The Best SCUBA Dive Sites in the BVI
The British Virgin Islands offer a stunning variety of SCUBA diving sites. For the first-time diver to the advanced diver, there is someplace for everyone to enjoy the beauty of the sport of SCUBA diving.
There are many ways to reach these spectacular dive sites. You can book a berth aboard a ‘Liveaboard Dive Boat’ such as the 110 ft. Aggressor or the 105 ft. Cuan Law.
Another more luxurious option is to book passage aboard a fully crewed charter yacht offering first rate accommodations, gourmet meals, privacy, and the freedom to dive when and where you want. You can move from one dive site to the next over several days, taking advantage of sea, sun and other local conditions.
You also have the option to go it alone by chartering a bareboat if you have sailing and diving experience.
If you’re on a fully crewed charter yacht that does not offer SCUBA diving, or if you charter a bareboat, and feel you don’t have enough diving experience or the necessary dive equipment, you could do what’s called a ‘Rendezvous Dive’. There are dive companies onshore, such as We Be Divin or Dive BVI, who will send a dive boat out to pick you up in what ever bay you’re yacht is anchored and take you to a dive site.
I’ve done Rendezvous Dives and feel it is the best and safest way to experience diving in the BVI, especially for anyone who is happy with diving just once or twice during the week.
Listed below are some of the more popular dive sites in the British Virgin Islands. I’m sure there are many more. Now that you know a little bit about what is out there, it’s time to jump in!
Dive Sites around Ginger Island
Alice in Wonderland – 65 ft. for Novice / Intermediate Divers
Situated off the South shore of Ginger Island, this site provides a different underwater landscape compared to other BVI areas. A healthy spur and groove coral reef runs below the dive boat moors in about 60 ft. of water that, and slopes up towards the island to a minimum depth of about 35 ft. Numerous large mushroom shaped coral heads ahead of the mooring give the site its name and provide shelter for reef fish, lobster, and spotted morays. While this area does not boast the abundant fish of other islands, the health of the corals makes this dive popular.
Ginger Steps – 90 ft. for Novice / Intermediate Divers
As with the Alice in Wonderland site, Ginger Steps enjoys some of the healthiest corals in the BVI. The site is further East along Ginger Island, tucked up against the tip of South Bay, providing better protection from ocean swells and making it a calmer dive. The dive boat moors in 35 feet of water on the top of the three ‘steps’ that make up the site. The reef then slopes down to the 2nd sandy step at 50 ft. before dropping away to the 3rd step, which is the sea floor at about 90 ft. Numerous reef fish species make their homes in the healthy star and brain coral heads. You can expect to see pompano, eagle rays and turtles cruising along the slopes.
Alice’s Backside / Ginger Patch – 50 ft. for Novice Divers
On the North side of Ginger Island, this site is almost always flat calm, providing a restful location for surface, interval and second dives. A huge healthy coral reef runs the length of the island starting at about 25 ft. under the boat and falling away to the sandy bottom at about 50 ft. This is usually a slow paced dive, giving the dive group plenty of time to explore the holes and ledges in the reef for lobster, octopus, and the occasional turtle. Also look out for small stingrays out on the sand.
Carvel Rock – 70 ft. for Advanced Divers
A large rock facing the open ocean, this site is open to current flows. It is a favorite site for schooling small barracuda. Larger pelagic fish also visit the exposed rock face, such as reef shark, barracuda, and mackerel.
Dive Sites around The Dog Islands
Seal Dog Rocks – 80 ft. for Novice / Intermediate Divers
Exposed to the ocean, this can be a very exciting dive. Regular sightings include eels, eagle rays and nurse sharks with occasional reef sharks.
