A guide to Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands

Named by Christopher Columbus, Virgin Gorda translates quite literally as "Fat Virgin" but the name isn't an insult as the explorer thought the shape of the island looked just like a pregnant woman in repose.

Virgin Gorda only really arrived as a tourist destination in the 1960s and despite half a century having passed, it still remains a relatively unknown luxury within the British Virgin Islands.

This lack of commercialism bestows a sense of intimacy upon the island which is hard to find among more popular islands in the Caribbean. With a slow and easy way of life, Virgin Gorda is a friendly and accommodating place, with the residents renowned for their welcoming hospitality.

Here's a closer look at this tiny hidden gem of the Caribbean.

The landscape

Virgin Gorda is a very small island in the Caribbean, measuring just eight square miles in total, with some parts of it only sparsely populated due to the landscape.

The topography of Virgin Gorda is wide and varied, with the southwesterly part - known as The Valley - full of low, gentle rolling hills and beautiful landscapes.

A view overlooking Virgin Gorda

In the centre of the island, there's a mountain which rises up out of the ground, reaching around 1350 feet. There are not too many houses or residents in this area, known as North Sound, other than on the northeast side.

Below Spanish Town the landscape is dotted with giant granite rock boulders which have been incorporated into the design of many features. But as well as providing spectacular scenery, these boulders evolve into more solid structures which are suitable for the sport of bouldering, an easier form of mountaineering and enthusiasts often flock to this part of the island.

What's particularly striking about roads on Virgin Gorda is a total lack of pavements, making it dangerous to be a pedestrian. In addition to people on foot, livestock can often be found in the road so if you're planning on hiring a car to see the islands' attractions, take care and don't drive too fast.

As well as the main body of the island, there's a number of tiny rocky outcrops and islets that lie just off the shore and that make up Virgin Gorda. These small islets help to create the sheltered harbours that can be found in and around the North Sound region.

To reach the outer parts of Virgin Gorda requires a brief trip on a ferry, along with some of the wooded hills on the north eastern part of North Sound.

Places to visit on Virgin Gorda

Although Virgin Gorda is best known for providing seclusion and privacy, there are still lots of places to visit and attractions to see on the island.

The most famous beach on Virgin Gorda is known as The Baths and has numerous huge granite boulders that hide pools and provider shelter in a fascinating natural phenomenon. There are also a number of hidden caves which are protected by the boulders but are accessible to those who want to go exploring.

A typical scene from the baths, Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands

There's also a trail which leads through the caves and boulders and onto the neighbouring Devil's Bay Beach which can be followed on foot. Both of these beaches are very popular and can become quite crowded particularly when cruise ships stop off en route.

For a more remote beach that's likely to offer solitude, try going further north to Savannah Bay which lies above Spanish Town. With Pond Bay which lies alongside it, the long stretch of sand can be reached via a dirt road. You may find you are the only people on the beach. These waters are perfect for snorkelling along the outer part of the reef but you'll need to be a good swimmer.

At Gorda Peak there's an observation tower where it's possible to enjoy a vantage point over the whole island including the beaches, reefs, tiny offshore islets and tropical greenery. The peak is 1300 feet but the majority of the climb is accomplished by car. The final part of the journey is manageable by anyone with an average degree of fitness in normal shoes. You should however always ensure you have water or fluids with you as the risk that dehydration presents can be severe.

Exquisite and exclusive

Virgin Gorda is an island which is a real retreat; this is no party island with all night drinking and dancing on the streets.

You will find some venues which offer music and drinking until the early hours but these places are the exception and not widespread across the island.

The resorts are exclusive on Virgin Gorda are more famous for offering an exclusive retreat, a sanctuary from the daily grind rather than being a commercial getaway. The rich and wealthy often visit Virgin Gorda, mooring their expensive yachts in the harbour so don't be surprised if you see someone you recognise strolling around.

(In case you were wondering…

If you haven't yet worked out the outline of the pregnant woman, try looking again at a map of Virgin Gorda but seeing the boulders down at The Baths as her toes and Gorda Peak as her baby and belly…)