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British Virgin Islands : Useful information

Basic facts

Time difference: GMT-4
Currency: US Dollar.
Language: English
Population: Approximately 30000
Visa information: Holders of a British passport can stay for six months without a visa.

Travel arrangements

There are no direct flights from the UK to the British Virgin Islands so travel is usually via Antigua - fly from the UK to Antigua with British Airways or Virgin Atlantic (flight time approximately 8 hours) then onwards to Beef Island, a small island just off Tortola. From here, travel by ferry or speedboat to your final destination.

The primary mode of transportation within the British Virgin Islands is boat, be it one of the frequent inter-island ferries or a chartered yacht. On the larger island of Tortola it is possible to get around by taxi or hire car - driving is on the left but roads are often narrow and winding.


There is some evidence that the Virgin Islands were inhabited by Amerindians as long ago as 1500BC, before being settled by Arawaks in about 100BC.
In the 15th century the islands were invaded by the Caribs, who occupied the islands until they were discovered on Christopher Colombus's second voyage to the Americas in 1493. Colombus named the islands ‘St Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins’, shortened to ‘Virgins’,  in honour of a legend based on a 4th century inscription.

The Spanish, British, Dutch, French and Danish all fought over the islands over the next 200 years, while pirates used them as a haven thanks to their safe natural harbours.  Sir Francis Drake visited the Virgin Islands four times in the 1500s and had the main channel named after him, but it was the Dutch who were the first to settle permanently on Tortola.
In the late 17th century the Danes settled on St Thomas and St John, while the British took control of Tortola along with Anegada and Virgin Gorda, all of which later became part of the British Virgin Islands.

The West Indies became an important source of sugar and cotton, with both industries being fuelled by slave labour from Africa. The industries declined when slave labour was abolished in the mid 1800s, worsened by a series of hurricanes which devastated the islands, causing many Europeans to return home.

In 1917 the United States of America purchased the Danish Virgin Islands for $25 million, later making significant investments in the islands to drain swamps, build new roads, hotels and a cruise ship terminal. Meanwhile there was little investment in the British Virgin Islands, meaning that although tourism is an important industry, the islands remain more serene and laid back.

In 1967 the BVI became an independent colony with their own constitution and legislative council while remaining part of the British Commonwealth.



The British Virgin Islands are a cultural melting pot with African influences alongside British, American and Caribbean traditions - many families have lived on the islands for generations and are descendents of slaves or plantation owners, while others arrived more recently from other countries. The people are friendly yet reserved - a combination of British and Caribbean cultures - and are proud of their African roots, evident in the August festival which celebrates the emancipation of the slaves.

A symbol of the islands are the Tortola Sloops, traditional wooden boats that date back over 100 years and were originally used as the sole form of transport and communication between the islands. Only a handful of these unique sailing boats have been preserved in the British Virgin Islands and are raced in local regattas.

The islands’ traditional folk music is known as “Fungi”, also known as “Scratch Music”. This musical style has its roots in African heritage and uses homemade instruments such as washboards and flutes made from canes, now alongside more traditional western instruments.

See ‘Things to Do’ for more information about activities and places of interest, or see ‘When to go’ for more information about local events.

Our Resorts on British Virgin Islands

aerial, Cooper Island Beach Club, BVI -  1

Cooper Island Beach Club

  • Beachfront cottages
  • Environmentally sensible
  • Casual, barefoot and authentic
Guana Island, BVI -  1

Guana Island

  • Private, tranquil hideaway
  • Old school Caribbean style
  • One of the largest of the BVIs
Rosewood Little Dix Bay, BVI -  1

Rosewood Little Dix Bay

  • Tranquil, boutique resort
  • Award winning spa
  • Children well catered for
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