Recently the bf and I visited the British Virgin Islands for seven fun-filled but relaxing days. As someone who always feels unnecessarily anxious when I have an itinerary, I decided to travel without one. I suggest you do the same, as it worked out beautifully!
Of course, I did some research about the islands, the climate and the people, for safety’s sake and to eliminate unnecessary baggage. The best tip I got was “pack light”. No problem there, I hate lugging around bags and I figured since I was going “budget friendly”, I wouldn’t need anything fancy to wear.
We flew into St. Thomas, destination Tortola. Tortola is one of the larger islands and so my thinking was “if traveling by ferry or water taxi turns out to be something we cannot afford once we are out there, there will probably be enough to do on the island within driving distance.” Another great tip I got was “rent a car,” a four wheel drive to be exact. So, that is what I did.
I had a couple thousand dollars saved up because I was worried about getting over there and running out of money, but I still played it safe and spent as little as possible. After all, it was Christmas time and I didn’t want to be broke when I got back either.
Man cannot live on “salt air” alone
The first thing I want you to know is that food is very expensive over there and I am not just talking about eating out. I am talking grocery store food was super expensive. For instance, a small can of condensed Campbell’s soup ran about $3.00. Orange juice was about $8.00. A loaf of bread was $6.00. Normal everyday staples were outrageous! I spoke to many locals about the cost of food on the island because I was convinced there must be some secret to shopping more affordably. I mean, this is a tourist industry with most locals working for minimum wage of about $6 an hour. They told me they had to take the ferry over to St. Thomas for any real shopping, at $35 one way! Overall, the locals agreed that the price of food on the island was not affordable and made life quite a bit more difficult than was necessary. This would explain why most locals with even the smallest bit of land had vegetable gardens.
*So here is my “I’m gonna do this next time” tip for you, check a bag with some non-perishables for your flight over. I’m talking ramen noodles, bread, mayo and dried fruit, the kind of things that customs won’t care about. This way, you’ll pay normal, reasonable prices for your food, a $25 checked bag fee and have an empty bag to take back souvenirs or just throw it out if you don’t love it. You will still come out on top monetarily since a case of canned soda in the BVI will run you about $18.
Where the streets have no names
The second tip I have for you is to rent a car. After having rented a car on Tortola, I am not sure I will ever visit another foreign land and not rent a car. At $50 a day, we saw every part of the island we cared (or dared) to visit, and paid $0.00 in taxi fees. Yes, it took some getting used to; driving on the left, crazy roundabouts and a few close calls, but totally exhilarating and absolutely cost effective. Having our own means of transportation meant we could go to almost any beach, any day, for free. Technically, I could have spent each day at a different beach with a packed lunch and been back at the rental in time for dinner. We used a total of 3/4 tank of gas in seven days, driving every day. So, just do it and thank me later.
We rented a studio guest house on the West End of Tortola. It was the cheapest thing I could find and it had a hot tub, beautiful views of Soper’s Hole and was oh so quiet. It also had a kitchenette which we took full advantage of each morning and evening.
So, what did we do besides lounge in the hot tub, cook steak and shrimp kabobs on the grill and watch movies on our Amazon Fire Stick every night? Here is a list of my favorite cheapo adventures and things I would enjoy doing again if I return.
P.S. They don’t really tow on Tortola, so you can park right next to any little beach access with “no worries”.
1. Smuggler’s Cove–(Free) Snorkle, lounge on the beach, swim, collect rocks and coral. It’s a small secluded beach on Tortola’s West End. Taxis don’t like to drive there because the roads are so rough. Your rental car will get you there with no problem, once you find it. There is even a little bar there called Nigel’s Snack Shack if you need a drink or two…. or four. The first day we went there were four other people there. We went there each day though, before dinner on our way back from wherever we had been, just to look at it one more time.
Above: Smuggler’s Cove
2. Cane Garden Bay–(Free) Snorkle, Swim, Lounge, rent a paddle board or kayak for around $20 including a lesson. Have lunch at Myett’s. If you do, I recommend their catch of the day, conch fritters and Blue Chair drink. They also make a great Pain Killer, a local favorite.
3. Brewer’Bay- (Free) I didn’t take any pictures here because I was too busy snorkeling, which is exactly what I recommend you do here as well. The beach didn’t look as picturesque as some of the others so I reluctanlty got in. Once I stuck my mask under water, that was all she wrote. We swam around for hours looking at the beautiful reefs. Ask a local how to get down to this beach and you will not be disappointed. The road to it is paved and there is a parking area, if you’re into that sort of thing. There’s a little restaurant and bar here as well.
