Exploring The Baths in Virgin Gorda

I recently went on a Caribbean Cruise with my wife, two small children, and my in-laws. We stopped at St. Thomas, Tortola, and Nassau. It was an enjoyable cruise, but not the most relaxing vacation considering we had two kids under the age of three with us.  Maybe I’ll get into that another time.  Right now I want to share the experience I had on a shore excursion in the British Virgin Islands.

My wife’s family had been to Tortola many years ago. They visited The Baths in Virgin Gorda on an excursion and raved about it.  It is one of my mother-in-law’s all-time favorite places.  She said I had to see it and photograph it.  The only problem is that the place is not very kid-friendly, so my wife and father-in-law stayed back with the kids and my mother-in-law and I booked the shore excursion through the ship.

Once we got off the cruise ship in Tortola we hopped on a large ferry. It was about 45-minute ride through mostly calm water to Virgin Gorda.  The island is only about eight square miles and has a population of less than 4,000 people.

Once we got off the boat we boarded one of several trucks to finish our commute to The Baths. The trucks were large pick-up trucks with a few rows of bench seats in the back and a canopy over them.  The bumpy ride was over after about ten minutes.  We had reached The Baths National Park (I was happy to learn it was a National Park since I’m kind of a National Park junkie).

There was a small restaurant with open-air dining and a fresh water pool at the Top of the Baths. There were also a couple of tiny souvenir shops.  I stopped in one and bought a hat, because it was very hot and sunny out.  Then my mother-in-law and I joined the hordes of people from the cruise ship heading down the trail toward The Baths.

You’re probably wondering… what exactly are The Baths? Well, let me tell you.  It is essentially a collection of colossal granite boulders along the coast that border stunning white sand beaches and create small, but beautiful pools.  The massive boulders, some as large as 40 feet in diameter, also form a series of caves and grottos that connect two beaches.  It is a very awe-inspiring sight and walking through the caves is a unique experience to behold.

We descended the sandy, dry dirt path toward the beach. It was fairly steep, with steps occasionally built into the trail.  In less than ten minutes we reached the beach at the base of the pathway.  It was an attractive beach, but we had come to explore the caves.

The entrance was between a pair of hulking boulders. I had to duck to fit through the teardrop-shaped entry.  It took my eyes a few seconds to adjust to the dim light within the caves.  Some light shined through holes above us, but it was a mostly confined space.  We waded into water almost immediately after entering.   At first it was only ankle deep, but it soon got above my waist, and I stand over six feet tall.  The water temperature was warm and comfortable.

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Moving through the grottos was very slow, because of all the people that entered at approximately the same time. The tourists came in all shapes and sizes as well.  Some people had a lot of difficulty contorting their bodies through the tiny spaces.  Most areas weren’t super small, but there were times when I had to move sideways or crouch down very low.  There were also some slippery stairs to climb, a wooden ladder, and a couple times when I had to traverse large boulders.  The fact that everything was either wet or sandy added to the difficulty.  There were more children than I expected, many of them struggled through.  I even saw one man with a baby strapped to his chest.

I really enjoyed walking through the caves; I just wish they weren’t so crowded. I generally try to keep people out of my scenic photos, but it was impossible on this hike.  The experience was better than the photos.

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We eventually exited the caves at Devil’s Bay. The beach there was pristine.  The sand was soft and the water was perfect.  There were several yachts a short distance out in the bay.

My mother-in-law took a dip in the water while I wandered the beach and took a few photos.  I eventually cooled off in the gorgeous bay as well.  Aside from that awful saltwater taste, the water was great.  I swam around for a little while before returning to the sand.

After about an hour we decided to head up the alternative trail to the Top of The Baths (we didn’t have too much time on the excursion). This path was much steeper and it was highly exposed to the blistering sun.  This was mid-April, I can’t imagine enduring the sun in the middle of summer.  The trail was longer than I expected, but we soon reached the area where the restaurant was.  We had lunch while waiting for the trucks to return so we could head back to the ferry.

Later, our ferry turned around after ten minutes at sea due to “mechanical issues.” We returned to Virgin Gorda and had to wait for a second ferry to arrive.  That would thankfully take us back to Tortola and our waiting cruise ship without any issues.  We actually arrived back after the “all aboard time,” but the ship had to wait since we all booked the shore excursion through the cruise.

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