A land mass of 21 square miles makes Tortola the largest island in the British Virgin Islands. It is also the most populated, with a population of roughly 24,000 people. The local residents and visitors mix to make Tortola a vibrant community with shops, restaurants, and activities. Because the main port of entry is located in Tortola, most visitors pass through on their way to other British Virgin Islands.
Despite the fact that the BVI are under the British flag, the official currency is the US dollar due to proximity with the United States. If you are coming in through Tortola, it is a nice place to stock up on anything you might need for the rest of your trip. While there are small shops on other islands, you might not be able to find everything that you want.
A Brief History
In the late 1500’s the English took control of the BVI from the Dutch and set up plantation colonies on Tortola and other nearby islands. These plantations produces sugarcane and were largely tended by slaved that were transported to the islands from Africa. The sugar industry remained the backbone of Tortola’s economy for over one hundred years.
In the early 1800’s slave trade was abolished and the British Royal Navy began intercepting slave ships. Many of these slaves were then freed once they arrived in Tortola. It is widely considered that this established the first community of freed slaves in the Americas. Once the slaves were liberated many white land owners found it difficult to make money in the sugarcane industry. As a result, a large portion of the white landowning population left the BVI.
Tortola has beautiful beaches on the northern coast. Tourists can relax at Smuggler’s Cove, Cane Garden, Brewer’s Bay, or Long Bay. If you are interested in other water activities you can also find sailing, scuba diving, surfing, kite boarding, and windsurfing at many beaches. There are also a few historic sites to visit including 1780 Lower Estate Sugar Works Museum, Callwood’s Rum Distillery, J.R. O’Neal Botanic Gardens, Old Government House Museum, and VI Folk Museum.
If you are looking for a great meal out while visiting the BVI you might want to stop in Tortola for a night. Fodor’s travel guide lists their favorite restaurants for a quality dining experience. We highly recommend Brandywine. It is a beautiful restaurant located at the top of the hill. It affords beautiful views of the ocean and Tortola.
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