Virgin Gorda is a small Caribbean island that covers an area of just about 21 square kilometres (8 square miles). It’s the third largest of the British Virgin Islands with a total population of about 4000 incredibly happy and friendly people. Not only does the raw beauty of Virgin Gorda look like a dream getaway for anyone, but for climbers in particular, it’s paradise! This unique island appears like something a boulderer would conjured up in a dream. Secluded white sandy beaches, turquoise waters, colourful sea life, lush greenery, and of course, massive granite boulders sprinkled in such a high concentration over the island that it makes you feel giddy inside.
I bet you can see now how Virgin Gorda really has a way of capturing your heart. The simplicity of life on the island is something our bodies crave. To just live, and climb, and enjoy life with incredible people, good food, and piña coladas!
Type Of Climbing
Virgin Gorda is a boulderers paradise. The island is literally sprinkled with large granite boulders just waiting to be climbed or even discovered. The majority of boulders are located on the southern tip of the island, just south of Spanish Town; a charming small town that serves as the central hub and offers shopping, dining, a marina, an airport, and possibly some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet.
The bouldering in Virgin Gorda is definitely an experience. The relaxed atmosphere of the island quickly envelops you and and your climbing style. It is a place that makes you fall in love with climbing again because it reminds you of the essence of climbing, and allows you to let go of the need to be motivated by grades. The beauty of the climbs and the environment around you are so breathtaking that it brings out your raw desire to climb. Can’t beat that!
The rock on the island is granite. It’s gritty and top outs are usually a bit sloppy to keep things interesting. The rock is also a bit fragile at times. You must exercise caution on thin flakes and small foot jibs because it’s not uncommon for them to break off. Usually, it’s quite obvious which holds are a bit more precarious than others.
There are several different styles of climbing that the boulders of Virgin Gorda have to offer. From incredible features, to slopers, to crimps, and cracks, there is quite a bit of diversity packed into a small area of an already small island.
Your greatest challenge may be keeping the skin in tact, with all the swimming and snorkelling you may indulge in, but is that really something you can complain about? 😉 Just bring along some salve and you’ll be good to go.
When To Go
The monthly temperatures in Virgin Gorda are pretty consistent, and to be honest, none are exactly favourable conditions for climbing. However, Virgin Gorda isn’t a climbing destination for climbers looking to achieve their personal best and really push their limits. Climbers destined to Virgin Gorda are more-so looking for a unique climbing experience where they can enjoy their passion in a majestic environment that can’t be found practically anywhere else in the world!
The weather on the island is a consistent sunny with temperatures ranging from 26°C – 31°C (79°F – 87°F) throughout the year. Usually you will experience temperatures on the lower end of the spectrum during the winter months (November – March), and the hottest months are July and August.
As for rain, forecasts can be a bit deceiving. You may have planned a trip then become devastated when the forecast shows a 60% chance of rain every single day. Bummer? Well, not necessarily. If a rain shower does happen to come it usually lasts for a mere 5 minutes and then back to sunshine.
So, having explained the typical weather on the island, this point is likely not going to be your deciding factor on when you decide to make a visit. One of the best things about Virgin Gorda is the atmosphere and tranquility. Beaches are often secluded, there are no crowds, and it has a very natural and organic feel, however that comes at a price. The term ‘all-inclusive’ doesn’t really exist on this island, which prevents overcrowding and helps to retain it’s calm environment.
Basically, what I’m trying to say is that when deciding your trip date you’re more likely to take into consideration price than conditions. The most affordable prices are during the summer season (April – December) where prices are reduced by around 65%!
The are several established climbing areas in Virgin Gorda. However, that being said, the development of the climbing on the island is still very new and there are still several boulders and beautiful lines just waiting to be discovered. Also, make sure to take the grades with a grain of salt. Climbing in the Caribbean is hard! V3’s can feel twice as hard when under the Caribbean sun. Don’t let it discourage you. Leave your ego at home and just enjoy.
