10 things to do on Jost Van Dyke, the “New York of the Virgin Islands”

Only five miles from Tortola, the main commercial center of the British Virgin Islands, minuscule Jost (rhymes with “toast”) Van Dyke is a little island with a big reputation. The scant 8-square-mile island — dubbed the “New York of the Virgin Islands” because it offers so much nightlife — probably packs more fun per square inch than any other island in the BVIs.

Most of the action occurs on the south side of the M-shaped island, in either White Bay (to the west) or Great Harbour (in the south-central area), though rugged Little Harbour, way to the east, is making a play for adventure- and fun-seekers, as well. Moving roughly west to east, what follows are some of Jost Van Dyke‘s brightest, shiniest hot spots.

One Love Bar and Grill
This ramshackle restaurant (left) seems like it must’ve been cobbled together from junk that floated up on the beach, but the fact is: this place serves painfully cold Carib beers and heaping, open-faced lobster rolls ($20).

The dining area — if you can call it that — is the part of the beach under a sprawling sea grape shading scattered plastic chairs and tables. If you plan to visit, don’t worry about your outfit: you really can’t be dressed too casually for this dive.

Soggy Dollar Bar
If you’ve been to this place (large image, above), you know how fanfreakingtastic it is. If you’ve only heard tales about it, let me break it to you gently: it’s seriously more fun than your friends told you. If you’ve never heard of it, well … you lead a sad, sad life.

Named for a patron who reportedly anchored his boat, swam to shore for a drink, and paid for it with wet cash, the Soggy Dollar is probably most famous as being the birthplace of the potent yet refreshing cocktail known as the Painkiller.

If you’ve only heard tales about the Soggy Dollar, let me break it to you gently: it’s seriously more fun than your friends told you.

Shaded by massive sea grapes and cardamom trees, this nautically-themed open-aired bar boasts one of the finest, whitest beaches in the Virgin Islands. It offers ample space to relax — both actual chairs (if you can manage to hit the seat) and hammocks (if you just need to collapse). The bar has several ring-toss games set up, and the competition gets fierce as the rum flows. Alternatively, the property’s scattered tiki huts offer plenty of space for private chats, and there’s food grilling in back if you’re feeling peckish. Mercifully, if you’re just too tired (read: too drunk) to make it back to your boat, the adjacent Sandcastle Hotel offers delightful cottages ($190-$295/double, depending on the room and the season).

Don’t think the Soggy Dollar could really be this wonderful? Check their beach cam and get back to me.

Ivan’s Stress-Free Bar
Owned by Ivan Chinnery, the Stress-Free Bar (left) ranks several notches lower on the “Wild Scale” than the Soggy Dollar (most of the time). From the water’s edge, Ivan’s is nearly obscured by clumps of puffy sea grape bushes. However, as you approach the building, you quickly realize it’s really a giant piece of folk art. Decorated with hundreds of thousands of shells, Ivan’s is a sprawling, cozy, covered bar that offers a BBQ (on Thursdays, in season) and both campsites ($20-40, depending on season and amenities) and very basic cabins ($45-75).

What makes this place stress-free? Chinnery keeps the vibe mellow, but Ivan’s also boasts an “honor bar.” Feelin’ thirsty? Head behind the bar, mix your cocktail, and leave some money in a jar. No lines, no dealing with snotty bartenders, no watered-down drinks. If you time it right, Chinnery may even play some tunes. He’s no slouch, either — he’s played with Kenny Chesney, who filmed his video for No Shirts, No Shoes, No Problem here.

Foxy’s Tamarind Bar
Over in Great Harbour, situated at the base of the tallest hill on Jost Van Dyke and hidden by a thick mask of coconut palms, sits this shanty institution. Foxy (Philiciano) Callwood is the unofficial mayor of Jost Van Dyke (population 180), largely because of the interstellar success of this bar.

