Feature photo and photo above by Tony Gatti.
Standing nearly 50 feet above the ethereal, blue Caribbean with mammoth, granite boulders all around and a few snorkelers here and there, I plunge into a ring of coral below, gaining a moment of clarity only attainable by falling freely into a welcoming sea from a high precipice.
If one wanted proof of the BVI’s volcanic origins, there is no need to look further than Virgin Gorda. Here, you will find what is arguably the most famous land feature in the entire Virgin Island archipelago and a truly romantic locale: the Baths.
At the southwestern corner of the island is a seaside labyrinth of massive, granite boulders that form a series of grottoes in which to play and explore.
Some of these boulders tower 50 feet high and there are cool, shaded pools at their base that sneak out into the sea.
Constantly refreshed by the mellow tides, these pools offer the most delightful respite from the hard sun of the tropics and the linear quadrants of city blocks back home.
Once you add the tall and slinky palm trees that mingle among the rocks, it all looks rather like a tropical Bedrock.
For anyone who has been before, the National Park known as ‘the Baths’ becomes a hallowed memory as one recalls the day crawling, climbing, and duck-walking along a maze of rock, sand, and penumbra.
While there is a trail that runs through the boulders, it is easy to find a secretive grotto in which to frolic with your sweetheart or philosophize alone about why you didn’t bring one!
This place is a geological Barry White.
By Land or By Sea
Accessing this wonderful place can be achieved easily by land or by sea. Unless you have a boat or swim from afar, you arrive at the park by taxi or foot; it is only a mile from Spanish Town (and one of the ferry terminals). The entrance fee is $3.
From the entrance, ithe walk to the Baths is a leisurely 10 minute stroll down a dirt and stone path. On the path you will begin to see boulders piled upon each other in Flintsonian fashion. Once at the beach, you might be surprised to find some lockers and a shanty with simple fare and some of the best frozen drinks in the Virgin Islands.
At Poor Man’s Bar, you can get a refreshment and a hot dog, as well as lock up your valuables.This is where crowds tend to congregate, so do your business and get to exploring this stupendous marvel.
Up and over and through, down and under and across: this is how you will go as you navigate the boulders, pools, and ever-changing light and sound.
You will be overcome with an intense desire to have the Baths all to yourself, so you will have no choice but to poke around until you find that perfectly private spot—and then wish you could share it with everyone you love.
At the southern end of the Baths is Devil’s Beach. The 20-minute journey (if you weren’t waylaid by the igneous sirens) will bring you to a lesser visited beach with no services other than peace and beauty.
Here the boulders above extend below for an inverse view of this natural wonder accented by pulsating squid, elusive rays and schools of blue tang casually moving in a crystal-liquid atmosphere. Bring your snorkel gear.
At the end of a day here, what could be better than relaxing pool side with a cocktail of your choice as you look out over the wild scene of strewn megaton boulders that was your playground?
At the top of the Baths–back where you entered earlier and paid your entrance fee–is an ingeniously named bar and restaurant called…the Top of the Baths Restaurant. I recommend the flying fish sandwich.
*It is important to note the Baths are often overrun by cruise ship passengers and other day visitors between 10am and 3pm. Click here for a list of cruise ships visiting the area.
Photo above by Tony Gatti.
Had Enough of the Beach?
There is nothing large about the island Christopher Columbus dubbed the Fat Virgin. At eight square miles, Virgin Gorda is the third largest island in the British Virgin Islands and the second-most populous, although you would never know it.
Virgin Gorda is two trapezoidal “masses” joined by the narrowest of isthmuses. On the southwestern mass known as The Valley, you will find the Baths, Spanish Town—a sleepy village of boutique shops, bars and a mini-market– and the Coppermine National Park.
Between 1837 and 1860, over 10,000 tons of copper were extracted from a mineshaft that reached a depth of over 240 feet below sea level.
You can tour the ruins and enjoy the views of the sea from the bluff. This is a great place for a picnic. Buy your lunch items at Buck’s Market in Spanish Town.
On the northeastern mass of land is the Gorda Peak National Park. For a view of the entire island and its surroundings, why not climb to the top of Virgin Gorda Peak?
At 1,359 feet, this vista boasts an incredible panorama. Most of the altitude is covered by a car ride with only a 30-minute walk to get you to the top.
At the top, you will find a platform that raises the viewpoint to 1,370 feet. Here, you can look out upon all of Virgin Gorda. See if you can discern the reason why Columbus named the island so.
Anything Else to Do?
Numerous islets, cays and islands abound with a plethora of coral reefs, hidden beaches and protected waters in which to probe.
Photo above by Tony Gatti.
Should I Stay (Overnight) or Should I Go?
Getting to Virgin Gorda is easy from the other islands in the archipelago, particularly Tortola. In fact, one could easily make daily day-trips here to explore if the cost of lodging proves too much for your budget.
As there are no campgrounds and you would be hard-pressed to find anything under $100 a night, this might be your best option. But if your budget is a bit fatter, there is no shortage of wonderful properties.
While the Virgin Islands may feel like a world away, they are actually rather accessible without incurring great expense. The regional hub of St. Thomas (STT) is one of the cheapest places to fly into in all of the Caribbean.
Once on STT, you are only a ferry ride (or two) away from getting away from everything. There are two ferry terminals on STT: Charlotte Amalie (CA) is a five-minute cab ride from the airport and Red Hook (RH) is about 30-40 minutes.
Seaborne Airlines offers non-stop service between St. Thomas and Virgin Gorda via an amphibious seaplane for $100 each way. It lands at Gun Creek–on the opposite side of the island from the Baths—but only a 20-minute drive away.
The seaplane port on STT is located right next to the Charlotte Amalie ferry terminal, only five minutes from the airport. The flight is a quick and scenic at just 19 minutes long.
While direct ferries exist from STT, keep in mind that everything connects via Tortola. Pay attention to where your ferry is going from and to; some of the islands have numerous terminals (Tortola and Virgin Gorda each have three!) and going to the wrong one can mean a long (and costly!) cab ride to the part you wanted to access.
For full ferry schedules throughout the US and British Virgin Islands: www.bestofbvi.com/info/info_bviferry.htm
One More Thing
Both the US and British Virgin Islands use the US dollar as their official currency and it is important to note that while Americans don’t need passports to travel to the US Virgin Islands, they DO need one to enter the British Islands. No visa required in either case.
Please see “Jost Van Dyke: A Chill Caribbean Getaway” and “Magic Mushrooms and Dolphin Rides” on www.matadortrips.com for more information about the Virgin Islands. Also, look for the next article in the Virgin Island series, which will take us to St. John.