Planning a vacation in the British Virgin Islands? This post discusses some tips and tricks to making the journey from wherever you are to the British Virgin Islands. One of the first tips to know is that for most people, you don’t actually need to fly to the BVI themselves. The post also gives tips if you are not able to pass through the United States on your way to the British Virgin Islands. Actually did you know the cheapest way from Europe to the BVI is not through the US? Read on.
Let's start these travel tips by looking at where the BVI are located. Then we will look at more specific tips if you are flying from the US. Following that we will explore “non-US” options. Then we can cover the ferry system in operation. Finally we look at the last mile: taxis and rental cars in the BVI.
If you want to get to the British Virgin Islands from the US, your best bet is to fly to the USVI.
Where are the BVIs located?
The British Virgin Islands lie at the top of the leeward islands, just east of Puerto Rico. Now let’s look at a close-up view of the individual islands in the BVI, focusing on the four main islands: Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada and Jost van Dyke. If you would like a pdf of this map, click here and we will send you one.
The above chart shows a typical sailing route around the British Virgin Islands, starting in Tortola, heading past the southern Islands like Norman, Peter, Cooper, exploring Virgin Gorda, then Anegada, on to Jost Van Dyke, then back to Tortola. If you want one sent to you here is the link once again.
Your starting point matters
Where you begin your journey is important to how you get there (sounds elementary but it needs to be said). The three main points of entry are the US, Canada and "non-US" (mainly Europe).
Coming from the United States
Most people enter the Virgin Islands from one of the major US hubs, flying into the US Virgin Islands (namely St Thomas, airport code STT). This airport offers non-stop flights from New York, Miami and Atlanta among others. The fact that there are larger jets making regular trips means efficiency is relatively high, so prices are low. For instance you can find return tickets between New York and St Thomas for $350.
Coming from Canada
Many Canadians head to the Virgin Islands during the winter months. One-stop flights between Toronto and St Thomas make this a very doable proposition. You can find return flights for less than $500 with the major carriers.
Coming from European Countries
“I’m flying from Europe and want the best way to get to the BVI”
We hear this a lot. You have a few options. If you want to travel through the US, you can look at a transatlantic flight between London and New York. Then as described above you can connect between New York and St Thomas. If you are not willing or able to pass US territory (or want to get an even better deal much of the time), see below.
“I’m just am not able to fly through the US at all”
For those travellers who simply cannot obtain the requisite US visa, all is not lost. One option is to fly to St Martin (SXM) and connect with the local carrier (such as Liat) to Beef Island in Tortola (EIS). The main airport in St Martin is on the Dutch side so is well serviced with daily flights from Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport (AMS) - just over 8 hours and just under $800 for a one way ticket.
There are cheaper options (especially if you are coming from France). You can fly nonstop from Paris Orly to Guadeloupe for $500 one way. Once you have reached St Martin, Martinique or Guadeloupe, a local carrier can take you to Tortola’s Beef Island airport for around $160 one-way. One point to note; any time you take the smaller local airlines, you will find prices are high and reliability is less than certain.
"You can get from Paris to Tortola for $660 one way"
“I hate ferries, can I fly the last bit?”
Certainly. If you are prone to sea sickness this is an option (although swapping a ferry for a small plane may not be the best trade ever in the history of trades). Although the ferries are used by most travelers, you are able to fly between the USVI and BVI - you tend to fly via San Juan (SJU). I haven't mentioned San Juan in Puerto Rico but that is a valid way to get into the BVI. It's just that due to generally poor connections it is not recommended. However if you wish to spend a couple of days there as part of your holiday go right ahead.
"What are the local airlines like?"
The main airlines servicing the various Caribbean islands are Liat, Seaborne and Cape Air. There have been very few safety issues to worry about (ie. don’t worry). The main thing people talk about is the reliability of the airlines. Allow yourself a grace period between when the airline is scheduled to arrive and when you need to arrive.
Ferries between St Thomas (main island in the USVI) and Tortola (main island in the BVI) take around one hour. The main providers are Native Son Ferry, Inter Island Boat Services, Road Town Fast Ferry and Smith's Ferry Services. Of that list, some are twin-hull catamarans and so tend to be more efficient and less noisy than the others. The cost of the ferry is approximately $40 one way and a slight discount for return. Note that you will need to pay a $20 departure tax when leaving the BVI.
Auto Rental in the BVI
The BVI suits car rental. It takes almost an hour to drive from one end of the island to the other. The trick here is to book in advance. By this we mean make your booking on one of the car rental aggregators such as Rentalcars.com and Expedia before you get to the BVI. You can save up to 50% by doing this. Day rates for a small Suzuki Jimny on a “walk in rental” basis are around $65. Booking in advance will get you a better deal.
Taxis in the BVI
Taxis are not cheap yet friendly in these parts. A trip from Beef Island airport (EIS) to Road Town (the main town in Tortola) will cost around $14 per person if there are a couple of you, with a minimum spend of $27 (meaning if you are on your own it will cost $27, and if you are more than three people it will be $12 per person). Here are some other trips' estimated prices:
Beef Island (Airport) to Road Town: $27/person (1pax), $14/person (2pax), $12/person (3 or more pax)
Beef Island to West End: $50/person (1pax), $25/person (2pax), $20/person (3+pax)
Road Town to West End: $27/person (1pax), $14/person (2pax), $12/person (3+pax)
Buses in the BVI
There is a bus service but its main objective is to look after workers and school children. As such I would suggest against relying on a bus to deliver you on the last mile.
If you are a solo traveler on a budget (or if you get stuck somewhere), hitchhiking is a perfectly valid way to get around. Just be prepared to wait a while.
The British Virgin Islands are a tremendous place to have a vacation. You might find your best bet is to fly between New York (or Miami) and St Thomas, then take a ferry to Tortola. Once in Tortola your two main options are to take a taxi (expensive) or rent a car (book online in advance).
Sailing Virgins offers world-class sailing instruction in a fantastic location. Hop on our boat for a liveaboard adventure around the various islands. Check out our courses by clicking the Courses tab above. For a free pdf showing a sailing map of the BVI, click the button below.