Virgin Gorda is part of the British Virgin Islands.
Since being "discovered" as a tourist destination in the 1970s, Virgin Gorda is still not over-commercialized. It is reminiscent of Saint John (Virgin Islands) before the designer shoe and handbag stores arrived. With only a few resorts and a sprinkling of villas, it has a pleasing intimacy. The passengers you meet on the nine-seat plane are likely to show up at the next table at dinner. The local people are well educated, friendly and caring, family oriented and remarkably aware of their place in the world. As elsewhere in the BVI, English is spoken, with a more or less strong accent. It is courteous to begin a conversation — even a brief question — with "Good Morning," or other salutation appropriate to the time of day.
Virgin Gorda is a small island, about eight square miles, only a few miles from Tortola and its airport on Beef Island. In 2001, the population was 3100. The southwestern part of the island is known as the Valley. In this area of low gentle hills will be found most of the population, businesses and services, mostly in and around Spanish Town, the capital. Below Spanish Town, the landscape and seascapes are strewn with granite boulders the size of houses; these provide dramatic settings for accommodations, restaurants and beaches. In the center of the island, a low mountain rises from the sea to about 1350 feet. This area is sparsely inhabited, except for small neighborhoods in the North Sound area on its northeastern edge. Extending northeast from there is a chain of wooded hills accessible only by boat. A convenient excursion to one of the nicest outer island areas in Virgin Gorda would require hopping on the local Resort Ferry (Bitter End etc) in Gun Creek. This Ferry will take you on a short, but neat cruise into the heart of the North Sound area. Small islands in this area contribute to the very sheltered harbors in the sound.
Air Sunshine, +1 800 327-8900 from US and Canada, flies from San Juan to the tiny Virgin Gorda airport four times a day; in winter the last flight may be diverted to Tortola, as the airport operates only from sunrise to sunset. The Virgin Gorda experience begins with an exciting approach as the small plane drops over a ridge and descends along the side of the hill that obstructs the approach to the landing strip. The reservation process is cumbersome, requiring faxes and a delay of up to 48 hours for confirmation, but Air Sunshine has a loyal following among regular visitors, many of whom are on a first-name basis with the pilots.
Fly BVI - Caribbean Air Charter, +1 866 819-3146 Toll Free from US & Canada, +1 284 495-1747 Worldwide Reservations Line. Specializes in private charter flights to and from the BVI, as their name implies. Fly BVI operates a number of aircraft from the reliable Piper PA-23-250 "Aztec" with 6 seats, up to the King of the Ramp, the Cessna 404 "Titan", Cessna's Largest Piston Twin, configured for 9 Passengers. Prices will be comparable to commercial airline travel if you have at least four passengers.
North Sound Express, +1 284 495-2138, links Beef Island, site of Tortola's airport, to Spanish Town, Leverick Bay and Bitter End.
For those staying at resorts, taxis are readily available for the occasional excursion. Most people staying in cottages or villas will want to rent a car for at least part of the stay. Driving is on the left. All major roads are paved except for the road to Mango Bay and Nail Bay; paving is underway there at this writing (Spring 2008). Some roads are narrow with steep drop-offs, dips and speed bumps. The roads to Leverick Bay and Gun Creek are alarmingly steep. Motorists must be alert for pedestrians (there are no sidewalks), livestock, cars parked on the roadway and vehicles passing on curves. That being said, traffic is light and drivers are courteous. Speeds are low but distances are short. Gasoline (premium only) is available at stations at each end of Spanish Town.
Mahogany Rentals, +1 284 495-5469, , rents late-model 4WD SUVs, has taxi service and gives tours. Speedy's, +1 284 495-5240, also has rentals, tours and taxi service. L&S Car Rentals, Garage and Taxi Service +1 284 495 55297 Email: email@example.com Virgin Gorda's Best is at L&S
Some of the resorts in the North Sound area are accessible only by ferry service from Gun Creek.
