The Cultural Gems of the British Virgin Islands
The Cultural Gems of the British Virgin Islands

Discover the fascinating cultural tapestry of the British Virgin Islands, from their rich history to the unique experiences that await on a sailing adventure.

The Cultural Gems of the British Virgin Islands

The British Virgin Islands (BVI) are a stunning archipelago of over 60 islands and cays, nestled in the heart of the Caribbean Sea. Renowned for their pristine beaches, crystal-clear waters, and vibrant marine life, these islands are a sailor’s paradise. But beyond the natural beauty, the BVI also offers a rich cultural tapestry that is just waiting to be explored.

In this article, we’ll delve into the cultural gems of the British Virgin Islands, from their fascinating history and heritage to the unique experiences that await you on your sailing adventure. So, hoist the sails and let’s set off on a journey through the cultural wonders of the BVI.

A Brief History of the British Virgin Islands

To truly appreciate the cultural gems of the BVI, it’s essential to understand their history. The islands were first inhabited by the Arawak people, who arrived from South America around 100 BC. The Arawak were a peaceful, seafaring people who thrived on the islands for centuries before the arrival of the more aggressive Carib people around 1500 AD.

The first European to set foot on the islands was none other than Christopher Columbus, who stumbled upon them during his second voyage to the New World in 1493. Columbus named the islands “Las Virgenes,” in honor of Saint Ursula and her 11,000 virgins. Over the next century, the islands changed hands between the Spanish, Dutch, and English, with the British ultimately gaining control in 1672.

Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, the BVI played a significant role in the transatlantic slave trade, with many of the islands’ plantations relying on the labor of enslaved Africans. The abolition of slavery in 1834 marked a turning point for the islands, as the economy shifted towards fishing, boatbuilding, and subsistence farming.

Today, the BVI is a thriving tourist destination, with sailing and yachting at the heart of its appeal. The islands’ rich history and diverse cultural influences are evident in their architecture, cuisine, and traditions, making them a fascinating destination for those seeking more than just sun, sea, and sand.

The Cultural Mosaic of the BVI

The British Virgin Islands are a melting pot of cultures, with influences from Africa, Europe, and the Americas all contributing to their unique identity. This cultural mosaic is evident in the islands’ music, dance, art, and cuisine, offering visitors a wealth of experiences to immerse themselves in.

Music and Dance

The BVI’s musical heritage is a vibrant blend of African rhythms, European melodies, and Caribbean beats. One of the most iconic musical styles to emerge from the islands is the “fungi” (pronounced “foon-jee”) music, which is named after a local dish made from cornmeal and okra. Fungi bands typically feature a mix of traditional instruments, such as the gourd, scraper, and ukulele, alongside more modern additions like the keyboard and electric guitar.

Fungi music is often accompanied by traditional BVI dances, such as the quadrille and the heel-and-toe polka. The quadrille is a lively, square dance that originated in Europe and was brought to the Caribbean by the colonizers. The heel-and-toe polka, on the other hand, is a more recent addition to the BVI’s dance repertoire, having been introduced by American tourists in the mid-20th century.

Art and Craft

The BVI’s art scene is a reflection of the islands’ diverse cultural influences, with local artists drawing inspiration from their African, European, and Caribbean heritage. Traditional crafts, such as basket weaving, pottery, and woodcarving, are still practiced on the islands, with many artisans selling their wares at local markets and galleries.

In recent years, the BVI has also seen a surge in contemporary art, with local artists exploring a range of mediums, from painting and sculpture to photography and digital art. The islands’ vibrant art scene is showcased at various events throughout the year, such as the annual BVI Arts and Crafts Festival and the Tortola Art Walk.


The BVI’s cuisine is a mouthwatering fusion of flavors, with African, European, and Caribbean influences all vying for attention on your taste buds. Seafood is a staple of the islands’ diet, with fresh fish, lobster, and conch featuring prominently on most menus. Local dishes, such as saltfish and johnnycakes, fungi, and roti, offer a taste of the islands’ diverse culinary heritage.

For a truly authentic BVI dining experience, be sure to visit one of the islands’ many “cook shops” – small, family-run eateries that serve up delicious, home-cooked meals. And don’t forget to wash it all down with a glass of the BVI’s signature cocktail, the Painkiller – a potent mix of rum, pineapple juice, orange juice, and coconut cream.

Cultural Experiences to Savor in the BVI

Now that we’ve whetted your appetite for the BVI’s cultural offerings, let’s explore some of the unique experiences that await you on your sailing adventure.

Visit the Callwood Rum Distillery

Located in Cane Garden Bay on the island of Tortola, the Callwood Rum Distillery is the oldest continuously operating distillery in the Caribbean. Established in the 18th century, the distillery has been producing rum using traditional methods for over 400 years.

A visit to the Callwood Rum Distillery offers a fascinating insight into the history of rum production in the BVI, as well as the chance to sample some of the distillery’s delicious, aged rums. Be sure to pick up a bottle (or two) to enjoy on your sailing adventure.

Explore the Copper Mine National Park

Situated on the southeastern tip of Virgin Gorda, the Copper Mine National Park is a testament to the BVI’s rich industrial heritage. The park is home to the ruins of a 19th-century copper mine, which was operated by Cornish miners between 1838 and 1867.

A visit to the Copper Mine National Park offers a fascinating glimpse into the BVI’s past, as well as stunning views of the surrounding coastline. Be sure to take a guided tour to learn more about the history of the mine and its impact on the local community.

Attend a Local Festival

The BVI is home to a number of vibrant festivals throughout the year, offering visitors the chance to immerse themselves in the islands’ rich cultural tapestry. Some of the most popular festivals include the BVI Emancipation Festival, which takes place in late July and early August, and the BVI Food Fête, which is held in November.

The Emancipation Festival is a celebration of the islands’ freedom from slavery, featuring a range of events, such as parades, music concerts, and cultural performances. The BVI Food Fête, on the other hand, is a culinary extravaganza, showcasing the best of the islands’ cuisine, with cook-offs, tastings, and cooking demonstrations.

Discover the BVI’s Maritime Heritage

The BVI’s maritime heritage is an integral part of its cultural identity, with boatbuilding and sailing playing a central role in the islands’ history. To learn more about this fascinating aspect of BVI culture, be sure to visit the Virgin Islands Maritime Museum, located in the historic H. Lavity Stoutt Community College in Tortola.

The museum features a range of exhibits, including traditional wooden boats, maritime artifacts, and photographs, which tell the story of the BVI’s seafaring past. You can also take a guided tour of the museum to gain a deeper understanding of the islands’ maritime heritage.


The British Virgin Islands are a treasure trove of cultural gems, offering visitors a wealth of experiences to enrich their sailing adventure. From the islands’ fascinating history and diverse cultural influences to the unique experiences that await you on your journey, the BVI is a destination that truly has it all.

So, as you set sail for the azure waters of the Caribbean, be sure to take the time to explore the cultural wonders of the British Virgin Islands. You’ll be rewarded with a deeper appreciation of these enchanting islands and memories that will last a lifetime.