As the name suggests, the islands are a British Overseas Territory in the Caribbean, east of Puerto Rico. There are five main islands and over 50 smaller islands or cays, and the capital, Road Town, is located on the largest, Tortola. The archipelago got its name Virgin Islands from Christopher Columbus who landed here on his second voyage to the Americas in 1493. BVI - as it's known - is one of the most prosperous countries of the Caribbean, originally from growing sugar cane but now mostly as a result of tourism and off-shore financial services. The islands have fine white sandy beaches, coral reefs and numerous restaurants and bars that are very popular with cruise ship visitors.
One of the greatest assets of BVI is state-of-the-art spa treatments in the numerous wellness centers that have been developed on the islands, where you can be scrubbed with local salt, wrapped in algae and mud, rubbed down in coconut oil or pampered with aromatherapy using locally grown hibiscus perfume oils. Hot herbal tea is served with Bong Bong, a traditional local flat bread best enjoyed with slices of fresh local avocado.
The British Virgin Islands have some fine dive sites, and certainly some of the world's best shipwreck dives. The site of the Rhone, a British steamer that sank in a hurricane in 1867, is now a marine national park. Another popular dive site is Alice's Wonderland off Ginger Island, which is a fabulously colored coral garden alive with butterfly fish, rays and occasionally reef sharks.
The miles of shoreline around the numerous islands of BVI are fringed with beaches and inviting warm crystal clear waters. Cane Garden Bay on Tortola's north shore is a long curved bay sheltered from the wind and a popular anchorage for boats. Bars and restaurants line the beach. The Baths on Virgin Gorda island are a series of shallow pools beneath a canopy of granite rocks where you feel you are swimming in a cave or grotto lit by shafts of sunlight. Great Harbour Beach is the arrival point of Jost Van Dyke island and has fine white sand along a horseshoe bay. Nearby, Sandy Cay and Sandy Spit are tiny islands with secluded beaches that are a delight for sunbathing or snorkelling. Prickly Pear island is a national park that combines pristine beaches with gentle hiking trails. Diamond Cay is one island where the volcanic origin of BVI is most evident with bare rocky cliffs on one side and sandy beaches on the other.
BVI has a colourful history and remnants of its colonial past can be explored in former sugar factories, rum distilleries, old military defences, and government buildings such as Old Government House which has been refurbished and opened as a museum. Mount Healthy Windmill is now the heart of a national park where you can see the remains of a sugar making complex, and the Folk Museum in Road Town has a collection of shells and ancient pottery and artefacts recovered from shipwrecks. On Jost, history is alive with a project for young people who are building a traditional style 32-foot sloop using modern tools and shipbuilding techniques. You're welcome to drop in and meet the team.