Virgin Gorda

Virgin Gorda is a spectacularly beautiful island. The third largest of the British, Virgin Gorda is home to exquisite beaches and remarkable vistas. The Baths National Park, a world-famous natural attraction where huge boulders and turquoise grottoes invite exploration, lies at the far southern tip. The entire southwestern peninsula of the island is a flat, dry landscape colored by vivid bougainvillea and cacti and lined by perfect white beaches: Devil’s Bay, Spring Bay, and Valley Trunk Bay are a few.

At mid-island the topography begins to change, flat and dry giving way to mountainous and lush. Roads wind steeply through wild forest, past Gorda Peak National Park and breathtaking viewpoints, and down to the village of North Sound, which clings to the hillside overlooking the eponymous harbor. Sir Francis Drake used North Sound as a staging area for a 1595 attack on Puerto Rico, but today it is a playground for sailboats, motor yachts, kitesurfers, and anyone who feels at home on the water.

Virgin Gorda’s calling card is its natural beauty. The Baths National Park is a stunning white sand beach dotted with large, dramatic boulders; Savannah Bay is a near-perfect crescent beach with an excellent offshore reef for snorkeling; Gorda Peak is a peaceful wild forest home to rare birds, lizards, and plants; and all around Virgin Gorda the island is bestowed with brilliant blue waters, the sights and sounds of wildlife, and exceptional views in every direction.

Virgin Gorda is classically Caribbean: the Caribbean the way it once was. There are no stoplights on the island and rush hour doesn’t exist at any time of the day. A simple yet captivating package of spectacular beauty, blissfully laid-back lifestyle, friendly people, and the comfort of fine accommodations keep many visitors returning year after year.

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The Baths National Park

The Baths on Virgin Gorda

Virgin Gorda’s Baths National Park is one of the most famous sights in the Virgin Islands. Formed tens of millions of years ago when volcanic lava cooled into huge chunks of granite, The Baths are a landscape of building-size boulders, clear saltwater grottoes, and powder-white beaches. There are endless pools for exploring, swimming, and snorkeling.

The Baths proper is a small cove beach, fringed by sea grape trees and littered with boulders. The largest are as tall as a three-story building; the smallest are the size of a person. Time has worked its magic on the rocks: Pockmarked by water flows, colored by mineral deposits, and strewn about by the shaking of earthquakes, the boulders are beautiful in their disorder.

The boulders create a landscape like a playground, where even grown-ups are tempted to climb over and around, looking for a quiet pool or hidden room.

Visiting the Baths

To truly experience The Baths, take the quarter-mile trail south from the beach to Devil’s Bay, a slightly larger white sand beach with more space for beaching and swimming. The trail is an obstacle course that travels over, around, and through large rocks. It’s great fun. Steps and handrails are carefully maintained by the National Parks Trust, but the walk is still recommended only for the sure-footed. Hiking through the trail can be done barefoot or with sandals; at times there is knee-deep water that you must wade through.

On the trail to Devil’s Bay is The Cathedral, a pool formed by the intersection of two large rocks that allow in a small shaft of sunlight. The water here is about waist height, and if it looks familiar, it is because the spot has been the scene of numerous magazine and television photo shoots. It is a romantic place when it’s not crowded.

If you arrive at The Baths by land, you will also enjoy a pleasant quarter-mile hike from the entrance gate through not-so-rocky forest to the beach. Another less-traveled trail through dry scrubby forest connects Devil’s Bay with the parking area at the Top of the Baths, allowing visitors to make a complete loop.

Facilities at The Baths include a modest beach bar, lockers, and restrooms. Occasionally there are also a few vendors offering to braid hair or sell you a sarong.

The Baths can be crowded. Tour operators bring day sails here from visiting cruise ships and from Tortola and the U.S. Virgin Islands. A no-boat zone around the beach is there for safety and anyone planning to swim to shore from a boat should wear a swim vest or life preserver: It’s farther and more difficult that you think.

If you can, avoid visiting during peak hours which are 10am-3pm. It’s also important to know that the sea around The Baths can be rough during a swell, making it dangerous to swim or snorkel. The BVI employs a flag system on its beaches: If the flag on display is red, you shouldn’t swim. If it’s yellow, take caution. If it is purple, watch out for jellyfish.

Coppermine Point National Park

Coppermine Point, Virgin Gorda

Coppermine Point National Park is a remote, windswept spot overlooking the rocky, rough north coast and Virgin Gorda’s tiny airport. Legend has it that Spanish settlers first mined silver here in the mid-1500s, and indigenous people may well have built mines here even earlier than that. The ruins you see date back to 1838, when Cornish miners established a copper mining operation here. It had a short, unprofitable life and closed four years later. The mines were reopened in 1859 and were worked until 1867.

Today, the spot’s greatest appeal is the dramatic beauty of the stone ruins silhouetted against the blue sky. Windy even on calm days, Coppermine Point looks eastward over the Caribbean Sea, where the view is of nothing except the disappearing horizon.

Linger awhile and perhaps an airplane will land at the Taddy Bay Virgin Gorda Airport below, adding to the drama. Or come before dawn to witness the sun appearing, as if by magic, from the ocean. At night, the stars glitter overhead. Also keep an eye out for the birds that frequent this corner of the island—one called the Black Witch is a large, hulking beast that flies around the rocks.

Facilities consist of a parking lot, sign, and trail.

