One of our 4 boats at the Indians. A bit of current and only fair snorkeling.
Is this luxury vacation destination worth all the hype ... and expense??
One of the fun things about budget travel is the satisfaction of visiting a place and knowing you paid way less than most vacationers and had just as good (or better!) of an experience there. You see the amount of money people drop and it's so exciting to find ways to NOT do that. Based on available accommodation, transportation, and food choices, some places lend themselves better to budget travel than others. And sometimes you just plain meet your match.
The British Virgin Islands is one of those places. There are ways to cut costs, but it's not easy and even then, the Virgin Islands are simply NOT a budget travel destination. So you must ask yourself, is it worth the splurge?
I was fortunate enough to spend a luxurious week with friends on live-aboard bare boat catamarans with local captains. I am so grateful to have been a part of their special event and it was a wonderful time, and I don't want to lessen that experience. But this is my objective review for budget travelers and what you might want to consider before looking at a visit to the Virgin Islands.
So many pretty spots. Each island and each bay is unique. I have become such a beach snob though, I didn't even go in the water here.
One thing that's hard to get used to (especially as a budget traveler) is that you will be shelling out money everywhere. If you ferry in, there is a $10 port fee and $5 for each piece of luggage added to the $60 ticket. There is a $10 environmental fee when you enter the country, and a $20 departure tax when you leave. Taxis cost on average $10 each person, drinks are as low as $7 on happy hour, Carib beer around $5, and dinner is often a buffet for $40 per person (!). Expect to pay close to $100/night for lodging. Groceries are out of this world expensive, too! Okay so you get it, it's an expensive place. So is it worth it?
Ferry $60, luggage fee $5, port fee $10, environmental fee $10, departure tax $20.
A typical visit to the British Virgin Islands involves boating from island to island, stopping at snorkel or dive spots, mooring at the popular bays for the night and taking the dinghy to shore to go drink Pain Killer cocktails (a local favorite) at whatever is the popular restaurant/bar at that particular stop. Life could be worse! ;) But it lacks any feel of the local culture and puts you on the tourist track big time.
I became a bit addicted to the piña coladas there with a garnish of fresh nutmeg.
When in Rome ....
Typical beach bar. This one is Cow Wreck on Anegada.
You can also ferry between some of the islands and get a hotel but know that facilities on most of the islands are pretty limited. There is sort of a main restaurant/bar at each bay that has the market cornered. I walked around a few of the towns and was unable to find a locals hangout. A few of the bays have grocery stores, but not all. The islands are just not set up for independent, and certainly not budget, travel.
Taking the dinghy into Norman Island to have a happy hour drink and $40 buffet dinner (yeah, I skipped dinner and fixed a quesadilla on the boat).
Cane Garden Bay from our anchor spot - a few beachfront restaurant bars.
In September of 2017, hurricane Irma really wiped out the BVI. This not only included the buildings on land, but the coral reefs as well. Almost 2 years later, there are still many buildings boarded up or in shambles.
That doesn't bother me though since I'm there for the water, beaches, and sea life. But where one might picture perfect beaches teeming with tropical fish, there are strong currents and only "okay" snorkeling. I talked to someone who used to live there and he said that before the hurricane, the reefs were in much better condition. Fortunately they seem to be replenishing themselves already, but it's a far cry from what it used to be.
School of blue tangs at the Indians. Or was this at the Chimney?
RMS Rhone shipwreck. The current was EXTREMELY strong but it was cool to be able to see the wreck so clearly without diving.
The Baths are unique (and crowded - especially when the cruise ship groups are there!), Anegada was also only okay with a bit too much current for our liking. The Indians - meh. The currents at the RMS Rhone were too much for most in our group; both divers and snorkelers alike, but I'm glad it was easy to see the wreck even snorkeling. We did have some incredible snorkeling experiences at Monkey Point and Diamond Bay on Scrub Island, and finally found the almost-perfect (but crowded) beach at White Bay on Jost Van Dyke. We saw small sea turtles almost everywhere we went and the water was warm with excellent visibility.
White Bay on Jost Van Dyke was finally the calm turquoise water we had been hoping for.
From the main beach at the Baths, you can hike up and over to Devil's Bay which is really lovely. It's a bit hot, but you can do it in bare feet.
From there, you can enter the path through the boulders / cave. When the cruise ships are in, there can be 200 people in line to get into the path! Instead, sneak in the "exit only" near the main beach.
Pirate's Bay. There are even a few boulder caves along the beach.
Pirate's Bay by the Baths. This was a perfect soak despite all the cruiseship-goers.
BVI is a very nice place, each island being slightly different than the others. But the whole time I just couldn't help but think that for the money, you could hit up SE Asia or even some places on the Mayan Riviera for a fraction of the cost. There was very little wow factor. Or at least an appropriate wow factor that would warrant the amount of money it costs to visit there.
Again, I'm SUPER grateful to have had the experience and the time spent with friends was priceless. But if you're wondering if you should keep it high on your list? Perhaps move it down a few notches unless you win the lottery. And if you do decided you have money to burn and splurge on a nice week in BVI, CocoMaya Restaurant
on Virgin Gorda is delicious! Every dish is good including the cheesecake, and they have the best piña coladas I have ever had in my life.