The Visibles / Cockroach Island – 80 ft. for Intermediate / Advanced Divers
Situated off the West side of tiny Cockroach Island, this area is swept by current and so attracts a range of marine life. Glasseye snappers teem at the bottom of the pinnacle below the southern of the 2 moorings on the site, along with tomtates, bluestriped grunts and gray snapper. As the current picks up coming around the pinnacle, look out for schooling barracuda, horse-eye jacks along with occasional African pompano, permit and spadefish. In the summer months when the bait fish proliferate close in to Cockroach, look out for tarpon, reef shark and eagle rays. A challenging dive due to the variable and sometimes strong currents so please pay close attention to the dive leaders instructions and stay close in the dive group.
Bronco Billy (George Dog) – 45 ft. for Novice Divers
An excellent 2nd dive of a two-tank trip or afternoon dive, this dive site is named after the surge that runs through the site occasionally in the winter months (and can sometimes make the site un-diveable). An archway leads to a shallow canyon through the reef; on the other side of the canyon the reef curves around to create an ampitheater effect with soft and pillar corals in the center. A couple of grottos up against the edge of the island along with the overhung lip of the the reef ‘amphitheater’ provide numerous areas to look for reef fish, lobster and eels.
Dolphin Rocks (George Dog) – 50 ft. for Novice Divers
Exposed to the swells on the North side of George Dog, this site is only available on calm days. Divers are rewarded with a tour around the wash rocks which are undercut with ledges on the West side and canyons on the East side. Right underneath the boat is a 50ft wide, 20 ft deep hole in the reef which opens out on one side with a double archway making an interesting start to the tour. This dive is best done in the summer months when the wash rocks attract bait fish which in turn bring in barracuda, mackerel, bonito and large tarpon.
Wall To Wall (West Dog) – 75 ft. for Intermediate / Advanced Divers
Similar to the Visibles (mentioned above), this site is washed by sometimes strong currents, so close attention should be paid to the dive leader at this site. Also known as the “yellow fish” dive, the deepest part of the site consists of a trail of boulders leading back up to the mooring which are usually covered in french grunts, porkfish, yellow goatfish and schoolmaster snappers (all yellow!). The name comes from the fact that the site is often ‘wall-to-wall’ fish. On a good day when the current is flowing we have seen eagle rays and reef shark along with lobster and nurse sharks under the ledges found below the mooring in 35 ft of water.
Joe’s Cave (West Dog) – 45 ft. for Novice Divers
Another interesting 2nd dive in West Dog, this site is best done to view the scenery as it does not have as much marine life as other locations. Nestled up against West Dog, the underwater topography consists of numerous large boulders, some up to 25 ft high. These produce a large number of available holes and ledges between the boulders and the seafloor, perfect for looking for lobster. The cave itself is a triangular crack in the rock face, open to the air at the top (but narrow) and widening at the base. Providing there is no surge, divers can swim into the cave and are rewarded with a spherical chamber at the end of the cave that is usually filled with glassy sweepers.
The Flintstones (West Dog) – 70 ft. for Intermediate Divers
A less regularly visited site, the Flintstones is named for the rocky outcroppings on the west side of West Dog which are supposed to resemble Fred and Barney’s home of Bedrock. Underwater, the boulders continue, creating numerous ledges and overhangs for fish and lobster to hide in. Look out for an occasional nurse shark and also Fred’s House, a huge boulder that dominates the undersea terrain.
The Chimney (Great Dog) – 45 ft. for Novice Divers
One of the most famous dives in the dog islands, the Chimney is another site with an unusual underwater structure. A short distance from the dive boat mooring, a small canyon leads through one of the spurs coming off Great Dog. As you swim through, the top of the walls start to come together to form a natural archway covered in multi-colored sponges and delicate orange cup corals (bring a light to fully appreciate the range of colors). At the end of the canyon the walls close off, leaving a crack wide enough to swim out through (the exit). This leads the dive team naturally back towards the moorings and the latter portion of the dive, which is usually spent exploring the large coral formations underneath the dive boat.
