The British Virgin Islands is the “charter capital of the world” for good reason with almost every island having a nice anchorage with a beach bar/restaurant to entertain you and mooring balls available for your convenience. With that said if you want to have solitude and quiet anchorages to enjoy the nature side of the Caribbean, then the BVI is not necessarily your best choice.
Having run charters in the Virgin Islands and the Eastern Caribbean for over 10 years, I have come up with:
Several alternative Caribbean locations for the different things people are looking for and these locations will be way less crowded than the BVI. Check them out!!!
Who doesn’t like a great beach? The BVI has some amazing ones from White Bay with the Soggy Dollar Bar to the island of Anegada, but have you considered…..
Shoal Bay, Anguilla
This is one of those lesser known beaches that some how the rich and famous are in the know and escape to. Really though the entire island of Anguilla is one great beach after another with 33 different ones in total.
Philipsburg, St Maarten
How lucky the Dutch have it to have the capital of their half the island sitting on a mile long beach? The advantage of this is that when you need a break from the gorgeous beach, lots of water toys, and multitude of beach bars you can simply retire one street over and do some high end shopping.
Grand Anse, Grenada
This two mile long, white sand beach is lapped at by the sheltered turquoise Caribbean water. Throw in some palm trees and it is just about as postcard perfect as you can get, which is why most of the high end resorts have chosen this location.
This is the reason so many of us come down to the Caribbean. We want to swim in the crystal-clear water and see all the amazing sea life up close and personal. From the colors to the variety, you never get tired of the coral or fish. In the BVI the Indians, Dogs, and Rhone are some of the favorites, but sometimes it is so crowded with people you get kicked in the face more than you see fish. Instead consider….
Tobago Cays, Grenadines
This reef protected pocket of paradise is full of turtles (I saw 12 in a 10 foot area once), rays, and fish plus snorkeling the reef is a highlight. I mean if it was good enough for Captain Jack Sparrow to film here then it must be good enough for us to snorkel. 🙂
Underwater Sculpture Garden, Grenada
A couple miles away from St George’s is a bay with a dozen or more sculptures that have been placed on the sea floor in 15-25 feet of water.
Buccoo Reef, Tobago
This circular reef system consists of five reef flats and is almost three square miles in size and was rated as the third most spectacular reef in the world by none other than Jacques Cousteau.
Ok I will admit that the Baths are the #1 site in the entire Virgin Islands and they are amazing as you explore the nooks and crannies between the rocks. The problem is that when the cruise ships start ferrying guests over there, you get to play “follow the leader” through the maze. How about some alternatives for the adventure you seek?
Maho Beach, St Maarten
Besides this beach being a wonderful place to hang out, grab a cocktail, and even get an aloe vera massage, the adventure is the fact that the end of the airport’s runway is simply two small traffic lanes away. This affords some amazing photos as the planes approach less than 100 feet overhead. Some people even try and hold onto the chain link fence as they get blasted by the wash from the jumbo jets taking off. Dangerous? Adventurous? Check and check!
Taking a tour down to the former capital of Montserrat is a surreal experience since it is abandoned and buried under 39 feet of mud after the 1995 Soufrière Hills volcano eruption. It feels like walking around Pompeii and the end of the world at the same time.
Indian River, Dominica
Taking a tour up the Indian River on the north end of Dominica will make you think you have been transported to the Amazon jungle as you spend over an hour slowly gliding up the river with rain forest canopy overhead. The animal and bird life alone makes this worth it.
A large number of my guests love to hear historically based stories of the different islands we pass by. The BVI has a lot of fun stories, but how can any of them compete with actual World Heritage Sites?
Brimstone Hill Fortress in St Kitts
“The Gibraltar of the Caribbean” is an almost 1000 foot, sheer sided hill that the British built a massive fort on top of. Today it is one of the most well preserved fortifications in the Americas
Nelson’s Dockyards in Antigua
Began in 1728 in English Harbour, these docks and repair facilities became one of the most important British facilities as it serviced almost all the Caribbean fleet and was well situated to protect British Caribbean assets. Today this WHS is both a working yard and a historic museum.
Bridgetown in Barbados
Historic Bridgetown and its garrison were first established in 1628 by the British and is the only island in the Caribbean to never change colonial hands.
While most people do not come down to the Caribbean thinking about hiking, there are some amazing hikes down here.
The Quill, Statia
While nearby Mt. Scenery on Saba gets a lot of glory for being up in the clouds, I loved hiking to the top of The Quill even more. This is a dormant volcano that last erupted 1600 years ago, but when you reach the rim and look down you can still see the volcano shape covered in the trees. The best part is when the clouds just spill over the rim.
Morne Trois Piton, Dominica
27 square miles of precipitous slopes and deeply incised valleys littered with fumaroles, hot springs, freshwater lakes, a boiling lake, and five volcanoes makes this one of the longer, harder, and unique hikes in the Caribbean. Plus it is a WHS.
The Pitons, St Lucia
Side by side 2500 foot high spires sit right at the water’s edge, making this one of the most stunning views you can find. The best part is that right next to them is the only drive-in volcano in the Caribbean and a hot spring mud bath is also possible.
Given how popular the BVI is, it is tough to find much solitude in this island chain. Yes you can find an anchorage here and there where you might be the only boat, but I am talking where you might be the only boat on the whole island!
35 miles from Anguilla out in the middle of nowhere is Sombrero Island, a mile long aircraft carrier looking island that juts up out of the ocean. You do not want to visit unless it is especially calm, but when you do all you will find is a bird colony and the remains of three different lighthouses. In order to make it up the forty foot cliffs you have to use a steel ladder attached to the rocks.
On this tiny little sand spit of an island 125 miles from the nearest land in the middle of the Caribbean Sea you will find a grossly oversized three story Venezuelan naval/research base on stilts. When I sailed by, I was able to get within a quarter mile of shore without the depth sounder registering the sea floor. Just be careful because a friend sailed by a few months back and Venezuelan fisherman armed with machine guns tried to board him.
While the first two were mostly in jest (although I did enjoy visiting them) Barbuda is one of the best kept secrets in the Caribbean. I could have put it in any one of the above categories with its seven mile long beach, reefs everywhere to snorkel, one of the largest frigate bird colonies in the world, and walking along the “Highlands” to find the sinkhole; I chose to write about it here. That is because the entire week I was there I did not see another boat. That is solitude!
Are the above the only places to find each category in the Eastern Caribbean? Absolutely not. This list is just examples of what you will find when you are sailing outside the Virgin Islands.
After 11 years of running charters in the Virgin Islands & Eastern Caribbean, Captain Shane is setting sail for the Greater Antilles, including Cuba, and Belize. Check it out at svGuidingLight.com.
Great Article from the voice of experience. Thanks Captain Shane!