Beach-Lover's Guide to the BVI: Tortola
The best beaches on the BVI's big island are arrayed along its northern coast. Touring from west to east, the first is a true end-of-the-road experience and one of our favorite secret strands. Smuggler's Cove's perfect arc of soft sand is untouched by development save for Smuggler's Cove Bar, a celebrated spot tucked back into the sea grapes. The cove is a no-go area on most charter company charts, meaning that they feel the surrounding reef makes it too risky for their boats to anchor here, so the only people you'll find at Smuggler's are those who know that the quiet beach, calm water and excellent snorkeling (the reef is clearly visible about 30 yards offshore) are well worth navigating a rental car along the twisting, rutted track or making the hike from Long Bay.
Hot Stuff: Smuggler's Cove Bar was recently resurrected by Matt Denniston, son of the late Bob and Nell (CT&L Dec., 2000) who built it in the '60s and ran it as an honor bar.
Aptly named, this sweeping beach has plenty of room to roam. The sand is ideal, but the exposure to frequent waves has left the sea floor at the edge of the beach on the east end a collection of coral pebbles and chunky-style ironshore. Simply wade past this, though, and you'll find fine swimming (when it's calm, mainly during the summer) or good body surfing/boogie boarding when the swell is up. Walk west, and the water entry gets softer; it's also less crowded when the resort, which backs a large section of the beach, is full.
Where to Stay: Long Bay Beach Resort and Villas (from $285 low season, $380 high; 284-495-4252; eliteislandresorts.com) sprawls across 52 acres of beach and steep hillside, featuring villas, suites, estate homes, a spa and three restaurants, including the beachfront bar/restaurant called 1748. The resort's beachiest accommodations are the Seaside Villas, twin cottages that stand on the sand atop stilts, with hammocks strung below great decks.
Capoons Bay/Apple Bay
Everyone who hits the BVI has heard of beach-bar entrepreneur and panty collector Bomba and his refuge made of refuse, Bomba Shack, on Capoons Bay. The beach next to the Shack (and along adjacent Apple Bay) is unremarkable, except that it looks upon Tortola's most popular surf break -- best in a north or northwest wind, when a fun, right-handed ride of up to 100 yards rears up. The real draw here, though, happens after dark, when up to 1,000 revelers crowd into Bomba's beached shipwreck of a bar and spill across the road to howl at every full moon.
Hot Stuff: We've found the infamous mushroom tea less than hallucinogenic, so you might as well stick to rum or beer unless you just want the souvenir cup.
Where to Stay: A tiny beach lies hidden behind a fence across the street from the island's top boutique hotel and its finest dinner restaurant, the Sugar Mill (from $240 low season, $325 high; 284-495-4355; sugarmillhotel.com). Though it offers no rooms directly on the beach, the Sugar Mill operates a separate beach restaurant, Islands, (lunch only; try the saltfish fritters), just off the sand.
Cane Garden Bay
This is Tortola's most popular beach for several reasons: It's accessible to cruise-shippers and everyone else visiting the island, it hosts a good selection of beachfront bars and restaurants, and it's a flat-out gorgeous stretch of sand ideally oriented to watch the sunset. Cane Garden is a family-friendly choice best for basking, walking and enjoying the friendly atmosphere. Cruisers usually arrive around 11 a.m. and stay till 3 p.m.; if you're feeling crowded, the beach is very long and you can always find a lower density. If you do need to escape, drive west to Smuggler's Cove. A reef almost fully encloses the bay, though it's too far to swim through the boat traffic to get to. The reef also acts to limit water movement in the bay, so while it's usually very calm at the beach, the visibility is poor compared to other spots. Lounges are available from the Chair Man; restrooms are found beside Myett's.
Where to Stay: There are a number of small inns and hotels a short walk from the beach (Lighthouse Villas is a standout; from $140 low season, $165 high; 284-494-5482; travel-watch.com/lighthouse), but if you want to be as close as possible to the sand, try to book unit 1 at Myett's Garden ($110 low season, $185 high; 284-495-9649; myettent.com), which offers three nice guestrooms with air conditioning.
