No trip to the Virgin Islands is complete without a visit to the Virgin Gorda Baths. Pristine beaches with crystalline water are framed by remarkable granite boulders known as The Baths. This phenomenal destination has jaw-dropping views of the encircling Virgin Islands, scenic hikes, and a maze of caves that form colorful cathedrals. In this post, I discuss everything you need to know before visiting the Virgin Gorda Baths.
When we decided to take a week-long Caribbean cruise for my husband's 40th birthday, I was most excited to visit the British Virgin Islands, specifically to see the Virgin Gorda Baths. Apart from the fact that we would be traveling to The Baths on his actual birthday, the Tortola excursion also appeared to combine my two favorite travel things; adventurous hiking and beautiful beaches. Plus, 50 million-year-old boulders! Well, not only did the national park live up to my expectations, it exceeded them!
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Virgin Gorda History
Virgin Gorda, which translated means The Fat Virgin, was named by Christopher Columbus in 1493 on his second journey to the Americas. The island's shape reminded him of a voluptuous woman, hence the name. In fact, Virgin Gorda is the third largest island in the British Virgin Islands. The Gorda Baths are the most popular attraction and the gem of the BVI.
The Baths are a geological wonder, but how and where did these boulders come from? Simply put, they were formed by volcanic activity forced to the Earth’s surface. When the molten rock cooled, it created the gigantic granite boulders known as The Baths. Throughout the millions of years that’s passed, the waves from the sea have continued to shape the batholiths into the unique formations that reside today.
Tips to Know Before Visiting
- The entrance fee is $3 per adult and $2 per child.
- The Baths are open from 8 am -4:30 pm.
- Restrooms are available at the Top of The Baths and The Baths beach but not Devil's Bay.
- To beat the crowds, plan to arrive as early as possible. There was a small group of us at 8 am, compared to the large crowd we saw entering the park while we were leaving by 11 am. This will also help when multiple cruise ships are docked.
- If it’s doable, try to come on a weekday rather than a weekend to also enjoy fewer crowds.
- Pay attention to the safety flags on the beach! If you see a red flag, it means the water is dangerous, and visitors should not attempt to swim. If you see a yellow flag, take caution when swimming.
- Travel light. Pack only the essentials as you’ll have to carry everything while hiking and scrambling through caves. Leave the beach/tote bag at home for this adventure.
How to Get to the Baths in Virgin Gorda
There are generally two types of travelers to make their way to Virgin Gorda: the Virgin Islands visitor and the cruiser stopping at the port of Tortola. I was the latter. There are three ways to get to Virgin Gorda. The cheapest and most common way is by ferry and taxi. A traveler could also fly into Virgin Gorda, but the airport is tiny, and flights are expensive. Finally, there’s the method of a private boat charter, also on the pricey side.
Getting There on Your Own
The two main ferries that travel to Virgin Gorda are Speedy’s Ferry Services and Smith’s Ferry Services. A majority of the ferries leave from Road Town Tortola, but you can also catch a direct ferry from Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas. These direct ferries run on limited schedules. Ferrying from St. Thomas to Road Town and then to Virgin Gorda is an alternative option.
Prices start at $20 per person for a one-way ticket or $30 per person for round-trip tickets from Tortola. A taxi will cost less than $10 per trip and take less than 10 minutes to get to Virgin Gorda from the ferry dock. Prices start at $70 per person for direct ferries from St. Thomas. The ferry takes approximately 40 minutes from Road Town in Tortola and about 2 hours from St. Thomas.
For cruisers, you can make the trip to the national park from the port of Tortola on your own if you have enough time in port for that day. From Road Town at the Tortola port, catch one of the ferries and then grab a cab to and from The Baths at Virgin Gorda. This is a cheaper option if time allows.
Tip: Arrive at the ferry 30 minutes before departure for the ferry from St. Thomas.
Getting There With a Cruise Excursion
Cruisers can choose one of the shore excursions available through their selected cruise line. I decided to book through our cruise ship because I wanted the first ferry out to beat the crowds. Additionally, if something were to happen to cause a delay, the ship would have to wait for me since the excursion was booked directly through the cruise. It comes down to a matter of preference, but I would factor time into the decision.
Overall, I found the ferry was a pleasant trip each way, and the car ride was quick and easy. There were calm waters on the day we traveled, so I imagine this can be a bumpier journey on rough sea days. If you decide to book through your cruise line, try to book it before your vacation begins. These tours sold out quickly once we were on board.
Tip: Bring plenty of sun protection if you plan to sit on the top deck of the ferry as the sun can get dangerous on open water.
What to Expect in The Virgin Gorda Baths
The Trail Down to Devil's Bay
Arriving at The Baths by car will take you up the hillside to the Top of The Baths. From there, you need to hike down to the beaches. There are two trails you can choose from, either hike down to The Baths or Devil’s Bay. I strongly recommend starting with Devil’s Bay since it’s not difficult to hike down and easier to hike back up from Baths beach. This isn’t a challenging trail by any means and is less than a half mile from the top, down to Devil's Bay. However, there are a few sections of slippery sand, loose rocks, and uneven ground, so be mindful of your surroundings when hiking.
Despite the struggle I had contending with several loose rock patches, mostly because I wore flip-flops which I regret and advise against, I was pleasantly surprised by how scenic the hike was. We passed multiple overlooks, that the national park conveniently points out with signs. The vistas were similar but equally beautiful, and all offered panoramic views. Lush greenery with cacti peppered through the area, the ocean stretching out for miles behind it, and countless islands in the distance rounded out the impressive scene. These spots were perfect for us to catch our breath, snap a couple of photos and then continue on the trail.
