The British Virgin Islands is a territory of the United Kingdom and is situated in the Caribbean, just east of Puerto Rico. Its composed of part of the Virgin Islands archipelago with the rest of the archipelago belonging to the United States. Originally, the islands were called the Virgin Islands, but to distinguish it from the American portion it is now referred to as the British Virgin Islands. It is composed of the islands of Jost Van Dyke, Tortola, Anegada and Virgin Gorda. There are also around fifty other islands in the chain, though only about sixteen of them have residents. The British Virgin Islands cover a total of about fifty-nine square miles and has a total population of over twenty-two thousand residents. Eighteen thousand of these live on Tortola, which covers an area of twelve by three square miles.
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The original inhabitens of this archipelago was a South American tribe called the Arawak. These people lived on the island until the fifteenth century, when they were driven out by the Carib tribe. The Carib tribe originated from the Lesser Antilles Islands and the Caribbean Sea is named after them. Christopher Columbus was the first European to discover the islands and named them “Santa Ursula y las Once Mil Vírgenes”, which means St. Ursula and her eleven thousand virgins. In the sixteenth century, the Spanish claimed the island but never formally settled the area. The years that followed, saw a variety of European powers who jockeyed for control of the area. These included the Danish, French, English, Spanish and Dutch. By the mid-seventeenth century, there was a permanent colony established on Tortola by the Dutch. Twenty-four years later, the British captured Tortola and eight years after that the British had annexed Virgin Gorda and Anegada. Though the islands were primarily a strategic position for the British Navy, but would later become an economic advantageous area for them as well. They brought sugar cane to the area and that became the primary staple of the islands. This ushered in a period of prosperity for the islands which lasted until the mid-nineteenth century. Several events proved disastrous for the area. These included several hurricanes, the growth of European and American sugar beet production and the abolition of slavery. This led the British Virgin Islands into a period of economic downturn.
The British Virgin Islands has one of the most robust economies in the Carribean. This is due in part to its status as a tax haven and also because of its thriving tourist trade. Fifty-two percent of the regions revenue comes from license fees from offshore corporations and forty-five percent of the area’s revenue is generated from tourism. Annually, over eight hundred thousand people visit the British Virgin Islands, with the majority of them being American citizens. A popular attraction in the area is Salt Island. This island is situated about four miles southeast of Tortola’s primary town, Road Town. Salt Island is most well known for the wreck of the RMS Rhone, a steamer that sank in 1867. This wreck is considered to be one of the best scuba diving sites in the region.
Another popular attraction in the British Virgin Islands is located on the island of Tortola and is called Fort Charlotte. Fort Charlotte was constructed at the end of the eighteenth century and is named after the wife of King George III, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. It is situated on Harrigan’s Hill and is a part of a defensive formation around Road Harbor. The harbor is surrounded by Fort Burt, Fort George and Road Town Fort. Fort Charlotte towers above all of these. Because of its position, it could successfully fire upon ships entering the harbor without the risk of return fire being able to reach it. The only way that it would have been possible to capture the fort was for troops to ascend the hill while under heavy cannon and musket fire. Today, the fort is in ruins and the only remaining portions of it are an underground magazine, a cistern and a couple of walls. Though the fort sits on private lands, local landowners are often more than obliging in letting tourists traverse the area to look for the fort. From the fort is an impressive view of the surrounding area and the harbor. Norman Island is another prominent attraction in the area. This uninhabited island covers an area of about six hundred acres and is approximately two miles long. It contains Bight Harbor, which is one of the most protected anchor points in the area. It is a popular destination among divers because of three water level caves at Bight Harbor. While there are no permanent residents, there is a restaurant located at the harbor. Also located here is a barge called Willie T. Willie T (other known as William Thornton) is a prominent restaurant and bar. The island is privately owned by Henry Jarecki.
Guana Island is another favorite tourist destination. This island features sugar white beaches and contains eight hundred and fifty acres of valleys, hills, tropical forest and mountains. In 1975, the island was purchased by Henry Jarecki as a conservation reserve. Guana Island has more fauna then any other island its size in the area. It is also home to several species of animals, some of which have recently been restored to the island. Some of these species include Stout Iguanas, Bridled Quail Doves, Caribbean Flamingos, White-crowned Pigeons and Red-Legged Tortoise. The island also contains three reef areas which include White Bay, North Bay and Muskmelon Bay. These reefs are home to over a hundred different reef fishes and species of coral.
Other attractions in the British Virgin Islands include The Baths, Smuggler’s Cove, Soper’s Hole Marina, Cane Garden Bay, Bomba’s Surfside Shack, Frenchman’s Cay, Callwood Distillery, Anegada Island, J.R. O’Neal Botanic Gardens, Loblolly Bay, Brewers Bay, Key Cay, Quito’s Gazebo, Rhone National Marine Park, Virgin Gorda Peak, Sage Mountain, Long Bay Beach, Flash of Beauty Beach, Devil’s Bay, Mount Healthy National Park, Sugar Mill Hotel, BVI Folk Museum, North Shore Shell Museum, Skyworld, Smith’s Ferry, Cooper Island, Alice in Wonderland Reef, Treasure Point Caves, Blonde Rock, Painted Walls Reef, Santa Monica Rock, Anagada Island, Fort Recovery Tower Fort, Old Government House Museum, The Dogs Island, Ginger Island, Chikuzen, Dead Chest Island, Trail of Palms, Spirit of Anegada, St. Michael’s Church, Belmont, Horseshoe Reef, Deadman’s Bay and Fearless Reef.