Travel notes British Virgin Islands (BVI)

In the hope that it saves others some learning experiences. Collected during a trip to Tortola in December 2015.

  • There are no street addresses. To find your way, find the right “bay” (like Cane Garden Bay) and follow the road until you get there. How to find your way in Road Town, unless you know the landmarks, I have no idea.
  • The Avis address given by Expedia for its Roadtown location is wrong. It says “Next to Big Ben Superette”. Except that 1) there is no such thing, and 2) I’m told the only Superette is half hour across the islands at West End. The taxi ride from the St Thomas ferry to the Avid Roadtown location cost me $15, but you can walk the distance in about 10 minutes. Of course, that doesn’t help you if you don’t know where it is.
  • Price level is American or a bit higher.
  • Restaurants generally are very good and fancy, with the kind of price tags that you would expect for that in America. I have not seen many budget eateries.
  • Service everywhere is very slow. Expect 3 hours for a restaurant meal.
  • Do not drink the tap water. Buy a gallon of filtered water in a store, and refill it when you need to at one of the filtered water vending machines that are all over the island.
  • The locals are generally friendly and helpful, if you treat them as human beings worth of respect, not just as mere employees. This means, for example: don’t barge into a store demanding XYZ, but start by wishing a Good Morning.
  • Standardized products, services, and stores, don’t really exist. In other words, don’t expect that if you have rented Avis cars 100 times before, your experience will just as cookie-cutter as always. Don’t expect Starbucks, or any other international franchises.
  • Driving is on the left. But most cars on the road were built for driving on the right. Both might take some time to get used to.
  • Traffic rules are mostly “be nice to each other” it seems, rather than anything too hard and fast.
  • There is not much traffic, but driving is not easy. The roads are mostly one-lane with cars parking everywhere. Most of them are also extremely steep, much steeper than you ever find in the US. The hair pin curves are hair raising and well over 30% incline on the narrower end. (This might be a way too charitable assessment; I didn’t measure.) Your vehicle will skid, sometimes even on dry roads. (Think snow in the mountains …) If you drive those hair pins at night, you often end up turning into the total darkness, as there are few street lights, and your vehicle’s lights are likely not pointing as far to the side as you need them to for those hair pins. All the while your vehicle might be skidding, it might be raining, you need to watch for rocks and drive on the left. So you might want to reconsider that car rental idea.
  • Needing to pull out in reverse gear from tight spots happens all the time.
  • Most important driving tip: note how many cars there are parked everywhere with flat tires. It turns out that when it rains (which is several times a day), rather sharp rocks fall off the mountain sides on the roads. If you drive over those rocks, your tire might blow. (Happened to me. And funnily enough, during my stay, two more cars ended up with flat tires in the exact same spot on subsequent nights.) So make sure you avoid fallen rocks which appear everywhere all over the place.
  • Everybody claims they have WiFi and accept credit cards. However, in practice, many credit card machines are inexplicably “broken” and in our case, the WiFi router was “stolen” (but also not replaced). So take those kinds of technology promises with a grain of salt.
  • Immigration into Tortola from the ferry from the USVI takes forever. Prepare to be roasted in the sun while you wait.
  • The ferry boats to and from the US Virgin Islands are rather disorganized. Plan for taking extra time, or perhaps being booted from one ferry and put on the next.
  • There is a $20 departure tax per nose. There are bag fees everywhere that nobody tells you about up-front.
  • Security on the whole island is low to non-existent. The windows in our hotel couldn’t be closed, and the maids’ master key was stored in a shed outside that itself had no locks and was open to anyone. The metal detector in the immigration building seems to be more a matter of public amusement than anything whose beeps should have any kind of significance.

But: it is soo beautiful there.