Scuba Diving in the Lesser Antilles
by Nick Lucey
The small islands forming the Lesser Antilles hem in the eastern edge of the Caribbean Sea, stretching from the United States Virgin Islands just off Puerto Rico down to South America. Like fuzzy emerald green dollops set amongst a sapphire blue sea, the islands offer some truly authentic Caribbean travel experiences and some of the region’s best diving. Your choices are as varied as the islands’ peoples, places, sights and sounds. Sometimes, Lesser is more.
HOT DIVE SITES
On this colorful island, British sensibility clashes with West Indian passion in a very fashionable way. Situated about 160 kilometres/100 miles due east of St. Vincent and outside of the main arc of the Windward Islands, unique Barbados has snared—literally and figuratively—wayward ships for centuries. With a portfolio of about 200 wrecks, including one of the most famous in the region - the Stavronikita, it’s no wonder that Barbados is a dive destination that snares divers looking for something different.
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Just hire a pickup truck, load your gear and cylinders and drive to any of the more than 50 shore diving sites that ring this arid, windswept island. Or, you can hop on a dive boat to make it over to Klein Bonaire, which offers some of the Caribbean's most pristine reefs. More than three decades of marine protection has paid off with a watery wonderland.
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Called the Nature Isle, Dominica is the Caribbean of yesteryear, not only in its down-home charm but with diving that feels like it’s been preserved for future generations. Throw in some of the most remarkable topside tours and activities -- waterfalls, thermal springs and aerial trams -- and you’ve got the recipe for a spectacular dive vacation.
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Grenada has been coming into its own over the last three decades and has developed into an intriguing, unique dive destination. Electric drift diving, mind-blowing macro marine life and one of the coolest shipwrecks in the Caribbean will make you want to strategize your return trip before you've finished your first.
One of these islands is not like the other, and its name is Saba. Rising straight up from the abyssal depths, this rugged, volcanic island is like a piece of the Pacific teleported to the Caribbean. With a quaint, European charm above the waterline and electrifying diving below, Saba is a seahorse of a different color.
With its lush rainforests, drive-through volcano and the stunning twin peaks of the Pitons, St. Lucia is postcard-perfect in many different ways. That's why it's no surprise that the island is a major draw for cruise ships, day-trippers and nature enthusiasts. But, divers know that St. Lucia’s true beauty lies beneath the waves, especially when soaking it all in drifting through Soufriere Marine Park.
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Fed by nutrients from South America’s Orinoco River and washed by the Guyana Current, Tobago's waters are a prolific soup that is awaiting discovery. Wild, woolly drift diving means you can float effortlessly over Technicolor reefs teeming with everything from tame tropical fish to large pelagics - including mantas, dolphins and sharks.
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United States Virgin Islands
Caribbean vibes and reefs meet American infrastructure and convenience. But, even if Americans can leave their passports at home, everyone should be sure to pack their sense of adventure. Three islands—St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John—all beckon with different personalities and dive experiences.
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Depth: Varied, but there is a dive site for just about every skill level. From deep, exhilarating wall dives to shallow, sundrenched reefs, there’s something for everyone.
Visibility: Generally speaking, the smaller islands with few rivers result in the best visibility.
Currents: Range from nonexistent to ripping, depending on the destination. Some spots, like Tobago, are known for their drift diving, but you’ll find little to none on the leeward sides of many islands.
Water Temperature: Can range anywhere from the low-20s °C/mid-70s °F in winter to low 30s °C/mid-80s °F in summer.
Dive Season: Just like it’s always five o'clock somewhere, it’s always dive time somewhere in the Lesser Antilles. Once you narrow down which of the islands you’ll visit, you can fine-tune your plan to take advantage of whale seasons, increased visibility and resort bargains at different times of the year.
Weather: Generally speaking, it’s hot in the Caribbean. But, as any seasoned traveler knows, it can get cool at night and in the higher altitudes. This is especially true after spending the day in the water, so pack accordingly.
Access: Most of the major Lesser Antilles islands have direct flights from the United States, Canada and Europe.
Skill Level: There’s something for everyone and this is a great place to improve your skill level, whatever it may be.
Scuba Gear: It's always great to bring your own gear so you're as comfortable in the water as possible. Most dive centers and resorts, however, offer plenty of rental options if you want to travel lighter.
Length of Stay: Although frequent flights to the region mean you can make a quick getaway to the islands, you'll want to try and spend at least a week.
Featured Creatures: In the Lesser Antilles, you'll find everything from the garden-variety Caribbean macro life and reef fish to open-ocean pelagics and even the occasional whales, sharks and dolphins.
Language: French, Spanish, Dutch and Papiamento are spoken throughout the region, but English is common in tourist areas.
Currency: A lot of different nations means there's quite a bit of currency, including the East Caribbean Dollar (XCD), United States Dollar (USD), Euro (EUR), Netherlands Antilles Guilder, Aruban Guilder (AWG) and Trinidad and Tobago Dollar (TTD).
Transportation: Getting around the islands isn't usually a problem, especially given how small most of them are. Taxi, resort shuttle, bus and sometimes foot or bicycle are all common transportation methods.
Major Airports: Major airports are located in the US Virgin Islands (Cyril E. King Airport on St. Thomas – STT and the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport on St. Croix - STX), St. Maarten (Princess Juliana International Airport - SXM), Barbados (Grantley Adams International Airport - BGI), St. Lucia (George F. L. Charles Airport - SLU and Hewanorra International Airport - UVF), Trinidad and Tobago (Piarco International Airport on Trinidad – POS and A.N.R. Robinson International Airport on Tobago - TAB), Aruba (Queen Beatrix International Airport - AUA) and Curacao (Hato International Airport - CUR). All of the other islands have good regional air service.
Documents: Depending on your nationality, you’ll need a passport and sometimes a visa to visit most islands. Check with the tourism board for details.
Religion: Roman Catholic and Protestant are the major religions but there are also smaller pockets of Muslim and Hindu.
Electricity: Depending on the island, you’ll need an adapter for North American, European or United Kingdom plugs. In addition, the strength of the electricity varies. Although many electronic devices can handle a wide range, you'll want to check electronics you plan on bringing and carry a voltage converter or transformer as well.
Airport Entry/Exit Fees: Although individual airports can levy their own fees, departure tax is usually included in airline ticket prices.
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