What You Need to Know to Travel to Tortola

What You Need to Know to Travel to Tortola

June 9, 2014

Planning travel to Tortola? Hopefully to sail with our Katlo BVI yacht charter! But even if for other reasons, you will enjoy the great food, friendly folks, fun shopping, and historic sites. Tortola is the largest of the British Virgin Islands in both land size and population. Approximately, 23,000 people live on Tortola. In 1493, Christopher Columbus discovered this diverse tropical paradise. Like all but one BVI (Anegada is a coral atoll), Tortola rose from the ocean floor as a volcano so it is 21 square miles of mountainous terrain. Road Towns the capital of this 12 mile (20 km) long by 3 mile (5 km) wide Island.

How to get to Tortola?

Terrence B. Lettsome Airport tortola airport EIS There are few direct flights from the USA, Canada, Europe, or South America to the British Virgin Islands’ main airport, the Terrence B. Lettsome Airport (EIS), seen at right. There are flights from Miami to Tortola so connecting through there is the best North American option especially if you prefer to fly in a larger plane. Most flights connect through airports on another Caribbean Island such as Puerto Rico (another good connection option from North America), St. Thomas, Antigua, St. Kitts, or St. Maarten/St. Martin. Charter flights are available throughout the Caribbean.

Note: If your travel plans are to continue on to Virgin Gorda, Anegada, Peter Island, or Jost van Dyke, you will want to coordinate with your hotel or villa to make sure that charter flights or ferry services available if you arrive after 4:00 p.m.

What documentations required to visit Tortola?

A valid passport is required for travel to Tortola. No visa or other documentations required. If you have acquired a Global Entry card, you will find it a big time saver when passing through airport security, no matter where you are traveling to.

What time zone is it on Tortola?

Tortola Island falls under Atlantic Standard Time.

What is Tortola weather like?

In summer, the temperature ranges from 77 to 85 F (25 – 30 C). But continual trade winds keep it feeling cooler and comfortable. Pack a light jacket for evening when temperatures can drop into the 60s F (mid-teens C). Want more details? Check out this climate chart.

What language is spoken in Tortola?

English is the official language spoken with an engaging West Indian lilt and, like most places in the world, mingled with local slang. Many Creole languages are spoken as well.

center of british virgin islandsWhat currency is accepted in Tortola?

The U.S. dollar is the national currency. Major credit cards including Visa, MasterCard and Diners Card are accepted in most stores and restaurants. A few larger establishments also accept American Express.

Where can find ATMs in Tortola?

Road Town:

• Banco Popular Main Branch, Wickham’s Cay
• First Caribbean Main Branch, Wickham’s Cay
• Scotiabank Main Branch, Wickham’s Cay
• First Bank Main Branch, Wickham’s Cay
• Wickham’s Cay (Moorings Base) {First Caribbean}
• Pasea Estate (Rite Way Supermarket) {Scotiabank}
• Port Purcell (OneMart Supermarket) {First Caribbean}

Eastern Tortola:

• H. Lavity Stoutt Community College, Paraquita Bay {First Bank}
• Parham Town (below Thelma’s Restaurant) {First Caribbean}
• Terrance B. Lettsome Airport, Beef Island {Banco Popular}

North Shore, Tortola:

• Myett’s Restaurant, Cane Garden Bay {First Bank}
• Bobby’s Marketplace, Cane Garden Bay {Scotiabank}

Western Tortola:

• Nanny Cay Marina, Nanny Cay {First Bank}
• Soper’s Hole Marina, Frenchman’s Cay {First Caribbean}

Where can I exchange currency in Tortola?

There are many banks and exchange houses.

