Day tripping by ferry from St. Thomas to Road Town, Tortola, British Virgin Islands

The venerable Union Jack intersperses the flag of the British Virgin Islands circling the roundabout in downtown Road Town, Tortola, BVI.

The United States Virgin Islands (of which the St. Thomas city of Charlotte Amalie is the capital) is shockingly close to the British Virgin Islands ("BVI" or simply "Virgin Islands" as the British call them, of which Road Town is the capital). The border between these two territories seems in fact to be the closest the two closest of allies come to one another geographically, meaning that territories-included makes the United Kingdom the closest neighbor of United States apart from Canada and Mexico. A greater man than I could swim it!

Closeness doesn't trump customs, though, so we had to show passports before boarding the 45-minute ferry from the ferry terminal in downtown Charlotte Amalie to Road Town. We've observed several times that Massachusetts seems to move itself from New England to the Virgin Islands by winter, and nowhere was this more apparent than when we boarded the Provincetown III fast ferry, itself just weeks away from the 5-day sail back to Boston after wintering down south. Tickets on the Road Town Ferry are $60 round trip per person, but be prepared to pay $30 per person in taxes split between the outbound and the return. As with all international travel, don't try to sneak flora or fauna (fruit being the big hangup) across boarders. Know your address, passport number, and pertinent details so that the paperwork is a cinch.

It behooves you to make a clear plan before you make the passage, as in-network cell service on one island does not beget in-network service on the other. We've covered Charlotte Amalie in a separate post, so note here that Road Town is much smaller, and diversions are much less obvious. The town is organized around a primary main street with a roundabout adorned in Union Jacks at the north end. The Lower Estate Sugar Works Museum recommended by the tourist agent at the pier is not worth the walk. Instead, we recommend day trippers immediately hire a taxi to the rum distillery on the opposite side of the island. The length of our stay didn't permit us time for this, so we'd love to know how it worked out for others. Those staying overnight will obviously want to beeline for their hotel to drop bags before setting out for an adventure (to the rum distillery?).


Unless… you feel an urge to stop at the Bamboushay Lounge just near the ferry terminal. We'll borrow from an earlier post, Seeking sangria on Tortola and St. Thomas, two Caribbean islands that love rum!

Bamboushay Lounge is named for a traditional Caribbean dance, and is as easy to get to as it is to miss when stepping out of international customs at the Road Town ferry terminal. Immediately cross the main street, turn right, and walk just a little ways down until you come across a wooden arch leading to a beach hut of a place that turns out to be a tropical enclave just off the busy main drag. Their sangria is based on a sparkling wine, giving it great evervesence that lights up the glass in the heat of the sun and makes you feel miles away from anything resembling the stress of travels. The island rustic motif and friendly staff redeemed everything we found wanting in the rest of the downtown area. There’s free WiFi there as a bonus, a most welcome treat for those avoiding international data roaming at all cost.

We recommend Maria's by the Sea to those wanting to dine with a great view of the Road Town harbor. Getting there is odd: turn right on departing customs, walk along the harbor side of the main street, meander past some trinket sales and smoothie shacks to your first big turn, then loop into the Maria's by the Sea hotel, walk through the lobby, and there you are. The acoustics are quiet, the service mediocre but friendly, and the view splendid. Go here for a breezy meal, not a gourmet outing.

The quiet waterfront dining at Maria's by the Sea offers an unrivaled view of Road Town Harbor. You'll find this a nice reprieve from the busy street just outside.

We found great cause to avoid the cruise ship pier north up the street from Maria's, but before you get to the roundabout (near the central administrative / government building). It's built for tourists and folks who are here to shop, which isn't WTF's modus operandi. We hear there is a wine bar here called the "Watering Hole", specializing in South African wines and tapas.

A few hours' walkabout and we were off to our return ferry with a few remaining notes. First, we love the pamphlets celebrating the Queen's birthday! Second, we declined several taxi driver's offers to "show us around the island" for $55; we recommend a real tour instead. Third, yes, we use U.S. dollars in the BVI. And fourth, anyone not from the countryside has never heard so much cockadoodledoing; the chickens roam free in Road Town.