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British Virgin Islands

Description of British Virgin Islands

The British Virgin Islands are often called BVI and are located just east of Puerto Rico in the Caribbean. The islands are an overseas territory of Britain. The island group makes up a part of the Virgin Islands archipelago. This group includes the Spanish Virgin islands and the United States Virgin Islands. The official name is technically Virgin Islands, but British is often used as a way to distinguish the islands from the neighboring American territory. 

The main islands of the group are Jost Van Dyke, Anegada, Virgin Gorda, and Tortola. There are also more than 50 other smaller islands and cays that make up the group. Only about 15 of the islands are inhabited. Road Town is the capital and it is located on Tortola, which is the largest of the islands. The population of the islands is around 27,800 and of these about 23,000 live on Tortola. 

The people that live on the islands are considered to be overseas citizens of Britain and since the year 2002, they have full British citizenship. The territory is not considered a part of the European Union and is not subject to laws from the EU, but the citizens are considered to be EU citizens as well.

History 

These islands were first settled by the Arawak, who came over from South America around the year 100 BC. There is some evidence that may show the islands were inhabited by Amerindians as early as 1500 BC. The islands were inhabited by the Arawaks until the 15th century. They were replaced by the Caribs, who were more aggressive. The Caribs came from Lesser Antilles islands and are who the Caribbean sea is named for. 

Christopher Columbus, a European explorer, first saw the islands in the year 1493 on his 2nd voyage to the Americas. He named them Saint Ursula and her 11,000 virgins. This was shortened to The Virgins, and come from the Saint Ursula legend. 

In the 16th century, the islands were claimed by the Spanish Empire, but they were never settled by the Spanish. In the next years the islands were settled by Danish, Spanish, French, Dutch, and English, all who battled for control over the area. The islands became a notorious place for pirate attacks. 

During this time there is no record of an Amerindian population on the islands, but the native population that was located on Saint Croix was completely wiped out. 

By the year 1648, the Dutch created a permanent settlement on Tortola. The island was captured by the English in the year 1672. The English annexed Virgin Gorda and Anegada in 1680. From 1672 through 1733, the Danish took control of the islands located nearby. This includes Saint Croix, Saint John, and Saint Thomas. 

The British considered the islands to be a strategic possession, but when economic conditions were favorable they planted the area. The main crop on the islands is sugar cane. Slaves were brought in from Africa to work on the plantations. The islands prospered until the middle of the 19th century. It was during this time when slavery was abolished, a number of hurricanes hit the area, and sugar beet crops grew in both Europe and the United States. This all  caused a time frame of economic decline. 

The islands of St. Croix, St. Thomas, and St. John were purchased from the Dutch by the United States in 1917. These islands were renamed as the United States Virgin Islands. 

The BVI’s were part of the British Leeward islands administration or the St. Kitts and Nevis administration for some time. There was an administrator that represented the British government located in the area.  In 1960, the islands gained a separate colony status. The islands became autonomous in the year 1967. Since the 1960s, the traditional agricultural economy has been turned towards an economy that relies heavily on financial services and tourism. The islands are now some of the wealthiest in all of the Caribbean. 

The executive authority of the islands is the Queen and this authority is acted on her behalf by the Governor. The queen appoints the governor using the advice from the British government. The United Kingdom is responsible for the foreign affairs and defense. 

In 2007, a new constitution was adopted. This came into effect when the Legislative council was dissolved and the election of 2007 took place. The Premier is now the head of the government and is elected through a general election. Members of the ruling government as well as the opposition members are elected as well. The premier nominates a cabinet. The governor is still the Queen’s representative and a house of assembly is made up of 13 members who are elected along with the attorney general and the speaker. Orlando Smith has been the premier since 2011. William Boyd McCleary is the current governor and has been in office since 2010. 

There are 9 electoral districts and 8 of these are located on Tortola and encompass some of the neighboring islands. 

About British Virgin Islands 

The British Virgin Islands are a popular place to visit for sun worshippers, fisherman, and sailors, as well as other independent travelers. However, if you are cost conscious this is not the place that you want to visit. 

The British Virgin Islands are made up of around 60 or more islands and keys and over 43 of these islands are not inhabited. There are 2 types of islands in this chain, the steep volcanic islands and the flat coral islands. The main islands of Virgin Gorda and Tortola are both the volcanic type. Sandy spit and Anegada are of the flat variety. Anegada is often called the drowned island because the elevation of the island is so low. Many people miss it when they sail close because it sits so low in the water. The highest point on the islands is Sage Mountain, which is located on Tortola. 

The weather on the islands is quite enjoyable as it offers a tropical climate that is tempered by trade winds from the east. The humidity is quite low and the temperature variation throughout the seasons is small. There are some hurricanes that may occur during the low season, but there has not been much damage in recent years caused by flooding.