Listed below are the current established areas in the southern tip of Virgin Gorda:
A small little area consisting of just three boulders and a total of 6 problems (V1-V4).
Valley Trunk Bay
A collection of boulders on a very solitary beach. This is the spot if you’re looking to boulder on a beach and have it all to yourself. There are 13 established problems here that range from V0-V5, plus the potential for more if you feel like exploring.
Little Trunk Bay
Another small area consisting of just 4 boulders on a beach known to also offer some nice snorkelling. There are 14 established problems ranging from V0-V8, one of which (a V8) is noted to be one of the best traverses on the island.
Spring Bay and the Crawl
Home to some of the best climbing, beaches and snorkelling on the island, this area is a must! With 47 established problems, including a super classic V0+ crack climb, you could easily spend and entire day here climbing and playing around on the beach. The grades here range from V0-V8, and it even has a handful of projects if you’re not busy project the V3’s. 😉
Spring Bay: Ancients Area
A great place to venture to if you need a bit of a break from the sun. The boulders in this area are located in a forest just off the beach. You may have to do a bit of maneuvering around some rocks but it’s nothing you can’t handle. There are a total of 18 established climbs ranging form V0-V5, with a couple of projects.
A big bonus of staying in one of Guavaberry’s villas is that you have access to this incredible boulder field literally just steps from your door step. The boulders mostly have easy access and nice flat landings. This area has 51 established climbs, with the potential for more with a bit of exploring. The grades range from V0-V9 with a couple projects.
A shady and breezy area with some of the most potential in terms of further development. Here exists huge clusters of boulders, some containing the incredible honeycomb features that can make any climbers eyes glaze over. Navigating through the boulder stacks can be tricky, but it is likely that you will discover some pretty incredible stuff. There are 35 established climbs here ranging from V0-V8, plus a bunch of projects.
Top of the Baths
Good place to warm up before hoping on the stellar problems found in The Baths, Devils Bay and Stony Point. There are just a couple boulders here with 6 established problems ranging from V1-V2.
The Baths are known for having one of the most beautiful beaches in the world! This is a hot spot for tourists so it can get a bit busy, but it should still be high up on your ‘must go’ list. There is a small day-use fee ($4 per person as of 2014) and also a beach side snack bar if you don’t feel like packing a lunch. To escape crowds it is best to visit in the early morning or late afternoon. There are 67 established problems at The Baths that range from V0-V8 with a couple projects.
There is a huge concentration of boulders here, more than your eyes can take in. Aside from the great climbing, you’ll want to make sure you take some time to enjoy the beautiful beach and the incredible snorkelling. Some boulder hoping is required to get to some of the problems, so be careful! Also, note that being part of the national park, this area is also subject to the day-use fee. There is a whopping 100 established problems ranging from V0-V9, plus some projects and huge potential for further development.
This huge boulder field has some of the biggest potential for future development. Access to this area is from the Top of the Baths, so again you need to be prepared to pay the $4 day-use fee per person. This area is known as being very unique and creates a great climbing experience. Boulder hoping is how you’ll need to get around here, which can be very dangerous, so please proceed with caution! There are 12 established problems that range from V0-V9, plus the potential for loads more!
Located on the southeastern coast of the island, this area is much more breezy and exposed. So, if you’re looking to cool down a bit, this spot may be it. Again, navigating through the boulder stacks can be tricky and dangerous, so again, proceed with caution. Crooks Bay exposes you to the diversity of bouldering in Virgin Gorda. Overhangs, slopers, crimps, wicked features, technical problems, and more! There are 21 developed problems here, ranging from V0-V8, plus some projects, and more if you feel like exploring. Just be careful, as the terrain is difficult to navigate through.
