Day Trip to the British Virgin Islands from St. John

Day Trip to the British Virgin Islands

ST. JOHN, U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS TO VIRGIN GORDA, BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS

St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands lies just four miles from the island of Tortola, the closest of the British Virgin Islands.  Due to their proximity, we thought day tripping to the British Virgin Islands would be a fun thing to do as we were staying in St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands.  Upon researching the British Virgin Islands, I fell in love with The Baths, an incredible beach on the island of Virgin Gorda.  Even though it was further away, about 30 miles from St. John, I knew that Virgin Gorda was the British Virgin Island we needed to visit.

About The Virgin Islands

The Virgin Islands, collectively, are located in the Caribbean Sea, part of the Lesser Antilles group of islands.  Famous for the white sand beaches and crystal clear turquoise water, the Virgin Islands are some of the Caribbean’s best.

There are three main islands in the United States Virgin Islands:  St. Croix (the largest), St. Thomas (the busiest), and St. John (the smallest).  Additional smaller islands and cays also make up the U.S. Virgin Islands.  

The British Virgin Islands consist of four major islands:  Tortola, Anegada, Virgin Gorda, and Jost Van Dyke as well as additional smaller islands and cays.

The U.S. and British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean

History of USVIs and BVIs

Christopher Columbus is credited with discovering the Virgin Islands in 1493, however the islands had been inhabited for over 3,000 years.  In the 1600s, both England and the Netherlands took possession, at that time on the island of St. Croix.  Battles between the English, Dutch, and at times the French, over possession of the islands continued for years.  

In the 1700s, sugar plantations were a big industry on the islands with slaves laboring the plantations.  Finally, in 1834, the English freed their slaves.  The Dutch followed suit ending their slave labor in 1848.  Interest in sugar plantations began to decline  and over time the plantations fell into disrepair.

The United States expressed interest in the islands as early as the mid-1800s but it wasn’t until the 20th century that they purchased the islands from the Dutch.  The United States formally owned the U.S. Virgin Islands in 1917.  However, it wasn’t until post WWII that tourism began to grow in the Virgin Islands, resulting in its biggest economy still to this day.

As for the British Virgin Islands, they were settled by the English in 1666.  In 1774 the islands were officially given a constitutional government.  Finally, in 1967 the British Virgin Islands became an independent territority of the United Kingdom.  Similar to the U.S. Virgin Islands, tourism is its biggest economy.

How to Day Trip from St. John, USVI to Virgin Gorda, BVIs

We were staying in St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands and day tripped to Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands.  These two islands are about 30 miles apart.  You have a few options when traveling between St. John and Virgin Gorda.  One is to book a private tour.  The other option is to do a DIY version, which is what we did.  I will share how we did it below.

Ferries to Virgin Gorda leave on specific days from St. John.  The ferry schedule will determine what day you can go.  We took the Inter Island Boat Service Ferry.  Click here for a current ferry schedule from the Inter Island Boat Service Website.

When we went, ferries only traveled between St. John and Virgin Gorda on Thursdays, therefore we planned to do this trip on a Thursday!

Departure on St. John is from the Cruz Bay ferry dock right by the Virgin Islands National Park Visitor’s Center. 

Departure near the Virgin Islands National Park Visitor’s Center, Cruz Bay

There is a small building on site where you will show your passports and pre-purchased tickets.  You’ll be given boarding passes as well as a customs declaration card, which you’ll turn in on arrival in Virgin Gorda.  There is a covered waiting area outdoors right behind this building.

The ferry ride itself takes approximately an hour and fifteen minutes.  It first departs Red Hook on St. Thomas, then arrives at Cruz Bay on St. John, and then it’s off to Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands.

Fellow boats on the water during our ferry ride to the BVIs

When you arrive in Virgin Gorda,  you’ll be brought over as a group to immigration and customs.  You fill out the customs card that was handed to you when you departed St. John and show your passports.  Next you’ll go through customs and then you have arrived in the British Virgin Islands.  It was a fairly quick entry.

