One City, Two Itineraries: Scrub Island, British Virgin Island

One City, Two Itineraries: Scrub Island, British Virgin Island

Where exploration, relaxation, and hospitality converge

Words by Rebecca Deurlein and Nicole Letts
Photos by Offshore Sailing School, Scrub Island Resort, Spa & Marina, British Virgin Islands Tourist Board & Film Commission


Basking in the British Virgin Islands

The British Virgin Islands (BVIs), by their very nature, inspire the explorer and adventurer in you. The impossibly aqua water beckons you outside while ferries, sailboats, and yachts carry you to small islands that dot the ocean. These are the quieter alternatives to the U.S. Virgin Islands where cruise ship stops such as St. Thomas and St. John burst with visitors. Composed of 45 islands, the BVIs are a mixture of Caribbean culture, the British legal system, and an American economy. 

Even with wildly different interests, we came away with an identical thought: it’s the people that make the BVIs so special. As solo travelers heading out with different guides, we felt safe and cared for. Our stay at Scrub Island Resort, Spa, and Marina only reinforced that feeling. The resort’s peppering of pampering and attention to detail helped get us where we needed to go with ease. Here are our favorite activities in the BVIs, from Rebecca’s outdoor adventures to Nicole’s rich cultural experiences.

Relax in Paradise

A core memory is a recollection of a specific moment that holds particular emotional value. One of my latest core memories is seeing Scrub Island for the first time. Not only because my ferry glided over the still water as the resort’s lights reflected in its darkness, and not only because I was headed toward a blissful few days of vacation. It’s really because I was being carried toward my trusted friend and travel companion, Rebecca, her right hand enthusiastically waving from the dock, and her left steadying a champagne glass. 

Scrub Island is situated just 1.5 miles from Tortola but is a world away from the busyness of the big island. It has 26 guest rooms, 26 one-bedroom suites, and a collection of 13 luxury villas ranging from two to six bedrooms, each with private plunge or infinity-edge pools and sweeping vistas of the Caribbean. At our villa, we also had a private sundeck that overlooked the water and was lovely for reading and even better for golden hour photos. 

The island is walkable but hilly, so take advantage of the on-demand golf cart pick-up. We found the perk especially useful after our massages at Ixora Spa. The afternoon downpour was a relaxing white noise bonus to our treatments, but it did put a damper on our walk home. Golf cart and driver to the rescue! Be sure to talk to your butler—yes, your very own villa butler—about booking a ride to the top of Big Scrub to take in 360-degree panoramic views of the sunset. 

Another advantage of staying at Scrub Island is that you can charter a tour with Dive BVI from right there at the resort. Snorkeling and diving in waters surrounding the BVIs is breathtaking, from the stunning underwater life to the epic views of island shorelines. Craggy rocks emerge from snorkeling spots, drawing coastal birds above and parrotfish of every color below. Dive BVI will take you to sea turtles, tarpon, and coral reefs exploding with greens, yellows, and reds. Since the captain dives with you, he points out what you might miss, such as that octopus camouflaged among the coral. It’s safe, educational, and a don’t-miss when visiting the BVIs. 

Nicole’s Itinerary

Visit a Garden

The convenience of Tortola offers visitors like me opportunities to get to know the local people and customs. Start the day on the island's hillside at Jenesis Studios, a living art gallery, cultural museum, and garden. Here, husband and wife Reuben and Olive Vanterpool offer tours in tandem. Reuben is the artist of the duo, and his artwork—almost all for sale—depicts his own history as well as the history of the community. You’ll see weddings, school children, and even typical island buildings in his work. The outdoor garden, planted and tended by the Vanterpools, is flush with native plants, particularly those used for ailments and healing, such as turmeric and soursop. If you’re lucky, you’ll taste and sniff a few plants as you go. 

Take a Tour

Around the bend is Mount Healthy National Park, a preserved example of an 18th-century sugarcane mill. At the time, sugarcane was the crop of the islands, and plantations were prevalent throughout its hills. Mills were required so the cane could be crushed. Like the cotton plantations in the American South, these massive productions relied heavily on enslaved labor, and the average plantation required 150 to 200 enslaved people to keep it operating. Today, ropes prevent visitors from walking too close to the structures, but Mount Healthy is an impressive yet somber reminder of the island’s more serious history. 

Sugarcane is still used for rum production at the Callwood Rum Distillery. Located in Cane Garden Bay, it is one of the oldest continuously operating distilleries in the Caribbean; it has been producing rum for over 200 years. During season, tours of the distillery are offered daily, Monday through Saturday, and select Sundays if a cruise ship is in port. 

