If we thought St. Thomas and Antigua were beautiful, Tortola was about to give us a run for our money.
We arrived in Tortola early in the morning and the hubs and I got off the ship as soon as we could. We got all the way to the gangway only to find out that the ship wasn’t letting anyone else off because another ship was docking at the port (so here’s another warning to give yourself some cushion time to get off the boat).
We were kind of freaking out because hubs had made arrangements to meet a catamaran tour company at 9am island time and it was fast approaching 9am. Hubs was already freaking out a little bit because the tour company had dropped off the face of the earth.
When he originally called to book with Tortola Charters, he actually called the company and spoke to the owner about their charter boat to the Virgin Gorda Baths. It was an amazing deal and would have given us the opportunity to snorkel. A few weeks before our cruise, hubs sent an email to all our tour operators to double check on our reservations. And he never heard back from Tortola Charters. He also tried their phone number and it wasn’t working. We should have found an alternate plan at this point but we thought it was just a fluke.
Cut to when we were finally allowed off the ship, after about 15 minutes of waiting, we were super anxious to get to the pier to find out what was going on.
When we got off the ship, we didn’t see any signs or staff from Tortola Charters. Eventually, I found a nice Port Authority Officer and asked him if he knew anything about the company. He said they went out of business a few months back.
So we were screwed essentially. Luckily, Tortola Charters didn’t have any of our money so we weren’t out anything. We had our mind set that we wanted to get to the Virgin Gorda Baths that day, which required a boat ride from Tortola over to Virgin Gorda, another British Virgin Island.
We quickly surveyed the local ship owners and found out they were charging even more ($75) than we originally were going to pay ($55). Luckily, another couple from our cruise was looking for a boat ride over to Virgin Gorda. They mentioned that Tortola operates a ferry to Virgin Gorda that was much cheaper than what the boat owners wanted to charge us.
The couple had a vague idea of where the ferry was located so we followed them over to ferry. Essentially, what you do is follow the road from the pier where your ship docks approximately 700 yards until you reach Waterfront Drive (marked by a traffic light). You turn left on Waterfront Drive and walk 250 yards until you see a red roofed building on the left.
The building holds two charter companies, Smith’s and Speedy’s. We ended up going with Smith’s because they had a schedule that worked with our timeframe in terms of getting back to the ship (remember once again that they are 1 hour ahead of ship time). It was $30/person for the roundtrip ferry ride and then $8/person for a roundtrip taxi ride from the Virgin Gorda dock’s to the Baths. (Carnival would have charged $85/person for essentially the same thing)
With our tickets in hand, we boarded the ferry for the 40 minute ride to Virgin Gorda (which is rumored to be named “The Fat Virgin” by Christopher Columbus because its profile looks like a fat woman lying on her side).
The ride itself was pretty breathtaking with bright blue waters and tropic hillsides.
Since the ferry is a smaller boat, it can get a little bumpy so if you easily get motion sickness I would recommend taking something.
Once we arrived at Virgin Gorda’s pier, we hopped into an open air taxi (there are designated ones for the Smith ferries) for the 5 minute ride to the Baths.
Unlike Antigua, Virgin Gorda’s surrounding areas seemed really nice and well taken care of (apparently the British Virgin Islands, which includes Virgin Gorda and Tortola, are much better kept than the US Virgin Islands).
Once we got to The Baths National Park entrance, we purchased our tickets ($3/person) and headed down the trail to the Baths. Before I get into any pictures, let me give you some background on the Baths.
The Baths are naturally created pools, grottoes and caves that have been formed by granite boulders strewn across the beach’s white sand. The boulders were formed millions of years ago from cooled volcanic lava and some of them reach as high as three stories.
Before you can reach the beautiful boulders of the Baths, you must first walk down a rugged trail surrounded by large rocks, tree roots, lizards and other shrubbery.
The path involves a lot of steep stairs and climbs so I would not recommend this excursion for anyone who has trouble walking.
