With small bays and hidden coves that were once havens for pirates, the British Virgin Islands (BVIs) are among the world's loveliest cruising regions. Once-sleepy Tortola, one of the chain's largest islands, has evolved from a yacht-chartering port to a full-bore cruise destination that can handle megaships (many of whose passengers then catch a ferry or take a launch 12 miles farther to Virgin Gorda; see p. 69 ). Cruise ships dock in the colonial capital, Road Town.
Top draw Dominating Tortola's interior, Sage Mountain National Park (www.bvitourism.
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Com ), the highest point in the Virgin Islands, offers panoramic views and hiking trails through a native forest of mango, papaya, breadfruit, coconut, birch berry, and guava trees.
Smell the roses Right in Road Town, the J.R. O'Neal Botanic Gardens (on Botanic Road, naturally) packs a lot into 4 acres a stately palm avenue, a pergola walk, lily pond, waterfall, and mini-rainforests.
Under the sea Nearby Norman Island is one of the BVI's prime snorkel sites, full of coral formations, colorful fish, and a group of caves at Treasure Point, where pirate treasure is reputedly hidden.
Top beach Across the mountains from Road Town, Cane Garden Bay on the island's northwest coast is worth the trip. Further down the coast, surfers like Apple Bay.
Local color Also on the northwest coast, on Cappoon's Bay beach, Bomba's Surfside Shack is the oldest, most memorable bar on Tortola, covered with Day-Glo graffiti and ladies' undergarments and laced with scraps of wire, driftwood, and abandoned rubber tires.
A SLICE OF PARADISE: jost van dyke Covering only 10 sq. Km (4 sq. Miles), mountainous Jost Van Dyke is an offbeat treat in the British Virgin Islands, visited mostly by private yachts and a few small cruise ships, which all anchor offshore. They often throw afternoon beach parties on the sands at White Bay, with the crew lugging ashore a picnic lunch for a leisurely afternoon of eating, drinking, and swimming.