The British Virgin Islands consist of a group of over sixty (60) islands, islets and cays and is located at the northwestern extreme of the Leeward Islands of the Lesser Antilles. They are adjacent to the US Virgin Islands, at Longitude 64o 30o W and Latitude 18o 30o N. The largest island, Tortola, is approximately 12½ miles (20 km) long and 4 miles (6 km) wide, and has the highest elevation in the BVI, at approximately ½ mile or 540 meters high. Virgin Gorda has a volcanic peak that rises from the sea of ¼ mile or 410 meters high. Most of the islands are volcanic in origin, while Anegada, located 30 miles northeast of Tortola, is comprised of a coral and limestone atoll. To passengers arriving to the islands by sea, Anegada is almost invisible as most of it is only slightly above sea level.
The British Virgin Islands are balmy, semi-tropical islands, with the additional benefit of the trade winds that keep humidity low and the Caribbean currents that keep waters warm. The average temperature is 77-85 degrees F (25-29 degrees C) throughout the year with temperatures dropping around 10 degrees F (6 degrees C) at night. The wettest months are from September to December which average only about 5 days of rain each. February to April are the driest months in the islands.
For much of the year the mountains are covered in a thick green carpet of tropical trees, bushes and scrub. The wild tamarind, a hardy tree that needs little moisture and has deep roots, is the most common tree on the islands. Fields of tall guinea grass, upon which cattle and goats feed; the wild and sweet-smelling frangipani trees and turpentine trees (referred by locals as tourist trees because of their red and peeling trunks).
On the drier portions of the islands, for example the eastern portion of Tortola and much of Virgin Gorda, there are many types of cactus and succulents, including Turks Head, Pipe Organ and Prickly Pear. The Century Plant, a massive succulent with tall, spiky leaves has a stalk which can reach 40 feet and contains pods of yellow flowers. The plant blooms once every eight years, but if you visit in the springtime you will see dozens of the plants adorning the hillsides. The White Cedar, which has exquisite white or pink flowers, is native to the BVI and is also the territory's national tree.
In gardens and groves throughout the islands are an assortment of fruit trees. The breadfruit, a large shady tree, has a large green fruit that when cooked is used as a starchy side dish. Banana trees, mangoes, papayas (which are also boiled when still green and eaten as a vegetable), sugar apples, guavaberry and soursops are other fruit trees that flourish here.
A great variety of tropical flowers can be found in the BVI, including hibiscus, bougainvillea and allamanda. Jasmine and frangipani are two of the most highly fragrant flowers found on the islands.
A fascinating array of reptiles and birds found throughout the islands are two types of iguana - the indigenous Anegada Rock Iguana (found on Anegada as well as Guana and Necker Islands); and the Green Iguana (primarily found around Virgin Gorda's North Sound and Peter Island). Anoles, geckos, and small tree frogs are also part of the assortment of reptiles that make up the variety of reptiles on the islands. The mongoose, introduced to the BVI in the 1800s, is the islands only wild mammal.
British Virgin Islands most common birds are the Green-throated Carib, a small iridescent hummingbird; the tiny yellow and black Bananaquita and the American Kestrel, a falcon that can be seen soaring over the islands' valleys in search of prey. Several species of doves, including the Ground Dove and the Zenaida also inhabit the islands. As an interesting sidebar, Tortola means dove in Spanish. When sailing, or walking on the beach, you will see a number of sea birds, the most wondrous being the Magnificent Frigate, whose wing span can reach up to eight feet. Laughing Gulls, Brown Boobies and the Brown Pelican are also plentiful near the water.
Much of the land of the BVI has been left in its natural state – a spectacular, unspoiled Caribbean paradise, as it was back in the days when the infamous pirates and explorers sailed these waters.
Overlooking Road Town, capital of BVI.