During our trip to St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, Carrie and I took a day trip to the neighboring island of Tortola, British Virgin Islands. Tortola is the largest of the British Virgin Islands and is famous for its white-sandy beaches, one of which we visited! Many of the British Virgin Islands are within easy reach of the U.S. Virgin Islands, with frequent ferry services and boat excursions to many of the islands.
British Virgin Islands and Tourism
The British Virgin Islands are famous for their status as a tax haven and for having one of the most prosperous economies in the Caribbean. The primary industry of the British Virgin Islands is tourism, which accounts for a staggering 84% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (total contribution) in 2014 and is projected to grow. Many tourists arrive as cruise ship passengers and visit the islands as daytrippers, leading the taxi industry and day trip excursions to be one of the most important sectors within the tourism industry.
To really drive home the importance of tourism to the British Virgin Islands, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council as of 2014 roughly 94.5% of employment was directly linked to tourism. That places the British Virgin Islands in the number 3 spot out of 184 countries in the size of the influence and impact tourism has on the domestic economy. Tourist expenditures on taxis, in restaurants, or on excursions have an immense and valuable impact on the economy, making the islands ideal for impactful travel when done through local businesses. This also leaves the island and its population vulnerable to dips in tourist numbers.
West End, Tortola
The ferry ride from Cruz Bay, St. John to West End, Tortola took under an hour. Like the ferry from St. Thomas to St. John this boat offered upper deck seating, optimal for taking in the stunning scenery of verdant islands and turquoise Caribbean waters. Once we arrived at the small West End Ferry Terminal, they instructed us not to take any photographs of the facility. To speed up the immigration process they review your immigration form and passport on the ferry ride by an official.
Upon leaving the small waterside immigration building we were quickly met by a tall, cordial taxi driver asking us where we would like to travel to. After a discussion about traveling to the nearby beach of Smuggler’s Cove, we waited until the remaining passengers completed immigration to see if any others might travel in the same direction.
Located on the northern side of Tortola, about 20 minutes away along a windy, bumpy, gravel road sits the beautiful beach of Smuggler’s Cove. We were pleasantly surprised to find the beach almost void of any tourists and populated with a few locals. We coordinated with our taxi driver to come back in two hours to bring us back to the ferry terminal for our 4:30 ferry back to Cruz Bay. The thought crossed our minds that the driver might forget to return, thus stranding us at the beach with no way to get back to the ferry terminal.
We spent the next couple of hours lounging under palm trees, gazing up at the blue sky, and swimming and snorkeling in the warm turquoise water.
About 45 minutes before our taxi driver was to return it rained, the worst part was the sand flies that came out in full force after the rain subsided. Our driver, knowledgeable enough to know not only that it would rain that afternoon, but that the sand flies would be a huge nuisance to us pleasantly surprised us with an early return. As soon as we saw him we bolted for his van to return to the ferry terminal.
Unfortunately, every restaurant near the ferry terminal was closed, so we sat for the next hour on a wooden bench in the small departure area drinking Carib beer we bought at a small shop inside the terminal. When traveling between the U.S. and the British Virgin Islands you must pay a departure tax. When leaving the U.S. Virgin Islands they add the departure tax to your ticket, but when leaving the British Virgin Islands everyone must pay $20 USD before passing through security.
A trip to Britain for me would not be complete without a Lucozade. While the British Virgin Islands didn’t really feel any different from the U.S. Virgin Islands, they too drive on the left, use U.S. currency, and don’t really have a different accent. We noticed that the roads were not in good a shape as those on St. John.
If you are staying in the U.S. Virgin Islands then consider Tortola, British Virgin Islands for the perfect day trip.
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