Tortola Island is the largest and most populated of the British Virgin Islands, a group of around fifty of varying size and shape, less than 100 kilometres east of the very busy Puerto Rico. The British Virgin Islands’ quiet colonial atmosphere is charming, and reminiscent of the West Indies’ past. Locals are a mix of descendents of British settlers and West Indian slaves.
The first inhabitants were the Ciboney, followed by the Arawak and Carib Indians who all loved to sail, something that has lasted right throughout Tortola history.
Christopher Columbus put the now British and US Virgin Islands on the map in 1493, and named them after the 11,000 virgins who accompanied the 4th century martyr, St Ursula. Since then the Spanish, Dutch and British have laid claim to ownership, but it has been a territory of the United Kingdom since the 17th century.
Sugar plantations provided great wealth until the mid 1800s with the abolition of slavery. Today a healthy income is derived from thriving offshore banking and tourism. Both are controlled to ensure Tortola remains unspoiled. While there are things to do and see on the island, most people who visit just want to relax on the white sand beaches and enjoy the serenity.
If you fancy having a look around, Main Street has lots of tiny shops, including a post office and philatelic bureau.
Joseph Reynold O’Neal Botanic Gardens has a good representation of local flora and fauna.
Open every day, it is pleasant to stroll among lush plant life which includes breadfruit, passionfruit, mango trees, orchids and palms.
Sage Mountain National Park is a natural treasure. At 543 metres, Mount Sage is the highest point in the British Virgin Islands. Hiking paths give some excellent views of neighbouring islands.
Fort Recovery in Tortola’s west end is believed to have been built by the island’s first Dutch settlers who landed at Soper’s Hole in 1648.
The Callwood Rum Distillery at Cane Garden Bay allows visitors to see rum being made. In the 18th century rum production and sugar cane were the British Virgin Islands’ main industries. The original boiler still operates and rum is kept in original storage casks. The old guard house is intact, but today is an art gallery and gift shop.
The Queen Elizabeth II Bridge connects Tortola with Beef Island, the location of the British Virgin Islands' main airport.
There are no large hotels – no one wants to see an imitation of the commercialised American Virgin Islands. There are no franchises allowed, and emphasis is put on keeping locals in business.
The newly-opened Surfsong Resort is luxurious and laid back. It has just four beautiful villas. Driftwood and Seascape each have two bedrooms and two bathrooms. Driftwood is right on a sandy beach and Seascape offers magnificent views of Sir Francis Drake Channel. Private patios are perfect for lounging, coral-tiled floors, elegant décor and island-style architecture offer tradition and modern comforts.
Surfside and Treehouse Villas each have one bedroom and one bathroom. Entry to Surfside is through a private courtyard and beautiful wooden doors. It has private patios, covered deck and sweeping views. Treehouse is nestled amongst boulders and shaded by a canopy of trees.
Each villa has a kitchen which can be stocked if you wish, or a personal chef can be arranged to take care of your dining requirements. There is no restaurant, as the owners feel visitors to Surfsong prefer to have private time. Meals and drinks will be served in the Bali-inspired lounge pavilion if you wish. Spa treatments, pilates and yoga can be organised.