Banco Popular, Wickham’s Cay
Phone: (284) 852-2600
Monday – Thursday: 9:00 am – 3:00 pm
Friday: 9:00 am – 4:00 pm

First Bank, Nibbs Street, Wickham’s Cay
Phone: (284) 494-2662
Monday to Thursday 8:30 am to 4:00 pm
Friday 8:30 am – 5:00 pm
Saturday 9:00 am – 3:00 pm

First Caribbean International Bank, Admin Drive, Wickham’s Cay
Phone: (284) 494-2171
Monday – Thursday: 8:45 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Friday: 8:45 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Scotiabank, Ltd., De Castro Street, Wickham’s Cay
Phone: (284) 494-2526
Monday – Thursday: 8:30am – 3:00pm
Friday: 8:30am – 5:00pm

How do get around Tortola?

panoramic view of road town tortolaWalking

When you are off the boat, it is an easy walk to Road Town, seen in panoramic view at right. There you can do some shopping or grab some local cuisine.

Inter-Island Ferries

If you wish to hop from one island to another, quick and efficient inter-island ferries are available.

Taxi

Taxis abound with friendly, knowledgeable drivers are readily available and will get visitors anywhere they need to go. Many operators are very friendly as well as knowledgeable. Here’s a brief chart to get a feel for the fares.

Rental Car

Remember to drive British-style, on the left-hand side! To rent a car in the BVI, you must:
• have a valid driver’s license from your home country
• be 25 years of age or older
• purchase a temporary driver’s license for $10.
Many US rental car companies as well as local shops offer rentals. See this exhaustive list of car rental agencies with price guidance.

Bicycle and Scooter Rental

Bikes and scooters may also be rented from plenty of places around town. See the very bottom of this rental agency list (same list as link above for car rentals).

How I can e-mail and surf the internet?

While onboard Katlo, you will have free Wi-Fi for easy internet surfing, social media posting, and VoIP calling. While ashore, internet is available in a many internet cafes, but you may find the download speeds slow. Many restaurants also provide free Wi-Fi for customers.

How can I call home?

While onboard Katlo, you will have free Wi-Fi for VoIP calling. Ashore, your cellular phone will have better reception in the north part of Tortola where it is closer to the cell towers located in the US Virgin Islands. Of course, contact your cell phone provider before leaving home for the applicable rates. To place calls otherwise, visit one of the many internet cafes around town. Just ask your captain or any local where to find internet access and they will point you in the right direction. Some restaurants, like The Pub on Waterfront Dr. In Road Town, offer free Wi-Fi and some internet cafes offer free access if you have your own computer or mobile device.

What is the electrical voltage used in Tortola?

Electricity is 110 volts, the same as in North America.

What is there to do in Tortola?

Main Street of Road Town offers a variety of shopping opportunities as well as several historic sites including St. George’s Anglican Church, Britannic Hall and the Virgin Islands’ Folk Museum.

North Shore Shell Museum displays thousands of seashells, boats and local crafts. There is a restaurant if you need a break.

Old Government Houses a public museum and national landmark which was once the governor’s residence. Open Monday – Thursday 9:00 am – 4:00 pm.

Soper’s Hole Marina is a popular and picturesque harbor located on Frenchman’s Cay at the west end of Tortola. Shopping, dining, and watching yachts sail in and out are favorite activities. Frenchman’s Cay is accessed via a sand bar and small bridge.

Sage Mountain National Park offers spectacular views if you don’t mind a hike up the trail to the summit (1,716 ft/523 m). The park also offers a small lush rainforest, botanic gardens, and some of the Island’s ruins such as The Dungeon (Fort Purcell), Fort Burt, Fort Recovery, and Mount Healthy Windmill National Park.

If you love sea animals, you can swim with dolphins at Dolphin Discovery (Prospect Reef Resort, Road Town). As part of their program, you can receive a kiss and kiss them back or just shake their fins if you are a little shy. ($79-139)

Skyworld (Ridge Road) is an international restaurant with an ever-changing menu. It offers an observation tower for a 360-degree view of the surrounding BVI Islands and cays. On a clear day, you may see St. Croix.

Where can I catch some rays in Tortola?