The Copper Mine is at the southeastern end of the island. Here, ruins tell the story of the Cornish engineers who built the steam engine for the mine's pumps and lifts, and the Cornish miners who toiled in tunnels extending under the sea. There is also a view of the rugged coast.
Observation decks along North Sound Road offer wonderful views.
All the usual tropic island activities are available—sailing, fishing, snorkeling and scuba.
Along the southwestern shore below Spanish Town, there is a string of beaches, with light surf, beautiful sand and blue water. Each beach is separated from the next by the huge granite boulders that make the scenery so memorable. All are public, but respect the privacy of the villas that face some of the beaches (OK, go ahead and peek through the fences—some are stunning).
Beginning at the southern end:
The Baths is Virgin Gorda's most famous beach, due to its hidden caves and pools nestled amongst the giant granite boulders. As a result, it can become very crowded when the small cruise ships come calling. The best times are 8AM-10AM, and 3PM-5PM. Changing rooms, lockers and refreshments are available on the beach. A trail leads through the pools and caves of the boulder field to little Devil's Bay beach. Both beaches may be reached by paths down from the parking lot at the south end of Tower Road. There is a fee for the Baths path, which is shorter and easier; cheapskates can take the Devils Bay path and reach the Baths through the boulder trail. Snorkeling is a popular activity. Moorings are provided for the many yachts that visit the Baths and Devil's Bay.
Spring Bay cannot be reached from The Baths, but has easy public access from Tower Road. In spite of scenery rivaling The Baths, it is almost never crowded. At the public access, there are picnic tables in a grove surrounded by more of the big boulders. The Crawl (more boulders!) has sheltered pools with almost no wave action, as well as rocks to climb and crevices to explore. Snorkeling is best around the rocks at The Crawl and at the south end of the beach. The pools of The Crawl are less exciting but a good place for beginners to practice.
Little Trunk Bay, easily reached by a very short trail from Spring Bay, is the next beach north, just as nice and often deserted. At its north end, another trail, with a handy rope for a short steep part, leads to the even more beautiful and more likely deserted beach of Big Trunk Bay.
North of Spanish Town, Savannah Bay is reached by a short dirt road. This long sweep of beach, and adjacent Pond Bay, may have a few people or none at all. There is said to be excellent snorkeling—for able swimmers only—along the outer edge of the reef. Others can find things to see around the rocks at each end of the beach.
Tired of the beaches? Trails lead from North Sound Road to Gorda Peak, where an observation tower offers views of the whole island with its beaches, coves, reefs, offshore islands and blue water. The peak is over 1300 feet but most of the climb is made by road. The first trailhead (coming from the south) leads to a longer route (55 minutes) with more vertical climb. The next one is shorter but steeper. Either climb can be made by anyone in average condition with ordinary shoes. Bring water.
Spirit of Anegada Day Sails , 284.499.0901, The Spirit of Anegada offers day sails to destinations such as Anegada or Cooper Island, half-day snorkeling/sail adventures and sunset sails around Virgin Gorda. Climb aboard this classic gaff rigged schooner (red sails) to enjoy quality snorkeling and sailing among the beautiful BVIs.
Prices are high at Virgin Gorda restaurants. Food must be imported from the US and farther afield, and reshipped from deepwater harbors on small boats. Service charge, usually 15%, is almost always included in the bill. It may not be obvious; if in doubt, ask.
Buck's Markets, Locations at the Yacht Harbor and at North Sound, Buck's has the most complete grocery line for visitors, whether staying in villas or provisioning yachts. There are other grocery stores on the island as well.
Chez Bamboo, in Spanish Town, Fine dining, indoors or outside, in a casual atmosphere.
The Flying Iguana , +1 284 495-5277, Open from 6:30AM, A little place next to the airport offering a varied menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Check in for your morning flight, eat breakfast, watch the little airplane zigzag down the hillside on final approach.
Giorgio's Table, Italian restaurant relocated to second floor of The Rock.