Decorated with dangling t-shirts, bandanas, hats, and underwear, Foxy’s (right) has an on-site brewery; mixes wickedly strong cocktails (a single $6 “Wrecked on the Rocks” will send you reeling); boasts live music on the weekends; and offers the islands’ best “all you can eat” ribs, chicken and fish on Saturday nights ($28/person). Be on the lookout for Taboo, Foxy’s adorable black lab, who doesn’t have time for head-scratches … though he’s always got time for a rib bone.

Not everything on Jost Van Dyke revolves around drinking and eating, however. Other things to do on the island include:

  • Jost Van Dyke Scuba offers both scuba diving trips and eco-excursions around the island.
  • Stroll barefoot through Jost Van Dyke’s “city center” (though this’ll probably only take you 20 minutes, even with a strong headwind).
  • Head to the far east end of the island to slip into the “Bubbly Pool,” a naturally-formed tidal pool.
  • Just east of the Bubbly Pool is a small, uninhabited island, Sandy Spit, perfect for picnics and snorkeling — the shallow waters surrounding the island literally boil with small bait-fish.
  • Tame the winds and the waves on a windsurfing kit.
  • Explore the island on ATV.
  • Why do anything at all? Just Sit and soak up all the beauty from the room of your villa.

Learn more:

New Peter Island wants to help make a new you

Peter Island Resort & Spa is celebrating a new look with a fresh deal. The largest private island resort in the British Virgin Islands has refurbished its 32 ocean-facing rooms and 20 beachfront junior suites and wants to show off the new look. Hey, if you just got a makeover, wouldn’t you? So, the property is offering up the “New Us, New You” package, which runs through October 31, 2009.

Remember, this is Peter Island, so you’re going to have to put out some cash, but you’ll get plenty for it. For $2,780 (or $4,020 for a junior suite), you’ll get five nights and only pay for four. On top of that, the resort is throwing in three meals a day and access to resort activities, including windsurfing, kayaking and the like. The best part – in my mind, at least – is the 75-minute Ayurvedic Abhyanga massage. The private yoga class for two doesn’t do much for me, but if you’re into yoga, I imagine you’d like it.

While you’re in the 10,000-sqft spa, check out some of the other treatments, as well. There are 13 types of facial available, with everything from collagen to caviar to botanical extracts.

If you need a reason to go relax on a private island that keeps even its own guests to a minimum, this is probably it.

“Sip and Stay” at Peter Island

When times are tough, $590 a night probably doesn’t sound like a bargain. But, when you consider that this gets you a night at the Peter Island Resort & Spa – on the largest private island in the British Virgin Islands – your thinking will probably begin to change. Add to this the fact that complementary beverages are included in the deal, not to mention three meals a day and an afternoon tea, it really does become an absolute bargain.

The new “Sip and Stay” program at Peter Island includes non-alcoholic beverages and house wine and beer … as much as you like (unless the bartender shuts you off). Of course, you’ll probably want to be somewhat judicious when ordering that next glass of beer, as you’ll want to take advantage of the windsurfing, snorkeling, kayaking and mountain biking offered at the resort.

Peter Island Resort & Spa has 52 guestrooms and three villas that sit on 1,800 acres of property, along with five beaches, tennis courts and a private yacht. So, this really is good living … made better by the free beer goggles you’re likely to don.

To take advantage of the “Sip and Stay” deal, book your stay by April 30, 2009 for trafel from May 1 through October 30.

Through the Gadling Lens: Prepping for a trip

Recently, I received the following email from someone I’ll call “Willy” (because that’s his name):

We’re going sailing in Tortola this summer with another couple, and I want to take some great shots. How can I prepare in advance of my trip to maximize success? All I can think of now is to look through Flickr and get inspired. Any other ideas?

