There are four ways for most travelers to get to the British Virgin Islands.
The best way? Take my advice: fly to neighboring St. Thomas, USVI and ride a short, private water taxi directly to your destination. You’ll get there faster, you’ll avoid long, sweaty customs lines, and you get to enjoy a cold beverage while taking in the island views, in style.
The British Virgin Islands is not the easiest of the Caribbean destinations to get to. In fact, you often have to jump through hoops and commit to a full day of travel on each end of your trip.
A lot of it stems from the length of the runway at the Beef Island, Terrance Lettsome airport (EIS). It’s not long enough to support big aircraft, and there is little room to expand.
So in most cases you have another leg, by sea or air, from a neighboring island. Until June 2023, there were no direct flights to EIS from the US mainland (AA just launched a Miami route, but it had a rough start).
So how to get to the British Virgin Islands? There are four ways for most. Here I rank them from best to worst.
Let’s jump in.
Baller option: fly to St. Thomas (STT) and take a private water taxi
OK it’s not quite the same as flying private, but it’s worth it if you have room in the budget.
First off – fly to St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. It’s literally right next door and only 15 miles away.
The St. Thomas, USVI runway is several thousand feet longer and supports many larger aircraft. Since it’s a US territory, there are also many nonstop, direct flights from the US per day. Miami, Atlanta, and JFK are a few of the airports you can connect from.
Take a 30 minute taxi to Red Hook where your private taxi will be waiting to whisk you away to paradise. Check availability with companies like Chillout Charters, Island Time, and Dolphin Water Taxi. Book early.
They’ll have cold beverages aboard so you can get your vacation started. The first stop will be to clear through BVI customs – usually Soper’s Hole on the West End, but it could be elsewhere depending on your final destination. It’s a 20 minute trip.
Your skipper will handle the paperwork while you wait aboard. Usually it takes 20-30 minutes, but it can vary.
Next, they’ll drop you as close to your final destination as possible. This is convenient for many charter crews since they can unload at any of the marinas.
Why the private water taxi might not be for you
It’s expensive – be prepared to shell out ~$1,500. And, if you have a large crew, 10+, you might need a second taxi.
Lastly, if you have a late afternoon flight arrival, you will probably need to go to Road Town to clear customs. Expect this to take a bit longer.
Best for most: Fly to St. Thomas and take the public ferry from Charlotte Amalie
This is similar to the private water taxi option, but instead of going to Red Hook, take a 10 minute taxi to the public ferry dock at Charlotte Amalie.
There are three operators that share the Charlotte Amalie – Road Town, Tortola route. While you might find a consolidated schedule online, it’s best to check directly with each operator for the latest schedule information.
Pro tip: while you wait at the Charlotte Amalie ferry dock, head upstairs to the Petit Pump, grab a cocktail, and watch the seaplanes take off and land nearby.
The trip takes about 50 minutes each way. Once you arrive you’ll clear customs. Usually it should take no more than 30 minutes.
That’s it – take a taxi to your final destination. There are also other ferry connections you can take if you are staying on another island, such as Virgin Gorda.
What you should know about the public ferry
You’ll need to pay $10-20 per bag (up to 50 pounds).
The ferry schedules can experience abrupt changes or cancellations – keep a close eye.
Buy one-way tickets on the next available ferry – there’s a good chance you’ll need to use two different operators.
The unproven option: fly direct from Miami to Beef Island
While the American Airlines’ direct flight from Miami had a rough start, I am hoping it works out. This would be far more convenient for some – saving an extra taxi and ferry ride.
But, it has yet to be proven reliable.
An unfavorable wind forecast can always disrupt the route, forcing AA to shed weight on the flight. This means some passengers and/or luggage is going to get bumped.
Another reason you might not like this option? It’s expensive – expect to pay several hundred extra bucks for a ticket. It might be comparable in price just to take a private water taxi to the British Virgin Islands.
Worst option: fly to a nearby island such as Puerto Rico, and take a short connecting flight to BVI
This is by far your worst option. Avoid it at all costs. I’ve done it and got lucky, but many crews don’t have it so easy.
Due to the short runway at BVI, connecting flights from neighboring islands such as San Juan, Puerto Rico are run by smaller regional airlines, such as Silver Airways, Seaborne Airlines, InterCaribbean, and Cape Air.
As a whole, these routes are plagued by schedule delays, lost luggage, and poor customer service.
You can try it, but you’re playing with fire.