Visiting British Virgin Islands 

The islands have a separate border patrol than the United Kingdom. Nationals from the United States, Switzerland, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, New Zealand, EU, and Canada do not need a visa to visit the islands. However, nationals from all other nations do. 

Visa and passport regulations are enforced at the harbors, especially for any boats that are moving from the British territories to the United States. Customs for the United States may inform you that a certified birth certificate is an acceptable form of identification, but as of 2009, operators of ferries are only allowed to take citizens of the United States that have a valid passport. 

When visiting the islands one of the best ways to get around is by boat. You can rent a motorboat or sailboat from almost all of the major harbors. The conditions for boating depend on the time of the year that you are visiting. It can be tricky to anchor off of the islands, so make sure that you know what you are doing or that you hire a crew to help you. 

For experienced sailors, the area around the islands offers perfect conditions. The moderate trade winds provide line of sight sailing and there are barely any currents to deal with. There are very few tides and hardly any underwater obstructions besides the shore. This makes sailing through the islands very pleasant and relaxing. 

On the larger islands you can rent a car to get around this is unnecessary for most of the smaller islands as you will find foot trails and goat paths are the main form of transportation. If you choose to drive on the islands it is important to note that the roads are extremely hilly and the standard of upkeep is low. There are no real laws pertaining to driving, so you should act like everyone else that is driving is trying to cause an accident. 

When visiting the British Virgin Islands you will find that the main attraction for this area is simply nature. The main draw is the scenic villages along the seashore, the white sandy beaches, and the coral reefs. 

There are historic churches and villages that you can visit, and if the sun becomes too much for you, there is a museum located in Road Town and a shady botanical gardens that you can visit. You may also want to go into the rain forest that is located on Tortola on Sage Mountain. 

The beaches on the island are some of the best, even by Caribbean standards. There are a large number of beaches on the islands and because of this they typically are not very crowded. Cane Garden Bay, which is located on Tortola and in a densely populated area, does tend to be crowded. However, even during the most popular tourist season it is not uncommon to find a remote beach that you will have mostly to yourself for the afternoon. The beaches typically do not have vendors that will pester tourists, which is common for many Caribbean beaches. There are also not a lot of amenities on the beaches so make sure that you pack some water and your lunch. 

Sailing in the area is quite popular and relaxing as mentioned above. There are several charter companies located in the area. Aside from passengers from the cruise ships, most of the visitors on the islands will stay on their live abroad boats or they will charter a sailing vessel. 

Scuba diving off the coasts of the island is popular as well. The islands are home to the wreckage of RMS Rhone. This is where the film “The Deep” took place. This is the most popular dive site of the islands. The Rhone was a Royal Mail Steamer. It sunk during a hurricane in October of 1867 and almost all who were aboard were killed. The steamer was about 310 feet long during her life. The boat is now divided into 3 dive sites as each chunk rests at different depths ranging from 20 feet to 80 feet. 

There are several other shipwrecks off the coasts of the Virgin Islands as well. One of the most notable is the Chikuzen. This is a collection of 4 wrecks that were sunk on purpose just off Cooper Island. They include the Parmatta, which is rarely dived, the Fearless, the Inganess Bay, and just off Great Dog Island there is an aircraft. In addition to wreck diving, there are a number of coral reefs that should be explored while you are in the area. 

There are several dive operators located on the island and the average cost for a dive is about $80 to $100 for a 2 tank dive and between $50 and $60 for a one tank dive. There are some cheaper deals available if you book a package. 

If you want to fish during your visit you will need to obtain a permit first as it is illegal for non-citizens to remove any type of marine organism from the waters off of the islands without it. The cost of the permit is $35. 

Spearfishing is not allowed and you cannot harvest any type of marine life while using scuba gear. During certain hunting seasons you can obtain a permit that will allow you to hunt for conch and lobster by hand.

There are several areas that allow surfing including Apple Bay and Josiah’s Bay. Windsurfing is quite popular and there is a tour that is held near the Fourth of July.  There is also a kite boarding event held on the islands. The Kite Jam is a week-long event that includes races, professional demonstrations, an awards ceremony and parties. 

Some facts about British Virgin Islands

Population of country 21,730 people
Area of British Virgin Islands 153 sq. kilometers
Located on the continent Central America and the Caribbean (NA)
Capital of British Virgin Islands Road Town
Currency at British Virgin Islands Dollar (USD)
Domain Zone .vg
Phone country code -283
FIPS code of British Virgin Islands VI

Gallery of British Virgin Islands

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British Virgin Islands video guide

More information about British Virgin Islands

Climate of British Virgin Islands:
  • subtropical
  • humid
  • temperatures moderated by trade winds
Terrain of British Virgin Islands:
  • coral islands relatively flat
  • volcanic islands steep, hilly
British Virgin Islands also has such useful resources as: .

Top cities of British Virgin Islands


City Name Population State Coordinates
1 Road Town 8,449 people 18.41667 x -64.61667

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