4. Road Town–(Free) Ok, so I’m not really into hustle and bustle or shopping, but since we planned to go to another island the next day, we thought we would venture over to Road Town, get our bearings and figure out where the ferry dock was. (This is also where the real grocery store is, so unless you’re eating out every meal, you must make your way there eventually.) At this point we had been driving the island for three days and decided we could deal with the traffic. We parked at the ferry dock and stopped into Pusser’s where we had a fantastic quesadilla and an even better Pain Killer…A Disney cruise was docked and there were a lot of people around shopping at the typical port looking shops. We ventured over to Sunny Caribbee’s Spice Co., bought some teas and spices and browsed local artists’ creations. I also bought some magnets for the kids from one of the port shops. Not a bad haul for the day considering my aversion to shopping. We got the ferry schedule and got the heck out of there. But… not before making several heart-thumping trips around the roundabout pictured below…
5. The Baths, Virgin Gorda- ($3.00) Swim, snorkle, walk through the caves, hike along the paths, swim in the pool, people watch. We took Speedy’s Ferry from Road Town to Virgin Gorda for $50 round trip.We rented a car through the ferry service for $50. We drove down to the baths in the rental car and spent several hours there snorkeling, hiking and had a drink at the bar.
The locals at the rental car pick up recommended Hog Heaven for lunch. Since we rented a car, we had no taxi fees, and we weren’t forced to stay and eat at the high priced restaurant at the Baths. The food was cooked on a smoker (except for the honey-dipped fried chicken I had, which was also delicious) and was easily the best food/drinks we consumed, that we hadn’t prepared ourselves, since arrival in the BVIs. It was only about $15 per meal there, so it was worth not packing lunch.
Below: View from Hog Heaven on Virgin Gorda
Still, there was one more destination I wanted to visit on Virgin Gorda. A five minute drive landed us at the old Copper Mine. No one else was there, and I got several lovely photos. Oh, did I mention this was free? No one mans it, so it was an easy self tour.
We returned to the Baths because we still had about an hour to return the rental car and get on the ferry. Everyone was gone and it was perfectly legal to then go down and walk around unsupervised. Given the chance, I would probably repeat this trip exactly the same way, and at least twice in the week. We spent about $6 in gas on the island. Taxis run about $30 per person per trip, so, we definitely came out on top by renting a car.
6. Sage Mountain- Hiking, banana smoothies and the best stories from Jim. Ok, so although you can’t tell from our photos, it rained a lot while we were down there. Mostly it rained at night and you really couldn’t tell in the morning. But when we got up to Sage Mountain to do the hike, Jim, recommended not wearing our “only shoes,” but our “only shoes” were all we had since I “packed light.” So instead of a muddy hike and regretful ruining of shoes, I asked Jim for a banana smoothie and a story. Specifically, I asked him for his story because he had a strong English accent and definitely a worldly look about him. He also seemed like such a happy person, I immediately wanted to know all of his secrets. We spent an hour or so listening and enjoying the stories of a traveling ex-Navy chef who came very close to working on the Queen’s yacht. So, while I can’t recommend the hike on Sage Mountain, (because I didn’t do it) I can recommend asking Jim at the restaurant and other local transplants to tell you their stories of how they came to live in the BVI. This is absolutely free.
7. Norman Island (Treasure Island)-($20 Round Trip) That’s all you really need to spend to get over to this little island for the day. Eat breakfast first and pack a lunch if you’re not planning to spend $50 per person for lunch and a drink. The dive shop was open first and the people in there were very nice. We snorkeled for free all day and laid in the sun on the beautiful beach at Pirate’s Bight. If you don’t have a boat and don’t pay for a scuba trip, you really don’t get to see the caves or anything fancy like the part of the island where you might find treasure, but it is a cheap way to get a boat ride and see a new beach. Snorkeling was excellent here. You won’t be disappointed unless you planned to see the caves…. (sad face).
If this isn’t enough to keep you busy, but not too busy, all week, feel free to repeat recommendations 1-7. No one will hold it against you.
Karen Bradberry is the owner and sole writer for “Really Traveling”, a humorous yet factual blog found at http://www.clearlyiamdisturbed.com. She began this blog in effort to try to fill in the gaps for travelers like herself, ready for adventure and avoiding disaster. As a parent, college student and full time counselor, Karen strives to bring a better understanding of the places she visits, how to get there and how much it really costs to readers who have always wanted to travel. You can reach Karen Bradberry by writing to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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