Just check out our video.
It’s fun for the adventurous types (we like a good hike) but if you are not kumbaya with nature it won’t be your cup of tea. After a good 10 minute hike, we finally made it to the water. I don’t think there’s a better welcoming sign than this.
We were totally entranced by the beauty of the boulders and immediately starting walking down the beach.
On the right hand side of the beach about 500 yards down, the boulders completely cover the beach. Being my curious self, I thought it would be fun to climb them and see how far I got.
There were definitely points were getting a sure footing was difficult but it was really exhilarating. I’ve always really enjoyed rock climbing.
And you can only get there through this hole. Yes, this means you need to crawl on your knees.
This also meant that we need to lock up our beach bag (the national park operates a small set of lockers near the entrance).
And put my camera in a waterproof case. In retrospect, the waterproof case probably wasn’t necessary since the water never came above our knees. But I have read that the water can get pretty high when the sea is rough. Also it’s difficult to get a sure footing so if you are clumsy and would likely drop your camera in the water you might want the waterproof case.
This was my first water cave experience and I have to say it was really cool. It’s amazing the things that nature can create.
We climbed up the side of a steep rock using a rope.
I will say that the frustrating part about this cave is that there is no one really directing traffic. This became difficult in some parts of the cave because the path wasn’t very clear.
Also, there are some points were the path becomes very, very tight and there’s constantly traffic flowing in both directions. This meant that we stood around waiting for oncoming traffic to subside quite a bit. Luckily, we had some outspoken Italians in front of us, who would politely ask if our side could take their turn.
Even though the cave is really cool, I will warn you that it’s pretty dangerous. The stairs throughout the cave are wood, which become pretty slippery when wet, and the stairs are very steep and not very wide. We even saw a few people wipe out on the stairs. Unfortunately, an elderly man busted his head wide open on one of the stairs and an ambulance had to be called in. This cave is not for the faint of heart.
Once we reached the end of the cave trail, I decided that I wasn’t too keen on walking back through the cave. There were tons and tons of people waiting and I didn’t want to be in claustrophobic spaces anymore. Luckily, there’s a wooded trail that starts at the cave circles back up to the entrance and then comes back down to the Baths.
We enjoyed the 20 minute hike but it was definitely nice to get back to the beach to cool off. All that hiking and climbing really worked up a sweat.
We relaxed in the natural pools for awhile until we finally cooled down. Here’s a video so you can get a better idea of the beach area.
When we finally decided to go sit on the beach, hubs decided to get a pina colada from the beachside bar. Surprisingly enough, it was one of the best ones we’ve ever had. The bartender even put freshly grated nutmeg on top, yum.
Unfortunately, after finishing our drinks, it was time to hike back up to the taxis. The only bad part about going to the Baths is that you have a really short timeframe to explore. The ship docks in Tortola from 7:00 am-3:30 pm and the ferry ride takes 40 minutes each way.
I would suggest that you get off the ship ASAP and catch the first ferry because the Baths fill up fast. Tortola doesn’t have very many excursion options so more likely than not most of your fellow cruise passengers will end up at the Baths.
I say this not to discourage from visiting the Baths (because it’s a serious amazing experience) but to manage your expectations. If you go to the Baths, you will only have a short time to explore and it will be crowded. But I guarantee that you will definitely say “This is so cool” at least a 100 times.
The ferry ride back was really nice because we ended up on the top deck and we got to take some nice pictures of the surrounding islands.
If you are visiting Tortola, I highly recommend seeing the Baths on Virgin Gorda. I would also recommend doing this by ferry if you are an avid picture taker. The other option is to take a catamaran or small boat directly over to the Baths. The downside to this however is that the ships have to dock about 200 yards off the beach. This means that you have to swim to shore (aka no camera for you). So even though my honey didn’t get to snorkel, I’m glad we went with the ferry because we have so many amazing pictures to commemorate our day.