lock lips in a lovely pool at The Baths (early morning or late afternoon are best for intimate tete-a-tetes).

When to Go: Virgin Gorda at its Best

  • Best weather: The BVI receive little annual rainfall. The temperature ranges from 75 to 85 degrees, and a steady trade wind keeps humidity low.
  • Best prices: Mid-April to mid-December; exact dates vary by hotel. Hurricane season swirls from June to November (September is trickiest).
  • Festival highlights: Catch the Virgin Gorda Festival and BVI Spring Regatta in April; watch sailing races and games at the Bitter End Yacht Club's competition on Virgin Gorda's North Sound during the last six weeks of the year.

Photo: The British Virgin Islands Tourist Board