The Baths Map
Virgin Gorda ~ British Virgin Islands
of one of the most famous beaches in the world
The Baths

Virgin Gorda BVI The Baths Map

by D. R. McClintock
I first visited the Baths with charter guests in 1983, and since then have visited them countless times.  I developed a map to help my charter guests find their way around the Baths' many intricate passageways.  While using it, my guests were invariably pressed into service as tour guides for other explorers. 
The map is intended to help visitors find their way through the maze of boulders, and to help them discover its most interesting features. While an attempt has been made to draw it roughly to scale, there are in fact many more, smaller boulders on the site than are indicated. This is especially so to the south towards Devil's Bay. To follow the course indicated on the map will take approximately 45 minutes to an hour. I hope that the map will help visitors to discover the hidden beauty of the Baths. 
Link to larger map
Click on Map for larger image.

Key to Using the Map

A. Beach. Dinghy landings are prohibited, but there is a dinghy mooring and you can swim to the beach. 

B. Shrubs. You may leave snorkeling equipment while exploring the boulders. Also, site of vendors selling T-shirts and shells. 

C. Poor Man's Bar. Sells drinks, hamburgers, T-shirts. 

D. Trail to taxi drop-off, about a 7 minute easy walk. 

E. Snorkeling is quite good in this area for fish; also, to the north where you can find Elk Horn Coral formations. West of the dinghy landing. 

1. Entrance. You'll have to crouch and waddle like a duck here! 

2. Shelf Boulder. Note fault through top of adjacent boulder to right of this boulder. 

3. North Cabe. Note deep holes caused by uneven erosion. Also, note the size of this boulder, one of the largest here. 

4. "The Baths." A great photo opportunity! Notice on the huge boulder to your right the beautiful markings caused by chemical reaction of rain water (weak carbonic acid) with minerals. 

5. The Throne. Another fun photo opportunity. 

6. Ship's Keep Boulder. As you stand under this boulder look at its shape. Doesn't it look like the keel of a sailboat to you? 

7. Walk under the ship's keel as far as you can to the south, then turn around and look up. This magnificent tunnel is Neptune's Hideaway. Notice the pitting on the boulders on your left. Now retrace your steps back out to the edge of the first pool. 

8. The Cathedral. Look up and marvel at the limited points of contact between the massive boulders above you! 

9. Tarzan Land. The roots are of pomegranate trees which you'll see when you climb above in a moment or two. 

10. Boulder House. Notice how dry it is in here, even when it rains. Now retrace your steps a few yards and turn to your left and start up the incline. Look to you right to see ... 

11. Geodesic Cave. One of the prettiest, most intricate of the caves. Another great photo opportunity. Continue to climb up. Just as you emerge between the two boulders, look ahead to see ... 

12. Whale's Head. Notice to the left of the whale's mouth an obelisk which was once part of the Whale's Head boulder. Stand near the obelisk now and look to the west to find the entrance to Neptune's Hideaway. Now a new shape has emerged! 

13. Lion's Head. Start at the top of the boulder and let your eye follow the line down to the left. Do you see the lion's forehead and nose?  See his upper jaw, his eye, the markings on his face and his mane. 

14. Ethiopian Head. A striking formation to the left of the lion. 

Snorkling at the Baths
The most famous site in the British Virgin Islands is the Baths on Virgin Gorda, and visitors to the island rarely miss a visit to these magnificent boulders and the sheltered pools for which the Baths are named. They are also a regular stopover on the British Virgin Islands' charter boat circuit.  Indeed, they are so popular that charter vessels from St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands motor to the Baths every day. Yachtsmen anchor just to the west of the site and swim to shore. 

As the skippers of Camelot, a 51 foot charter yacht, my wife Mavis and I are frequent visitors to the Baths. Invariably our charter guests are overwhelmed by the sight of these mansion sized boulders piled atop one another. As these awed explorers stroll along the beach, wade through the pools and explore the innumerable passageways above and below the boulders, they repeatedly ask the same questions: How did such massive boulders get here in the first place? What were the forces that raised them into place? How long have they been here?  How did they develop into such fantastic shapes?  And, especially, how did the mysterious caves and deep holes form within the boulders themselves? 

Many of these questions can be answered by geologists, and a detailed look at the geology of the Baths can be found in Charles A. Ratte's booklet, The Story of the Boulders, which is sold at the Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour. 

View of the BathsIn his book, Dr. Ratte explains that the oldest rocks in the Virgin Islands began to form approximately 120 million years ago as the result of volcanic action.  However, the granite boulders of Virgin Gorda did not appear until the Tertiary Period, approximately 70 million years ago.  At that time, molten rock called magma found its way into the newly formed layers of lava on the seabed of the Caribbean. The accumulation of magma gradually formed huge sections of granite, consisting mainly of feldspar and quartz.  About 15 to 25 million years ago, faulting and uplifting of the sea floor occurred. The granite which by now formed part of the sea floor was thus exposed, initially in the form of rather more squared boulders, rather than the rounded remains which we now observe. Originally these boulders were more massive.  However, fault lines developed, causing them to break into smaller pieces, which rested atop and alongside of one another. 

As millions of years passed, weathering and erosion occurred.  One of the most important sources of erosion is rain water. As it falls, the rain reacts with carbon dioxide and a very weak form of carbonic acid results.  All of the minerals which form granite, except quartz, react readily with carbonic acid, and erosion and pitting, as well as fluting of the boulders occurs.  If you observe the surface of the boulders you will notice that in many places the rough surface appears to be flaking. 

The roughness is caused by particles of quartz which are exposed, but still held in place by the minerals not yet eroded around them. 

Large caves carved out of the rocks and a massive tunnel through one of the boulders are additional features of the Baths.  Dr. Ratte explains that such hollow boulders are formed by prevalent easterly and southeasterly winds. These provide additional moisture on the most exposed rock face; resulting in an accelerated erosion which gradually develops a ledge or canopy on the face of the rock. Dampness within the shaded canopy, furthers the erosion and hollowing process.  Over millions of years, this steady erosion has created the substantial caves that fascinate visitors. 

The Baths are not just for exploring, though. The white sand beach is ideal for sunning, and the clear waters for swimming and snorkeling.  For snorkelers interested in seeing fish, the snorkeling is best near the rocks to the south of the dinghy landing beach, and around the rocks just to the west. There is quite a substantial colony of elk horn coral formations to the north of the beach area. Look, but don't touch these fragile formations. 

As you visit this beautiful area, which is now part of the British Virgin Islands National Parks Trust, do respect its fragile nature: deposit all trash in the appropriate receptacle, or even better, take it away with you.  And kindly refrain from defacing any of the boulders, or damaging them in any way.  As you wander through this incredible geological site, you will be filled with a sense of the wonder of our universe, of which we are but a tiny, very finite part. 

 Article and Map by D. R. McClintock (c) 1989
Baths Photo copyright Max Chang
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