Cruise ship passengers visiting the virgin islands often miss out on the most beautiful place on earth, simply because they decide to stay in town and shop. The British Virgin islands offer the world’s most amazing, crystal clear, warm waters teeming with gorgeous reefs and tropical fish, the best beach bars and restaurants, and stretches of deserted sugar sand beaches for miles. So, what should you do with the precious few hours you have to spend in the BVI’s? Get in the water! If you like to snorkel even a little bit, it’s got to go on the to-do list.
Really the only way to get to the best snorkel spots in the BVI is by boat charter. There are 2 different kinds of boat charters. There are the big boats that haul a lot of people, who price their trips “per person,” and there is the private charter boats that will take just a small group like you, your friends or family, who charge by “the boat”. Obviously, the big boats can be cheaper if there are only 1 or 2 of you, but a family or group of 6 or so friends will find they can get a private charter for about the same price. The benefit to the private charter is that you choose where you want to go and how long you stay at each place. The bigger boats tend to have a set itinerary, plus they can be a little like traveling in a school bus with all the other people.
Most of the BVI boat tours companies include snorkeling equipment in your boat rental package, so you just need a swim suit. Jump on board and start at the Norman Island Caves. Norman Island is famed for tales of buried treasure and is the inspiration for the book, “Treasure Island.” Just off Treasure Point is a series of caves, each more interesting than the last. You’ll make friends quickly–schools of yellow tails, blue tang and sergeant majors love to greet cave-goers, and a lot of times, they’ll travel with you from cave to cave, like underwater tour guides. If you bring a flashlight, shine it up on the walls to see an orange-red rainbow of corals and sponges–amazing!
Next stop is just around the corner off Norman Island. It’s a set of tall jagged rocks known as “The Indians.” This area can get crowded with the cruise ship and big boat crowd, but your private BVI boat tour captain should know how to time your visit so you have the area to yourself. The reef surrounding the Indians is around 40 feet deep and there’s a narrow channel to swim through between the third and fourth rock. Colorful fish surround the rocks, and gorgeous sea fans and corals fill the water. You could literally spend hours just snorkeling this area, but its time for your next stop, The Bight, on the eastern part of the harbor south of the beach. The bowl-like shape of the bay blocks rougher waters, so its a great area for beginners as its usually very calm.
Cross the channel toward Tortola and snorkel just off Frenchman’s Cay. The crystal waters are a fisheries protected zone, so the area is home to all sorts of underwater life, including stingrays, sea turtles and a myriad of fish.
Of course, no BVI trip is complete without a trip to the Soggy Dollar for a PainKiller, before you head back. Along the way Waterlemon Cay on the USVI’s St. John is a great place to snorkel, too.
If you find yourself going to the Virgin Islands, be sure you see the absolute best of the British Virgin Islands with a private BVI boat tour.