Last Updated on August 18, 2023

Our family of four adults had originally hoped for a day sail from St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands to the British Virgin Islands. We learned that to actually see several islands in the course of one day and add in  snorkeling, a powerboat was our only option.

Part of a Caribbean volcanic archipelago, the British Virgin Islands consist of 50 islands scattered across miles of an incomparable turquoise Caribbean Sea. Traveling by water offers one of the best ways to see the island’s numerous reef-lined beaches and hidden coves where scavenging pirates once buried their many treasures.

We boarded the New Horizons Breakaway at Sapphire Beach Resort and Marina, stored our gear, and settled in for a 10-hour day of adventure on the high seas. This venture required passports as we were leaving the U.S. and crossing into British waters.

The sun on our faces and warm ocean breezes provided balm for our souls as we headed to our first island destination. We passed by sleek sailboats and stretches of palm-fringed beaches with sugary-white sands as our small boat traversed the aquamarine waters entering Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour and colorful Spanish Town.

Virgin Gorda

Virgin Gorda's Devil's Bay.
Virgin Gorda’s Devil’s Bay. Photo by Noreen Kompanik

Covering only eight square miles and sparsely inhabited, this third largest of the British Virgin Islands remains a sleepy, idyllic Caribbean hideaway where goats and cattle have right-away over traffic. The name, given to the island by explorer Christopher Columbus, is Spanish for “Fat Virgin,” because to these sea-weary mariners, the island’s profile on the horizon resembled a voluptuous woman lying on her side.

A 10-to 15-minute open air taxi ride from the port transported us on a scenic slightly uphill drive to the southwest entrance of Baths National Park, a seven-acre protected nature preserve. The Baths have nothing to do with thermal springs or outdoor spas; their name is short for ‘batholiths.’ These huge granite boulders form an amazing labyrinth of cavernous passages and scenic grottos meandering through stunning sheltered and secluded sea pools.

In addition to the spectacle of the Bath’s cavernous beauty, the sinuous spelunking trail exited to a picturesque clearing with awe-inspiring views of horseshoe-shaped Devil’s Bay. Here, snow white talcum powdered sand and shaded umbrellas greeted us for a perfect rest from the hike.  

Shallow clear waters and delightful coves were ideal for a relaxing swim. The bay’s turquoise teemed with rays, blue tang and other tropical fish, inviting snorkelers and divers to explore underground caves and magnificent coral reefs just offshore.

A hike to the top of boulders strewn along the beach provided even more astonishing views of the Baths.

Great Camanoe Island

Aquamarine Waters of Diamond Reef in British Virgin Islands.
Aquamarine Waters of Diamond Reef in British Virgin Islands. Photo by Noreen Kompanik

After departing Virgin Gorda, we headed to Diamond Reef just off the uninhabited Great Camanoe Island near Tortola. The island is characterized by its lush vegetation, rocky coastline and stunning beaches. It’s also popular for hiking and kayaking adventures.

Diamond Reef is known as one of the most spectacular snorkeling spots in the Virgin Islands. It was fittingly named such after a diver lost a diamond ring there several years ago never to be found again. As if by some strange coincidence, one of the snorkelers on our boat who was on his honeymoon also lost his wedding band during the snorkel adventure. However, with the help of some divers in the area, they managed to retrieve his ring, this time with a happy ending.

We could hardly keep up with the host of colorful fish or the other hidden treasures found along this tropical reef’s coral formations, including sea turtles and the stingrays lurking about on the sandy ocean floor.

We understood why the reef is considered one of the best in these islands. The multi-hued waters are crystal-clear and teeming with life.

Marina Cay

Famished, we headed to Pusser’s Restaurant on Marina Cay. This flower-covered, eight-acre island is ringed by a soft white sand beach, swaying palms and the shallow, calm waters of a sheltered crystal-clear lagoon.

The idyllic isle served as the filming location for several Corona beer commercials. We can understand why.

The laid-back eatery directly on the beach gets its name from the island’s five-blended West Indian rum, also the key ingredient in the Virgin Islands most popular drink– the knock-your-socks-off-if-you’re-not-careful, world-famous Painkiller.

Pusser’s menu included an excellent selection of fresh seafood along with other dishes with a distinctive Caribbean twist.

Jost Van Dyke

Jost Van Dyke in British Virgin Islands.
Jost Van Dyke in British Virgin Islands. Photo by MIchael Kompanik

Finally, we hit our fourth and final stop, the island of Jost Van Dyke (pronounced yost). Jost Van Dyke took its name from an early Dutch settler and former pirate. With one of the most stunning beaches in all of the Caribbean, this island, only three by four square miles, is dotted with palms, sugar mill ruins and rugged trails.

What makes Jost unique is that it’s managed to retain the local culture that much of the Caribbean has lost. Residents fish, farm, go barefoot most of the time and, of course, they love building boats.

Getting to Jost Van Dyke is the fun part. There’s no dock or anchoring of large boats.  We had to get as close to the beach as possible then take a leap of faith with our waterproof cameras and other items secured as best we could.

Plunging into the calm waters below, we literally swam to shore. Jumpers beware; the inviting water can be deceptively deep in spots with the sandy bottom visible for up to 30 feet. Life jackets are available to those who are not strong swimmers.

Jost Van Dyke’s Island-y Bars

Every day’s a party at Soggy Dollar Bar, the reputed birthplace of the infamous Painkiller. The bar was aptly named as patrons have been paying their bar tabs with soaking wet money ever since they opened. Hammocks strung from palms beg for occupants. Wispy clouds floated overhead. Caribbean tunes serenaded us as we swayed in those hammocks accompanied by a warm Caribbean breeze.

No wonder country singer Kenny Chesney has featured this island many times in his songs. It’s a paradise we almost wanted to keep a secret. But we’re quite sure the word’s already out.

A sandy-covered lane serves as Jost Van Dyke’s main street.

Since the late 1960s, Foxy’s Bar in Great Harbour has been a popular stop for Caribbean boaters. The shanty bar named after the 75-year-old singer, songwriter and poet has a catchy theme, “Live de life, drink de beer.” Their own local microbrewery, which was the first brewhouse in the entire British Virgin Islands, makes four distinct brews.

After catching some rays and beach time, we swam back to the Breakaway for our return trip to St. Thomas. Tired and relaxed, we were treated to more of the stunning charms of the Caribbean venturing past numerous inlets, cays and islands, mostly uninhabited. Lush green layers of mountains and miles of pristine beaches beckoned in the distance.

Naturalist and preservationist John Muir once said, “When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.”

And what a day filled with beauty and adventure it was!

Author

  • Noreen Kompanik

    Noreen Kompanik is a retired registered nurse, legal nurse consultant and military spouse turned travel writer. She launched her travel writing career in 2014 and has over 1,000 published articles in a variety of digital and print publications.