Upon return, you will arrive back at the ferry dock and will need to show proof of paid U.S. Custom’s tax, which you actually do at the same time as paying the British Virgin Island’s Custom tax when you arrive.  Paying both of these fees at the same time is to expedite the returns process.  SAVE this receipt!  This is what you will show as proof of payment. 

WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO

  • Check the ferry service schedule as this will determine what day you can do this.
  • Bring your passports – you cannot enter the British Virgin Islands without them.  
  • Have plenty of cash on hand for taxis.
  • Bring a pen – you will need this to fill out the customs card on arrival.

Our Experience

After clearing immigration and customs we jumped in a taxi that was waiting outside of the customs and immigration building.  We joined two other families to head to Top of the Baths.

The taxi ride took less than ten minutes.  Upon arrival, you have to pay a park entrance fee, which in 2024 was $3/per person.

From here, we went right to the on-site restaurant, sitting at a table with one of the most beautiful views we have ever had while dining. 

Top of the Baths | Virgin Gorda

Massive granite boulders were strewn throughout the island, from high on the hills and down to the beach.  It looked almost as if a giant had had its fun throwing these around to see where they would land!  We enjoyed lunch and tropical drink with these incredible views before heading down to the beach.

Top of the Baths | BVIs

The sandy path to the beach descends between giant boulders the whole way down.  It was an easy path, although you have to watch your footing in some areas.  It took about 5-8 minutes to reach the beach. 

The path to the beach | The Baths, Virgin Gorda

National Park Sign | The Baths, Virgin Gorda

At the beach there are amenities such as outdoor showers, bathrooms, a bar, and a store.  We parked ourselves in the shade and then enjoyed swimming at The Baths for a few hours.  The water was warm and the scenery incredible.  These massive boulders formed pools in between the boulders. 

The amazing Baths Beach | Virgin Gorda

Crabs also call this area home as I saw them walking on the big boulders!

Crabs were climbing the boulders | The Baths, Virgin Gorda

Our ferry departed at 3 p.m. and we were told to come back by 2:30 pm to make sure we didn’t miss it.  If you miss the ferry you will be spending several extra days on Virgin Gorda!  Our taxi driver who drove us to The Top of the Baths was waiting for us for our return trip by 2:15 p.m.  A short, bumpy drive later we arrived at the ferry dock.  We had to show proof of paid departure tax (U.S. Custom’s tax – we did this when we arrived and had to keep the receipt to show proof of payment) and were ready to board the boat to head back to St. John.

The ferry ride back was incredibly rough.  There were five foot swells from rain that had churned up the area the day before.  This coupled with the wind conditions caused us to rock and roll all the way back to St. John.  At one point our boat seemed to nearly lay on its side.  Being one who is not a fan of water, I was nervous!  I envisioned myself putting on the orange life vest below my seat multiple times.  Once we rounded the north east corner of St. John, the rocking and rolling ceased.  Thank goodness!  I had pretty much resigned myself to swimming ashore that day.  I was never so grateful to pull into a ferry dock!

So Was It Worth It?!

The Inter Island Ferry wasn’t cheap by any means as it cost $150 per person (in 2024).  We also had to carry our passports, pay an entry tax ($10/pp – Britain Custom’s tax upon entry in the BVIs), pay a departure tax ($20/pp – U.S. Custom’s tax ), and ride over one hour each way.  The boat was small and the seats were uncomfortable.  And the ride back was quite scary!

But after discussing it we all agreed that the trip was worth it.  Virgin Gorda was exceptionally beautiful and swimming in The Baths was such an amazing experience.  We saved money doing it ourselves but you can also book a tour to do this in a more comfortable and personalized manner.  These are a bit more expensive but a lot more convenient and I bet the vessels will be a lot more comfortable. 

If you would have asked me when I was on the boat I would have said no way!  But, now that it’s over, I’m glad we saved a little money and did a DIY version of visiting Virgin Gorda from St. John.  It was a great way to spend our last day in the Virgin Islands!

Read more!

We have a full guide for visiting St. John:  One Week on St. John, U.S.V.I. 

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