Enjoy the drive back toward the main part of the island, taking in the ocean views as you go. Be on the lookout for the Shell Museum where driftwood and stacks of shells are available for perusing and purchasing. If you’re lucky as I was, Mr. Friendly, one of the artists and a Caret Bay native, might be there waiting to chat and tell you the stories of this shell, that cheeky sign, or even better, a childhood memory. 

Rebecca’s Itinerary

 Set Sail 

The British Virgin Islands have always called themselves the Sailing Capital of the World, and few dispute that distinction. The unique formation of the barrier islands creates smooth water and steady winds, the perfect conditions to hoist a sail and “ready about.” While you will see plenty of sailors skippering their own yachts from one island to the next, most novices choose to take lessons. It’s the ideal activity, a way to spend time on the gorgeous blue water while learning a new skill.

From our homebase at Scrub Island Resort, Spa, and Marina, I signed up for a lesson with Dutch, a pro instructor with Offshore Sailing School. Founder Steve Colgate is an Olympian and America’s Cup sailor, and the school has been teaching people of all ages and abilities for more than 50 years. Dutch taught me basic sailing commands and how to respond to them, how to read the tell-tales—small triangular flaps that help you visualize the direction of the wind—and how to come about and jibe—change directions without losing your wind. Seeing the islands from the water is a whole new perspective, and I highly recommend it!

Hike an Island

When you need a little landlubbing, hiking opportunities abound. Sef Graham, founder of Hike BVI, has carved out trails in Tortola, where he leads you to freshwater springs, teaches you about the local flora, and explains how indigenous plants are used in drinks and herbal remedies. When you’re dripping with sweat, he’ll crack open a coconut, stick a straw in it, hand you a cold towel, and tell you to rest. It’s an island experience most people never explore, leaving you with the peacefulness of the jungle and unobstructed, sweeping views of the sea.

If you like the idea of a short hike near seawater for cooling off, don’t miss the truly unique experience of The Baths of Virgin Gorda. Follow the trail down to the shoreline, where the ocean has carved out smooth caves and jutting rock structures that make for beautiful photos. Here, you can crawl through crevices and tunnels, emerging into a sea cave where the water is just deep enough to soak your feet. Sit in the swirling water and listen to the waves crash against the rocks, then dry off on the beach and grab a Bushwacker and a burger at the Top of the Baths Restaurant & Bar. 

Work Out Those Sore Muscles 

I found heaven on earth at the Ocean Spa on Jost Van Dyke Island, and despite having many massages in my life, this one goes down in history as the most memorable. That’s because the treatment takes place atop a floating spa, where you rock with the waves while a therapist works her magic on your sore spots. Owner Dale Mapp, possibly one of the sweetest men you will ever meet, picks you up in a dinghy at the ferry dock and whisks you away to his spa. He built it with his own two hands using reclaimed wood from Hurricane Irma in an effort to make beauty out of devastation. Just the sight of it will take your breath away: white, billowing drapes framing the wood deck, and the gentle rocking of the structure moored in the waters surrounding one of BVIs smallest—and most beautiful—islands.

Get there

This sun-soaked destination is a breeze to access from the southeast. Fly directly to Tortola as Rebecca did, or opt for a plane to ferry adventure via St. Thomas as did Nicole. 

Eat like a local

Classic island dishes include conch fritters, fresh grilled fish, and spicy rice and beans, and don’t miss the BVI specialty—roti, a savory tortilla-like pastry filled with spiced meats. The best roti is at Naturally Tasty, owned and operated by Philip Glasgow, who has earned the moniker of “Rotiman.”  

Dish dictionary: 

  • Gooseberry juice: a native grape of sorts that produces a tart, sweet liquid. 
  • Johnny Cakes: fried, handmade doughnuts served alongside savory meals for sopping up curries or sprinkled with cinnamon for a sweet treat. 
  • The Painkiller: a mix of Pusser’s rum, pineapple juice, orange juice, and cream of coconut, topped with freshly grated nutmeg. Grab a seat at a picnic table at Soggy Dollar Bar on Jost Van Dyke—they invented this island drink. 

Relive it at home:

In 1958, Virgin Island, starring John Cassavetes, Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, and Virginia Maskell, was shot on location at Scrub Island Resort, Spa, and Marina’s Cay Bar & Grill. Stream the movie to revive your BVI experience on demand.