The BVI in the Past and in the Present

Despite the island's rough history, BVI boasts a flourishing economy

Photo credit: © Chris LeCroy

The British Virgin Islands have a rich history, including pirate inhabitants and a slavery-fueled sugar industry. Many archaeological sites remain and have become popular tourist destinations. Despite their complicated history, the locals are extremely warm and inviting people. 


Located between both the Caribbean and North Atlantic Ocean, it features a total of 20 uninhabited islands. The total land area accumulates to 151 sq km, with 80 km of coastline.

Limited natural freshwater resources are mainly due to the low rainfall and lack of freshwater bodies on any of the islands. Tortola does feature a few springs, but BVI gets most of it's freshwater from desalination plants, causing industrial waste to threaten the gorgeous coral reefs local marine life call home. 

Being a part of the Caribbean, the British Virgin Islands are tropical. The temperature remains mostly the same, about 80 degrees year-round with trade winds keeping the islands cool. The British Virgin Islands are composed of four main islands: Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, and Jost Van Dyke. While they don't get much, their rainiest months are from September to November. Between July and October, hurricanes and tropical storms become a danger.

Hurricane Irma totaled about 3.6 billion USD in damages to the area. While most marinas, official buildings, and even shelters were severely harmed, the island has recovered well. Most importantly, they have regained power and the ability to produce clean water for their residents.


Theorized to have originally been inhabited by Arawak Indians, the island is covered in archaelogical sites where discoveries consistently rewrite history. Some of these locations include Soper's Hole, Coxheath, Pleasant Valley, and Josiah's Bay.

The original settlers of the island were Dutch, driven out by a largely growing inhabitance of pirates and smugglers. The island's population gained a reputation as rude and immoral people because of the influx of pirates, completely contrasting their reputation today; caring and welcoming to all visitors and neighbors. 

British colonization led to a growing population of slaves, especially during the sugar boom in 1750. Places such as 1780 Lower Estate Sugar Works Museum and Sugar Mill Hotel reference this particular time in the islands past. Other Caribbean islands have similar histories, which have now been turned into prestigious tourist locations. Rose Hall of Jamaica features the most beautiful piece of architecture on the island, which formerly functioned as a sugar plantation. 

In the year 1834, BVI was emancipated and escaped British control and slavery. 5,792 slaves were freed by this action, which was not as simple as it sounds. Forced apprenticeships with their masters were implemented, which was a tactical government move, as not to shock the economy. 


BVI culture is best understood by attending any of their events & festivals. More specifically, the annual Emancipation Festival celebrates their emanicpation from slavery and colonialism in 1834. It features many facets of their culture which is influenced by African tradition of which Fungi Music, their official genre, is no exception. Many musical groups formed shortly after the emancipation and the genre grew from there.

Handmade instruments are used to produce the Fungi sounds, which are made from found objects such as sardine cans and vines. If you can't make it to the festival, usually taking place in the last months of the summer, it is highly likely you will be able to enjoy a live show and indulge in authentic BVI music at any of their bars.


..enjoy a live show and indulge in authentic BVI music...


Their cuisine is also very distinct, comprised of dishes such as roti, pate, and various seafood options. Many of their restaurants feature authentic cuisine throughout the islands. Their official dish, however, is Fungi and Fish. A white fish is cooked in 'accent seasoning' and served with an okra-cornmeal combination. It is the Caribbean version of polenta. The USVI also claims this as their official dish. 

In fact, there are many similarities between these two territories. Both share the US Dollar as their official currency and feature a predominantly English speaking population. 70.2% of BVI's population practices Protestantism, while 59% of the USVI population practices. This is the major religion for both territories. 

Most of the BVI population is African, at 76.3%, 5.5% are Latino, 5.4% are white, and 12.2% are either mixed or Indian. Nearly half of the population's age range, 49.05%, lies between 25 and 54 years. While it is uncertain what the cause of this statistic is, it is clear that you need not expect an uneventful town.

Similar to other Carribbean islands such as Anguilla, the Cayman Islands, and Montserrat, they have their own local government and are not considered part of the U.K. However, the U.K is responsible for all military efforts on BVI's behalf. It wasn't until 1950 that Road Town's Legislative Council Building was erected, leading to a constitutional government. This action stimulated the BVI economy greatly, contributing to one of it's largest industries.


They are a leader in the offshore financial economy, mainly because of their secrecy legislation, which has been considered an embarassment for the U.K. Despite this fact, the government has made no efforts to destroy it. It's most problematic quality is that it allows for easy money laundering and similar crimes. They do not impose many taxes, void of both income and sales. 
They are considered to be the most stable economy in all of the Caribbean.

About 45% of their economic prosperity relies on tourism, however. More specifically, they rely on the yachting industry. A volcanic archipelago teeming with gorgeous marine life and landscape, yacht enthusiasts will this is a great vacation destination for sailing & boating. Nearly half of their tourism business comes from cruise ship passengers, making them a very important guest to the island.

Rum is another great contributor to their success, similar to places like Puerto Rico and St. Lucia. They have a bustling nightlife featuring this delicious drink, and many tour operators offer rum punch almost as if it were a tradition. 

The creation of the Legislative Council Building eventually this led to roadway and airport development in order to encourage tourism. Only .2% of their production comes from livestock agriculture. 93.1% of BVI production comes from the services industry, making up about 59.4% of the labor force. 

Their main exports include rum, fresh fish, fruit, and animals. Gravel and sand are their most common material exports. While agriculture is not a huge contributor to the economy, the most important part of their agricultural industry is livestock raising. The island does not have soil well enough to support much crop growing.

Despite this low impact existence, there is an agricultural Government minister and department. This department organizes annual events to show appreciation for local farmers. Only 6.7 % of the agricultural land in BVI is used for permanent crops. This would serve as no surprise that one of their main imports are foodstuffs. Automobiles and machinery also serve as main imports. Overall BVI is quite stable, boasting the 19th highest GDP per capita worldwide in 2010, with an estimate of $34,246 in 2017.


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