The path was straightforward to follow, but there are still plenty of signs pointing in the right direction. As the descent grew closer to Devil's Bay, there were a few steep and narrow parts, but it was still manageable. Cacti bordered the path on each side, which was lovely to take note of, and before I knew it, I had reached the jaw-dropping Devil’s Bay.
Tip: Wear proper footwear. Learn from my flip-flops mistake. Sneakers or active sandals would be perfect for the trail down. Additionally, use the facilities at the Top of The Baths before hiking to Devil’s Bay.
Devil’s Bay National Park
I consider myself extremely fortunate to have visited some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. However, taking one step out onto the soft unblemished golden sand of Devil’s Bay, blew the rest away. Crystal aquamarine water that sparkled beneath the early morning sun was encompassed by massive boulders, the biggest I’d ever bore witness to. They give the beach a prehistoric look, which is quite fitting considering these boulders are millions of years old.
Devil’s Bay feels untouched from the rest of the world, with nothing but a blanket of sand, the sea, and granite boulders to occupy this stunning location. We were the first group to arrive for the day, so we had the opportunity to explore each side of the beach, and spent our time marveling at the behemoth rocks, scrambling over them, and playing in the water. This is hands down my favorite spot in the Caribbean now, and I could have easily spent hours here, but unfortunately, time was limited, and we needed to make our way to the next destination - the cave trail to The Baths.
The Cave Trail
If you’ve ever seen pictures of the Virgin Gorda Baths, then you’ve undoubtedly come across images from the famous cave trail. At this point, some physical dexterity does come into play. You will use ropes and ladders to climb into tight spaces and over rocks to get through the caves to The Baths.
The trail begins with a descent into a cavernous tunnel, it appears a little scary at first, but it’s all about taking your time. Holding onto a rope as a handrail, I climbed down a ladder, to make my way through the spacious alcove. The water was above ankle length but below the knees, and easy to wade through. For most of the trail, I remained awe-struck by the stunning rock formations, tucked-away grottos, and tidal pools.
After the initial descent, there are a few spots where I needed to squeeze through boulders and climb over rocks but nothing too challenging. Towards the end of the trail, there is another long rope to use as a handrail to safely shimmy across an uneven section. Once more a little scary, but I proceeded slowly and was rewarded with a stunning cathedral grotto. The cave walls created an explosion of color that was hard to tear my eyes away from, but I eventually made my way on and headed to The Baths.
The Baths, similar to Devil’s Bay, is a gorgeous beach of huge boulders that frame the sparkling sea. It's equally impressive but much less secluded. There was a larger crowd here at this time, it was later in the morning at this point, and some groups start their tour of the Virgin Gorda Baths with The Baths beach first. This beach also has a bar, gear available to rent, restrooms, and souvenir stalls.
Further down the beach, there were more boulders to explore, but instead, we chose to swim in the beautiful water. On the day we visited the Gorda Baths, there was a yellow flag on the beach indicating to be cautious while swimming. They weren’t kidding, the waves were strong!
However, we stayed close to shore and managed the sea just fine. We encountered a few visitors who were even snorkeling! After a bit of sun, it was the hike back to the top. From The Baths, it was a simple under 10-minute walk up.
Where to Eat and Drink Near The Virgin Gorda Baths
Top of the Baths
This restaurant’s name speaks for itself, it’s perched at the top of The Baths National Park. Boasting killer views of the national park and the surrounding islands on their outdoor terrace, with good service and great Caribbean food. You can also find a pool, restrooms, and shopping up here. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to take in a meal, but we did enjoy a moment to soak up the views after the trek back up.
Poor Man’s Bar
Located on The Baths beach, this small but mighty bar is known for its tasty painkillers, a rum-orange pineapple-coconut cocktail beloved in the British Virgin Islands. You’ll also find all the classic tropical drinks like piña coladas and daiquiris, as well as beer, soda, and some light snacks and sandwiches. Best of all, you can rent all the items here you need to enjoy the beach: chairs, snorkel gear, and floaties.
Mad Dog Bar & Restaurant
Right across the street from Top of The Baths, sits Mad Dog Bar, an unassuming but charming eatery and bar. Mad Dog has rave reviews for their delicious fare and relaxed atmosphere. If you’re looking to kick back after a day of sun and climbing over boulders, this is a great spot.
What to Pack for Virgin Gorda
Waterproof dry bag
A dry bag is perfect to keep your belongings secure from the water as you wade through the cave tunnel. It's also easy to carry. We used a backpack, which was fine but did get damp, and in the future would choose a dry bag. I wouldn’t bring a beach bag as it would be difficult to hike or climb with.
I know I’ve already mentioned multiple times how much I regret wearing flip-flops, but I honestly can’t stress it enough, I was sliding everywhere. While sneakers would also be fine, an active sandal would be easier to change in and out of on the beach.
These water shoes would be best for the cave trail if you’re worried about slipping on rocks. Wearing a shoe like this that grips will help. Travelers in our group also mentioned that these shoes protected the bottom of their feet from any stray rocks in the water. In full transparency, I was fine barefoot on the boulders. Nevertheless, I think everyone should consider water shoes based on their comfort level.
Waterproof camera or GoPro
Waterproof phone case
This waterproof phone case is what I opted to use rather than a waterproof camera. Then again, I always prefer my phone over a camera. It protected my phone well and all my pictures still came out perfect, a win-win.
That’s everything you need to know before visiting the Virgin Gorda Baths! If you’re planning a trip to the Virgin Islands or considering a cruise that stops in Tortola, then l highly suggest adding The Baths to your itinerary. Let me know in the comments if you’ll be visiting The Baths on your next Caribbean vacation!