Sunday, March 1, 2009
GETTING THERE: There is no direct service from Washington to the British Virgin Islands. AirTran, American, Continental, Delta, JetBlue and US Airways offer connecting service to San Juan, Puerto Rico, from Washington airports starting at about $260. American Eagle flies from San Juan to Tortola (about $160). Or fly to St. Thomas, the U.S. Virgin Islands, on American, Continental, Delta or US Airways from about $295; from there it's a 30-minute ferry ride.
GETTING AROUND: Sailing is the best way to get around these islands. Failing that, regular ferry service links the major islands (round-trip Tortola-Anegada about $50-$60, less for the other islands).
You can book a bareboat sailing or powerboat vacation through Moorings (http://www.moorings.com); sail yourself or book a skipper through Horizon Yacht Charters (http://www.horizonyachtcharters.com) or Sunsail (http://www.sunsail.com). Prices range from $2,500 to $4,000 a week depending on the boat. For crewed charters, add about $175 daily.
WHERE TO STAY: For the Jewels of the BVI program, go to http://www.bvitourism.com, then to "Where to stay," then follow the "Jewels" link (or call 201-930-9432). The association offers 31 properties on Tortola, seven on Virgin Gorda, one on Jost Van Dyke, four on Anegada and one on Guana Island.
On Tortola, I stayed at Icis Villas (Brewer's Bay, Road Town, 011-284-494-6979, http://www.icisvillas.com). Situated near one of the island's most secluded and prettiest beaches, it offers efficiencies and one-, two- and three-bedroom villas, all with kitchenettes. High-season prices $145-$290, summer rates (April 15-Nov. 30) $125-$230.
Near Tortola's Cane Garden Bay, a popular beach with lots to do and plenty of night life, Mongoose Apartments (Cane Garden Bay, 011-284-495-4421, http://www.mongooseapartments.com) offers six one-bedroom apartments with full kitchens in a traditional West Indies-style building. High-season rates are about $185 daily.
Anegada is the most secluded in the island chain and a flat coral atoll. If you want but a loaf of bread, a jug of mai tais, a hammock and your significant other, check out Lo'Blolly Cottages (Lo'Blolly Bay, 011-284-495-8359, http://www.loblollycottages.com). Each of the four beachfront cottages is rustic but comfortable. One-bedroom cottages $1,190 weekly year round, two-bedroom units $1,925.
Maria's by the Sea (Road Town, Tortola, 011-284-494-2595, http://www.mariasbythesea.com) presents a sharp contrast to many of the other Jewels properties. It's a relatively large, modern place with fine dining, a great seaside pool and 40 hotel rooms ranging from a standard room for $130 per night in low season to a two-bedroom suite for $1,680 per night in high season.
WHERE TO EAT: You might have to do it as part of a tour, but Willy T, or the William Thornton Floating Bar & Restaurant, housed on an old boat just off Norman Island (011-284-496-8603, http://www.williamthornton.com), offers a much more adventurous experience than mere dining (burgers, chicken, conch fritters, $20-$30 per person). The boat swings around on its mooring ball, and the management offers free T-shirts to women who jump topless from the top deck of the boat. (Not for everyone.)
Foxy's on Jost Van Dyke (Great Harbour, 011-284-495-9258, http://www.foxysbar.com) is probably the most famous yachter's hot spot in the Caribbean. Live bands stir things up every night, with dancing on the sand floor. Great ribs and lobster ($60-$80 for two, depending on how much you sample from the on-site microbrewery). You might even get to meet Foxy.
They say that the waters off Anegada provide most of the lobster served in restaurants across the eastern Caribbean. The best place to eat it -- arguably the best grilled lobster I ever had -- is the Cow Wreck Beach Bar (Cow Wreck Beach, Anegada, 011-284-495-8047, http://www.cowwreckbeach.com), boasting simple tables under umbrellas and a rudimentary roof on an almost uninhabited beach. Fun and quirky bric-a-brac decorates the grounds, but it's really all about the lobster ($60-$70 per person). Reservations required for dinner.
On Virgin Gorda, Rock Cafe & Sam's Piano Bar (the Valley, 011-284-495-5482, http://www.bvidining.com) has tables set out on multi-level wooden decks for ultimate privacy and a setting, amid great boulders softly lit in the evening, that qualifies it as the most romantic restaurant in the BVIs. There is a piano bar inside and nightly live entertainment, but you have to get a table in the rocks themselves. The restaurant offers Italian and Caribbean cuisine, with entrees about $45.
WHAT TO DO: Book a day charter and sail the islands (see "Getting Around"), explore the Baths at Virgin Gorda, shop at Trellis Bay or Road Town, try surfing at Josiah's Bay, snorkel or scuba, or just roll over and apply more sunscreen. One of the best wreck dive sites in the Caribbean is just west of Virgin Gorda. To explore the wreck of the Rhone, you can book dive trips through Dive BVI (800-848-7078, http://www.divebvi.com) ), which offers a range of options (including different levels of scuba certification) from one morning dive at $110 to five days and 10 dives at $465.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Go to