British Virgin Islands Facts

British Virgin Islands Facts and History

North America

British Virgin Islands – Almost 60 islands in the Caribbean

The Genoese navigator Christopher Columbus discovered an archipelago during his second great American expedition in 1493, which he named “Santa Ursula y las once mil Vírgenes” (“Saint Ursula and the 11,000 virgins”),

referring to them Saint Ursula of Cologne and her 11,000 companions, who were all virgins. This saint can still be seen on the coat of arms of the British Virgin Island – as it has been called since 1917 – as she is surrounded by a total of eleven lamps, which symbolize the companions who, according to legend, should have suffered martyrdom with her.

The British Virgin Islands, which belong to the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean and are located about 100 km east of Puerto Rico, consist of almost 60 islands and reefs. Together with the American Virgin Islands (Saint Croix, Saint John and Saint Thomas) they form the Virgin Island archipelago. The main area of the British Virgin Islands, of which only 16 are inhabited, is the island of Tortola, on which the small capital Road Town is also located.

If the island was once exploited as a production area for sugar cane, today the most important economic factor is financial services. It is estimated that there are currently around 500,000 companies and more than 1,000 ships officially registered on the islands. The islands are now among the most flourishing economies in the Caribbean. They are economically very closely linked to the US Virgin Islands and also have the US dollar as their official national currency.

In addition to financial services, tourism dominates. It provides around 45% of the national income and is made possible by around 350,000 visitors per year, mainly from the USA. Tourists like the numerous sandy beaches of the British Virgin Islands, the impressive coral reefs at Anegada or simply diving in one of the many good bars on the island of Jost Van Dyke. The island kingdom is particularly suitable for sailors. Every year since 1972 the spring regatta has been held there, a seven-day event with sailing competitions throughout the territory of the islands.

A less glorious side of the islands are the drug smugglers who, despite strict prohibitions, use the island kingdom as a gateway to the USA. If you believe the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, drug smuggling is probably the most serious threat to the British Virgin Islands.

Name of the country British Virgin Islands
Form of government British Overseas Territory Monarchy (since 1672) (1977 Constitution)
Head of state Queen Elizabeth II. She is represented by a governor.
Geographical location The British Virgin Islands are part of the Lesser Antilles and are located in the Caribbean, between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean. Puerto Rico is to the west of the islands.
National anthem “God Save the Queen”
Motto “The Land, The People, The Light”(Engl. “The country, the people, the light”)
Population a little less than 30,000 (Credit: Countryaah: British Virgin Islands Facts)
Ethnicities About 84% of the population are of West African descent.The British, Portuguese, Indians and others still live in the British Virgin Islands.
  • Methodists 33%
  • Anglicans 17%
  • Catholics 10%
  • Members of God’s
  • Church 9% Seventh-day Adventists 6%
  • Baptists 4%
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses 2%
  • Other Religious Affiliations 15%
  • Non-Denominational 2%
Languages English is the official language and the main language of communication.In addition, a form of Creole is spoken in everyday life.
Capital Road Town (on Tortola) with approx. 9,500 residents
Surface 151 km²
Highest elevation Mount Sage or Sage Mountain with a height of 521 m (location: on Tortola)
International license plate VG
National currency U.S. dollar
Time difference to CET – 5 h/-6 h(There is no summer or winter time changeover in the British Virgin Islands, so the difference to Central Europe in winter – 5 h and in summer – 6 h.
International phone code 001 – 284 – participant number
Mains voltage, frequency 110 V, 60 Hz (adapters are recommended because American plugs are widely used.)
Internet TLD (Top Level Domain) .vg

British Virgin Islands: History

The first settlers in the British Virgin Islands were Arawak, who lived around the year 100 BC. Came to the region from South America. However, there are indications that the islands were first settled as early as 1500 BC. By Amerindians (Indios). It is certain that the Arawaks inhabited the island until the 15th century, but were then subdued by the aggressive Caribs, a tribe from the Lower Antilles, after which the Caribbean Sea was named.


According to Abbreviationfinder website, the first contact with Europeans came through the second voyage of Christop Columbus, who reached the islands in 1493. It was also the Genoese navigator who gave the islands their name: “Santa Ursula y las Once Mil Vírgenes”, which translates as “Saint Ursula and the 11,000 virgins”. This name referred to the legend of St. Ursula from Cologne and was shortened to “Las Vírgenes” (“The Virgins”) over time. The Spanish Kingdom claimed the islands for itself in the 16th century, even if it never colonized them. In 1555, Spanish troops managed to defeat the indigenous population. They must have almost exterminated the residents, because there is no evidence of Amerindian parts of the population on the islands for the following decades.

The Spanish were followed by the Dutch, who also colonized the islands in 1648 as the first European power. But as early as 1672 (until 1680) the archipelago was annexed by the English. The British Kingdom, which particularly had the strategic location of the islands in mind, also established sugar cane cultivation there, which was driven by slave labor. This also explains why almost 90% of the population today are of black African descent.

Between 1672 and 1733 the Danes gained control of the nearby areas of St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix, which are now part of the US Virgin Islands.

By the mid-1800s, the archipelago had achieved impressive economic viability. But then followed not only the liberation of slaves and devastating hurricanes, but also the growth of sugar production in Europe and the United States. What resulted was an economic decline in the Virgin Islands.

In 1917 the United States bought the Danish-occupied islands of St. John, St. Thomas and St. Croix from Denmark for a sum of US $ 25 million and named them the US Virgin Islands. The British Virgin Islands were temporarily part of the British Leeward Islands, an English colony that existed from 1833 to 1960 and was composed of Antigua, Barbuda, Montserrat, Saint Kitts, Nevis, Anguilla and (until 1940) Dominica alongside the Virgin Islands. The Virgin Islands were also administered by an administrator who was supposed to represent the British government on site.

After the archipelago received its own colonial status in 1960, it gained independence seven years later. Since the 1960s, the British Virgin Islands have turned from their traditionally agricultural economy to tourism and finance, and are now one of the richest areas in the entire Caribbean.

British Virgin Islands Facts