Fascinating cliffs, quiet beaches lined with tall palm trees, blue skies, green hills and unforgettable sunsets. From Saint Thomas to Saint John, from Tortola to Virgin Gorda, here, you can enjoy a series exclusive havens with an ecosystem protected by twenty natural parks. The Virgin Islands are located to the east of Puerto Rico, on the border between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, and represent the western part of the Lesser Antilles. They are divided into the British Virgin Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands, depending on their political dependence, and owe their name to Christopher Columbus, who landed on the islands during his second trip to America. The explorer christened the archipelago in honour of the saint to whom he was devoted, Saint Ursula and the 11,000 virgins, a name that was later shortened to the Virgin Islands. Also nicknamed ‘the land that time forgot,’ these islands are every tourist's dream, and also offer some of the best snorkelling sites in the world. Read on to find out more about their history and the best places to visit.
The British Virgin Islands
- Sage Mountain National Park
- Road Town
- Ridge Road
- The Baths
- The Peter, Norman and Saint John Islands
- Jost Van Dyke Island
- Norman Island
The U.S. Virgin Islands
- Saint Thomas
- Charlotte Amalie
- Saint John National Park
- Saint Croix
The British Virgin Islands
In the middle of the Caribbean Sea is a series of about sixty islands known as the British Virgin Islands. Over the centuries, they were competed over by the Dutch, English, Spanish, French and the Danes. Thanks to their caves, the islands were also once a pirate's refuge. Today, the archipelago formed by Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Jost Van Dyke, Anegada and other smaller islands is a a destination loved by divers and those who enjoy boating holidays, thanks to their crystal clear waters and golden beaches. This is a world full of history, beauty and attractions.
The main island of the archipelago is home to its capital, Road Town, and most activities. It's the main financial centre and boasts a natural environment of rare beauty. The miles of coastline leave you spoilt for choice: the beaches you’ll find on the Virgin Islands are truly wonderful. You can choose from spots equipped with resorts, beaches that are free and deserted, or a few wind-beaten treasures for those who love to surf the waves. The winds on the southern coast create some truly excellent waves, which is why the Virgin Islands are often crowned a kingdom for surfers and sailors. It’s in Tortola that you’ll find one of the most beautiful beaches in the world: Cane Garden Bay. This beach is truly unmissable due to its white sands and crystal clear water, and it’s also perfect for evening dinners and parties to be enjoyed outside by the shore. One of the most popular beaches is Long Beach,, on the western tip of the island. About 1.5km long, it is famous for its fine sand and crystal clear and calm waters, making it a safe and suitable place for everyone to enjoy. Water sports lovers, especially surfers, might like to try their hand on the waters at Apple Bay, considered one of the best spots in the Caribbean to surf the waves.
Sage Mountain National Park
The Caribbean islands’ ecosystem is protected in twenty separate nature parks, which are located among the remains of the ancient rainforest, which are inhabited by migratory birds and very rare species. Among the most important is Sage Mountain National Park, which runs from east to west. Its altitude ranges from 228 metres to 523 onMount Sage, the highest point of all the Virgin Islands, both British and U.S. The park area enjoys more abundant rainfall than the rest of the island and is thus home to species typical of tropical forest habitats, similar to those found on the island of Puerto Rico. Inside this fairly small park, measuring around twenty-nine and a half acres, you’ll find a treasure within a treasure, a completely intact stretch of tropical forest. Since 1964, when the park was acquired by the BVI National Park Trust, the area has also been the focus of a targeted reforestation programme. Numerous mahogany specimens belonging to the West Indies, along with the white cedar, the archipelago’s national tree, have been targeted in particular.
Road Town was built in 1840 and is the capital of the British Virgin Islands. It’s located in the heart of the island of Tortola, which in technical jargon, refers to a place that’s less protected than a port but where you can easily anchor a ship. The city has developed around Main Street, which is overlooked by wooden and brightly coloured brick buildings and is the first street you encounter from the promenade. The J.R. O'Neal Botanic Gardens and BVI Folk Museum are both must-visits. Accommodating the latter is a traditional Caribbean home housing a small collection of pre-Columbian finds and a tiny gift shop. One the most important buildings in the city is Government House, a symbol of the city’s imperialist power. The building, formerly home to the archipelago’s English governor, is a typical example of British colonial architecture and features a small exhibition on historical furniture and artefacts. Further along you’ll find St George's Episcopal Church, a beautiful eighteenth-century Anglican chapel renovated in the early nineteenth century due to damage caused by a hurricane. Inside is a copy of theEmancipation Act (Emancipation Proclamation), the edict granting freedom to all slaves in 1834, who were used in British plantations located in the West Indies. Continuing a stroll along Main Street, you’ll find a former prison HMS Prison, the oldest feat of architecture in the city, having been built in the early eighteenth century. Next to it is a Methodist church built in 1924 and featuring a wooden finish. The Promenade is perfect for a stroll along the waterfront to discover the tastes and flavours of the archipelago. Here, you’ll find a rich mix of traditions belonging to a number of cultures that have had an impact on the region, such as the Caribbean, Africa and Europe. Road Town port is also the perfect place to explore the other islands that make up the archipelago. Finally, there are numerous beaches and bays to discover, such as Cane Garden Bay, Smugglers Cove and Brewers Bay.
