Included on many eastern Caribbean cruises, Tortola offers plenty of cruise port excursions to choose. From beautiful beaches and mountain drives to shopping or sipping rum, there’s something for everyone. Here are our recommendations for your day in Tortola in the British Virgin Islands.
Take a shore excursion to Tortola Beaches
If you’re looking for the perfect tropical beach, many cruise ship excursions head to the north side of Tortola for some of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean. Laid-back and picturesque, these soft sand beaches offer swimming, snorkeling and in winter, surfing.
Apple Bay is located on the north-western end of Tortola. It’s a great beach for surfing or boogie boarding especially in the winter months. Nearby is Bomba’s Surfside Shack, known for their Rum Punch.
Cane Garden Bay isn’t a secluded hideaway but it’s not to be missed, either. Nestled against a lush green hillside, the sand is like sugar and the water, calm. It’s also close to the port so you could find other cruise passengers enjoying the beach and the few restaurants and bars.
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Brewers Bay beckons you to its hidden shores on the north side of the island. Accessible by taxi or car, it’s a haven for locals and those looking for something off the beaten path. Not filled with tourist-y restaurants, you may want to bring water and a snack.
Local Food in Tortola
Cultures come together in the BVI to create a flavorful mélange of Caribbean cuisine. Tortola food tours are fun shore excursions. Locals love their roti, a flatbread stuffed with barbecued meat and folded like a burrito. Fragrant spices include curry, allspice and hot peppers and they are used in abundance. Feel daring? Try curried goat meat soup (tastes like chicken of course).
Fresh seafood and just-caught fish plus colorful tropical fruits round out the culinary experience. Close to the port, the main thoroughfare in Road Town, Main Street, is dotted with lively restaurants, cafés and open-air bars. Stop in for lunch and try a fresh fruit rum punch, one of the most popular (and potent!) drinks on the island.
Shopping in Tortola
St. Thomas this isn’t. And you’re in the British Virgin Islands not the US Virgin Islands. Prices will be a bit higher here.
Tortola is smaller and less touristy but there’s wonderful shopping that’s walking distance to the port. You’ll find most of the shops along and just off of Main Street, which parallels the waterfront. Wander the little side streets and you’ll find art galleries, spice stores and of course tropical clothing boutiques.
If you like to cook, be sure to take home some local spices and a Caribbean cookbook. Several stores sell only spices, hot pepper sauces and condiments. Where are these shops? Your nose will lead you there, once you’re in the vicinity. (Hint: Sunny Caribee is one of the popular spice stores.)
Wickhams Cay: Near to the marina and not far from where the tender will dock, this new waterfront development has yet more stores to burn up your cash or credit card.
Crafts Alive Village: This “village” recently opened at the lower end of Road Town to replace the tent vendors. Rows of brightly-colored tiny “houses” with gingerbread trim (sort of like enclosed kiosks), comprise this new shopping area. Here you’ll find unique and beautiful arts and crafts, handmade in the British Virgin Islands.
Chances are your ship will offer shore tours for those who just want to shop for souvenirs, too.
Historic Sights in Tortola
Sage Mountain National Park: This first National Park in the British Virgin Islands was established in 1964 to preserve and regrow what was lost through decades of deforestation. Sage Mountain, at a stunning 1,716 feet, is the highest point in all of the Virgin Islands.
On a clear day, there’s a breathtaking view of neighboring islands including St. Croix. A dozen trails begin at the parking lot for the hike to the summit and through the park. The easiest way for this excursion is to hire a taxi from Road Town or rent a car to reach the park, located in the center of the island.
Old Government House Museum: Located in Road Town, this historic building is just a short walk from where your ship’s tender will dock. Originally the Governor’s residence from1880 until 1996, you’ll find an interesting display of British memorabilia, maritime antiques and original furniture. A nice detour when strolling along Waterfront Drive.
Virgin Islands Folk Museum: From the dock, head towards downtown Road Town along Main Street. Moved to its historic second location in 1993, the museum is located in the Penn House built in 1911. The West Indies-style house is a showcase for artifacts dating from over two thousand years ago, belonging to the Amerindians, the first known inhabitants. Old photographs, pottery and carvings highlight life on this island and surrounding area.
More Cruise Excursions in Tortola on Your Own
On an eastern Caribbean cruise, there’s always a nearby island to visit. From Tortola, take a ferry boat across the bay to Virgin Gorda, also in the British Virgin Islands.
Visit the mysterious Baths formed by giant boulders that seem to have dropped from the sky. Explore winding caves, snake your way through narrow passageways and take a dip in one of the hidden, crystal-clear pools. After wandering through the caves, head up the stone stairs to the souvenir store before returning to your ship. Available by cruise excursion or on your own.
If you’ve always wanted to play with Flipper, Tortola has a cruise excursion over to Dolphin Discovery and just jump into the water. Watch as the trainer and dolphin go through their paces. Then, you’ll get onto a platform in the water and have 30 minutes to interact, play and even get your photo taken while getting a kiss from a dolphin. Life aquatic isn’t cheap; tickets for adults and children are over $100 each. But it’s an amazing, once in a lifetime opportunity.
Tiptoe through the tulips at J.R. O’Neal Botanic Garden, just a short walk from the harbor, across Waterfront Drive. Just kidding about the tulips, this is the tropics, after all.
A walk through this 4-acre garden leads you through a wide range of indigenous vegetation, from cacti to herbs and orchids. Learn about the plants and trees native to this area or sit in the shade under a massive banyan tree. Meander along the paths past fountains and exotics ferns and take a break from the blazing Caribbean sun. A small admission fee is charged.
Your day in Tortola will go by quicker than you’d like. Find the best shore excursion for your time in port before you leave home so you don’t miss a thing.
I’m the editor and creator of CruiseMaven.com, a solo traveler cruising the world on waves and wheels. I hope my articles and photos entertain, advise and inspire you to travel the world without flying. Take a breath… stop for a meal and a glass of wine along the way.