The main center of tourism in the British Virgin Islands is Tortola, with the capital Road Town located in a lovely sheltered harbor to the south. This rocky island is 12 miles long by 3 miles wide and dominated by a lofty mountain range, with its highest peak being Mount Sage, 1750 ft high.
Crossing the island often involves dramatic ascents and descents along precipitous roads, such as the switch-back road leading to the beach at Brewers Bay. So mountainous is Tortola that the airstrip had to be built on the neighboring Beef Island, the northern limits of which are flatter in comparison, largely coralline in make-up, Beef Island is connected to Tortola by toll bridge, the earliest in the Caribbean.
It only takes a few hours by car to explore Tortola, but, as it is virtually impossible to traverse the island without ascending the Mountain range.
Extra time may be needed to take in those scenic views. Topped by the incredibly breathtaking Ridge Road, the rugged heights make you stop often to just gaze, or to take a photo. Additionally, the original sugar cane rum distillery is still operating in Cane Garden Bay and is well worth a visit.
Much of Tortola's original subtropical forest was cleared for sugar cane production in the 1700s. The growing of sugar cane has virtually ceased and production is now only enough to supply one of the original rum distilleries in Cane Garden Bay to the north. Today cacti, mango trees, hibiscus, bougainvillea, frangipani and wild tamarind dominate the arid hillsides, while mangroves and palm trees are found around the shores.
To the north of Tortola lie Green Cay, Little Tobago, Tobago, Jost Van Dyke, Little Jost Van Dyke, Guana Island, Great Camanoe and Scrub Island.
Many people bypass this island for diving and as a result the reefs are in excellent condition. The British Virgin Islands National Parks Trust has been responsible for the putting in place over 200 mooring buoys since 1989. The ease of accessibility for divers visiting the islands with their own sailboat or powered charter yacht and the invention of 'rendez-vous diving', have made the British Virgin Islands unique in the diving world. The north coast of Tortola has some fabulous bays, such as Cane Garden Bay and Brewers Bay, which are protected by boulder-strewn barrier reefs. Some of the more exposed are cut by very large tunnels and canyons, which become difficult to dive when there is a strong northerly gale.