Originally inhabited by the Arawak, Carib and the Ciboney Indians, Tortola came to the attention of Europeans when Christopher Columbus set his sights on it during his famous 1492 adventure across the world. Although local legend dictates that Columbus gave Tortola its name in honor of the turtles he and his crew spied, the reality is that Columbus dubbed it “Santa Ana.” The Dutch are the ones who gave it its current name, and it went on to become one of the most exclusive of the Caribbean islands. That exclusivity has waned a bit, though, as tiny Tortola sometimes has trouble accommodating the massive cruise ships that stop in. However, it is well worth a visit and there’s plenty to do.
Sightseeing & Things To Do
Because Tortola is so pint-sized, it is easy to find your way around and to do a bit of exploring. Many people enjoy using Tortola as a jumping-off point for excursions elsewhere in the British Virgin Islands, and many of the islands are located close enough to do so even with a limited amount of time. Whether you hit the botanical gardens, frolic on the stunning beaches or while away a few hours at the waterfront marketplace, Tortola is a port of call that you don’t want to skip.
As tiny as Tortola is, there are a surprising number of things to do to keep yourself occupied while visiting. From historic sights straight out of the island’s colonial past to gorgeous beaches and tropical scenery, Tortola has plenty to enjoy:
The Sage Mountain Park
If you’d rather avoid the more developed parts of the island and take in some of its raw, natural beauty then you should seriously consider visiting the Sage Mountain Park. The tallest mountain in the entire British Virgin Islands can be found here, and the remains of a primordial rainforest are available to enjoy. Plan a hike and make an afternoon of it.
Tortola is definitely not lacking when it comes to beaches. You can take your pick from several, but Josiah’s Bay is definitely the place to go if you’re looking for splashing surf, wide sandy beaches and a general atmosphere of fun and frolic. You’ll have no trouble sunbathing or otherwise relaxing here, either.
For those who aren’t in the mood for any fun in the sun, Fort Recovery – which was built by the Dutch back in the year 1648 – is a wonderful option. You can get a feel for the island’s colonial past and learn a little something, too.
The Joseph Reynold O’Neal Botanical Gardens
While you’re sure to enjoy plenty of great plants and flowers simply strolling around on Tortola, you can take in a very impressive assortment of them in one convenient location by visiting the Joseph Reynold O’Neal Botanical Gardens. Equal parts sumptuous and exotic, the plants here are truly out of this world.
You won’t find any malls or major shopping complexes on Tortola, but what is there is truly charming. Along the waterfront, be sure to stop by Crafts Alive Marketplace, where local entrepreneurs peddle their wares – and where you can enjoy some stunning deals. From paintings to rugs to practically anything you could ever imagine, this marketplace is as good as it gets in the British Virgin Islands – don’t miss it!
Best Souvenir To Bring Back To the Cruise Ship
There isn’t exactly a major shopping area to enjoy in Tortola; however, that can actually be a good thing, as tracking down a suitable souvenir can be that much more of a feat. Top choice? A bottle of Pusser’s Rum, which can be found at various places on the island and is a local specialty.
Eating – Sample the Local Cuisine
When your ship stops in Tortola, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to enjoy authentic Caribbean fare – so be sure to partake! One local favorite that’s not to be missed in conch chowder; pick up a bowl when you are out and about. If you’re in the mood for something truly different, track down a Roti. This is a West Indian style wrap that is stuffed full of curried style chicken, vegetables or the island’s favorite standby – conch. They are definitely mouthwatering, and they are abundant enough to track down in no time flat.
When, Where, and How
When To Go
The weather is generally enjoyable in Tortola year-round; that being said, though, those who don’t like exceptional heat might want to avoid the summer months – especially July and August. April, May, September and October are all excellent times to come to Tortola while on a cruise. If you do visit during the hotter months, just plan on hanging out at the beach to keep as cool as possible!
Where You’re Docked
Cruise ships that stop at Tortola dock at Road Harbour, which is the only real town on the island – and calling it a town is a bit of a stretch. However, the dock is convenient enough and offers visitors the opportunity to grab boats to other nearby British Virgin Islands.
Which Cruise Ships Go Here?
Lots of the major cruise lines have itineraries that include stops at Tortola. A few of the biggest cruise lines that stop in Tortola are P & O Cruises, Princess Cruises, Fred Olsen Cruise Lines and Carnival. However, there are many other options available in terms of ships, dates, days at sea and in port when it comes to Tortola.