Tortola (Spanish for Turtle Dove) is a lush mountainous island. Crowning Tortola is Sage Mountain National Park, at 1716 feet, is the tallest peak in the islands and exhibits the characteristics of a tropical rain forest. Tortola is also the vibrant hub of the financial and government sectors with Road Town "The Small Town with a Big Heart" as its capital. Tortola also provides the main port of entry for a growing mega yacht and cruise tourism industry. Charming guest houses dot the hills and sleek resort hotels border some of the most beautiful beach expanses on the island. Beef Island (just a short bridge span away from Tortola on its eastern tip) is the site of the BVI's Terrence B. Lettsome International Airport and adjacent to it is sailboat-filled Trellis Bay, a unique cultural village with craft shops and restaurants.
To navigate this mountainous terrain, drivers have a choice of two main roads, one following the mountain ridges and the other the coast with many smaller "tributaries" spilling off of these. The spectacular Ridge Road, with breathtaking views, follows the center spine of the island, a mountainous area sloping off to Tortola's north shore known for its white sandy beaches and great surfing sites, such as Josiah's Bay, Apple Bay and Cane Garden Bay. The coastal road snakes along the outer perimeter of the southern shore connecting charming rural communities from the east and west ends of the island with Road Town in the centre.
Road Town is home to the beautiful J.R. O'Neal Botanic Gardens which features close to three acres of indigenous and exotic plants, trees and herbs. The capital is also brimming with restaurants, shops, and is the site for the hospital, government administration offices and official Governor's House with its historical museum. Just behind Waterfront Drive is Main Street, a peep into the BVI's architectural past, which still has many historic buildings and churches, charming cafes, and curio shops as well as the Virgin Islands Folk Museum.
Tortola Sites at a Glance
1) Botanic Gardens, Road Town: A tranquil 3 acre national park, the gardens boast a luxuriant array of indigenous and exotic tropical plants, a fern house, an orchid pavilion and aviary.
2) Main Street, Road Town: Along Tortola's main shopping street, you will find charming West Indian buildings, the VI Folk Museum and several historic churches.
3) VI Folk Museum, Road Town: This historical museum is located on Main Street in a traditional West Indian wooden house. It contains artifacts from the Amerindian and plantation periods and the wreck of the RMS Rhone. A small shop sells books, maps and crafts.
4) Queen Elizabeth Park, Road Town: A small community park with a playground in Road Town, it is located on the western end of Town.
5) Old Government House and Museum, Road Town: The former governor's residence was built in the early 1920s, and has been refurbished to reflect a Government House of the early 1900s.
6) Sage Mountain National Park, Ridge Road: A tropical forest located at 1716 feet, the park has lush foliage including giant elephant ears, luxuriant ferns, gravelled pathways and picnic areas.
7) North Shore Shell Museum, Carrot Bay: The rustic "museum" offers a unique look at local culture. There are lots of conch shells, traditional wooden model boats and other local memorabilia.
8) Fort Burt, Road Town: The site now contains a hotel, but the stone foundations and artillery magazine of a 17th century fort can still be seen.
9) Fort Recovery, West End: A turreted 17th century gun emplacement is located on the grounds of Fort Recovery Hotel.
10) William Thornton Estate, Pleasant Valley: Low stone wall are all that remains of the home of the designer of the US Capitol building. They can still be seen by the site of the road at Pleasant Valley.
11) The Dungeon, Pockwood Pond: Now covered by bush, the substantial remains of an 18th century English fort are located here. In a cell-like room, 18th century etchings can be discerned .
12) Church at Kingstown, just east of Road Town: The stone church is now roofless but was once part of a community of freed slaves.
13) Josiah's Bay Plantation, East End: A shop is housed in the original plantation era distillery building, which produced rum until the middle of the 20th century.
14) Mount Healthy National Park, above Brewer's Bay: A thickly walled stone windmill that was once part of a 18th century sugar plantation.
15) Callwood Rum Distillery, Cane Garden Bay: This 18th century rum distillery is still operational and looks much as it did several hundred years ago. For a small fee, visitors will be shown around the premises.
16) Shark Bay National Park, above Brewer's Bay: Visitors to this park, on the eastern hill above Brewer's Bay will enjoy a short nature walk, fabulous views and a lookout.
17) Soper's Hole, West End: The sheltered harbour is a yachting centre. One of the islands' ferry terminals is located here as well as several restaurants. The charming Soper's Hole Marina and shopping centre can be found at neighbouring Frenchman's Cay, which is linked to Tortola by a small bridge.
18) Trellis Bay, Beef Island: Craft shops, art galleries and restaurants can be found at this quaint beachfront area.