Coral Gardens / Airplane Wreck (Great Dog) – 50 ft. for Novice Divers
A very different dive from others on the Dog Islands, the south side of Great Dog sports a large traditional coral reef (similar to those on Ginger Island). Another feature is the remains of an small inter-island commuter plane originally operated by the now defunct Atlantic Air BVI. Following an abortive take-off from Beef Island which ended with the plane in the water 200 yds off the end of the runway (no-one was hurt), the plane languished in a hangar for some time prior to be dismantled for scrap return to the US. The BVI dive operators were able to persuade the owners to give the fuselage over for use as a dive site and this was sunk in about 50 ft of water on the edge of the sand east of the dive boat moorings. All that is left of the plane is the fuselage (no wings, engines or seating inside) which creates a focal point for marine life, including a number of barracuda. The reef itself is very healthy, providing a home to a wide range of reef fish, lobster and the occasional nurse shark or turtle.
Dive Sites around Marina Cay
Diamond Reef (Gt. Camanoe) – 40 ft. for Novice Divers
Located 2 minutes boat ride away from Marina Cay, this site is named as a result of a diver losing a diamond ring here about 10 years ago (never found!). The reef itself is a small “wall” some 200 yards long, running from 15 ft in depth to a sandy bottom at 40 ft, with a profusion of both hard and soft corals and heavily populated with schools of fish. You may see Tomtates, Sgt. Majors, Grey Snapper and Cero Mackerel, not to mention the occasional Turtle. This site is ideal for all levels of divers and snorkelers, accessible in nearly all weather, and always full of life.
Dip ‘N’ Scrub (Scrub Island) – 60 ft. for Novice / Intermediate Divers
Located on the South side of Scrub Island and named for the dip in the hills behind the site as seen from Marina Cay (“see that dip in Scrub? It’s right there!!”). From the mooring, a wall runs Eastward, dropping from 25 ft to 60 ft, with large mushroom-shaped and pillar coral formations, and plenty of soft corals. Look for schools of Creole Wrasse and Blue Chromis, with the occasional large lobster and nurse shark.
Shark Point (Scrub Island) – 60 ft. for Intermediate / Advanced Divers
Located on the North-East corner of Scrub Island and so-called because there really are sharks there! From the mooring, head East to a ledge system at 60 ft, which is loaded with snappers, angel-fish, grunt, and lobsters. Keep one eye to the open ocean for sharks, rays, and Atlantic Spadefish. Working your way back to the boat along the tip of the island, you will pass through canyons, crevices and explore small caves – look out for the resident school of tarpon! Due to the current, which often runs away from the boat, this is an advanced dive, not to be attempted in inclement weather.
Lee Bay (Great Camanoe) – 50 ft. for Novice Divers
Located on the South side of Lee Bay, the highlight of this site is the “grotto”; located close to the island, in about 20 ft of water, the grotto appears to have been formed by lava flow. In its nooks and crannies are spotted lobsters, banded coral shrimp, and schools of glassy sweepers. A school of fry sits at the top, basking in the “cathedral light” as it filters through the lava flow. On top of the reef, sink-holes allow the diver to drop 10 ft down into the reef itself, into a mini-maze.
Towing Point (Great Camanoe) – 70 ft. for Intermediate / Advanced Divers
Located on the North-West tip of Gt. Camanoe, a profusion of large boulders, covered with soft corals, leads to a sandy bottom. Around the point, keep an eye to the open ocean, as there is a good chance of seeing pelagics. It is possible to pass between the jagged rock (standing out of the water at the very end of the island) and the mainland for an interesting and exciting shortcut back to the boat. This is an advanced dive, due to the current that usually runs around the point and away from the boat.
Monkey Point (Guana Island) – 30 ft. for Novice Divers
Not recommended in season due to heavy boat traffic, in the summer months, this can be an interesting site, teeming with fish life. In addition to a couple of small caves, there are schools of baitfish, often with mackerel and tarpon feeding.
Grand Central Station (Guana Island) – 80 ft. for Advanced Divers
Off the Northern coast of Guana Island, this site is an underwater cavern system. The cavern is very large, with one entrance at 60 ft and another close to the surface. Inside look out for the occasional turtle or jewfish.
