By Bob Curley
Most people tend to visit Tortola in the BVI by boat, whether that’s on a yacht charter offered by The Moorings or another charter company or, increasingly, as day visitors from cruise ships.
There are no mega resorts on Tortola, and the small hotels and villas tend to be scattered around the island.
Cane Garden Bay is the exception: it’s the closest thing Tortola has to a beach town, boasting Tortola’s most popular beach and a diverse selection of lodging as well as some of Tortola’s best bars, restaurants, music venues, and one of the most historic rum distilleries in the Caribbean.
Located on the northwest coast of Tortola in a well-protected bay, Cane Garden Bay Beach is a pretty arc of sand fringed with palm trees, beach bars, and snack stands. The waters are gentle enough to be safe for kids, and there are ample opportunities to rent water toys from outfitters like Paradize Watersports & Parasailing. Shaved ice from the Manjack ice cream truck is a great cool down right off the hot sand no matter what your age; they also see ice cream infused with island flavors like tamarind and guava.
Beach bars abut one another and throw out signs and specials to win your attention, like the bucket of six beers for $20 or two for $7 painkillers at the Paradise Club, which also rents beach chairs and umbrellas. The latter can be in high demand when caravans full of cruise ship passengers begin arriving at the beach mid-morning, so stake your claim early!
Two legendary local names in BVI hospitality, Pusser’s and Myett’s, have joined forces in Cane Garden Bay: you can order your obligatory Pusser’s Painkiller in a souvenir tin cup at the bar and sleep it off at Myett’s simple but steps from the water guest rooms. Burgers, pizza, conch fritters from the BVI island of Anegada, and decadent desserts are among the menu options at the restaurant.
Quito’s Gazebo is a mix of Caribbean chill, live music, and a somewhat more formal sit-down dining experience in a high-ceilinged pavilion at the water’s edge. On Wednesdays, it’s owner and reggae musician Quito Rymer himself providing the entertainment. Opt for a local favorite like the $20 chicken roti or splurge on the $45 Caribbean lobster. Off the beach but well worth finding (it’s just a short walk down the main road) is Bananas, a stepped-up restaurant with a nice wine and cocktail menu, lobster, grilled mahi, and steak on the menu, and the blessing of an air-conditioned dining room.
The 21-room Quito’s Inn is the newest addition to Cane Garden Bay, slated to open in 2019.
Meanwhile, the neighboring Lighthouse Villas are an excellent choice, set back from the beach but on a hillside with beautiful views of the bay. Six spacious, whitewashed villas dressed in tropical colors have private balconies and share a small outside swimming pool, an occasional gathering spot for other guests.
If you’re staying in town, breakfast at Rhymer’s Beach Bar and Restaurant is highly recommended. The staff is friendly, you get a great view of the peaceful bay and the early arriving yachts to start your day, and the generous breakfast platters and omelettes are reasonably priced. Rhymer’s also has a small hotel with budget-friendly rooms near the water.
A little further down the road you’ll come to the Callwood Distillery, which has been making a unique variety of rum from the juice of locally grown sugar cane for more than four centuries. Be sure to stop for a tour, learn the history, and sample the rums, some aged, some flavored with a strip of fresh sugar cane. You won’t find this rum back home, so be sure to pick up a few bottles for when you want to relieve some sweet memories of Cane Garden Bay.