After claiming and naming hundreds of islands and cays for Spain, Columbus must have been weary of the task when he arrived here. Virgin Gorda translates to Fat Virgin.
As you fly over the island en route to the tiny seaside airstrip, you’ll notice that Virgin Gorda is two distinct islands joined by a narrow ribbon of land. The northern part is mountainous, while the southern part is quite flat. The latter area, dubbed The Valley, has the island’s largest village, Spanish Town, and its major attraction, The Baths. These, a remarkable arrangement of huge boulders on a stunning beach, have fallen in such a way as to create unique grottoes and coves, which you can snorkel or wade through.
The Baths are not the only great beach on Virgin Gorda. There are at least 20 others, some of which are virgin strips, accessible only by boat or by climbing down a fairly steep hill. As you drive around the island, you’ll notice that, while the vegetation is lush and colorful flowers grow everywhere, it is all low to the ground. There are lots of cactus plants as well. That is due to the sparse rainfall, which, while a boon to vacationers, does create a severe water shortage.
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The northern portion of the island has several tiny settlements and is much more mountainous than the south. Virgin Gorda Peak, which you can climb, stands at 1,370 feet. Several hotels are located on the peninsula that curves around North Sound. These are inaccessible by land and can be reached only by water taxis.
If you are surprised that these posh resorts have no road access, take a second to consider that, until the 1950s, Virgin Gorda had not a single paved road, no telephones, no electricity, and no medical services. The few hundred people living here had to send their children to high school on Tortola.
Change came in 1961, when ground was broken for a resort on Little Dix Bay. Laurence Rockefeller spied this inlet while sailing nearby. He envisioned the property as a kind of wilderness beach and the resort he fashioned remains a 500-acre retreat where privacy and solitude are prized. The resort spurred the development of the Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbor and the airstrip.
Virgin Gorda is once again in the throes of dramatic change. An enormous building boom is underway with new villa communities being constructed at bays and coves throughout the island, while older communities are adding accommodations and amenities. The villas are being sold to individual buyers and then will be rental units managed by the development. There are no new hotels being built so most visitors to the island will stay in a villa. To reach these developments, new roads have been constructed and many restaurants have opened to serve the larger number of visitors.
While the physical character of the island is changing noticeably, Virgin Gorda’s lure is still its natural beauty and the friendly, proud people who live here.
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