Even though it’s the biggest of the British Virgin Islands, Tortola is one of the most low-key ports you’ll encounter during your cruise. While you’ll find prettier beaches on other islands in the chain, this is a sailor’s paradise, and it still maintains a distinctly Caribbean feel.
Take the easy walk from the pier to the center of town and you’ll see bars, shops, and even a modest market. Experienced cruisers may be underwhelmed by the merchandise, but keep your eyes peeled for one-of-a-kind gems made by local crafters, such as handmade jewelry and metal bracelets pounded out while you watch.
Some use this port as a starting point for trips to other British Virgin Islands, such as more interesting Jost Van Dyke or Virgin Gorda, or to the unforgettable beaches of Anegada. If you decide to stay on Tortola, though, you’ll find enough to have a good time.
Breakfast: Midtown Restaurant – You’ll arrive early, so skip the ship’s breakfast and start the day with a traditional Caribbean meal of salt fish with boiled eggs and a side of fresh johnnycakes — cornmeal pancakes — at this tiny spot on Main Street. Chances are you won’t see another tourist around.
Lunch: Pusser’s Road Town Pub – Most ships depart before 4 pm, so dinner here isn’t an option. But an island-style lunch of seafood chowder, curried chicken, or jerk pork roti — an island-style wrap made with flatbread — served with mango chutney is a must-try at this well-loved pub. You won’t want to sail away without trying the BVI’s famous cocktail, the Painkiller, made with Pusser’s dark rum, cream of coconut, and pineapple and orange juices.
Snack: Crandall’s Pastry Plus – This shop serves baked patties of every type, from savory choices like beef, conch, and even lobster to sweet dessert options. Try a few fruit tarts, too — these delicate coconut, pineapple, and guava pastries fly off the shelves.
Tip: Love British food? Pick up your favorite flavored Cornish pasties, biscuits, and more at the Best of British shop in Road Town’s Mill Mall. The goods aren’t duty-free, but they’re cheaper than a flight to the U.K.
For Everyone: The Baths – Located on Virgin Gorda’s north shore, this beach (a popular shore excursion for many lines) is an opportunity to see Mother Nature’s handiwork. The area is filled with giant boulders that front the sea, and an intricate cave system leads to a white-sand beach. The narrow passages can be claustrophobic, so the faint of heart should stick to the open-air beach.
For Couples: Bitter End Yacht Club – Take a sailing lesson, get some beach time, and lunch on spiny-tailed lobster among true boatsmen at this rustic Virgin Gorda resort. There are several ways to get to there: Some cruise lines offer excursions, but if yours doesn’t, make arrangements with the hotel to take the 30-minute North Sound Express Ferry from Tortola’s Trellis Bay, and — for $70 per person, including ferry tickets and transfers — the property will set you up for a day of sunning, snorkeling, sailing, and even yoga on the beach.
For Families: Dolphin Discovery – Located at Tortola’s Prospect Reef, this dolphin experience offers several options: You can either swim with these beautiful creatures or watch them do spectacular tricks. Many lines offer a shore excursion to the attraction, but if yours doesn’t, you can arrange a visit on your own in advance.
For the Adventurous: Sage Mountain National Park – Take a hike up to the highest point in the BVI. There’s just one sign leading the way to the 12 looped trails, all of which pass through the mahogany- and cedar-filled rain forest to the 1,716-foot peak.
Tip: The Baths are a popular spot, so here’s our strategy for dealing with the crowds: Start your day at Top of the Baths restaurant for a dip in the pool, a cocktail, and views of the Sir Francis Drake Channel. Later in the day, when the other cruisers eventually arrive, head down to the beach.
Pusser’s Rum, which is now made in the U.S., is hawked all over the island’s gift shops, but ask for a bottle of the truly local Callwood rum — distilled on the British Virgin Islands — for an authentic take-home treasure.