Fallen Jerusalem is an island located just south of Virgin Gorda made up of thousands of boulders clustered, stacked and piled on top of each other. The potential for bouldering is endless. A whole day needs to be dedicated to climbing in this area. There is no regular service to the island, which means you may need to find a local with a small boat that can drop you off and pick you up. Then once on the island it’s important that you navigate carefully through the boulders since a misstep could result in a nasty drop between the boulders. This is the place to go if your up for some real adventure bouldering. There are some developed climbs, but it would probably be a better use of your time to climb whatever inspires you. Searching through the boulder stacks for climbs listed in the guidebook could result in a very unproductive day.
The island of Fallen Jerusalem also serves as an integral breeding ground to variety of bird species. It is recommended to stay away from the island between the months of April to August to allow the bird population to breed naturally.
There is one guidebook for the area called A Guide to Bouldering and Travelling in the Virgin Islands. It is a great resource and includes a lot of useful information aside from climbing like:
- travel tips
- grocery stores
- animals and plants in the island
Getting There and Getting Around
You have a couple different options when it comes to making your way to the island.
Usually the most affordable is to fly into St. Thomas (US Virgin Island) and then either take a direct 1 1/2 hour ferry to Virgin Gorda or a 50 minute ferry to Tortolla followed by a 30 minute ferry to Virgin Gorda. Your decision would be based on your day of travel since the ferry schedule doesn’t operate the direct ferry every day. The most popular ferry services you can choose from are Speedy Ferry and Road Town Fast Ferry.
Another option is flying into San Juan, Puerto Rico and then taking a short 40 minute plane ride to Virgin Gorda. Flights to San Juan are usually more economical then flying into St. Thomas but then a round trip flight from San Juan to Virgin Gorda is a bit more pricey. But, if your okay with dishing out the extra cash then you’ll really be rewarded with an experience to remember. On your journey you’ll experience a birds eye view of many of the US and British Virgin Islands as well as a pretty magnificent landing and take off at Virgin Gorda. The airlines that fly from San Juan to Virgin Gorda are Air Sunshine and Cape Air.
Then once you arrive on the island, travel is as easy as it gets. Your options are taxi, renting a car, or travelling by foot. Taxi rates are around $4 US per person, car rentals start around $70 US a day and walking is free! Taking a taxi from the ferry dock to your accommodations is your best option, then from there everything is walkable. If you’re staying in the southern end of the island (which you probably will since that’s where all the climbing is) then a car will do you no good, all the climbing is walking distance. Taxi’s are best for trips to and from airport/ferry dock and for going to dinner if you don’t feel like making the ~20 minute walk to a restaurant. Car rentals are great if you feel like exploring different parts of the island for a day or two. For taxi and rentals use Mahogany Car Rentals. Oh! p.s. they drive on the left 🙂
The best and most affordable place to stay on the island is conveniently in the southern tip of the island, just footsteps away from all the climbing. Actually, it’s likely that your villa is located on or beside one of the many massive granite boulders. Villas are basically the way to go, and Guavaberry Spring Bay Vacation Homes will be your most affordable choice. The 2014 rate for a one bedroom villa is $165 a night. Then, the price can be reduced even further if you go with a group of people since when you rent a larger villa the price per person decreases.
Being in such a scenic place, it’s hard not to make every day a rest day :). In fact, it’s likely that regardless of your intentions to put in a full day of climbing, the call of the beaches may just be too hard to resist. But is that so bad? It may actually work in your favour to dedicate time for climbing in the mornings and evenings when temperatures are a bit cooler, and use the afternoons to experience other things the island has to offer. Here are a couple suggestions for you:
- snorkelling with the colourful sea life
- relaxing on the many secluded white sandy beaches
- spend an hour and a half trying to de-husk and open a coconut then watch a local do it in less than 5 minutes 😉
- checking out The Baths, a popular attraction consisting of boulders piled onto the beach that form natural tidal pools, tunnels, arches and grottoes.
- charter a boat and take a cruise of the island and surrounding area
- rent a car and explore other beaches of the island or take a drive up to Hog Heaven; a Bar & Grill situated atop a hill with incredible views of the island, not to mention pork done any way you like it to satisfy your belly.
Have you climbed in Virgin Gorda? Share your comments and thoughts below!