Where to Play: Reggae recording artist Quito Rhymer, Cane Garden's favorite son, owns Quito's Gazebo ($$; 284-495-4837; quitorymer.com) next to the dinghy dock. He recently added a second floor to the restaurant, which serves up an awesome view of the bay and beach. Happy hour at the bar is from 4 to 7; Quito plays solo on Tuesday and Thursday nights, then rocks the bay with his band, The Edge, on Fridays and Saturdays.
Stanley's Welcome Bar ($; 284-495-9424) has a satisfying menu ranging from burgers and Honey Stung Chicken to local lobster and grilled mahi. Myett's Garden and Grille ($$) also offers the basics, but it gets a little more elaborate, with daily specials that can include roast duck or seafood pasta. Myett's bar has a happy hour from 5 to 7.
A scenic switchback road slaloms down a mountain to this calm, shallow bay. Brewer's is another one dabbed red ("keep out!") on the cruising charts, but the bad news for boaters is good news for those who want a big, soft beach to themselves. Snorkelers luck out, too: They'll find excellent fish-and-critter-attracting reef and rocky structures, especially at the western edge. The tall hills begin to block the sun fairly early, so snorkel the west side in the morning and then move east.
Where to Stay: Concealed within a lush palm grove, Brewer's Bay Campground ($40 for tents, $15 for bare sites; 284-494-3463) offers 22 tents along with bare sites. It's an awesome location for campers, though the moldering vegetation behind the beach makes it Off season year-round, so pack repellant.
Where to Play: The campground's Bamboo Beach Bar ($; 284-494-3463) serves food all day and has a full bar. Nicole's Bar ($; lunch only) sits just above the beach at the west end of the bay and features fish sandwiches, hot dogs and ice cream, along with drinks.
Josiah's Bay and Elizabeth Beach
In the look-but-don't-necessarily-touch category, Josiah's is a dramatic beach that can work up big waves and a dangerous undertow. Naturally, surfers and bodysurfers love it when the north swell goes off. It's a beautiful spot to sunbathe and watch the action. Elizabeth is a broad swath of bright sand that's also exposed to the north and north-northwest swell, so it can get hairy. When it's calm, though, there's good swimming.Stay and Play: Lambert Resort (from $215 low season, $270 high; 284-495-2877; lambertbeachresort.com) has 38 accommodations, including suites set at the edge of Elizabeth Beach, with an oceanfront restaurant and a swim-up bar in Tortola's largest pool.
The best departure lounge on earth, Trellis Bay is within walking distance of Tortola's Beef Island Airport. While the beach itself is not the spot to lay down your towel for a picnic (thin and wracky with a lot of boat traffic), it is a fun and funky center of relaxed activity, with working artists (Aragorn's Studio: 284-495-1849, aragornsstudio.com; Flukes Maps and Art Shop); cafés -- both the coffee kind (De Best Cup) and the Internet kind (Boardsailing BVI and Cyber Café: 284-495-2447, windsurfing.vi; also offers windsurfing lessons), and beach bar/restaurants.
Where to Play:About 50 yards down the beach from the main docks, De Loose Mongoose (serves all day; $; 284-495-2303; deloosemongoose.com) is a favorite stop on the yachtie circuit. The conch fritters here are the pillowy mega-battered kind, but the rest of the menu -- burgers, rotis, lobster -- is first-rate. De Mongoose's signature drink is the No-See-Um, made with 151 rum, which acts both to help you ignore the bitsy biters that frequent the bay and also alludes to the visual impairment that can occur if you drink too many.
Hot Stuff: Trellis Bay now has its own full-moon party.
Tortola's Long Bay is a very nice curl of white sand backed by thick sea grapes. Few tourists know about it and there are no food spots or facilities, but it's very popular with locals out for weekend beach picnics. There's no reef, but it's a good swimming spot -- just watch the steep drop-off a few feet in.
Hot Stuff: To find Long Bay, take the sand road just east of the bridge that connects Beef Island and Tortola.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication