Christopher Columbus spotted what are now called the British and U.S. Virgin Islands on his second voyage to the West Indies. However, pirates, such as Blackbeard and Captain Kidd, were the first permanent residents after failed attempts by the Spanish to colonize the islands. Tortola is the largest of the British Virgin Islands, its name meaning “turtle dove” in Spanish, and the capital of the BVIs, Road Town, is found on its shores.
When visitors think of Tortola, they usually conjure images of a rich man’s yachting paradise. It’s true that yachting and sailing amongst the larger islands and 32 smaller islands and islets is a favorite pastime, but there is so much more to do and see. Most locals learn to sail as children, and the activity is a popular attraction for tourists, but there are also ancient ruins, stunning sugar-white beaches, and many water based activities such as sailing, surfing, scuba diving, kite boarding, and windsurfing to be enjoyed. One of the defining characteristics of the island is its breathtakingly steep hilly terrain making it ideal for elevated landscape photos.
The best beaches are found on its northern shore where ocean conditions range from calm and tranquil to almost violent, perfect for surfing and boogie boarding. Many of the beaches are long, isolated, and inviting, perfect for romantic strolls and refreshing dips in the azure sea beneath the shade of tall, lazy palms. Elsewhere, the landscape is characterized by tall mountain crests, protected anchorages, and hidden grottos. The island is also popular with large cruise ships.