The largest of the British Virgin Islands, Tortola (or "land of turtle doves") measures 21.5sq.mi/57sq.km. Overlooking the Sir Francis Drake Channel, Tortola lies 60mi/97km east of Puerto Rico and is also the most populated of the British Virgin Islands.
Tortola is the hub of the island chain and the main island of the Territory, home to its capital, Road Town. White sand beaches along with banana trees, mango groves and palms cluster on the northern coast, while the southern coast is made up of mountainous peaks covered with sage and frangipani. The highest point on the island is Mount Sage at 1,780ft/543m.Native American civilization has been documented on Tortola going back 2,000 years. Pottery discovered on Tortola suggests the Indian groups that settled on the island were Ciboney, Igneri and Taíno communities. In 1515 passing Spanish gold miners named the island Tortola for the turtle doves nesting there. The 16th C did not bring any settlements to Tortola, however many explorers such as Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Hawkins navigated the pass south of the island. During the 17th C, various pirates hid out on Tortola and attacked passing ships. Tortola was formally claimed by Holland in 1648 when a settlement was established in present-day Road Town. In 1666, a band of British drove out the Dutch, claiming Tortola, only to be displaced by the French. The English returned and reclaimed Tortola in 1672.Colonists flooded the island in the 18th C and the population rapidly grew. In 1727 Quakers began establishing plantations producing sugar, molasses, cotton, ginger, mahogany, coffee and rum. By the 1770s the slave population had grown to more than 6,000. Tortola reached its economic peak around 1805, but changing conditions in Europe and the end of the slave trade sent Tortola in a downward spiral. Tension between white settlers and black slaves mounted until the abolition of slavery in British colonies in 1834. Many freed slaves migrated to Trinidad, and a riot in 1853 caused almost all of the remaining whites to leave the island.Tortola remained mostly depopulated until the 1960s when the growing popularity of windsailing attracted European and American sailors to Tortola and other British Virgin Islands. Development ensued rapidly in the 1980s and 1990s, and many of the island's homes and buildings were erected in the last 40 years. Today, tourism is still relatively new on Tortola so the villages seem more subdued than resort-like. Many visitors use Tortola as a jumping-off point to other British Virgin Islands.
British Virgin Islands Emancipation Festival (August Festival)
Held over three weeks at the end of July and beginning of August, the BVI Emancipation Festival celebrates Tortola's African-Caribbean heritage and the emancipation of the slaves. The entire island gets involved, and festival events include car shows, beauty pageants, horse racing, noisy parades and lots of reggae and island music. The origin of the festival dates to August 4, 1834, when the proclamation for the abolition of slavery in the British Virgin Islands was read in Road Town.
Bamboushay Pottery features a variety of ceramics produced on site. Pieces are crafted and designed in Caribbean style and range from basic vessels to elaborate home decor and tableware. Visitors can see artists at work in the studio.Apart from the main store and studio at Nanny Cay, there is also a Bamboushay outlet in Road Town on the Main Street.
Annual Spring Regatta
Tortola's Annual Spring Regatta is a three-day event near the beginning of April that has been taking place since 1972. The event involves several boat races as well as other activities including children's games, a fashion show and a fireworks display.
Great Camanoe Island & Cam Bay National Park
The eastern end of Tortola is quiet and characterized by remote bays and steep mountains.
St Philips Church Ruins
Also called the Church at Kingstown, only the walls remain of the 19th C St Philips Church. The church was the principal house of worship for a community of freed slaves established in 1833 and known as the "Kingstown Experiment". Most of the community were survivors from a shipwrecked slave vessel (c 1815) and received the land and parish after working some years as plantation laborers.
Josiah's Bay Beach
Josiah's Bay is an undeveloped, secluded beach on Tortola's north shore lying at the foot of a valley. Point breaks in the surf during the winter months offer excellent surfing.
The small village of East End is one of few settlements in the eastern region of Tortola.
Josiah's Bay Plantation
Originally part of a 19th C sugar plantation, Josiah's Bay Plantation now features an art gallery and restaurant housed in the historic building.