While aboard Katlo, you will be visiting beautiful white sandy beaches anytime you want. But if you want to check out some beaches on your own, most beaches are about a 20-30 minute taxi ride away from the Road Town harbor area. The fare will cost between $8-20 per person, one way, depending on how many people are in your group. Below are some of the best:

Cane Garden Bay on the northwest coast of the island inspired Jimmy Buffett’s ‘Cheeseburger in Paradise’. This vibrant, active place offers beach bars, restaurants, and music. This beach offers something for everyone and is a favorite of sailors, sun worshippers, swimmers, water sports enthusiasts, and joggers. Try snorkeling at Brewers Bay, just over a steep hill from Cane Garden Bay.

Capoon’s Bay and Apple Bay both offer great swimming and sunning as well as a few waves for surfing. If you happen to be in Apple Bay around dinner time and brought a change of clothes, it boasts one of Condé Nast’s most romantic restaurants in the world, The Sugar Mill (dinner 7 – 9pm, US$26 – 40).

Elizabeth Beach offers plenty of sun worshipping space as it is one of the widest beaches on the Island. This secluded, tranquil beach offers amazing views to enjoy and make all your social media pals jealous.

Josiah’s Bay Beach is a surfer’s paradise with plenty of sand and surf for beachgoers. There are bars and two restaurants in case you get thirsty or need a bite.

Smuggler’s Coves on the western end of the Island which offers amazing sunsets. It is very quiet and peaceful because access is via a dirt road, but the off-road treks well worth it. Many say that Smuggler’s Coves one of the best beaches all of the Caribbean. Bring your snorkel gear or just enjoy the sand and water.

Long Bay at the northeastern tip is quite a ways from Road Town and also accessed via a dirt road. There are no facilities at the cove other than a hotel and a few private villas.

What should I shop for in Tortola?

You can find local arts and crafts, baskets, nautical antiques, English china, and glassware in Tortola. Resort wear and beach bags are also plentiful. You can sample the freshly baked goods or enjoy a bottle of fine wine. The main shopping area on Road Town’s Main Street is charming with many shops set up in an interwoven landscape of bright pastel West Indian style buildings and old Victorian gingerbread buildings with traditional red tin roofs. You will also find a few shops with Rolex watches, jewelry, and cameras.
If you are looking for cheaper souvenirs, go for local crafts or Pusser’s Rum. For $25 – $75+, you can find local pottery at Bamboushay on Main Street in Road Town.

Can I golf in Tortola?

Tortola’s limited land availability and steep terrains is not golf-course friendly. But if golf interests you, let your captain know as he can sail Katlo to an island that has a tee time waiting for you.

Is Tortola a good place to SCUBA dive?

Tortola is a diver’s dream with its coral formations, shipwrecks, and underwater caves. If SCUBA interests you, let your captain know as there are many amazing places to dive in the BVI. If you go on your own, here are a few SCUBA outfitters in Tortola:

• BVI Scuba Company
• Blue Water Divers
• We Be Divin’

What us the local cuisine in Tortola?

Conch chowder is very popular. Try Pusser’s Landing in Road Town or Myett’s Garden and Grille in Cane Garden Bay. Look for conch fritters, too!

Any type of fish anywhere on the Island will be fresh, fresh, fresh! Try tuna tartar, fresh lobster, or succulent shrimp.

Try a fried johnnycake for breakfast or with any meal!

If you are around on a Friday or Saturday night, head to the fish fry on Zion Hill Road in Apple Bay…it’s not a restaurant and there is no sign. Just look for a gathering of people. Fishermen bring the days catch, light a fire on the side of the road, and serve people who come from miles around for the freshest fish.

The famous Painkiller Cocktail, made with Pusser’s Dark Rum, cream of coconut, pineapple juice and orange juice, is the unofficial cocktail of the British Virgin Islands.

Here is a fairly complete guide to Tortola dining.
Many thanks to World Atlas for allowing us to use their beautiful map of Tortola!

Satellite image of Tortola by Jesse Allen (NASA Earth Observatory) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Road Town panoramic image by Henry awvia Wikimedia Commons

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