The main island, is where 81% of the total population live. Mount Sage, the highest point in the archipelago, rises to 1,780 ft, and traces of a primeval rain forest can still be found on its slopes. Walking trails have been marked through Mount Sage National Park. The south part of the island is mountainous and rocky, covered with scrub, frangipani and ginger thomas. The north has groves of bananas, mangoes and palm trees, and long sandy beaches.
On the south shore, is the capital and business centre of the territory, dominated by marinas and financial companies, many of which line the harbour. Main Street houses many of the oldest buildings, churches and the colonial prison (replaced by a modern prison in 1997 for 120 inmates), and is the most picturesque street. Until the 1960s, Main Street was the waterfront road, but land infill has allowed another road, Waterfront Drive, to be built between it and the sea. A dual carriageway runs from Port Purcell to Wickhams Cay, which will later be extended to Fort Burt, so expect disruption in Road Town. Cruise ships call frequently at a dock in the Wickhams Cay area opened late-1994. There are many gift shops, hotels and restaurants catering for the tourist market. In 1992-93, very grand and imposing government offices were built on the waterfront overlooking the harbour entrance. Banks, offices, Cable and Wireless, the tourist office and a small craft village are also in this area. All these buildings are built on infilled land, called Wickhams Cay; the restaurant Spaghetti Junction was once a bar overlooking the water but is now some way back, divided from the sea by roads and office buildings. There are plans to develop the cruise landing site in Road Harbour, with an expansion of the pier, facilities to accommodate two vessels at a time, a terminal building, tourist information office and a marine tour dispatch area for boat trips, all linked by a boardwalk to connect Old Road Town with the new development.
The Governor resides in Government House above Waterfront Drive overlooking the harbour (T4942345). The house is in a classical style, painted white with green shutters and surrounded by beautifully tended gardens with a fine display of flamboyant trees in the front.
The four acre Joseph Reynold O’Neal Botanic Gardens near the Police Station in Road Town (free admission, donations welcomed) has a good selection of tropical and subtropical plants such as palm trees, succulents, ferns and orchids. There is a good booklet which gives a suggested route round the garden, pond, orchid house, fern house and medicinal herb garden. It is a peaceful place, luxuriant, with magnificent pergolas, recommended. The small BVI Folk Museum in a lovely old wooden building on Main Street behind Pusser’s Bar is opened on request.
There are also communities at East End and West End. West End has more facilities for visitors. Sopers Hole is a port of entry (ferries to St Thomas, St John and Jost Van Dyke leave from here) and popular meeting place for people on yachts. Pussers is alongside the moorings and there are several shops, including a dive shop and some boutiques. All the buildings are painted in bright pinks and blues. It is very relaxing to sip cocktails on the dock and watch the yachts come and go. The Jolly Roger, on the opposite side of the bay is a popular yachtie hangout. The area is famous for being the former home of Edward Teach (Blackbeard the pirate).
The best beaches are along the northwest and north coasts. Smugglers Cove, Long Bay and Apple Bay, West End, have fine sandy beaches. If you have no transport, Smugglers Cove is an hour’s walk on a dirt road over a steep hill from West End. The beach is usually deserted. Cane Garden Bay is the best beach and yachts can anchor there. There are two reefs with a marked gap in between. The Callwood Rum Distillery at Cane Garden Bay still produces rum with copper boiling vats and an old still and cane crusher in much the same way as it did in the 18th century. Apple Bay is popular with surfers from November for a few months, as is the east end of Cane Garden Bay and Josiah’s Bay. Brewers Bay is a long curving bay with plenty of shade and a small campsite in the trees by the beach. Elizabeth Bay and Long Bay, East End, are also pleasant beaches. Carrot Bay is stony, there is no sand, but there are lots of pelicans and the village is pleasant, having a very Caribbean feel with several bars, palm trees and banana plants. Watch out for strong rip currents at some of the north shore beaches, and seek local advice before swimming, especially if the surfers are out.
Tortola is superb, but the full flavour of the BVI can only be discovered by cruising round the other islands. You can also take day trips on the regular ferry to Virgin Gorda, with lunch and a visit to The Baths included if you wish.