Island Hopping: Tortola
Historic Tortola, BVI
Tortola is not only the home of 80% of the British Virgin Island’s 28,000 citizens, it is also the governmental and commercial center, the air and ferry hub spot, and the host of the BVI’s capital, Road Town. Making a horseshoe like shape surrounding the harbor, Road Town is where you can go to experience the (somewhat) city life in the BVI. At 21 square miles, Tortola is the largest and most populated island in the BVI.
Fun Fact: The island’s first known residents were the pirates Blackbeard and Captain Kidd.
In the late 16th century the English took control of Tortola and began developing the island for the sugarcane industry dependant on slave labor. The sugar plantations dominated Tortola’s economy for over a century, especially as Loyalists during the American Revolution were promised lands there to help further develop the area. Once slavery was abolished, many of the original residents of Tortola left their plantations behind, unable to manage them without free labor.
The diverse history of the West Indies and the rich culture of the BVI mix and mingle across white sandy beaches and preserved sugar cane ruins, sights that attract visitors from all over the world.
What to Do When You Get There:
The climate and vegetation in Tortola is much drier than most other islands, so instead of the rolling hills of green ferns and waterfalls as you might have seen in pictures of the Caribbean, you are more likely to see succulents and cactus. One major positive to the unique climate of the island is the lack of run-off from the non-existent streams and waterfalls allow for significantly higher water clarity, which places Tortola high up on the bucket list of many water sports enthusiasts and high wind surfers. In addition to that, the waters are notoriously calm in this area because the island itself is protected by so many others surrounding it. It is because of these conditions that Tortola is often known for diving, snorkeling, stand up paddleboarding (SUP), sailing (calm waters means no motion sickness!), and various other offshore activities.
If you can get yourself out of the crystal clear water long enough, the next stop on this island hop is for the history buff in your group, to the 1780 Lower Estate Sugar Works Museum. Built by the McClevery slaves in 1780, once inside the museum, guests will experience exhibits of historic machinery, artifacts, local art, and local plant and animal life. The museum itself is very straightforward and lackluster, but don’t let that fool you! This simple white building with a red roof has a lot of stories to tell. Digging the history lesson? Go back in time with us on the next stop of this day trip to Mount Healthy National Park.
Established as a national park in 1983, Mount Healthy covers 1 acre of sugar plantation ruins, including the remains of a stone walled windmill. This is the only windmill of its kind in the BVI, and was once used for grinding the sugar cane that was harvested from the surrounding 250 acres of crops. Mount Healthy was in operation from 1798 until the steep decline of the sugar industry in the BVI in 1831. Once you reach the windmill, more ruins of the plantation can be seen on the private property across the street. By now you should know that Tortola is rich with culture, so it should be no surprise that the next stop is yet another site of preserved Caribean history, Callwood Rum Distillery.
Located in Cane Garden Bay, the Callwood Rum Distillery is one of the oldest, and currently the only, continuously run rum distilleries in the Caribean and is still owned and operated by the Callwood family. The actual age of the distillery is unknown, but the building itself is presumed to be over 300 years old. The Callwood family grows their own sugar cane for the distillery, which takes about one year to mature, and whatever cane they can’t grow for themselves they buy from local suppliers. It isn’t just their location that makes them unique, Callwood rum is made in a unique way that is not possible by other distilleries because of its size and access to sugar cane. Unfortunately for most, this also means that exporting this product isn’t and won’t ever be feasible, so visiting Tortola is the only way you can try it for yourself.
Whether you are in the mood for relaxing on the beach or hiking and walking through historic ruins, Tortola has no shortage of things to do!
How Do You Get There:
If your goal is just to get from point “A” to point “B”, then a Ferry boat ride might be the best option for your group. Bestofbvi.com offers ferry schedules all in one place for ten different ferry operators. Most of the ferries offer a bar or restaurant onboard, but anything purchased on your ride will be in addition to the cost of your ticket. Don’t forget to book your return trip!
Pros and Cons of using a Ferry Operator
- Ferry operators are reliable, but schedules can change at the last minute – make sure you call your ferry operator a couple of days before your trip to verify the schedule hasn’t changed.
- A ferry can seem more cost effective, but keep in mind any food or drinks on the ferry will be purchased as an additional cost to your ticket.
- There are typically more times available to hop on a ferry to or from your destination if you prefer to have a more flexible schedule a ferry might be a good option for you.
Ferry Schedules via bestofbvi.com
You might prefer something a little more exclusive for your group, in that case, a private charter would be a perfect option for you! Let Cruz Bay Watersports take you on a sailboat or motor yacht to Tortola! We will customize the perfect itinerary for your unique charter experience, fill your day with a Caribbean adventure organized by our expert staff. This is the perfect option for someone traveling with a big group, for a corporate getaway, or for a special event. Whatever the circumstance, we’ve got you covered.
Pros and Cons of using a private charter
- Private charters are completely customizable, chat with our special event staff and plan your ideal trip together – it doesn’t get much better than that!
*Keep in mind that you are required to have a passport and go through customs to visit Tortola, BVI.
Mount Healthy photo credit denisema4.