There's no better place to launch your own sailing adventure than in the bareboat capital of the world: Tortola, the largest (19km by 5km/12 miles by 3 miles) and most populous of the British Virgin Islands. But you don't have to be a sailor to appreciate the quiet, understated beauty of Tortola, no matter how many flocks of sails bob in the Road Town harbor. Unwind to the soft caress of trade winds, the gentle green hills that slope down to sparkling waters, and the secluded white-sand beaches and hidden coves.
Beaches are rarely crowded on Tortola. You'll have to navigate roller-coaster hills to get to the island's finest, Cane Garden Bay, but its fine white sand and sheltering palms are well worth the trip. Smugglers Cove, at the extreme western end of Tortola, is a crescent of white sand with calm turquoise waters. A favorite with locals, Smugglers Cove is also popular with snorkelers, who explore a world of sea fans, sponges, parrotfish, and elkhorn and brain corals.
Things to Do
Charter a sailboat, if you haven't already arrived in your own boat -- these are some of the world's best cruising waters -- and explore the island's cays and coves by boat. Across Drake Channel lies Norman Isle, the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, for great snorkeling. No visit to Tortola is complete without a trip to Sage Mountain National Park, a primeval rainforest, where you can picnic while overlooking neighboring cays.
Eating & Drinking
While many guests rarely dine outside their hotels, a venture out to one of the local restaurants is highly recommended. Road Town offers the largest concentration of cheap and authentic Caribbean eateries in the B.V.I. Be sure to sample the roti -- Caribbean/Indian-style burritos or turnovers stuffed with curried chicken or goat, potatoes and peas, or carrots. Rum punch is the island cocktail of choice, but beware; it can be deceptively strong. Conch and lobster are top seafood selections.
Nightlife & Entertainment
Nightlife on Tortola is of the laid-back, beach bar variety; you'll have to go elsewhere for clanging casinos and big entertainment complexes. Head to a popular hangout like the Bomba Shack in Apple Bay -- a surfside shack constructed of driftwood and broken surfboards -- for rollicking full-moon parties. Steel bands and scratch bands appear regularly around Road Town, hammered oil drums or steel "pans" in tow. Pick up a copy of Limin' Times, an events listing guide, at your hotel.