This is such a great question, Willy — and I’m not just saying that in the vain hope that by flattering you, you and your wife might take me with you. I’m of the firm belief that a little pre-planning before you get on that plane (or boat) can result in the photographs of a lifetime. So, if you permit me a little fantasy time, here’s how I would plan if I were invited on a sailing trip in Tortola with friends. (But, you know, no pressure, Willy.)
1. First, buy a guidebook. I know, I know — this is very un-web-2.0 of me. But the fact is that chances are really good that while you’re traveling, you won’t have access to an internet connection (particularly if you’re on a small sailboat), and it’s always nice to have a handy guide that has just about everything you could possibly want to know about your destination country. A quick search on Amazon reveals that this guide book on the British Virgin Islands is one of their more popular — but if you have friends who’ve already visited, and have a recommendation, take their word. In any event, get the book.

And then, before you actually start your vacation, read the book. Many of these guidebooks are written by people who have actually spent considerable amount of time in the location (or, in some cases, live there), and can give you lots of insight into your destination — which, in turn, can help frame the types of shots you’d like to take. Read it with a photographer’s mindset, and mark the pages you’d like to return to, and plan accordingly.

2. In addition to guidebooks, check out blogs and travel websites. If there’s one thing that blogging has brought us, it’s first-hand experiential opinions of every topic under the sun. So, in addition to perusing Gadling for stories on your destination, use services like Google Blog Search and search for terms like “British Virgin Islands” or “Tortola” or whatever your destination to see what people are talking about, what images they upload, and any other nugget of inspiration. And for what it’s worth, I never head anywhere without first checking out Fodors.com — their “Fodor’s Choice” category on their destinations listing their don’t-miss sights has never let me down.

3. Now that you’ve done your research, start looking for inspiration. By this point, you’ve read your guidebook, and checked out the websites. Now is the time to start searching for images for inspiration. Do Google image searches and Flickr searches based on your destination name, but also based on what your research has turned up: remember, you’re not just trying to copy the images of your destination that have already been taken, but you’re also looking for inspiration from shots of other destinations or activities which might be similar to what you’re going to be experiencing on your own holiday.

Let me explain.

Taking Tortola and the British Virgin Islands as an example, in addition to searching on the destination name, you can do searches based on “beaches.” Looking through our Gadling Flickr pool, you might stumble across this shot…

… uploaded by StrudelMonkey, which is sort of the classic beach shot. Note the play of the colours of blue, white and green, and the coconut tree placed off to one side to help frame the shot. Beautiful.

But then, you’d also come across this shot:

… again, another amazing shot, this time by Arachide, and again showing the play of blues, whites and greens. However, in this shot, it’s all about the tree, and not just the ocean and the sky. It makes you think about other, different ways to frame your shots, and keeping both of these shots in mind when you travel can help you broaden how you might want to capture the seascapes.

Finally, check out this shot:

Okay, so this beach shot (captured brilliantly in Nova Scotia by borderfilms (Doug)) undoubtedly looks nothing like the beaches of the British Virgin Islands — but how cool is the perspective provided by his fisheye lens? You probably wouldn’t want to take all of your holiday shots with this lens, but for a fun change of pace in your vacation album, this provides some additional inspiration.

One more example — this time, doing a search for “sailing” in the Gadling pool, produces this pretty fantastic “in the moment” shot by Kouiskas:

… but you know what? What if, once you get out there on the boat, the sunsets aren’t perfect, and the water isn’t that blue? Are you just going to give up, and put your camera away?

Likely not, if you also found this shot:

I think you’d agree that the weather was hardly cooperative in the shot captured by il lele, above — but what an amazing image! The contrasts are beautiful, you can almost feel how hard the rain is coming down. A shot like this almost makes you hope for a bad day at sea!

And all of the shots above were found before we even started doing searches for “tropics,” “sunsets,” “lush,” “green,” “sand,” “surf,” “seafood,” “drinks,” “mountains,” “coastline,” and heaven knows what other words we can come up with. Just let your mind go, and see what you find.

