Combine St. Croix’s underwater national monument, St. John’s protected underwater reserve and St. Thomas’ collection of wrecks and reefs together with 300+ species of tropical fish, dozens of experienced dive operators and an unwavering commitment to reef preservation, and the result is the U.S. Virgin Islands. The location is of remarkable appeal to divers and snorkelers of any skill level. Here, divers find a diverse and captivating collection of sites, including reefs, wrecks, caves and walls and, surprisingly, their close proximity makes visiting several dive sites easy to accomplish in just one day.
The islands’ array of five-star PADI certified dive operators stand ready to make even first-time divers feel immediately at ease. Whether visitors are interested in an introductory dive or arrive in the destination fully certified, the islands’ dive operators are equipped to offer a range of compelling choices for beginning and experienced divers. From wreck and wall dives to thrilling night dives, the U.S. Virgin Islands boasts an enviable variety of underwater experiences, which firmly establish it among the Caribbean’s favored dive destinations.
Whether with snorkel or scuba gear, underwater explorers are assured remarkable visibility ranging from 70 to 100 feet, and affording colorful and detailed views of more than 300 species of tropical fish, as well as hawkbill and green leatherback turtles, reef squid, coral and even seahorses.
Caves, Caverns, Wrecks and Walls: The ‘Must Do’ Dives
Among the essential experiences for wreck divers is the W.I.T. Shoal, a 400-foot freighter that lies upright in 90 feet of crystal blue water near St. Thomas. An awe-inspiring sight, the ship’s smoke stack provides entry to passageways and holds lit by sunlight on the water’s surface. Also near St. Thomas, the Cartanser Sr., a coral-encrusted World War II cargo ship sits 35 feet below the surface and the General Rogers, a sunken Coast Guard Cutter, at 65 feet. Wreck divers pressed for time will find St. Croix an unsurpassed choice; the island’s Salt River Bay boasts five shipwrecks within 100 yards of each other.
For those who appreciate a great wall drive, St. Croix is situated on the Venezuelan Basin, making it a natural for diving underwater walls of spectacular depth. The island features the largest living coral reef in the Caribbean, which outlines the island’s north shore. The Cane Bay Wall begins at 30 to 40 feet and plunges to a 13,000-foot sub-sea canyon with steep diving walls. Best of all, divers can access the wall from less than 200 yards offshore.
Reef divers gravitate to St. Thomas, where Flat Cay offers a dramatic glimpse of the ocean floor at depths from 17 to 70 feet. Nearby, Cow and Calf Rocks features hidden caves and arches while, atThatch Cay, Grass Cay and Congo Cay, tunnels in the Pillsbury Sound, where the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic meet, keep divers enthralled.
Underwater National Monument
Perhaps the most well-known dive and snorkel site in the U.S. Virgin Islands is Buck Island Reef National Monument in St. Croix, considered one of the most spectacular expeditions in the Caribbean. It is one of only two underwater national monuments in America and the only one occurring naturally. Featuring 704 acres of protected reef system, Buck Island is home to tropical fish, coral reefs and exotic flora and fauna in a vivid array of colors. Buck Island is a short boat trip from Christiansted or Green Cay Marina.
A Snorkeling Paradise
Voted the #1 destination for snorkeling by the readers of Caribbean Travel & Life, St. John boasts an assortment of snorkel sites, including the acclaimed Trunk Bay Snorkel Trail. Well-suited for those who want to learn more about the region’s colorful marine life, the trail features underwater plaques with detailed descriptions. Cinnamon Bay and Waterlemon Cay at Leinster Bay are also popular snorkel sites.
Enjoying the Sea Without All The Gear
The U.S. Virgin Islands offers two extraordinary experiences for those who may not be ready to dive but do aspire to see more than snorkeling allows. “Snuba,” offered by many of the islands’ dive operators, is a cross between scuba and snorkeling and an ideal choice for beginners. Snuba utilizes a 20-foot air hose to connect the diver to the surface. Likewise, at “Sea Trekkin” at Coral World in St. Thomas, visitors can forgo the scuba gear and even keep their face and hair dry. A bit like walking on the moon, Sea Trekkers wear a special helmet that provides all of the air, weight and stability needed to walk the ocean floor. A handrail along the trail provides extra guidance, while booties and gloves provide extra comfort.
There is a wide range of five-star PADI certified dive operators on St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas. In addition, many resorts have dive centers and dive packages. A one-tank dive typically starts at $60, two-tank dives are $80 or more. Many operators also offer dive packages. On St. Croix a Dive The Island passport is available in six-to-twelve-dive increments. For those who prefer to stay closer to the surface, fins, masks and snorkels can be rented very reasonably.
For more information about the United States Virgin Islands, call 800-372-USVI (8784) or go toVisitUSVI.com. When traveling to the U.S. Virgin Islands, U.S. citizens enjoy all the conveniences of domestic travel—including on-line check-in—making travel to the U.S. Virgin Islands easier than ever. As a United States Territory, travel to the U.S. Virgin Islands does not require a passport from U.S. citizens arriving from Puerto Rico or the U.S. mainland. Entry requirements for non-U.S. citizens are the same as for entering the United States from any foreign destination. Upon departure, a passport is required for all but U.S. citizens. Follow us on Twitter (@USVImockojumbie) and become a fan on Facebook (www.facebook.com/VisitUSVI).