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Monday, 01 March 2021

BVI’s Magnificent Virgin Gorda Baths

Written by Michael Kompanik
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Sailboats and stretches of palm-fringed beaches with sugar-white sand came into view as our catamaran from St. Thomas approached Virgin Gorda’s Yacht Harbor and Spanish Town.

Covering only eight square miles and sparsely inhabited, this third largest of the British Virgin Islands (BVI) is a sleepy, idyllic Caribbean hideaway where goats and cattle own the right of way over island traffic. The island’s fascinating name was christened by famous explorer, Christopher Columbus. In Spanish it means “Fat Virgin.” Apparently to these sea-weary mariners, the island’s shape on the horizon wistfully resembled a curvaceous woman lying on her side. Quite the imagination these intrepid sailors had, but humorously, the name stuck.

Approach To Virgin Gorda  Michael Kompanik

After a quick processing through British customs, our group of four excited explorers were off on a 15-minute open air taxi ride to the destination we had longed to see — the magnificent geological wonder called the Baths of Virgin Gorda.

Entrance To Baths National Park  Michael Kompanik

A winding path of hardened sand led through an arid, desert-like landscape filled with brush, plants and cacti. But the first showstopper here in the Baths National Park is an intriguing rock formation known as The Skull. This rocky apparition looked like a ghostly pirate sculpture and something out of a Pirates of the Caribbean movie. But no human hands played a role in its creation. Rather this unique and startling formation is an eerie but fascinating example of natural weathering causing large dishes and holes comprising the skull-like face.

The Skull Baths National Park  Michael Kompanik

Nothing prepared us however as we left the arid environment behind and entered a stunning lush Caribbean paradise —the majesty of the Virgin Gorda Baths. We were face to face with some of the most stunning geological features in all of the Caribbean Isles.

Framing the aquamarine waters of the Caribbean along a pristine stretch of sparkling sand, the Baths are not secluded natural ocean pools nor man-made structures for bathing in the warm inviting tropical waters. Rather the name is short for batholiths — breathtaking creations of Mother Nature that evoke an astonishing, jaw-dropping reaction from all who visit. So out of place from the typical landscape of these islands.

The baths are comprised of a labyrinth of massive granite house-size boulders piled up on top of one another on the picturesque Virgin Gorda shoreline. They also form an array of cavernous passages meandering through sheltered sea pools along a sun-drenched shoreline.

These geological anomalies were formed millions of years ago by molten rock under immense pressure, seeping up into existing volcanic layers under a young Caribbean Sea. Over time, the batholiths reached sea level, as physical and chemical weathering eventually smoothed the sharp edges of these jumbled granite rocks into the gigantic rounded boulders we see today.

Our guide led us through a series of wooden stairs, ladders, and rope handrails into a fascinating flooded underworld. A maze of tunnels, arches and tidepools are located throughout the baths and in some cases, we had to crawl on our bellies through tight spaces and descend narrow ladders. We laughed as we felt more like spelunkers than Caribbean beach goers. Often our voices were muffled by the sounds of splashing water from ocean tides gently sloshing through this otherworldly realm.

Descent Into The Underworld  Michael Kompanik

Every twist and turn yielded yet another unbelievable site—hidden rooms with shafts of light streaming through and grottos leading to even more remarkable finds.

Hiking Through The Baths  Michael Kompanik

Inside The Cathedral Room At The Baths  Michael Kompanik

The Cathedral Room, a stunning cavernous space, is the most photographed site inside the baths. Softly lit by rays of sunlight filtering down through small overhead gaps, its vertical rocks form an astonishing tall, deep, triangular shaped cavern. The towering slanted ceiling made the room appear like some ancient Stonehenge creation. Voices can echo loudly off the cavern walls, and yet, most explorers spoke in hushed tones. It was an almost religious experience.

Cathedral Room At The Baths  Michael Kompanik

A twisting path out of the Bath’s cavernous depths opened to a spectacular clearing offering stunning views of the sheltered horseshoe-shaped Devil’s Bay. A scattering of outlying boulders framed the natural beauty of this secluded cove. Nestled along the beach and in the water, they provided picture-perfect postcard views.

Devils Bay At The Baths  Michael Kompanik

A relaxing swim in calm turquoise waters ringed by shaded umbrellas offered a respite from our amazing hike as sailboats glided past and seagulls wheeled overhead in bluebird skies.

The inviting crystalline waters of the bay teeming with rays, blue tang and other tropical fish inspired us to don our snorkeling gear and explore more underground caves and coral reefs. At the southern end of the beach, a short trail leads to nearby Stoney Bay. Unlike Devil’s Bay, Stoney Bay’s windswept beaches face the crashing Atlantic surf casting weathered driftwood along its rocky coastline. It was like being on two different islands.

On our hike back to the top of Baths National Park, we regaled our amazement over the incredible, magnificent natural beauty of Virgin Gorda’s fascinating Baths. They did not disappoint, rather they proved to be so much more spectacular than even photos portray. Once experienced, one forever hears the Bath’s siren call. This mesmerizing discovery was so extraordinary and profound, we truly believe that any future trip to the Virgin Islands would be incomplete without a return to explore the majesty of the Virgin Gorda Baths.

Our sail back to St. Thomas took us past an archipelago of inlets, cays and islands, lush green mountains, and miles of secluded beaches. The natural beauty of the Baths and all that surrounded us reminded me of a quote by Jules Reynard. “On earth there is no heaven but there are pieces of it.” It couldn’t be more fitting. We truly experienced a resplendent piece of heaven that magical day. And we couldn’t have been more grateful.

©Michael Kompanik

Last modified on Monday, 01 March 2021