Brewers Bay East (Tortola, North-side) – 70 ft. for Intermediate Divers
On the Eastern point of Brewers Bay, the huge boulders top-side are replicated underwater, creating swim-throughs filled with baitfish and glassy sweepers. In the summer months, when the fry are thick, tarpon are regular visitors. Follow the boulder trail to the sandy bottom at 70 ft, where you can find large Southern Stingrays.
Brewers Bay West (Tortola, North-side) – 70 ft. for Intermediate Drivers
From the mooring at the Western corner of Brewer’s Bay, you can meander North and West through numerous underwater pinnacles and crevices that, during the summer months, are packed with baitfish, mackerel and tarpon. 200 yards north of this mooring lies Brewers Bay Pinnacle which comes to within 15 ft of the surface and drops to 90 ft. Good opportunities exist at these sites for seeing pelagics, especially eagle rays.
Dive Site The Wreck of the Chikuzen
CHIKUZEN– 75ft. for Advanced Divers
The wreck of the CHIKUZEN is one of the best dives in the BVI, due to its remote location, this site should only be attempted with our experienced dive instructors.
A 246 ft refrigeration vessel originally built in Shimizu, Japan, she was part of the fishing fleet in St Maarten. The propeller of the Chikuzen had been damaged in a storm 2 years prior and so she was moored at the fishing fleet dock, apparently causing quite a bit of damage to the dock.
The owners were afraid that she might cause further damage or break free and drift up onto the beach (a vessel of this size would be very expensive to re-float). She was intentionally set ablaze off the docks in St Maarten, but this stubborn vessel refused to sink, eventually reaching the BVI, threatening to beach itself on the small island of Marina Cay. She was taken under tow and eventually sank without threatening any further coastlines !
Situated 12 miles NE of Virgin Gorda surrounded by miles of sand, this is the only place for marine life to congregate. Regular visitors include schooling barracuda, horse-eye jacks and snapper; stingrays; eagle rays; african pompano; atlantic spadefish; nurse sharks and blacktip reef sharks along with a resident 600lb jewfish.
This is a challenging site due to regular swells in the 3-5ft range – please check with the dive shop regarding current conditions.
Finally, due to the unstable refrigerating piping inside the vessel, please do not penetrate the vessel.
Dive Site The Wreck of the RMS Rhone
Wreck of the RHONE – 75ft. for Intermediate Drivers
If you only have time for one dive trip in the BVI, the RMS Rhone is it. Dive BVI has been leading dives on this spectacular wreck since 1975. Numerous artifacts deposited on October 29, 1867, are still visible today. You’ll also see where the 1977 film classic The Deep was shot and get to swim through the amazingly intact bow section as well as under the stern near the large 15 ft propeller. You really get a feel for the size of the RMS Rhone when you swim down the length of the massive driveshaft towards the engine box and gears. No matter how many times you dive on the Rhone, you can still find something new.
Dive BVI Dive Sites around Cooper Island
Dry Rocks East – 80 ft. for Intermediate / Advanced Divers
A favorite site with local dive leaders, a dive here almost always provides some of the more unusual marine life. Situated off the East side of Cooper Island, the wash rocks breaking the surface focus the currents running between Cooper and Ginger Islands attracting in a range of fish from schools of horse eye jacks to African pompano, Atlantic spadefish, hawksbill turtles, shark-like cobia and nurse sharks. The shallow waters up against the wash rocks teem with sergeant majors, chromis, creole wrasse and black durgon. However, the currents that bring in life can also make for a challenging dive – the exposed location can make diving here impossible due to rough water and divers should pay close attention to the dive leader if currents are present on the site.
Devil’s Kitchen – 50 ft. for Novice / Intermediate Divers
Another favorite local site, again only possible on calmer days due to its exposed position up against the Eastern shoreline of Cooper Island. Swimming South from the mooring brings the divers to a shelf, 30 ft deep on top and ranging from 40 to 55 feet deep at the bottom.
