The British Virgin Islands hosts a plethora of excellent diving sites. // © 2017 Creative Commons user visionsservice
Feature image (above): The wreck of RMS Rhone is considered one of the best dive sites in the destination. // © 2017 Gareth Richards
It turns out that one of the best sailing destinations in the world is also one of the world’s diving capitals. From reefs to wrecks and novice-friendly to expert-level dives, the British Virgin Islands (BVI) is a wonderland for divers.
The islands’ waters are naturally verdant with marine life. Great barracudas tread water with parrotfish and stingrays; tunicates and anemones share vibrant corals with sea urchins; and reef, tiger and nurse sharks make occasional appearances.
When vacationing in the BVI, diving at one of these wildly stunning sites is as essential as sailing around the islands.
Like much of the BVI, this diving site just off Ginger Island’s southwestern shore didn’t escape the impact of climate change and coral bleaching. However, it remains lush and is still a favorite among diving enthusiasts.
Made up of ridges and canyons capped with herculean-sized boulder brain corals and soft corals, Alice in Wonderland reaches up to 80 feet in depth and hosts a treasure trove of marine animals. Angelfish, lobsters, turtles, Southern stingrays and Caribbean reef sharks are regularly sighted, as are beautiful orange sea lilies.
As far as shipwrecks go, Chikuzen may not be the most epic. After all, it’s only a 246-foot Korean refrigerator ship that sunk on a sand bottom 12 miles northwest of Virgin Gorda.
To advanced divers however, this dive site is ace: Schools of vibrant fish (snapper and horse-eye jacks, for starters), eagle rays, stingrays, sharks, green turtles and goliath grouper thrive here. Coral and sponges are also abundant, and there may be an occasional whale shark. Properly trained divers can even swim through Chikuzen’s open hatches for an enhanced experience.
Underwater canyons can provide a certain level of danger and excitement. So, though the aptly named Painted Walls only reach a depth of 10 to 45 feet, it’s still prime dive realty — especially because its vertical walls and canyons feature a burst of colors thanks to vibrant residents.
When dappled light from the sun hits the surface, the scene is even more spectacular. Plus, multicolored corals host a variety of species; sponges, green turtles, octopuses, angelfish, lobsters and stingrays are only the beginning of what Painted Walls offers.
Just off Salt Island in Rhone Marine Park (BVI’s only marine national park), the wreck of RMS Rhone is considered one of the best dives of its kind in the world. Lying in two sections — with its bow at 80 feet and its stern at 25 to 70 feet —the British Royal Mail Ship is beautifully preserved, with its bow, lifeboat davits, boilers, signaling cannons and artifacts still intact. If marine life sightings take precedence, clients will be happy to hear that lobsters, turtles, moray eels and even octopuses make regular appearances.
Green Cay’s north and west portions, where the Caribbean kisses the Atlantic, boast a diver’s playground, appropriately named The Playground. Best left to advanced divers, this vast site of boulders, rocks and pillar corals features passages, caves, ledges and alcoves. As a result, a ragbag of exquisite sea creatures lurks in every nook and corner. Sightings could include cobia, spotted eagle rays, devil rays and tarpon.