The British Virgin Islands whose main islands are Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada and Jost Van Dyke are known as “Nature’s Little Secrets.” With little desire for mass tourism, The BVI has remained an escape from the bustling souvenir shops and glittery nightlife associated with so many Caribbean islands. The pure waters also provide a perfect setting for unparalleled diving and snorkeling adventures. Over the last 400 years, many boats have sunk in this area. The combination of reefs and wrecks makes for excellent diving, whether you are an experienced diver or a beginner.
All diving for the British Virgin Islands is done on the mountain shelf and depths rarely exceed 70 feet. Due to the diversity of the dive sites, it is always possible to find a great diving location in any weather, making the British Virgin Islands a great year round diving destination.
Best Diving Destinations in British Virgin Islands
Most of the diving is done off the islands and the rocks in the Sir Francis Drake Channel – with Anegada being a notable exception; some 300 wrecks adorn its shores.
Anegada with horseshoe reef extending 10 miles from the island has claimed some 300 known wrecks. The most famous of these wrecks is the Greek freighter the Rocus which sank in 1929 leaving cattle bones and machinery littering the ocean floor. Anegada can only be reached with good light conditions, and typical marine life includes elkorn corals, black durgons, moray eels and nurse sharks.
Dive sites are numerous and undisturbed ensuring high visibility and lush coral reef formations. Diving is personalised, flexible and quite lengthy – most dives are between 20-80ft (7-27m) allowing greater submerge times.
Arguably the ‘Pièce de Résistance’ of diving in the BVIs is the wreck of the RMS Rhone. One of the most famous wrecks in the whole of the Caribbean this 310ft (103m) iron hulled steam/sailor was destroyed by a ferocious hurricane between Salt Island and Peter Island in 1867. She weighed in at 2,738 tons and had a beam of only 40ft (13.3m). In her day she was considered fast and could average a speed of 12 knots. She had a complete sailing rig for auxiliary power and had a large propeller instead of a set of paddles. She was sleek but strong and was expected to serve around 50-75 years. In her day, she was state-of-the-art. Her design and compartmentalised hull was a basic forerunner of the RMS Titanic’s.
On the 29th October, 1867, she was driven on to the rocks off Salt Island by a sudden, late-season hurricane; she was ripped open like a giant tin can and water gushed in, causing her massive boilers to explode. This blew the ship in two and she sank immediately. Of the 171 aboard, 150 died. Diving on the wreck of the Rhone is both a fascinating and humbling experience, with much of the larger sections of the ship still intact including anchor, mast, hull – even the Crow’s Nest. Her bow section lies in about 75ft (25m) of water and her propeller at about 30ft (10m). It is an immense testament to the brutal power of Nature, and a sobering reminder of man’s vulnerability.
Peter Island provides archways, shoals, vertical canyons, caves, tunnels and pinnacles. Its special attraction is three vertical canyons, the largest about 40 – 120 feet, and is known as The painted walls due to an array of sponges and cup corals that form a colorful carpet of yellow, red, blue, white and orange. Typical marine life to be seen includes parrot fish, snapper, schoolmasters, fairy basslits and the rare sunburst cremorne.
Virgin Gorda has good diving at the Baths, where the boulders form caves, caverns and secret rooms. This site is also very good for snorkelers. Marine life to be found includes hawksbill turtles, reef squid, barracuda, arrow crabs, spadefish, moray eels and brilliantly colored sponges.
Norman Island provides reef and caves for diving. Of note this island was the insperation for Robert Louis Stevensens Treasure Island. Typical marine life includes redspotted hawk fish, grouper, queen and french angels and eagle rays.
The Dogs provide rocky cliffs, caves and rocky pinnacles to dive on. Typical marine life includes Queen angels, spotted moray eels, orange file fish. Although in the open ocean and not amongst the Dogs, the wreck of the Chikuzen is considered one of the best dives in the British Virgin Islands. The Chikuzen is a 246 foot Japanese refrigerator ship resting in 75 feet of water, on which a large amount of marine life has decided to call home, including a large school of barracuda.
Ginger Island offers huge mushrooms shaped star coral, 10-15 feet high, of which to experience. It also has marine life including large purple and green seafans, yellowhead wrasse, snout nose butterfly, african pompana, jewfish and rays.
One would be very much remiss however to forget about the diversity and quality of other dive sites in the BVIs – they are all magnificent in a different way and should be visited. Big tarpon, barracudas and sharks are particularly impressive, especially around the wreck of the Chikusen Blond Rock, Santa Monica Rock and the Invisibles are teeming with smaller fish including seas of fry that swim like sheets of ice above you.
When to Visit British Virgin Islands
Visibility is normally in the 60 to 100ft range, with occasional days of 120ft at some dive sites. The water temperature stays between 80 and 84°F most of the year, dropping to around 77°F in the winter. Dive skins are the favorite apparel here but a shorty wetsuit will probably keep you comfortable any time of the year.
The British Virgin Islands consists of more than 40 islands, cays or rocks scattered atop a mountain shelf laying 60 miles east of Puerto Rico. All the islands lie within a 35 mile span, so all dive sites can be reached from either of the two main islands, Tortola or Virgin Gorda. English is the official language on the islands and US dollars are the official currency.
Tortola the largest island is a splendid rainforest topography that is perfect for bushwalking. Virgin Gorda has the Baths which is one of the prime attractions of the British Virgin Islands. The Baths are a site on the island where large granite boulders are strewn across perfect white sand beaches above and below the water.