The second time I went to Virgin Gorda, it was with a tour group. We stayed at a gorgeous, ambitious new resort (much needed, as the island's top hotels are a half-century old). The weather was reliably sunny and breezy, and the sunset sail was spectacular, and wholly relevant, as the British Virgin Islands compose one of the world's top boating destinations. Thanks to the light development, I truly felt like I was "away."
But I knew something was missing. During my first visit to the island, I'd spent a day at the natural wonder that makes the destination so singular: the Baths.
Laurance S. Rockefeller, the visionary eco-pioneer and scion of the famous philanthropic family, is the man mainly responsible for keeping Virgin Gorda so pristine. He developed Little Dix Bay as an eco-sensitive resort, and bought Devil's Bay and Spring Bay under the condition that they be preserved as public parks. The Baths themselves, located about a mile south of Spanish Town, have been formally protected as a BVI national park since 1990. They are a testament to Rockefeller's commitment to conservation and remain accessible to (what he hoped are) environmentally responsible tourists. It took a little convincing, but I was able to persuade my fellow travellers that to bypass the Baths would be to miss the point of Virgin Gorda almost entirely, itinerary be damned.
The thing about the Baths is that, at first, you don't see them. What you do see are piles and piles of huge, smooth, enigmatic boulders, attesting to the island's volcanic origins. The scenery looks prehistoric, like something out of The Flintstones (for people of a certain age, at least). It's as you move between the boulders that you experience the magical tunnels, grottos and pools. A few ropes and wooden stairways create a low-impact pathway. Some of the rock ceilings are low, and kids may be more adept at managing the route than adults who don't regularly visit the gym. But really, it's an easy enough, self-guided path, made for spontaneity.
I dawdled behind my group to do some wading. Between the rocks, the sands are white and spotless, and the scene is constantly changing as the sunlight peaks through the tops of the boulders. The still aqua pools become spot-lit, and you realize that it is probably unlike anyplace else on Earth.
Eventually I had to pull myself out – but when I did, I had the reward of a long swim and a sunbath on the white sandy shores of the adjacent Devil's Bay. My companions couldn't thank me enough for the experience, agreeing that sometimes it's helpful to have a second-timer around.
IF YOU GO
What it is:
The Baths is a coastal stretch of Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands. The three-hectare site boasts perfect sandy beaches strewn with smooth boulders. The boulders are piled in such a way that it creates pools and grottoes (i.e. baths).
Where it is:
The Baths are located at the southern tip of Virgin Gorda at Devil's Bay.
How to get there:
There are multileg flights (American, United, Air Canada) between Toronto and the BVI. Miami and San Juan are typical stopovers. Though Virgin Gorda has an airport, the island of Tortola (14 kilometres away) is often the best option. From there, your hotel can arrange for transfer by boat, air charter or helicopter.
How to see it:
The entry fee is $3 (U.S.). Transfers can be arranged through your hotel. The trail through the boulders is rustic and uncomplicated.
Where to stay:
The recently renovated Little Dix Bay (rosewoodhotels.com), the brainchild of Laurance S. Rockefeller, has a drop-off service to the Baths and other stunning beaches, while the brand-new Oil Nut Bay (oilnutbay.com) resort and real-estate development offers multifamily homes and luxury cliff-top suites for hire, all with private pools.
The writer travelled courtesy of Biras Creek and Oil Nut Bay resorts. They did not review or approve this article.