Island Pot, near the LSL Bakery, This unassuming and inexpensive cafe has a tasty inexpensive barbecue buffet. Ask around, or look for the sign on your way to The Baths, to find out what nights.
Little Dix Bay Hotel, This restaurant is superb. It is expensive but head and shoulders above even the usually flawless Four Seasons on Nevis.
LSL Bakery and Restaurant, on the way to The Baths on Tower Road, A neighborhood lunch place by day, and a nice little restaurant by night. And do take home some guava turnovers from the bakery. On Sunday night, there's a barbecue buffet, about $22, on the very pleasant deck. The ribs are yummy, but the music from the bar down the road can get loud after 8PM.
The Rock Cafe, +1 284 495-5482, Dinner only, Within walking distance of the Yacht Harbor and Guavaberry (bring a flashlight), just off the roundabout at the beginning of Tower Road, Named for the boulders (same formation as those at The Baths) amongst which intimate dining decks are nestled—no rock music here! There is also an outdoor deck overlooking the boulders as well as an indoor dining room, bar and lounge. The ambience is more refined than at most other restaurants on the island.
In addition to the above, many of the resorts welcome day visitors. Lunch and a stroll offers a great way to check out possibilities for your next trip (or look around places you can't afford to stay at). At Little Dix Bay, the excellent lunch buffet is about $35. Bitter End Yacht Club's buffet is about $25, including grilled-to-order entree. The free ferry runs from Gun Creek on the half hour. Lunch is served a couple of hundred feet to the left as you leave the dock. At Leverick Bay Resort, the Cove Bar and Grill has lunch items in the $10 to $20 range.
Mad Dog Cafe, at The Baths, The tiny Mad Dog Cafe is known for its piña coladas. There is a limited offering of cold sandwiches, of which the BLT is the most popular.
Mine Shaft Restaurant and Bar, right by the Mine Shaft Ruins, A fun place, a good choice for lunch too.
Top of the Baths, also at The Baths, Offers great sunsets and excellent local rum drinks. Lunch is served, but no dinner.
The Bath and Turtle, at Yacht Harbor, The Yacht Harbor complex in Spanish Town has a local yachtie bar with local entertainment most nights.
Bitter End Yacht Club and Resort , +1 800 872-2392, This resort has both public slips, rooms for the night, and many nice hammocks scattered beneath palm trees from which to see the view. Accessible only by sea, it has its own ferry from Gun Creek.
Biras Creek Resort , +1 284 494-3555, A secluded luxury resort with beaches on both the north and south sides of the island, ghzg includes complimentary boston whalers, hobie cats, windsurfing, sun lasers, kayaks, and folk boats for visitors interested in water sports. Rates include breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Only reachable by helicopter or boat (runs from Gun Creek hourly).
A road, currently (Spring 2008) being paved, leads to two secluded resort complexes as it winds around the west side of Virgin Gorda Mountain.
Guavaberry Spring Bay , +1 284 495-5227, on Tower Road south of Spanish Town, 5-10 minute walk from Spring Bay Beach, Has one- two- and three-bedroom cottages, each with a kitchen/living/dining room and deck. The houses are tucked among more of the giant granite boulders. The honor-system self-serve commissary is small but has all the necessities for snacking, drinking and dining. No restaurants on premises, but several within a mile or so. It also manages several villas in the area, ranging from really nice to the spectacular Casa Rocalta. Guests of the villas have access to the Guavaberry commissary and office staff.
Drugs are prevalent throughout all of the Caribbean islands but not quite a problem on Virgin Gorda. What crime rate exists is usually among tourists. Even so, it is quite safe to walk around at any hour of the night. Tap water is said to be safe to drink at all tourist-oriented restaurants and accommodations. There are medical clinics and pharmacies on the island. Pedestrians must take care because of the lack of sidewalks.
If you weary of the peace and quiet of Virgin Gorda, the many stores of Saint Thomas can be visited as a rather long day trip, by ferry or plane.
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