A Virgin Gorda Vacation
By Wendy Crum
Years before we even thought about having kids my husband and I had chartered a 50’ catamaran with another couple for a week of cruising and scuba diving through the British Virgin Islands. Among the many highlights was an afternoon at a natural wonder called “The Baths” in Virgin Gorda. One afternoon exploring the dramatic caves and secret pools wasn’t enough so we told ourselves that had to get back there soon, and 10 years later we called WIMCO and rented a villa on Virgin Gorda so we could take our kids to The Baths, and see it through their eyes. However that wasn’t the only thing that drew us back to the island, we were looking for a low key, laid back island, an undeveloped and authentic destination to explore with the kids, and Virgin Gorda delivered.
We flew in to San Juan, then took a small plane flown by Air Sunshine over to Virgin Gorda. That flight path took us along the length of the Virgin Islands, a spectacular sight from the air. We taxied to a stop in front of the “arrivals terminal”, a small two room building with nothing more than an officer at a desk stamping passports. Wimco’s local rep, a British expat named Sue, met us there and drove us a quarter mile to the car rental office. We got a sturdy 4 door SUV and set off after her to our villa.
We arranged to stay at Villa VG SAR, in the Mahoe Bay area.
The photos on the website led us to believe that we’d be staying in a simple 3 bedroom hillside villa with distant ocean views, and access to a small beach. We were stunned to find that VG SAR was a modern and spacious villa, with a huge pool, with a sweeping view of Tortola and other islands in the BVIs. The beach at Mahoe bay, which was a 60 second walk from our villa, was over half a mile long and was shared by a dozen private villas, with not a hotel or beach bar in sight. An incredible coral reef lay just off shore, and it wasn’t unusual for us to see one or more sea turtles within minutes of stepping into the water.
So, the villa and its surroundings exceeded expectations, now, would The Baths measure up after all these years? On day two of our vacation we drove to the far western tip of the island to find out. You access The Baths, a national park, via a gently sloping quarter mile dirt path from a parking lot. As you descend towards the beach through a narrow V shaped valley you start to encounter huge house sized boulders on both sides. The path winds through, around and under them, and then delivers you onto a magical beach dominated by huge piles of boulders, creating private coves, caverns, secret beaches and excellent snorkeling. The four of us spent hours that first day exploring the area at the end of the path, both on foot along the well marked trail in and around the boulders, and in the water. I can’t describe how special a snorkeling area The Baths are, one swims between boulders to tiny beaches in water two feet deep, then passes into a chamber with views between boulders down into waters over 100’ deep. This maze provides excellent shelter for fish, and we saw all types.
Other notable excursions on Virgin Gorda included a trip to Copper Mine, where you can tour the ancient mine site, and hike a very rugged coast pockmarked with colorful tidal pools that reminded us of the Maine coastline; Little Dix Bay, a quiet and understated resort with an excellent beach; and Leverick Bay, a village with Marina on the far eastern tip of the island.
Eating out is always a favorite activity for us, and we found several good spots in Virgin Gorda. We frequented a beachfront breakfast spot on Fischers Bay where you could have tasty omlettes and breads, then swim in the protected cover afterwards. We also liked Mine Shaft Café top of a hills on near Copper Mine – it delivered the excellent sunset views and rum drinks as advertised. On the more gourmet end of the spectrum there was the formal restaurant at Little Dix Bay, and an Italian restaurant called Giorgio’s near Mahoe Bay. One night got a babysitter and had a couples night out at Giorgio’s. The pastas were delicious, the wine list extensive, and the waterfront views of Tortola excellent. We found a good grocery store at the main marina, and that’s where we stocked up for our home cooked meals.
The beach and snorkeling at Mahoe Bay held our attention for at least part of each day. We never tired of the amazing snorkeling across the vast expanse of this quiet bay. One night just before dinner I went out alone and as the dying light of the day sent horizontal shafts of light through the blue green waters I spotted a sea turtle drifting through the shafts of light – an amazing memory.
We always try and tap into the locals for insight into the best off the beaten path places to go, and when we told a waiter at Giorgio’s that we had loved The Baths, he told us about a “secret” beach up over the boulders that most people didn’t know about. Armed with this exciting knowledge we set off the next morning, down the path, up over the boulders that defined one end of the main beach area, and down into a magical stretch of sand caressing huge boulders. We played there for an hour before striking out over another mountain of boulders to come upon a third and even more spectacular stretch of hidden beach, this one lined by swaying palm trees.
The snorkeling continued to be excellent here, and on the hike back up to our car we discovered the small Mad Dog café overlooking the ocean serving drinks for other intrepid explorers like us. We plopped down on comfortable benches with worn cushions, in a cozy dark wooden room with distant ocean views. Chickens scampered about outside, jumping up into trees as the light dimmed – something we’d never seen before! When I presented my credit card to settle up I was told they only took cash. The owner was quick to tell me that it was no problem, I could come back and settle up the next day, so we did. What a great excuse to come back to The Baths, as though we needed one.
Our trip ended too soon. Villa VG SAR felt like a second home. We enjoyed sunsets from the dining room table each night, lots of fun in and around the pool, and peace and quiet when we wanted it. We checked in for our flight then sauntered over to the funky Iguana Bar where we shared drinks and swapped tales with fellow travelers. All of us were reluctant to leave the peaceful yet exciting hideaway that is Virgin Gorda. Now I just need to figure out how to spend two weeks down here next time.