Spring Bay National Park

Spring Bay, Virgin Gorda

Spring Bay National Park, about half a mile north of The Baths, has a similarly captivating landscape, but often with far fewer people. A moderately sized crescent bay is fringed by shade trees and equipped with picnic tables.

A swimming area is framed by large boulders, while smaller pools are ideal for explorers. Hunt for the “crawl,” a magical calm pool of water entirely surrounded by boulders.

Exploration around Spring Bay reveals further pleasures. Walk south along the shore and you’ll find another beach: This one is longer and straighter and bordered by the vacation cottages of Guavaberry Spring Bay. To the north, there is an unmarked trail through the boulders that takes you to Valley Trunk Bay, yet another boulder-strewn beach lined by sea grape trees.

Look for signs to Spring Bay just before Guavaberry Spring Bay Apartments on the road to The Baths. Park in the lot and follow the trail about 50 yards to the beach.

Gorda Peak National Park

Gorda Peak on Virgin Gorda

Gorda Peak National Park, designated in 1974 after the land was donated by Laurance Rockefeller, is one of the best examples of dry forest remaining in the region. Although the park is relatively small (just 265 acres), the percentage of rare and endangered species is remarkably high. For example, keep a lookout for the billbush, a shrub you won’t find elsewhere in the Virgin Islands. While it appears to have leaves, the stiff dark appendages are really modified stems. It puts out tiny scarlet flowers that smell, surprisingly, like boiling potatoes.

Other rare species found at Gorda Peak include the Christmas orchid, St. Thomas prickly ash, and the Virgin Gorda gecko, the smallest lizard in the world. Gorda Peak’s richness led it to be chosen as a UK Darwin Initiative site for the preservation of biodiversity.

Two trails cut through the forest to a lookout tower near the peak. The main trail (the second you will encounter when driving from The Valley) provides the most direct route (about 0.75 mile) to the summit. The other trail is less steep and meanders pleasantly through the forest before climbing to the summit. Near the summit a lookout tower climbs above the treetops and provides a stunning view of North Sound below. On a clear day, you can see Anegada.

Savannah Bay

Savannah Bay, Virgin Gorda

If you feel constrained by boulder-strewn beaches or just want a change of scenery, head to Savannah Bay, a white sand beach about a mile north of Spanish Town and the best beach for snorkeling on Virgin Gorda.

The sand is narrow but long, with sea grape bushes for shade and the same exquisite white sand as other Virgin Gorda beaches. Savannah Bay is shallow a good distance out and protected from swells, making it a good beach for small children or unsure swimmers and a good anchorage for yachts.

A healthy offshore reef teems with life in the shallow, usually calm waters. The bay is also a good place for running or walking in the early morning or late afternoon. There are no facilities except for a few trash cans.

Planning your time on Virgin Gorda

Your Virgin Gorda vacation should simply be as long as you need, or can afford, to unwind. Virgin Gorda is a beautiful and relaxing place, and a week or two is the perfect duration to recharge and refresh. The aim, after all, is not to be busy but to be relaxed.

At less than nine square miles, Virgin Gorda is easy to explore in a single day. Ferries make several trips daily between Tortola and Virgin Gorda, with routes stopping in Road Town and Trellis Bay on Tortola, and Spanish Town and Gun Creek on Virgin Gorda. If you are staying on St. Thomas or St. John, look for one of the many day-sail operators offering trips to The Baths.

Getting to Virgin Gorda

Virgin Gorda’s tiny airport (VIJ) is along the eastern shore of The Valley, about a mile from the ferry dock. Taddy Bay Airport has a 3,160-foot runway that is wedged between two hills, so takeoffs and landings can be heart-stopping. Because of the conditions, flights can arrive and depart only in daylight. Air Sunshine offers daily flights between San Juan and Virgin Gorda.

Most visitors fly to the Terrance B Lettsome International Airport on Beef Island, Tortola, and take a ferry to Virgin Gorda. Look for a route departing from Trellis Bay, which is a short walk from the terminal. Ferry companies serving Virgin Gorda include Speedy’s and North Sound Express. Inter-Island Boat Services offers occasional trips between the U.S. Virgin Islands and Virgin Gorda.

Getting around Virgin Gorda

Taxis are plentiful in The Valley, especially from the ferry dock to The Baths. Expect to pay $4-7 per person one-way from anywhere in The Valley to The Baths, Spring Bay, Valley Trunk Bay, Savannah Bay, Pond Bay, and the Coppermine. It is a whopping $30 to travel from The Valley to Leverick Bay or Gun Creek.

Getting a rental car gives you the freedom to explore Virgin Gorda at your own pace, although at a hefty price. The most bare-bones rentals here run more than $60 per day and quickly climb to more than $90. You will need to buy a temporary BVI driver’s license for $10 if you rent a car. Book early to avoid being stuck with the biggest and most expensive vehicle.

Where to Stay

Accommodations in or around The Valley are close to The Baths, Spring Bay, and most of the island’s restaurants, shops, and ferries to Road Town and St. Thomas. If you stay in North Sound, you’ll be close to sailing and water sports and far away from the rest of the world. A clutch of good restaurants, shops, and services are here, too, and there are ferries to Beef Island, near Tortola’s airport.

Accommodations on Virgin Gorda are limited since the 2017 hurricanes, which forced many of the island’s hotels to close for major repairs.