4. Once you’re inspired, decide what sorts of photographs you’re going to try to capture, and the equipment you’re going to need to do it. Remember that you’re not just going to shoot scenery shots, but you’re going to want to capture some still lifes, some shots that show the colours and the moods, all types of shots (we talked about the kinds of shots that make a complete album here). And in Willy’s case, since he’s going to be traveling with his wife and friends, he’s definitely going to want to capture some portraits of his travel companions as well. Once yo
u’ve figured out what types of shots you’d like to take, this will help you decide what equipment (particularly lenses, if necessary) you’ll want to pack.

5. Finally, if you don’t have all the equipment you’d need to take all those shots, consider renting. So now that you’ve been inspired, and you feel like you won’t be able to live without that huge 18-200mm lens, or that fantastic fisheye, (or, heck, and underwater camera for your once-in-a-lifetime SCUBA dive), do you go out and spend tons of money? Not unless you really want to — remember, there are companies that will allow you to rent photographic equipment just for your trip. As described in this great post on Shutter Sisters, companies like LensRentals will allow you to rent particular lens, with reasonable insurance rates in case something happens to the equipment. If you do all of the above planning early enough, the equipment will arrive at your doorstep via FedEx in plenty of time for your trip.

So, Willy (and those of you who are planning equally exotic vacations), hopefully this post will help you plan for your trip. And, you know, make you so grateful, you’ll feel moved to invite me along.

Just saying.

Karen is a writer and photographer in Houston, Texas. You can see more of her work at her site, Chookooloonks, and feel free to send her your photography questions directly to karenDOTwalrondATweblogsincDOTcom. She’ll happily tackle them in upcoming posts.
And for more Through the Gadling Lens, click here.

Luxurious isolation at Peter Island

Four miles south of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands and accessible only by boat or helicopter, Peter Island is occupied exclusively by the Peter Island Resort. Consisting of only 52 rooms and three villas-along with 1,800 acres containing five private beaches-you’ll have no trouble finding a genuine retreat from the frenetic pace back home.

Guests at this exclusive resort can revel in treatments at the 10,000 sqft Spa at Peter Island, including signature services such as the Thermal Sand Bundle Massage, West Indian Honey and Sesame Seed Glow and Thalasso Mud Bowls Alfresco. When such pampering becomes tiresome, dinner at Tradewinds can distract, with cuisine reflecting West Indian influences. In the restaurant’s wine room, up to 300 bottles are displayed in a climate-controlled cabinet, and you can gaze upon $60,000 in consumable inventory.

The most exciting offer on Peter Island consists of three villa estates: Hawk’s Nest, Crow’s Nest and Falcon’s Nest. Redefining super-luxe, these three properties are self-contained without feeling confining. Starting at 3,000 sqft (Crow’s Nest) and exceeding 21,000 sqft (Falcon’s Nest, the newest villa), they offer housekeepers, groundskeepers, valets and chefs, as well as in-villa spas, pools and astounding ocean views. Space and comfort represent the twofold focus of the villa properties, and they do not disappoint.

The magnificence of the Falcon’s Nest villa comes as much from a commitment to style as a dedication to luxury. The work of interior designer Cooper Carry sets the tone, and features such as a rain shower with 150 jets make it tangible. A cascading waterfall, grotto and Jacuzzi are within striking distance of a zero-entry, two-tiered pool. And, yes, there is a swim-up bar. Sitting 350 feet above the Caribbean Sea, this particular villa is positioned to make the most of the water’s available views.

Of course, this level of luxury doesn’t come cheap. A night at the Hawk’s nest starts at $3,400, and if you want to stay at the Falcon’s Next sometime between January 4 and March 31, a night of heaven will set you back $15,000. These are 2008 rates; 2009 hasn’t been published yet. Nonetheless, you can see where this is headed. A shower with 150 jets, unsurprisingly, will cost you a fortune.

The fact that Peter Island is remote-despite being only four miles from its neighbor-is supported more by the exclusivity of the resort than its proximity to its nearest neighbor. Often overlooked but never forgotten, the Peter Island Resort starts at luxury, with the villas offering a class of service that is only too rare. Hiking, biking or sitting by the beach, this destination is sure to relax-and send you home refreshed.