As the dive continues, the shelf becomes more undercut, with the rock structure forming a bizarre ‘swiss cheese’ lattice which provides numerous hideouts for reef fish and lobster. Schooling reef fish proliferate around the ledge and we have seen large snapper, turtles and tarpon. This makes for an excellent second dive – especially when paired with Dry Rocks East as a first dive.
Markoe Point – 80 ft. for Intermediate Divers
Tucked around the southeast corner of Cooper Island, Markoe Point usually enjoys protection from the elements at the mooring. Ahead of the boat, a v-shaped groove with an overhung lip leads divers around the point and onto the eastern edge of the island where the coastline drops vertically from the waterline to about 80 ft. This provides for a very imposing underwater vista and gives a focal point for jacks, mackerel, barracuda and occasionally pompano and spadefish.
Thumb Rock – 60 ft. for Novice Divers
Situated South of the Marie L and Pat wrecks, Thumb Rock consists of a giant boulder rising from 60 ft to within 15 ft of the surface. Large schools of creole wrasse gather around the boulder along with numerous lobster.
Marie L / Pat Wrecks – 85 ft. for Intermediate Divers
This twin wreck site consists of the Marie L, a cargo boat intentionally sunk in the early 1990s, and the Pat, a tugboat sunk a few years later that now lies up against the Marie L.
While the wrecks themselves provide an interesting feature to explore, be sure to look for the large colony of garden eels slightly to the north of the wrecks and the stingrays that frequent the area – these are much braver than at other sites and will happily swim through the middle of the dive group. Time on the wrecks is limited due to the depth so the dive is completed on the shallower reef (about 40 ft) around the dive boat mooring.
Cistern Point – 40 ft. for Beginner Divers
The site gets its name from cistern-like holes in the reef. A great place to look for eels and nurse sharks.
Vanishing Rocks / Dry Rocks West – 40 ft. for Beginner / Intermediate Divers
Based around a pinnacle which barely breaks the surface, this is one of the most colorful dive sites in the area. A huge stand of pillar coral along with abundant marine life provide the most experienced diver with a memorable dive.
Dive Sites around Virgin Gorda
The Invisibles – 60 ft. for Advanced Divers
A submerged pinnacle rising to within 4 ft of the surface, this is a spectacular dive. Prolific sponge and soft corals give the reef tremendous color. Washed with strong currents, this brings in huge volumes of fish – look out for the large school of permit atop the pinnacle.
Mountain Point – 70 ft. for Novice Divers
Located to the northeast of Mahoe Bay and Mango Bay in the lee of Virgin Gorda peak, this area has three separate moorings. Closest to the end of the point is the deeper location – the mooring lies in 25 ft of water and the reef slopes away to the west to a maximum of 70 ft. The sand at the bottom of the slope is visited by eagle rays and stingrays while the shallows around the mooring contain a number of swim-throughs and shallow grottos. The moorings closer to land are shallower (max 40 ft) and are made up of more grottos, archways and undercut coral heads.
Coconut Reef – 45 ft. for Novice Divers
This dive sites consists of 20-30 ft coral heads, teeming with marine life. Home to two resident eagle rays, it is also common to see a school of no less than 200 chub.
The Aquarium – 35 ft. for Novice Divers
A popular dive site trip from the Yacht Harbor, it makes an excellent 2nd dive after a trip to Ginger or Cooper Island. A shallow sandy bottom is decorated with a expanse of granite boulders similar to those found at The Baths, some rising to within 10 ft of the surface.
An oasis in the middle of the ocean floor, it attracts some of the largest schools and varieties of reef fish anywhere in the BVI. Its lack of depth gives divers time to explore the ledges and holes between the boulders while admiring the schools of grunts (french, spanish, bluestriped, tomtate), snappers (gray, mahogany, schoolmaster), chub, angelfish (queen, french, gray, rock beauty) and many others.
It’s an excellent area to look for lobster and eels, you may even get a visit from a stingray or nurse shark. Local currents can strengthen making the dive not always available.
Now that you know a little bit about what is out there, it’s time to to go SCUBA diving.