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British Virgin Islands

Area: 59 sq miles (153 sq km)
Population: 19,615
Capital city: Road Town (population 18,000) on Tortola
Language: English
British Virgin Islands British Virgin Islands British Virgin Islands British Virgin Islands British Virgin Islands
Hilly and dry, the islands lie 50 miles (80km) east of Puerto Rico, 1100 miles (1770km) southeast of Miami and immediately east and north of the US Virgin Islands. Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada and Jost Van Dyke are the principal islands; most of the other 40 odd islets are uninhabited. Dense subtropical forests cover most of the islands' inland hills, but there are also arid stretches dominated by succulents, palm and coastal mangrove swamps, where baby fish find their swimming fins and crabs scuttle about. Indigenous forest flora includes mahogany, bulletwood, fig, tree ferns and the elephant ear vine, which slithers along the ground until it finds a sturdy tree to climb.

The weather is reliably balmy with daily highs year round between 70-80°F (22-27°C). Trade winds keep humidity low and Caribbean currents keep waters warm. Rainfall is unlikely to dampen a visit, with the wettest months, September through November, averaging only about five days of rain each. The islands are prone to hurricanes between July and October, so keep an eye on weather reports if you're visiting during these months. The peak tourist season is December to May, but this has more to do with the weather in North America and Europe than it does with the reliably balmy Virgin Islands weather. It's therefore best to visit outside this period, when you can expect room rates to be about two-thirds of those charged during the busier months. An additional draw is that the calmer weather between April and August tends to keep the waters clearer for diving.

Tortola is the hub of the British Virgin Islands. People come for its top notch beaches, banks, customs and the best range of hotels, restaurants and nightclubs. The capital, Road Town, is a little more picturesque than its name suggests. Main St, one street back from the waterfront, is a pretty stretch of brightly painted wooden and brick buildings. The best spots to lay down your beach towel or don a mask and flippers are on the northwest coast at Cane Garden Bay, Smugglers Cove and Brewers Bay. When you tire of being horizontal, there are fine views of the surrounding islands from the Sage Mountain National Park

Virgin Gorda
This half-mountainous, half-flat 'Fat Virgin' with a scrawny neck lies a few miles northeast of Tortola. Though it's home to just 2500 people, it has one of the Caribbean's most amazing sights. The Baths are a surreal collection of gigantic granite boulders strewn across blindingly white palm-lined beaches at the southwestern end of the island.

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