A scenic road offering spectacular views of Tortola Island. You can reach it by travelling up narrow streets and winding curves, which are a unique and symbolic way to get to the heart and true essence of the place. This is a magical spot and you’ll definitely be blown away. It’s also where numerous photography lovers attempt to capture magical moments. Imagine sitting in the peace and quiet, looking out at nothing but the blue sea, visible between the rocks, while boats bob on the waters in the distance and beyond. When the sun sets, the feeling of infinity is even better.
The Baths are the ‘star’ of the British Virgin Islands beaches. Turquoise sea, white sand and palm trees. With its huge round granite boulders enclosing caves and dreamy natural pools, you’ll love snorkelling among amazing colours as they glide between your fingers. The Baths are located on the island of Virgin Gorda, the third largest in the Caribbean archipelago. You can reach them by boat from Tortola and once you disembark, you’ll be truly amazed. The island’s name (‘fat virgin’) appears to have been bestowed upon it by Christopher Columbus due to its unique shape. Mountainous and partly flat, it has just under 3,000 inhabitants, concentrated in Spanish Town, where the marina is located. Quiet beaches and luxury resorts are its strong point. But it also boasts other treats, such as Devil's Bay , Mosquito Island and Prickly Pear Island, where you can truly relax in peace. Last but not least, Little Fort National Park is a nature reserve where you’ll find the remains of an ancient Spanish fort.
Peter, Norman and Saint John Islands
The British Virgin Islands offer beauty, relaxation and even a hint of adventure. From the southern shores of Tortola Island you can spot the surrounding and practically uninhabited coral islands of Saint John, Peter and Norman, famous for offering legendary pirates and filibusters refuge. If you choose to visit this heavenly spot, it’s also worth checking out what's hidden underwater. Armed with a mask, flippers and a mouthpiece, you’ll be able to spot coral forests, schools of colourful fish and lobsters. Start by exploring the sandy area, between the beach and the reef. You’ll feel a sense of immense freedom on Peter Island, which is uninhabited. It emerges to the south of Tortola and has a curious inverted L shape. It can only be reached by sea and is separated from the capital’s port by a five-mile stretch of water. In addition to the opportunity to enjoy the beach and its crystal clear waters in complete freedom, you might also want to try your hand at a number of other activities, such as snorkelling, diving, kayaking, water skiing, windsurfing and fishing. The island also features dirt paths for walking or cycling and discovering tropical flora and fauna.
Jost Van Dyke Island
The island owes its name to the infamous Dutch pirate, who chose it as a refuge and base of attack for his raids (in the seventeenth century). Today, Jost Van Dyke has kept its historical atmosphere intact: a remote and quiet oasis, without too much technology, this is the perfect spot for travellers wishing to temporarily flee civilisation. Volcanic in origin, the island is wilder and windier along the craggy northern coast, which is lashed by strong Atlantic Ocean waves, which enthral sailors. It’s main hub is Great Harbour, one of the busiest tourist ports on the Caribbean Sea and in the British Virgin Island archipelago. The first village on the island, Great Harbour is protected by green hills and boasts a white sand beach in the shape of a horseshoe, which is perfect for water sports. To the east, you’ll find Little Harbour, which is very quiet and the perfect starting point for a pleasant trek. White Bay, however, is considered one of the most enchanting beaches in the British Virgin Islands and the world. It has a stunning view and is sometimes visited by sea turtles laying their eggs.
Norman Island is in the far south of the archipelago and is well known due to its ‘Indian’ rock formations, whose shape is supposedly reminiscent of a Native American chief. The other attraction is the Caves, on the tip of Treasure Point. These caves were carved out by the sea and wind and a snorkelling trip will make you feel as if you’re swimming in a natural aquarium. This pearl of the British Virgin Islands has become famous for "Treasure Island" , which features in Louis Stevenson's 1883 novel. And legend has it that treasure is still buried somewhere. The island is called Norman Island after a pirate called Normand, who settled and hid his wealth here, without it ever being found. In addition to the legends, another great reason to visit Norman Island is its beautiful dive points, such as Pelican Island. At the the Bight, you’ll find an ancient merchant ship called the William Thornton, which has been moored and turned into a floating bar.
