Put the big islands at your back and head to the small cays and “out islands” of the BVI for an escape that will soothe the mind and reinvigorate the senses.
On this page
- Out Islands highlights
- Travel tips for visiting the outer islands
Long associated with pirate treasure, Norman Island is a one-square-mile island and the westernmost of the chain of islands that lie between St. John and Virgin Gorda, along the Sir Francis Drake Channel. It is claimed that the island was the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1883 novel Treasure Island. Norman Island has some great snorkeling and is one of the most popular destinations for day-sail snorkeling and diving trips in the British Virgins.
The Bight is Norman Island’s largest bay and most popular anchorage. There is a bar and restaurant here, and it is a short dinghy trip to some good snorkeling. Rough roads and tracks around the island are fun for hiking.
The Caves, to the west of The Bight, are a series of three large grottoes in the rock face of the island ranging from 20 to 70 feet in length. Swimming into the caves introduces you to darkness-dwelling coral and fish, and swimming out treats you to dramatic underwater views of the sunlight penetrating the inky dark water.
The most westerly cave is also the largest: Swim inside and pause awhile in what feels a little like a watery cathedral. You would need an underwater flashlight to plumb the full 70-foot length: Swimming through complete darkness is extremely spooky.
On the other side of The Bight lies another world-famous underwater landscape: The Indians, near neighboring Pelican Rock, is considered one of the best reef dives in the BVI, but it is rewarding for snorkelers, too. Conditions permitting, the goal here is to circumnavigate the rocky shoreline in a counterclockwise direction.
The Wreck of the RMS Rhone
The wreck of the RMS Rhone is the preeminent dive site in the British Virgin Islands and one of its most visited attractions. The 310-foot twin-masted steamer, which sank during a ferocious hurricane in 1867, lies in three sections west of Salt Island and has beckoned underwater explorers for decades.
Lying in 65-80 feet of water, the bow is the deepest, largest, and most intact section of the Rhone. Here divers can enter the interior of the vessel and will find the mast and crow’s nest still attached to the ship. The midsection, lying in about 60 feet of water, is dominated by a series of support beams—all that remains of the ship’s deck. The stern, the shallowest part of the wreck, can be explored by snorkelers as well as divers. It features the ship’s large rudder and 15-foot propeller.
Visibility around the wreck is usually good—between 60 and 100 feet. The bow and midsection are sometimes susceptible to currents. For ease and safety, always go diving with a local dive company, since staff will be familiar with local conditions and dangers.
Peter Island is best known as home of the eponymous resort, presently closed for repairs following Hurricane Irma. Deadman’s Beach on the eastern side of the island is picturesque and serene: an outstanding destination for charter boats and day sails.
Over in Great Harbour, the floating bar the Willy T draws legions of day-trippers for cold drinks and good times. The Willy T relocated from Norman Island to Peter Island following Hurricane Irma.
Located between Peter and Cooper Islands along the Sir Francis Drake Channel, Salt Island is a small T-shaped island about five miles from Tortola. For centuries the small settlement on Salt Island thrived on the salt industry. Today, the uninhabited island is the backdrop for one of the BVI’s most popular attractions, the Wreck of the RMS Rhone National Park.
Salt is harvested in the early spring, before the rainy season begins. Traditionally, the Salt Island harvest was a time of great festivity. Residents from nearby islands would travel there to watch as a government agent supervised the “breaking of the pond.” After it was harvested from the pond, the salt was dried in a special salt house. Up to 1,000 pounds of salt were harvested annually from Salt Island.
Today, islanders still harvest salt, but on a small scale. Most of it is finely ground and mixed with local seasonings to make “seasoning salt” for fish and meat. EC Salt Company based on Tortola sells a wide range of seasons and body products made with Salt Island salt.
No one lives on Salt Island anymore. The last resident died in the 2010s and what remained of the settlement at Lee Bay was largely destroyed by Hurricane Irma in 2017. Damage to the government dock from the hurricane makes visiting the island difficult. If you do make it ashore, hike to the top of the hill to the west of the pond for exceptional views.
Getting to the outer islands
Tortola and Virgin Gorda based dive companies visit the Wreck of the Rhone on a daily basis. Some of the best-known dive operators are Blue Water Divers, Sail Caribbean Divers and Dive BVI.
The most popular way to reach Norman and Peter islands is aboard a rental boat or with a day-sail or dive operators. Alternatively, Pirate’s Restaurant provides a (paid) ferry for restaurant patrons from Hannah Bay, Tortola, to the Bight.
Where to stay
Cooper Island Beach Club on Cooper Island is the only accommodations on the outer islands of the Sir Francis Drake Channel. Otherwise, look for accommodations on Tortola.