Three hundred years ago, the 50-plus islands of the British Virgin Islands swarmed with pirates, who took refuge in the protected waters and kept guard from secluded mountain look-outs. Some say there is still buried treasure.
Today, the fine sailing and magnificent anchorages still attract sailors from around the world and most visitors still spend much of their time in or on the sea.
There are relatively few dangerous reefs, with the exception of Anegada - a favourite spot for divers and fishermen - so conditions are ideal even for part-time sailors, with safe waters and a constant breeze to fill your sails. Sparkling sandy bays beneath striking cliffs are favourite stopping-off points for beach picnics.
Scuba diving is popular around sunken reefs and wrecks. Among wreck dives, RMS Rhone is reckoned to be the best in the Western hemisphere. Once the pride of the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, the Rhone hit Salt Island in a storm in 1867 and sunk. It is now an official marine park.
Snorkellers should visit the four caves at Norman Island, said to be the setting for Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Windsurfers benefit from steady winds and calm water.
On land, there are national parks to be explored, including Little Fort, with the remains of a Spanish castle, and the Coppermine ruin on Virgin Gorda. For naturalists, Anegada`s 1,100 acre (4.5 sq km)bird sanctuary is a must, as is Sage Mountain, the last remnant of a rainforest on Tortola.
The BVI has only 19,000 inhabitants and more than 30 of the islets are uninhabited. Most of the population of Tortola live in and around the capital, Road Town. The other principal islands are Virgin Gorda, Anegada and Jost van Dyke. Virgin Gorda can be reached by both ferry and light aircraft, Anegada by light aircraft and Jost van Dyke by ferry.
Throughout the islands, beaches are splendid and the beach bars exceptional. Gourmet cuisine can be found, along with background music of steel pans and guitars, but don’t expect early-hours entertainment - except at festival times and other special occasions when parades and parties rule the islands.