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For the ship, see HMS Tortola (K595).
Tortola, BVI
BritishVirginIsland map.png
Tortola is the largest of the British Virgin Islands
Caribbean - Tortola.PNG
Location Atlantic Ocean
Coordinates 18°25′24″N 64°37′05″W / 18.42333°N 64.61806°W / 18.42333; -64.61806
Archipelago Virgin Islands
Area 55.7 km2 (21.5 sq mi)
Length 19 km (11.8 mi)
Width 15 km (9.3 mi)
Highest elevation 530 m (1,740 ft)
Highest point Mount Sage
British Overseas Territory  British Virgin Islands
Largest city Road Town (pop. 9,400)
Population 23,908
Density 429.23 /km2 (1,111.7 /sq mi)

Tortola /tɔrˈtlə/ is the largest and most populated of the British Virgin Islands, a group of islands that form part of the archipelago of the Virgin Islands.[1] Local tradition recounts that Christopher Columbus named it Tortola, meaning "land of the Turtle Dove". Columbus named the island Santa Ana. The later Dutch settled and called it Ter Tholen, after a coastal island forming part of the west coast of the Netherlands. When the British took over, they altered the name to its present-day Tortola.


Europeans began making their mark in Tortola history after 1492 when Christopher Columbus spotted what are now called the British and US Virgin Islands and named them after the 13,000 virgins of the 5th-century martyr St. Ursula. The Spanish made a few attempts to settle the area, but pirates such as Blackbeard and Captain Kidd were the first permanent inhabitants of the island.

In the 16th century, the English, who had successfully usurped control of the area from the Dutch, established a permanent plantation colony on Tortola and the surrounding islands. The sugar cane industry, dependent on the slave labor of Africans transported from the continent, dominated Tortola history over the next 180 years. It diminished in the mid-19th century after the abolition of slavery. A large proportion of the white landowning population left the British Virgin Islands during the economic downturn,[when?] but the political relationship between the island and the British continued and has been maintained.

In the late 1970s, the British businessman Ken Bates attempted to lease a large part of the island on a 199-year lease, but this was blocked after a protest movement led by islander Noel Lloyd forced the local government to drop the plan.[2] Today, a park on Tortola is named after Noel Lloyd and features a statue in his honour.[3]


Tortola is a mountainous island 13.5 miles (19 km) long and 3 miles (5 km) wide, with an area of 21.5 square miles (55.7 square km). Formed by volcanic activity, its highest peak is Mount Sage at 1750 feet (530 m). Tortola lies near an earthquake fault, and minor earthquakes are common.

Economy and demographics[edit]

The population of Tortola is 23,908. The principal settlement is Road Town, the capital of the British Virgin Islands.

Financial services are the main source of income to the island. The popular International Business Companies Act, passed in the early 1980s, led to significant growth in government revenue. BVI residents are amongst the most affluent in the Eastern Caribbean. Numerous residents from other Caribbean islands work there.

Although the British Virgin Islands (BVI) are under the British flag, it uses the U.S. dollar as its official currency due to its proximity to and frequent trade with the US Virgin Islands. The island is home to many offshore companies that do business worldwide.


The Northern coast has the best beaches on the island, including Smuggler's Cove, Long Bay, Cane Garden Bay, Brewer's Bay, Josiah's Bay, and Lambert beach. In addition to beaches, there are sailing, surfing, scuba diving, kite boarding, windsurfing, historic sites, hiking, and much more. This is a great site for cruise boats.


Tortola can be reached both by sea and by air.

Flights to Tortola arrive at the Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport. The airport is located on Beef Island, just to the East of Tortola, but it is connected by the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge. Seaborne Airlines, Cape Air and Air Sunshine provide scheduled service from San Juan. Island Birds Air Charter can connect you from San Juan, St Thomas, Antigua or St Marten. Tortola also has taxi services. There are many ferry companies providing travelers with the opportunity to arrive by sea. The ferries run between Charlotte Amalie in the center of St. Thomas, and Red Hook in the East End of St. Thomas and St. John, and either Road Town or the West End of Tortola.


The British Virgin Islands operates several government schools. [1]

The following pre-primary schools serve Tortola residents:

  • Althea Scatliffe Pre-Primary School
  • Enid Scatliffe Pre-Primary School

The following elementary schools serve Tortola residents: [2]

  • Althea Scatliffe Primary School
  • Seventh-day Adventist Primary School
  • Enis Adams Primary School
  • Joyce Samuel Primary School (formerly Belle Vue Primary School)
  • Ivan Dawson Primary School
  • Leonora Delville Primary School
  • Francis Lettsome Primary School
  • Alexandrina Maduro Primary School
  • Isabella Morris Primary School
  • Ebenezer Thomas Primary School
  • Willard Wheatley Primary School

The following High schools serve Tortola Residents:

  • Elmore Stout High School (formerly British Virgin Islands High School)
  • St George's Secondary School [3]
  • Seventh-day Adventist Secondary School
  • Cedar International School [4]

Eslyn Henley Richiez Learning Centre serves as Tortola's special needs school.[5]

The H. Lavity Stoutt Community College provides Tortola's Tertiary education

Notable people[edit]

  • The X Factor season 1 winner, Melanie Amaro, lived in Tortola with her grandmother as a child.
  • International singing star Iyaz, is from Carrot Bay, Tortola.
  • Olympic sprinter J'maal Alexander was born in Tortola.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Tortola". British Virgin Islands. Retrieved 14 February 2013. 
  2. ^ Noel Lloyd story published in UK magazine, BVI News, Japhix, 4th November 2011
  3. ^ The Noel Lloyd Positive Action Park, British Virgin Islands tourism

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 18°25′24″N 64°37′05″W / 18.42333°N 64.61806°W / 18.42333; -64.61806