Tortola, which means ”turtledove” in Spanish, is the principal island of the British Virgin Islands. It is home to some 16,000 people, a fourth of whom live in the picturesque capital, Road Town. The island, only 12 miles long and three miles wide, could easily be circled by car in just a few hours if it weren’t for the mountain chain that splits its core. The jagged peaks create beautiful vistas, as well as breathtaking hairpin turns and extremely steep grades. These will slow you down a bit and allow you to really explore Tortola.
An attractive island, Tortola is surprisingly rural and slow-paced. There is no industry and the only agricultural development visible are small private gardens. Most goods, including foodstuffs, are imported.
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There are only a handful of roads and these meander along the shores, passing small villages, private homes, churches of various persuasions, grocery stores, laundromats, groups of wandering goats, lambs and an occasional cow.
The southern coast, which fronts the Sir Francis Drake Channel, is more developed, with lots of cays, islets and coves. The island’s best marinas are here, as is Road Town. It is drier and not nearly as flowered as the northern coast. All the beautiful beaches are on the northern coast and they stretch for miles. Cane Garden Bay Beach is very popular, but Long Bay and Apple Bay Beaches are my personal favorites. Fruit trees, palms and seagrapes dot the beach strips and line the two-lane road.
Tortola’s hotels are an eclectic group, with some at the shore, others on mountaintops in sugar mills and ancient forts. The island has a surprising number of good dining options that run the gamut from gourmet to fast food. AfavoriteWest Indian fast food are “rotis,” which are rather like wraps.
Whether you spend most of your vacation time aboard ship or on land, Tortola is relaxed, low-key and informal. It is friendly and hospitable as well.
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