A short sail from Tortola and St. Thomas, Jost Van Dyke is a getaway among getaways. The five-square-mile island shares a common topography with the other Virgin Islands: rich green hillsides that cascade toward perfect white beaches. But Jost Van Dyke (YOST van dike) possesses a character of its own, thanks to the thousands of sailors who visit every year and the influence of one world-famous islander.
Named after an early Dutch settler (some say pirate), Jost Van Dyke was a sleepy island community well into the 1960s. Islanders fished, farmed, and traveled to nearby islands for work. But then, in 1968, a young Philicianno “Foxy” Callwood changed things when he started selling drinks and food from a beach shack at Great Harbour. It turned out that Foxy had a serious knack for hospitality. As his reputation as an easygoing entertainer and gracious host grew, so did the number of sailors putting Jost Van Dyke in their sights.
Today, Foxy’s may still the best-known thing on Jost Van Dyke, but it is by no means the only reason to come here. Watering holes in Great Harbour, Little Harbour, White Bay, and the east end cater to the yachting crowd. If you are happiest with a drink in your hand and the sand beneath your feet, you can’t do much better than Jost Van Dyke.
If you have the will to wander away from the beach bar, you will find an idyllic island still content with the simple life. White Bay, on the south shore, is one of the best beaches in the whole Virgin archipelago. A network of mostly unpaved roads through the island’s hills can double as hiking trails and afford explorers unmatched views, and adventurers can hike to the secluded Bubbly Pool. Jost is a great jumping-off point for exploring the out islands of Sandy Cay, Sandy Spit and Little Jost Van Dyke.
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As you reach the top of the hill heading west out of Great Harbour, look down for the spectacular sight of White Bay before you, a ribbon of snow-colored sand and turquoise waters. White Bay is by far the best beach on Jost, and it’s one of the best in the entire Virgin Islands.
The sand at White Bay is soft and clean; the beach fringed by palms, sea grapes, and a few rustic buildings. The bay is cut in half by a small rock promontory. You can follow a footpath over the rocks or swim around them. An offshore reef rewards snorkelers.
The bay is popular with the yachting crowd despite the fact that there is no dock. Boats weigh anchor and passengers wade or swim ashore: hence the Soggy Dollar Bar at the beach’s western end, named for the damp money fished from wet pockets and wallets. Over the years the number of bars and restaurants has grown to a half-dozen, each offering cold beers, sweet tropical cocktails and menus that complement the bays’ sunny, uncomplicated vibe.
If the western end of White Bay is where they party is, the eastern end is where you can get away from the crowds. Here you will find a solitary low-key beach bar, a growing number of guesthouses, and plenty of beach to spread out and relax.
The Bubbly Pool is a small grotto formed by rocks and faced by a half-moon beach of coarse sand and rubble. The pool is large enough to fit about four swimmers comfortably.
When the sea is calm, the pool is a private and quiet place for a dip. But when the northern swell is up, large waves crash into the pool, dissipating into mounds of bubbles that crack and pop. It’s fun to play in the waves, and the bubbles have been likened to a high-priced spa treatment.
Ask at Foxy’s Taboo for a map to the Bubbly Pool, or just head northward from the restaurant and look for the path—it’s not hard to find. You will bypass the salt pond and climb over a low rise before descending into the cove where you will find the pool. The hike from Foxy’s Taboo to the Bubbly Pool takes about 20 minutes and passes loblolly trees, mangroves, and a large number of Turk’s head cacti. It’s best to wear sturdy shoes.
Sadly, a handful of visitors have drowned at the Bubby Pool, in some cases after being swept off the rocks by powerful waves. There is no lifeguard on duty. Most days, the pool is as safe as any swimming hole or beach but on certain days of the year it becomes dangerous due to the sheer force of the incoming waves Ask a local about sea conditions or observe the site yourself before deciding whether or not to get in. And by all means, don’t climb the cliffs around the pool.
Sandy Cay, a six-acre island less than a mile offshore Jost Van Dyke, is in many respects a perfect desert island. It has a sandy white beach, coconut palm trees, a nice offshore reef, and a wooded interior.
Most visitors can pass a few hours here relaxing on the beach, swimming, or snorkeling. Others take the 20-minute hike that circles the interior salt pond and traverses rocky cliffs favored by nesting seabirds.
Naturalists will admire the diversity of ecosystems—beach, swamp, cliff, forest—that exist on such a tiny island. Look for the flowering lilies that grow near the beach and the seeming millions of hermit crabs that maneuver around the island in borrowed shells.
Keep your eyes out for a glimpse of the tiny bananaquit, a yellow-breasted bird that flits around with great speed and favors the organ pipe cactus, especially when it is flowering. If you can’t see the birds, look for their nests, untidy masses of twigs and grass that hang just about at eye level in parts of the forest.
For many decades, Sandy Cay was owned by multimillionaire philanthropist Laurance Rockefeller. Just before his death in 2005, Rockefeller donated the island to the British Virgin Islands government on the condition that it become a national park, which it has. Rockefeller always believed in maintaining public access to the island, and the short trail that circles the island is well maintained. There are no moorings, however, and no trash cans, picnic tables, or bathrooms. Visiting sailboats should anchor off the sandy beach. The beach is susceptible to swells, especially in winter, and swimming ashore can be challenging at times.
Planning your time on Jost Van Dyke
Jost is a quiet place—most visitors will be ready to move on after a few days. But if you want to get on the fast track to complete relaxation, by all means, plan a longer stay. Just don’t forget to pack some books.
Jost makes a good day trip from St. John, Tortola, or St. Thomas, all of which are within a 25-minute ferry ride. If you arrive by ferry, catch a taxi out to the Bubbly Pool and then head over to White Bay for an afternoon on the beach. Or stroll through Great Harbour before hiking out to White Bay for the rest of the day. If you have your own boat, explore each of the main bays and attractions at your own speed.
Getting to Jost Van Dyke
People who don’t get to Jost on a private or charter yacht come by ferry. New Horizon Ferry Service makes the 25-minute trip between Tortola’s West End and Jost several times a day. Inter-Island Boat Service offers occasional service between St. John, St. Thomas, and Jost.
Getting around Jost Van Dyke
Most visitor navigate around Jost by boat. Those on land typically rely on their own two feet and taxis to get around, though it is possible to rent a car.
Ferries arrive at Dog Hole, on the far western end of Great Harbour. It is easy to walk from the ferry to any place in Great Harbour, and as long as you don’t mind a bit of exercise, you can walk from there to White Bay as well. It takes about 25 minutes. Alternatively, a taxi will run you to White Bay for $5 per person.
Where to stay
Most people get to Jost Van Dyke on charter yachts, which explains why there are still relatively few hotel rooms on the island. Hurricane Irma further reduced the number of rooms, in some cases wiping out entire hotels. Still, there are number of highly-rated vacation villas on Jost, most of them clustered around White Bay. Check on VRBO.com and homeaway.com for the best selection.