Tortola, British Virgin Islands: Comprehensive Travel Guide

tortola, british virgin islands travel guide


Tortola’s dramatic tropical landscape is an image straight from a postcard. Its mountainous interior, draped in a lush green forest, dominates the island while also protecting the numerous bays with their white sandy beaches and still turquoise water.

Tortola is the British Virgin Islands (BVI for short) largest island and home of its capitol. Although it is the largest island, it is still small (only 21.6 sq. mi), so nothing is out of reach for the avid explorer. Whether you want to bask on one of the many beaches, explore the tropical forests, discover the many historical sites, or splash around with the sea life, Tortola has so much to offer.

What to Do


cane garden bay tortola british virgin islands
Cane Garden Bay

With numerous protected bay and inlets, Tortola has many amazing beaches to discover. Many resorts and hotels have capitalized on several of these areas along Cane Garden Bay and West End, but for those that want a more seclusive beach there are many more to be found. Tortola's best beaches are found along the northern coast. No mater what you are looking ofr, there is a white sandy beach and coll waters waiting for you.


fort recovery tortola british virgin islands
Fort Recovery

Tortola has a number of forts scattered around the island either built by the British to protect important ports and thoroughfares or by vigilant plantation owners to protect their property. Many of these forts, like Fort Purcell, Cooten Bay Fort, Fort George, Fort Burt, and Fort Charlotte are mostly ruins now, but you can still get a glimpse, at least in some part, of what the fort looked like during its day. In the case of Fort Charlotte, in particular, with its position atop the mountain, you will also get an amazing view of the entirety of Road Town and the port that it surrounds. The most well-known and oldest ‘fort,’ a defensive tower, on the island is Fort Recovery; originally built by privateer Joost van Dyk in 1620.

Old Town

H.M. Prison Museum tortola british virgin islands
Carol, the guide and caretaker of the H.M. Prison Museum, giving a tour.

The Old Town is the historic heart of Tortola. Main Street, the vein of Old Town, winds its way through this historic district of Road Town. Many old buildings line this street; not having changed much in the 200 years past. A few notable attractions are the Old Government House Museum, H.M. Prison Museum, and the Lower Estate Sugar Works. All of which can be toured from 9am – 3pm for $5 each. My personal favorite was the H.M. Prison Museum, who’s guide and caretaker tells stories of when her own brother served time there.

Sage Mountain National Park

sage mountain national park tortola british virgin islands
The central trail through Sage Mountain National Park.

Sage Mountain National Park is the largest National Park on Tortola and is a hiker’s wonderland for those that a change from the lounging on the beach. The park has three main trails and a number of other shorter spurs and loops throughout the park. Two of the main trails, the central and north trails, start just inside the gate and reconnect to each other and the southern trail a little over a mile in; the southern trail shoots off the central trail a little ways in. All of the trails are fairly easy, but the northern trail does have a bit more rock climbing/steps, while the central trail is fairly flat.

Callwood Rum Distillery

callwood rum distillery tortola british virgin islands
The renown Callwood Rum Distillery

Callwood Rum Distillery has been in the Callwood family for more than 200 years and is still using most of the same materials to make their rum. The distillery is the Caribbean’s oldest continuously operated pot distillery and continues to age its rum in the original oak barrels. The look of the place is like it is straight out of the Pirates of the Caribbean, but it will cost you $2 or a bottle of rum to take a picture. They also offer a $1 sampler of the four rums that they offer for purchase. Made from pure sugar cane juice, all of the rums are delicious, but the 10-year dark rum is by far my favorite.

St. Phillip's Anglican Church

st. phillip's anglican church tortola british virgin islands
The historic St. Phillip's Anglican Church

St. Phillip's Anglican Church represents a signification milestone in the history of the Americas. Built in 1840, it is considered the one of the first churches built by liberated Africans and the oldest still remaining. Although the roof has long disappeared, visitors can still see the rest of this notable landmark.

Mount Healthy National Park

mount healthy national park tortola british virgin islands
The windmill tower at Mount Healthy National Park.

One of the few National Parks on Tortola, Mount Health is well worth a trip for history buffs and visitors alike. In this 1-acre park lay the remnants of the islands wealthiest sugar plantation. Notable to the Mount Healthy National Park is the tower of once was a giant stone windmill; the only one on Tortola. The site also includes the boiling house, mill round, distillery, hospital, storage shed, and housing.

