Beach-Lover's Guide to the BVI: Virgin Gorda
The Baths/Devil's Bay/Spring Bay
Yes, this site and its iconic granite formations have been promoted to death, but trust us: Walking, climbing and wading the path from the beach at The Baths through shady grottoes and sunsplashed pools to Devil's Bay is immersing yourself in one of Mother Nature's coolest Caribbean playgrounds -- and the sand and snorkeling at both ends is sublime. Day-trippers do flock here and charter boats swing from all the moorings, but things quiet down by 2 p.m. Spring Bay is a gorgeous spot, usually empty, just north of The Baths.
Where to Play: Poor Man's Bar at The Baths ($; open 9:30 to 5) has a full bar, a little kitchen with burgers and hot dogs and a shady spot to eat them, plus snorkel gear for rent.
Little Dix Bay and the Upper Coast Beaches
Set on 500 acres in its own sheltered half-mile-long bay, Little Dix Bay ($675 low season, $1,000 high for a beachfront cottage; 888-767-3966; littledixbay.com) is an elegantly low-key beach resort. A series of renovations continues to update this 98-room Caribbean classic. Premium ocean-view rooms, suites and beachfront cottages are available a couple of steps from the sand.
Farther north, on the western side of Virgin Gorda, are four stunning strands beneath the gaze of Gorda Peak: Savannah Bay is a lengthy stretch of deserted beach with a nice Italian restaurant called Giorgio's Table ($$; 284-495-5367) located on a bluff above the water; Pond Bay, Mahoe Bay and Nail Bay all offer dazzling snorkeling opportunities along fine beaches backed by villa-dotted hills.
North Sound/Prickly Pear Island
Vixen Point, a bustling beach operation on the tip of Prickly Pear National Park caters to boaters, guests of local resorts like the Bitter End Yacht Club (284-494-2746; beyc.com) and passengers from the boutique cruise liners that squeeze into Virgin Gorda's North Sound, offering all comers beach barbecue and water toys. The bar is on the best beach inside the sound, and you can walk from there through the wilds of the park to an even better strand, North Beach.
A finger of mangrove-lined water in the southeast corner of North Sound leads to Biras Creek Resort (from $615 low season, $840 high; 800-223-1108; biras.com), a sophisticated, luxurious retreat reachable only by boat. Sprawling from its dock on the sound across a narrow isthmus, Biras features 32 cottages on Bercher's Bay, a windward beach good for walking and watching but not for swimming. Fortunately, the resort also offers a lee beach, Deep Bay, with soft sand, placid waters, a row of inviting palapas, water sports and a beach bar/barbecue hut for guests.
COOPER ISLAND/SALT ISLAND
The most famous spot near these small islands on Sir Francis Drake Channel is actually beneath the sea: the wreck of the RMS Rhone. But both islands offer nice beaches; one has a small resort and the other is uninhabited.
Cooper Island Beach Club ($105 low season, $195 high; 800-542-4624; cooper-island.com) on Machioneel Bay offers basic accommodations on the site of a former coconut plantation, which bequeathed the hotel a grove of tall palms. A friendly, family-run feel pervades the operation, and it's another favorite anchorage for yachties who come to sun on the copper-colored sand, snorkel with turtles and rays over the sea grass and with tropical fish along the rocks and reef at Cistern Point, and then scarf down conch fritters and chocolate brownies at the beachfront restaurant.
Hot Stuff: Cooper is the closest spot to rent equipment and get air fills to dive the Rhone, which lies in 20 to 80 feet of water just off the southwestern shore of Salt.
To find a list of BVI dive shops and liveaboard dive boats, go to bviscuba.org.
The BVI's largest private island has several noteworthy beaches. Deadman's Bay (it faces the island known as Deadman's Chest of "Yo Ho Ho" fame) is a mile-long sweep of silky sand backed by rustling palms, with complete water sports for guests and a good shot at spotting sea turtles over the nearshore grass beds; fish-watching is better around the edges of the bay. A rocky outcrop separates the main beach from Little Deadman's, the equally nice though smaller strand that the resort prefers visiting yachties to use. Deadman's Beach Bar & Grill ($$$) welcomes guests and island-hopping visitors for lunch and dinner. White Bay, inside Peter's elbow facing Norman Island, lives up to its fair name and offers excellent snorkeling on patch and fringing reef.
Where to Stay: Peter Island Resort (from $560 low season, $900 high; 800-346-4451; peterisland.com) has beachy suites in four-unit buildings at the west end of Deadman's Beach, each with an oceanfront balcony or patio. The resort's lavish new spa overlooks Big Reef Bay, where waves break on a reef that protects a long arcing beach theatrically backed by green hills. The snorkeling here is very good when it's calm enough.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication