Tortola's wide sandy beaches are rarely crowded on Tortola, unless a cruise ship is in port. The best beaches are on the northern coast, especially Cane Garden Bay with its silky stretch of sand and gin-clear waters. Apple Bay is best for surfers, and Long Bay West is a dazzling strip of white sand running for a mile. Reached down a horrible road, riddled with pot holes, Smugglers Cove, with its palm-fringed beach, is worth the trouble to get there. Note: If you take a taxi to the sands, don't forget to arrange a time to be picked up.
Tortola's finest beach is Cane Garden Bay, on the aptly named Cane Garden Bay Road, directly west of Road Town. You'll have to navigate some roller-coaster hills to get there, but these fine white sands, with sheltering palm trees and gentle surf, are among the most popular in the B.V.I., and the lovely bay is many a yachtie's favorite. Outfitters here rent Hobie Cats, kayaks, and sailboards. Windsurfing is possible as well. There are seven places to eat along the beach, plus a handful of bars. Be prepared for crowds in the high season.
Surfers like Apple Bay, which is west of Cane Garden Bay along North Shore Road. The beach isn't very big, but that doesn't diminish activity when the surf's up. Conditions are best in January and February. After enjoying the white sands here, you can have a drink at the Bomba Surfside Shack, a classic dive of a beach bar at the water's edge.
Smugglers Cove, known for its tranquillity and for the beauty of its sands, lies at the extreme western end of Tortola, opposite the offshore island of Great Thatch, and just north of St. John. It's a lovely crescent of white sand with calm turquoise waters. A favorite with locals, Smugglers Cove is also popular with snorkelers, who explore a world of sea fans, sponges, parrotfish, and elkhorn and brain corals. Beginning snorkelers in particular appreciate the fact that the reef is close to shore. The beach, sometimes called "Lower Belmont Bay," is located at the end of bumpy Belmont Road. Once you get here, even if you're a little worse for the wear, you'll find the crystal-clear water and the beautiful palm trees are worth the effort.
East of Cane Garden Bay, Brewers Bay, accessible via the long, steep Brewers Bay Road, is ideal for snorkelers and surfers. This clean, white-sand beach is a great place to enjoy walks in the early morning or at sunset. Or just sip a rum punch from the beach bar and watch the world go by. There is a campground here if you want to spend the night.
The 2km-long (1 1/4-mile) white-sand beach at Long Bay West, reached along Long Bay Road, is one of the most beautiful in the B.V.I. Joggers run along the water's edge, and spectacular sunsets make this spot perfect for romantic strolls. The Long Bay Beach Resort stands on the northeast side of the beach; many visitors like to book a table at the resort's restaurant overlooking the water.
If you'd like to escape from the crowds at Cane Garden Bay and Brewers Bay, head east along Ridge Road until you come to Josiah's Bay Beach on the north coast. This beach lies in the foreground of Buta Mountain. On most occasions we have found it either empty or with only a handful of bathers. If you visit in winter, beware: On many days there's a strong undertow, and there are no lifeguards.
At the very east end of the island, Long Bay East, reached along Beef Island Road across the Queen Elizabeth Bridge, is a great spot for swimming.