Tola Beverage Company

tola beverage company tortola british virgin islands
Looking out onto the bay from the Tola Beverage Company

For those of you that like trying new craft beers around the world (like I do!), will want to drop by the Tola Beverage Company in Road Town. Tola is the only craft brewery in Tortola and only one of two breweries in the British Virgin Islands. They have a number of different styles of beers to try and are developing more seasonal beers. Located on the south side of the port, the taproom is open to the ocean air and views.

Where to Eat

Tortola has a number of places to eat depending on what you are looking for. There are a cluster of good restaurants both in Road Town and Cane Garden Bay. In Road Town, Pusser's is a great place to stop for food and drinks if you are waiting for the ferry. Likewise, in Trellis Bay, Roti Hut is a great place if you are waiting for the ferry or a plane.

How to Get Around

Rent a Car

The easiest way to get around the island is by renting a car. The roads are in good condition and safe, but are windy once you get up into the mountains. There are many rental companies in Tortola, including the name brands, and usually cost from $50/day and up. For a local company, I recommend calling Joy at J & L Car Rental (284-496-7525). She charges $50/day if you pick it up in Road Town or $60/day for drop off/pick up at a different location.

Note: Remember to drive on the left side of the road.


If you don’t see yourself exploring a lot of the island and are just needing transportation to/from a location, then a taxi is a good option. There are plenty of taxis on the island. A one-way trip from Road Town to the airport is about $10. Taxis aren’t a very efficient options of seeing the island as a whole though.

Where to Stay

Tortola is the main island of the British Virgin Islands and as such has many options for accommodations. There are three main areas of the island for accommodation; Road Town, West End, and Cane Garden Bay. That being said, the northeast end of the island is very beautiful, more secluded, and also has a few places north of Ridge Road.

West End and Cane Garden Bay both have a number of hotels and resorts to pick from, though they are not very cheap. This is where many tourists stay since they are near a beach and generally set up for tourism. Road Town, the capitol of Tortola, also has a number of hotels and is a good central point to strike out to excursions around the islands.

How to Get There


There are no direct flights from the USA, Canada, Europe, or South America to the British Virgin Islands international airport, Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport (EIS). Instead, you will have to route there via St. Thomas, Puerto Rico, Antigua, or St. Maarten. When you arrive at the airport you will have to go through customs; (here are the current COVID-19 requirements for the BVI).

The airport is, unfortunately, located on the east side of the island. This means that you will most likely need to either rent a car or take a taxi to your hotel. A taxi to Road Town is $10 and takes about 45 minutes.

Ferry from St. Thomas

ferry tortola british virgin islands

Depending on the cost of airline tickets, it may be cheaper to land in St. Thomas and take a series of ferries to Virgin Gorda. This, depending on your layover, could take more or less time as well. If you opt to arrive in St. Thomas first, then you need to take a taxi and ferry; Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas (USVI) - Road Town, Tortola (BVI) (Here are the current COVID-19 requirements for St. Thomas).

Upon exiting the airport terminal, walk to towards the end of the terminal to the left until you see a row of vans parked. You will be able to find a taxi to the ferry terminal there. The taxi should be $6 - $10 and should only take about 8 min.

Currently, the best ferry option is to take Smith’s Ferry to Road Town, Tortola from St. Thomas. There are other ferries services as well: Road Town Fast Ferry. It is not necessary to pre-book this ticket, but during peak seasons it would be recommendable. There is a $10 port fee for leaving the USVI in addition to your ticket. Smith’s Ferry departs St. Thomas on Sunday, Monday, and Thursday at 9 am and 5.30 pm and Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday at 2.30 pm. The cost of a ticket is $61.20 one-way or $102 round-trip and the trip takes 1 hour. With this ticket you will be allowed one free carry-on with a fee of $10 per additional bag. There is usually also a ferry service to the West End, Tortola, but it currently isn’t running due to COVID-19.

When you arrive in Road Town you will have to go through customs (here are the current COVID-19 requirements). There is a $10 environmental fee upon entering the British Virgin Islands.

Return to St Tomas

For the return trip back to St. Thomas, everything is the same except for the departure times and port fees. The ferry leaves on Sunday, Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday at 11:30 am and Monday and Thursday at 7:30 am and 3 pm. There is a $20 departure fee when leaving the British Virgin Islands.

(Check the ferry service site for any changes in time or price)

What is your favorite memory of Tortola? 
Tortola, BVI: Travel Guide

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  1. What a great introduction to BVI! We've spent time in and LOVE USVI. BVI is next on the list. Thanls for sharing this information!

    1. Thank you! Yes, the USVI is great too. I loved St. Thomas.

  2. Wow, I like the beaches and the history. Thanks for sharing!

  3. It looks an atmospheric and historic destination. I'd love to stroll there with my camera.

    1. You should. It is such a great place for photography.


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