The U.S. Virgin Islands
The U.S. Virgin Island archipelago encompasses more than sixty volcanic islands located in the Caribbean Sea, which are part of the Lesser Antilles. After having bought them from Denmark in 1917, the United States almost immediately turned the archipelago into one of the Caribbean’s most popular tourist destinations, while the British Virgin Islands were kept isolated from the rest of the world for years at the behest of the British government. Once a refuge for pirates and adventurers, the islands are now a sailors' paradise, thanks to the constant presence of tropical winds and well-protected natural ports and anchorpoints. Green hills, extraordinary sunsets and quiet beaches interspersed with tall palm trees are just one example of the extraordinary nature you'll find on the Virgin Islands. Many of the beaches here are also visisted by sea turtles, who regularly return to lay their eggs. Local fauna and flora are held in high regard by the local population, as evidenced by the large number of natural parks on the islands.
Saint Thomas is the pearl of the U.S. Virgin Islands, a place full of sailing legends from times gone by, as is evidenced by Blackbeard Castle. The beauty of these places has bewitched navigators, pirates and painters. The island is renowned for its vibrancy, its international character and its tropical nature. Turquoise waters caress white sands and invite you to come and relax on the beach and play sports. One of the most famous places in the wonderful U.S. Virgin Islands is Magens Bay, known for its heart shape and scenic volcanic mountain view. This beach has an intriguing history. Local legend has it that Sir Francis Drake used Magens Bay as an anchorage, while waiting for ships to plunder. The road was also once used by sugarcane growers and to transport rum, sugar and molasses. On the northern and southern slopes you’ll find rocky formations in the water that create small coves for snorkelers.
This is the charming capital and it knows how to seduce visitors with its colonial architecture and luxury shops. It owes its name to Charlotte Amalie of Hesse-Kassel, wife of Danish King Christian V, and is a vibrant and dynamic city. It’s also famous for its port, which was once involved in pirate raids and is now a anchorpoint for numerous cruise ships. It is about twenty-one kilometres long and eight kilometres wide, and is essentially comparable to the size of Manhattan. Here, you’ll find narrow cobblestone streets with Danish names and ancient terra cotta and coral stone colonial stores that have withstood winds and hurricanes, salt, and erosion over the centuries. The avenues are blessed by a gentle tropical breeze, old walls, ancient bricks and stone staircases.
The promenade is around two kilometres long, consists of a single four-lane road and is always busy day and night. It's the only one on the island, which serves both as a marina for yachts on one side, and an excellent place for a stroll among cafes, restaurants, banks and shops on the other side. It's no coincidence that Saint Thomas boasts one of the largest fleets of yachts and boats in the world. The most scenic point in the city is, however, Blackbeard Castle, which is located on top of Government Hill. A famous symbol of the city's history is Fort Christian, a small red building which was built in 1670 and used, over the years, for various different functions, such as a defence station, government building, church, town hall and prison. Today, Fort Christian houses a museum dedicated to the region's natural heritage and local art. Always crowded, Market Square hosts a daily local fruit and vegetable market, but in the past, it was used as part of the African slave trade.
Saint John National Park
The Virgin Islands National Park on Saint John Island is known all over the world for its breathtaking beauty. The area belongs to a series of protected bays with crystal clear water, amazing blue and green hues and a rich marine life thanks to its reef. You’ll find no shortage of white beaches shaded by trees here, along with coconut palms and a tropical forest, which is the perfect habitat for over 800 species of plants. Add to these idyllic natural resources a number of Amerindian pre-Columbian civilisation remnants, the ruins of Danish colonial sugarcane plantations and the reminiscences of African slavery and culture that developed during the 100 years since Emancipation. All this constitutes the rich cultural heritage of both the park and Saint John Island.
The natural resources found here are so important that the park has been included in an international network of protected biospheres created byUNESCO. At present, the park and entire island community is committed to preserving this corner of paradise, which is also a great location for snorkelling and diving.
This is the largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands and measures forty-four kilometres long and sixteen kilometres wide. It’s also potentially the most romantic. Its secret lies in its diversity. Here, you’ll find mountains, rainforest, hills dotted with farms and fields, beaches and finally, two colonial towns with protected historical and cultural heritage. You’ll also find a mix of quietness and Caribbean vibrancy, the combination of Old World simplicity and modern comfort. This is the perfect place to relax and forget about the stresses of city living. Saint Croix is a great place for couples and people who want some peace and quiet. Among the most beautiful beaches in Saint Croix is Buck Island, where you can snorkel along spectacular underwater trails and sunbathe on white beaches.
Visit Virgin Islands with Costa Cruises
The Virgin Islands are a natural paradise and an oasis of peace from the city chaos. This is a top destination for those who love to dive, surf, windsurf and sail, as it’s an unspoilt paradise full of natural beauty. It’s also an ideal destination for those who want to relax by the sea or on a wonderful tropical beach. The crystal clear waters and breathtaking views are a perfect setting for a regatta, for a day of sport or for a romantic holiday. British or American, every island has its own identity and shared traits. The traces of the past and a rich yet mixed history impact the landscapes, rituals, bequests and communities. These are two very different worlds that are worth discovering and learning about. Visit and see the beauty for yourself.