Tortola, Virgin Islands, British cruise holidays

The Caribbean has always been a magnet for people seeking sunshine and smiles. For a true Caribbean experience, cruise to the beautiful British Virgin island of Tortola. Rising to 1,709 feet at its highest point and famed for its rugged volcanic landscape, Tortola has proved difficult to develop as a major tourist haunt, and so has preserved its charm. Its quaint capital, Road Town, is charming and compact. Just five minutes walk from the tender drop-off at Wickhams Quay you will find Main Street, home to a colourful crafts market and a range of small speciality shops selling Tortolan ceramics, Mexican glassware and unusual carvings sculpted from sea flotsam. You will also find some of the loveliest and least crowded beaches in the Caribbean. At Cane Garden Bay you can tuck into a barbecued freshly caught fish; snorkellers will find the most eye-boggling marine life at Lower Belmont Bay, while those who enjoy a walk can stroll through the rainforest at Mount Sage National Park.

Top sights and attractions

Sage Mountain National Park

Reaching just over 1,700ft, the highest point in all of the British Virgin Islands, Sage Mountain National Park delivers unbeatable views to dream of. A hit with hikers, you can choose the short easy Mountain Trail or the more challenging and longer Peak Trail. A great place to surround yourself with nature, it’s a British Virgin Island national treasure. You’re likely to see white-tailed deer and countless tropical animals and birds living in trees and plants of every size, shape and colour.

Cane Garden Bay

You might feel like you’ve won the lottery as you stretch out on a lounger at this lucky horseshoe-shaped beach. Lying on Tortola’s north shore, Cane Garden Bay is as loved by locals as the day-trippers who come for a must-see Caribbean beach experience. The sweeping sandy bay has plenty of space for relaxing and enjoying the sunshine. Have yourself some sweet time out, sipping a freshly shaken cocktail from one of the popular beach bars. Watch the surfers on the waves or join in with the many watersports on offer at this lively location.

Smuggler’s Cove

At the end of a narrow and very bumpy road on the northwest side of the island lies a perfect stretch of sand known as Smuggler’s Cove. As the name suggests, this was once a hotbed bay for the landing, trading and dodgy dealings of stolen goods and treasures. Today, there’s just a little snack shack selling cold drinks and light bites at this lesser-trodden location. It’s an almond sand and sapphire blue vision of what a perfect Caribbean beach should be. Snorkelling is fantastic and snoozing is highly recommended. Enjoy the dream!

Things to do in Tortola

Callwood Rum Distillery

If you’re looking for a true and intriguing insight into the way the world was back in 1780, a tour of Callwood's Rum Distillery ticks all the boxes. As the oldest continuously operating rum distillery in the Caribbean, it’s the last of its kind, kept just as it was when workers would process sugar cane to produce white rum here. You can see the antique boiler and original still, try a taste of aged rum (if you’re feeling brave!) and buy your own mild modern-day versions that are somewhat more pleasant to sip and mix than those of the 1800s.

Tortola Canopy Zipline Adventure

A zipline experience is always a thrill but when you add the scenery around Tortola’s rainforests, you’ll never forget it. Clipped to a harness, whizzing along the lines with a bird’s-eye view over the hills and treetops, you’ll remember the shining sea, flashes of coloured houses and golden beaches along the coast of the biggest British Virgin Island. Organised with local experts, your transfer to the activity is straight from your ship and couldn’t be easier – so no excuses! Be brave, go wild and have a great time.

Explore Road Town

Tortola is the capital of all the British Virgin Islands and the island’s own capital is Road Town. Along Main Street, the historic landmarks include the old Post Office, the Folk Museum, Britannic Hall and St George’s Anglican Church. Immerse yourself in the colourful jumble of baby-blue and candyfloss-pink houses, lively little street stalls and markets selling everything under the sun. Even when busy, the laid-back pace of local life will soon help you relax and take Road Town in easy stride.

Food and drink in Tortola

All kinds of cocktails made with Caribbean rum can be found here in the British Virgin Islands (the Painkiller cocktail was created on Jost Van Dyke, Tortola’s island neighbour named after a Dutch pirate). Fresh fish like red snapper and delicious seafood are, naturally, the specialities here with Anegada lobster being reputedly the best in the Caribbean. Fish and fungi, the island's national dish, has nothing to do with mushrooms! It’s a cornmeal and okra pudding that is often served with saltfish and vegetables. Pita stuffed patés (patties) and roti East Indian flatbread filled with meat and veg are tasty treats. Try the unique traditional soup stew staple made with callaloo leaves and don’t miss a bite of johnny cake (evolved from ‘journey cake’), a sweet fried batter dessert.

Shopping in Tortola

Tortola Pier Park is a colonial-styled outdoor mall with over 70 retail outlets, entertainment and late-night dining. Here you have fabulous jewellery stores like Little Switzerland and Diamonds International as well as small speciality shops selling unique Tortolan jams, spices, arts and crafts. Main Street across from Waterfront Drive is home to a colourful crafts market and a selection of shops. At the British Virgin Islands Farmers’ and Fishermen’s Market, the fresh catch is proudly displayed alongside a rainbow of goodness in local dragon fruit, soursop, papaya, pineapple, mango, sour apple, passion fruit and tamarind.

Culture and history of Tortola

Tortola’s mix of Euro, Afro and Carib culture dates back to the first Ciboney and Arawak inhabitants. Christopher Columbus was here in 1493, the Dutch in 1648 and, during the Golden Age of Piracy, these waters were terrorised by the infamous likes of Blackbeard himself. The English stayed 300 years here, leaving their laws, language and the sugar and tobacco plantations they profited from until slavery was abolished in 1834. Since the 19th century, Tortola has been all about tourism and offshore banking.  Traces of the past now sit next to the rich resorts. The African heritage comes across loud and clear in music, dance and food, bringing a kick to every exciting menu and ‘jump up’ party that takes place on these perfect white sands. Yachting and sailing events bring people from all over the world, all year round, to admire this island’s beauty.

Port facilities

The British Virgin Islands capital, Tortola, is a highlight on any Caribbean island-hopping holiday. The cruise terminal is modern and stylish, giving a great first impression of this unforgettable destination. Your ship docks in the capital, Road Town, next to Tortola Pier Park, a shopping and dining mall with over 70 retail outlets. It’s a short walk to the city centre from here so you can set out independently on foot. Alternatively, join an experience, exploring locations like the botanic gardens, the rum distillery, the fort and so much more. On the waterfront, there’s usually a row of bright tents selling batik and local arts and crafts, with a warm welcome to Tortola.

Frequently Asked Questions about Tortola, British Virgin Islands

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