I went to Tortola looking to relax, swim in the sea, and lie in the sun – and that’s exactly what I got. I stayed in Cane Garden Bay, at the Mongoose Apartments (see Mongoose review), and that proved to be a good choice. I decided to go without a rental car, and Cane Garden Bay had everything I needed within walking distance – several beach bars and restaurants, a reasonably well-stocked grocery store, a superb swimming beach. Except when the cruise ship hordes were in town – the invasion usually lasted for only a few hours in the afternoon – Cane Garden Bay was as quiet and laid back as advertised. Down on the far end of the beach there was plenty of room to spread out, and although the beach wasn’t, say, Vieques deserted, there frequently were only a handful of people for a stretch of sand several hundred yards long.
The restaurants were decent, although expensive ($15-$40), and they had similar menus: grilled fish, steak, ribs. The best food of the trip came during lunches at an open-air counter in front of Paradise Club, on the village’s main street. I and local taxi drivers and other workers ate plates of salt-fish (bacalao), mutton, pork chops, ox tails, soup, and dessert tarts. In three lunches there, I never saw another tourist sit down. Also very good was the Elm Beach Suites on barbecue night. For $14-18 you get a plate of ribs, chicken, or fish – or all three. Otherwise, my favorite place to eat was Myett’s, in large part because the folks who work there are extremely friendly. Even when a rare wave of half-drunk evening cruise people swamped the place, bartenders Debbie and Prince kept everyone happy, fed, and watered. All the beach bars and restaurants are adjacent to each other, so you can just cruise from one to the next until you find the music and atmosphere that suits your taste.
I meant to try snorkeling for the first time while I was in Tortola, but the water was rough for the first couple of days, then I was struck with a severe case of LTS. Symptoms of Lazy Tourist Syndrome include the desire to do nothing but sleep until midmorning, eat lunch, read mystery novels on the beach, and take a dip from time to time. Snorkeling – or doing anything that takes more exertion than unscrewing the cap of a water bottle – becomes out of the question. Maybe next time.
One word of warning for those taking the ferry from Charlotte Amalie to Tortola: Be sure your bag is unloaded at your destination. I realized my bag was not with the others just as the ferry was pulling away from West End, and even though the boat was only a few feet from the dock, the Smith’s Ferry folks refused to pull the boat back over. I had to go to Road Town the next day to collect my bag.