Into the Baths
On the ferry from Tortola, I could see the boulders in the distance: bigger than the sailboats at anchor, dominating the shoreline in a playful jumble. An anomaly in the Caribbean, these glistening white granite monuments signal a distant outpouring of volcanic forces into the sea.Visitors come from afar to snorkel the crystalline reef-dotted waters, to enjoy secluded beaches at the Baths, a National Park protecting the fragile ecosystem along the boulder-strewn shore. On the trail less traveled, a green valley stretched before me, the tops of immense boulders peeping out of a jumble of tropical vegetation. Beneath the flaming red flamboyant trees, thick, squat flowering cacti clings to rocks; thin, pipe-stemmed cacti rises in delicate sprays.
The trail led down, down, down to a stunning finish: Devil’s Bay, framed by sea grapes and boulders, shimmered with a play of colors only seen in the Caribbean Sea.Following the trail into the Baths – where aqua shoes and a bathing suit are appropriate hiking gear – I discovered a maze between boulders bigger than houses. The trail dipped into glittering grottoes awash in blue waters, clambered up and over boulders on narrow boardwalks, squeezed through low passageways, and splashed through long corridors of knee-deep water.
Ropes and ladders proved handy aids on some of the climbs. In the water, crabs scuttled; granite slabs served as home for brilliant purple and green blooms of algae. At trail’s end: a beachside bar, set amid coconut palms and giant boulders.
Relaxing at Fischer’s CoveMy accommodations – discovered and arranged over the Internet – turned out to be an unexpected delight. Virgin Gorda is a millionaires’ playground, with classic resorts: Little Dix Bay, Biras Creek, Bitter End. I chose simpler fare: Fischer’s Cove Beach Hotel, an intimate resort splashed in shades of lilac, pink, and aqua.
According to the locals, Fischer’s Cove is the “poor man’s Little Dix.” Salt-tinged trade winds flowed through the shuttered windows of my airy room. In the open air lobby, I sat in a rocking chair, watching the sunset. A tiny green lizard paused along the railing: perhaps one of the island’s miniature iguanas, smallest in the world. Waves caressed the coral-strewn shore. I felt relaxed, energized.
Exploring by Taxi
The next morning, I set out on a taxi tour to see the rest of the island. My driver, Mr. Huggins, doubled as dinner chef at Fischer’s Cove – I’d enjoyed his excellent presentation of conch, plantain, and jonnycakes.
First stop: Coppermine Point. Once a thriving Spanish copper mine, the point is dominated by the ruins of later Cornish smelting works. Glints of malachite, azurite, and chrysocolla shine from the rocks. A drive through the Valley gave me a sweeping view of Spanish Town, the main concentrated settlement on the island.
I discovered the well-paved main road makes it worth renting a car. Only ten miles long, much of the island is lush parkland criss-crossed by hiking trails, and there are plenty of scenic pulloffs along the road. Most tempting are the central beaches: secluded and pristine, with crystal-clear water.
From Gorda Peak (1,331 feet) I could see the entire sweep of the island, back to the Baths. A volcanic cone peeked out of the sea beyond: from the ferry, the small island’s shape had been indistinct. Perhaps the source of the granite boulders? From the peak, the island curved below my feet: the verdant hills of North Sound, and its exclusive resorts. Beyond, a smattering of islands: including Necker Island, the private paradise of Sir Richard Branson.
Lush mountains with hiking trails, intriguing wildlife, beautiful beaches, coral reefs with tropical fish, colorful copper minerals, massive rocks, and rum. This is paradise!
Visiting Virgin Gorda
Unless you’re sailing in, Virgin Gorda is reached by taking a ferryboat from Tortola, British Virgin Islands. Reserve your stay on the island in advance, as rooms are limited. Fischer’s Cove is one of the less expensive of the island hotels.
When wandering the trails of Virgin Gorda, be aware that some Caribbean plants, such as the manchineel tree, are poisonous and will harm your skin if brushed against.