We get asked all the time, “What is the best way to get to the BVI?” If you’ve ever wondered, or have friends or family who will be making their first trip this season, here’s just about everything you need to know!
St. Thomas vs. Beef Island
Before booking your flights, you will need to decide whether you want to land on St. Thomas (our nextdoor neighbor, in the USVI) and take a ferry to one of the BVI’s ports of entry, or whether you prefer the most convenient route: flying directly into the BVI’s international airport at Beef Island. There are advantages to both, and the decision usually comes down to the your journey’s launch point, your budget, and your desire for convenience.
Arriving via St. Thomas, USVI (airport code “STT”)
St. Thomas boasts a comparably large international airport that sees daily direct flights—to and from hubs such as Boston, New York City, Charlotte (N.C.), Atlanta, Miami and Fort Lauderdale—that are offered by all of the major U.S. airlines, including budget airlines such as Spirit and JetBlue. For this reason, travelling through St. Thomas can be relatively simple and, in many cases, less expensive than flying directly into Beef Island on Tortola.
St. Thomas to the BVI
Ferry services connecting St. Thomas and the BVI offer a limited schedule and only run during a portion of the day. There are two ferry terminals on St. Thomas offering ferry service to the BVI: the Charlotte Amalie ferry terminal (only a 5- to 10-minute taxi ride from the airport), and the Red Hook ferry terminal (a 30- to 60-minute taxi ride from the airport, depending on traffic, which during the late afternoon can be brutal). And, unless you’re prepared to spend big money on your taxi ride, there is no such thing as a private taxi from the St. Thomas airport to the ferry; instead, each taxi waits in a line to be filled with passengers (going to any number of different destinations) before it can leave the airport, resulting in a bit of a delay between when you are ready to leave the airport and when the taxi actually leaves.
Currently, the latest ferry leaving St. Thomas each day-which is, coincidentally, destined for Soper’s Hole, Tortola (where our base is located)-leaves from the Red Hook terminal at 5:30 p.m. If your flight arrives any time after 4:30 p.m., there is little hope that you will be able to “catch the boat,” unless you have hired a personal driver. However, missing the ferry isn’t the end of the world as you’ll have a few other options: hiring a private water taxi (more expensive than the ferry, but at least it runs on your schedule) or spending the night on St. Thomas and arriving in the BVI the following day. If you are considering either of these options, let us know, and we will be happy to help you make arrangements.
Unfortunately, travelers may run into a similar timing issue on the return trip, too. The earliest ferries leaving the BVI for St. Thomas arrive there somewhere between 8 and 9 a.m. And as with all methods of island transportation, there is the potential for delays. Most experienced Caribbean travelers will advise you to chose a return flight that leaves from St. Thomas no earlier than 11 a.m. The alternatives are, once again, a private water taxi or spending the night before you depart on St. Thomas. There are several hotels very close to the airport (and on the beach).
The Silver Lining
After our words of caution above, arriving in the BVI via St. Thomas may sound daunting, but it shouldn’t! There are hundreds (if not thousands during high season) of visitors traveling back and forth through St. Thomas each day. On your way here, the ferry trip serves as an intro to your tropical vacation (even more so, if you have a chance to grab a Painkiller or rum punch cocktail to enjoy on the ferry ride). On your way back? It’s one last boat ride before you head back to “reality.”
Flying directly into Tortola
The international airport of the BVI is Beef Island (airport code EIS). Located on a small island connected by bridge to Tortola at its eastern end, Beef Island is a much smaller airport than the one on St. Thomas. Whilst arrangements are in the works for direct flights between Beef Island and Miami (hopefully starting soon), Beef Island is currently only accessible via flight connections in San Juan, Puerto Rico; Sint Maarten/St. Martin; Antigua; Barbados; and a handful of other Caribbean nations.
While flying into Beef Island is the ultimate in convenience, it is typically more expensive than flying into St. Thomas—but not always, particularly after you factor in ferry costs and, if necessary, the costs of lodging on St. Thomas in order to make flight times, or arranging for a private water taxi.
The San Juan airport is much larger than the St. Thomas airport and offers more choices in connections and airlines, making travel to Beef Island via San Juan more attractive for travelers on longer trips coming from the U.S. Midwest and West Coast. For those traveling “across the pond” to the BVI, direct flights to Sint Maarten/St. Martin, Antigua and Barbados from London and other European hubs means getting to Beef Island is a breeze, especially in comparison to flying through the United States and St. Thomas.
The “high” light
Our favorite thing about flying in and out of Beef Island? Flying at a lower altitude on a smaller plane allows a true “eagle’s-eye” view of our gorgeous piece of paradise.
One final step
Whether you arrive via ferry from St. Thomas or fly directly into Beef Island, you will need to clear through Customs and Immigration. This is usually a painless experience, but every now and then you may fall prey to an officer who is having a rough day. The best ways to defend yourself? Make sure your entry form-and departure slip at the bottom of the form-are filled out fully and before you arrive at the ferry terminal or airport, answer truthfully about what items will be remaining in the BVI-as opposed to returning home with you-and just go with the flow knowing your tropical vacation will be on its way in just a few more minutes.
We’re here to help!
If you’re considering putting your boat into private management, or booking a bareboat charter with us—or are visiting the BVI for another adventure—we’re happy to help you sort out the travel details. Do not hesitate to let us know if you have any questions. And, whichever route you choose, we look forward to welcoming you to paradise!