With its turquoise bays and hidden coves, once havens for pirates, the British Virgin Islands are among the world’s loveliest cruising areas. The islands attract sailors and yachties aplenty, but the secluded white-sand beaches and laidback geniality make this an escapist’s paradise.

The British Virgin Islands embrace 60-odd islands, some no more than spits of rock jutting out of the sea. Only four islands are of any significant size: Virgin Gorda, Tortola, Anegada, and Jost Van Dyke. The smaller islands and cays have colorful names, such as Fallen Jerusalem. Norman Island is said to have been the prototype for Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel “Treasure Island.” On Deadman’s Bay, Blackbeard reputedly marooned 15 pirates and a bottle of rum.

These craggy and remote volcanic islands are just 15 minutes by air or 45 minutes by ferry from St. Thomas. Even though they are part of the same archipelago, the British Virgin Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands have their differences. Where St. Thomas can sometimes seem like Hustle City, deep into mega-resort tourism, it’s still a bit sleepy over in the B.V.I. Here the pace is much slower and development is less frenetic. Even the capital, Tortola, seems to exist in a bit of a time capsule.

Then there’s the seclusion. Tortola has its share of private retreats, and most of the high-end resorts on Virgin Gorda are so isolated from one another you’ll feel your hotel has the island to itself. On the even smaller, more remote islands like Guana Island, Peter Island, and Necker Island, you will have the island to yourself (and your fellow guests). These rustically private hideaways are the ultimate in laidback luxury. Barefoot minimalists on a budget can do rustic, too, without spending a fortune. At modest beachside inns on Jost Van Dyke and Anegada, you’ll get all the seclusion you want—but you’ll still probably end up knowing all the locals after a week. Forget casinos, splashy entertainment, TVs, and sometimes even air-conditioning: Who needs them when the balmy tradewinds blow, the rum is flowing, and sunlight dances like diamonds on the water?